I have loved being physical since I was a child…more accurately….it has been my escape from a dysfunctional childhood. When I would run and play I would forget that I was living with my single mother and that when I went home she could be drunk or getting ready to go out and get drunk. Overall I was a happy child but I was constantly on edge as I rarely felt safe.
My mother did the best with what she had… as every parent does. My mother grew up in foster homes and never felt loved. She was abused and turned to smoking and alcohol to mask the immense pain. In her early 20s she met my father and he overlooked the alcoholism because he loved her and probably a bigger factor was…. his mother didn’t like my mother.
My mother and father married and then conceived me. They divorced when I was one year old and the first time I remember meeting my father was when I was 14. Until that time my mother felt powerless and would demonise him constantly. She would go to discos (literally – it was the 70s!) and come home with strangers, turn the music up really loud and smoke. I would try to hide under the covers to escape but it wasn’t possible. I would ask her to turn down the music and she would then turn it back up again. Many times it was on school nights.
I carried this razor sharp edge of fear with me for a long time….and into my dance training as well. Dance is incredibly personal and will bring up the demons from the past. My physicality was pure uncontrolled energy and ballet is about precision and beauty. I struggled, fought the process at time and beat myself up for not getting it right. I had several great teachers that had much skill and knowledge…and they had their own issues.
I can’t remember the exact statistic but it was like 70 percent of contemporary dancers have had major emotional trauma in their lives. When I heard that it started to put some pieces together for me. It affirmed that I wasn’t alone. At times I would trigger some of the women in my program.
I have a vivid memory of a rehearsal in my first year with a guest choreographer and we were sitting down in a circle. I said a sentence using the word “girls”, referring to the female dancers in the piece. A second year student, Wendy, said “women”. I was confused and said “girls” – she said ” they are women” – I said ” ladies” – she said “women!”. It had to be explained to me later but it was a huge learning about respect for women in my language. Wendy warmed up to me and we had a great time dancing together later in the year.
I loved training. Once I got into the swing of the program I loved it. I really loved how Brian approached the creative process. “Art is of the self”. I really resonated with that and really came to love modern/contemporary dance for its freedom of self expression. I personally believe all great art is an expression of the artist. How else can a person go to the depth of their piece unless they have a personal connection to it.
My latest show, Message in a Bottle, is my greatest work because of this. It is a dramatisation of my childhood. I have a difficult audience for a heavy subject of growing up in the home of a violent alcoholic but I have a found a way to touch on the subject with an engaging performance for children by drawing upon that experience. The grand message being forgiveness. It took me a long time to truly understand where my mother came from and her success as a mother. I forgave her and now we have a great connection.
I believe that it is the obligation of the child to be the evolution of the parents. They did the best with what they had. It is our job to see where they came from, learn from their mistakes and forgive. It took me a long time to understand this but it is the only way to get free.