For their July Digest, loveDANCEmore intern Sofia Sant’Anna-Skites spoke with Bashaun Williams from Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company and Jaclyn Brown from Repertory Dance Theatre, both of whom are retiring from their respective companies.
At a young age, Williams was passionate about basketball but began dancing in his junior year of high school when he performed in Yvonne Racz-Key’s production of The Nutcracker. Racz-Key eventually convinced him to take ballet classes, and her encouragement, coupled with Williams’ competitive drive, sparked his dedication to dance. He relocated to Salt Lake City to complete his undergraduate degree in ballet at the University of Utah, and eventually moved on to perform with RW, where he has been for the past ten years.
Jaclyn Brown began dancing at a very young age and eventually started competing and doing conventions. She moved away from her home at age sixteen and transferred to a different high school so she could train more intensively. Her path briefly led her to Odyssey Dance Theatre, then to the pre-professional performing company at Utah Valley University, and eventually to RDT, which she has been a part of for the past seven years.
Sant’Anna-Skites virtually met with Williams and Brown separately. Below is an amalgamation of snippets from the two conversations.
What was one of the most memorable or impactful dances you performed with RW or RDT and why?
Bashaun Williams: I think the most impactful one was a dance I got to be a part of my very first season. It was because I was young — I was only 21 years old — and it was created as a response to the 9/11 tragedy. It was a piece called GRID by Brook Notary and the best thing about it is it was a super athletic piece … it required me to still be in touch with my physicality. Brook really asked us to be ourselves in the piece. And I felt like remembering how old I was and what I went through when [the tragedy] happened really helped play a role in me being able to physicalize it on stage. Going through that whole process of the piece … then coming out the other end was a physical exhaustion that made it feel like a transformation was always happening.
Jaclyn Brown: It’s really hard to choose because everything we do has so much variety, so there are some classical works that I really loved doing [and] there are some more contemporary works that I loved. [It] felt good in this last concert to be able to revisit [José Limón’s] Mazurkas, which is a piece I did my first year in the company, and just kind of have that full-circle moment of, “Wow, when I first did this I didn’t even know how to suspend [or] release.” And now, in the peak of my career I’m doing it again and feel like I was able to accomplish that. We’ve worked with Danielle Agami two separate times — and that’s probably my favorite piece of all time — Theatre, by Danielle Agami. She was a choreographer who came in and was just very straightforward with all of us and I appreciated that. It was very refreshing to have her just come in and say, “You have to really try something new; you have to try to achieve these new sensations that I’m asking you to do.” Also Dabke by Zvi Gotheiner … that’s a piece I did before I was pregnant, while I was pregnant, and after I was pregnant. While I was pregnant I was a bit more limited. Nobody else knew I was pregnant so that was quite a mental journey and something I had to overcome. And afterwards it felt very triumphant to be able to return to dance. So that was really special for me to be able to revisit that so many times in so many different stages of my life.
What will you miss most about being in the company?
Williams: Ah, you’re hitting me with all these hard ones! Honestly this is another open-ended question … there’s just so many aspects. I’m gonna miss dancing with my friends every day … having practice every day and being able to take company classes and knowing that that’s part of the ritual of the company … travelling … and ultimately, I’m gonna miss just having comfort in knowing that I have this job that’s paying me to create art and knowing that it’s a nine-to-five job. And getting to work with different choreographers on a regular basis. So everything — you can just tell them I’m gonna miss everything. Oh, also, one big aspect is the education and outreach the company provides. Ririe-Woodbury is known for teaching and sharing the love of dance with kids of all ages. So I think the opportunity to teach children on a regular basis is something that hopefully I’ll seek out in my next chapter.
Brown: I think what’s hard about transitioning into doing more freelancing work is [that] I am the master of my own self now. I’m the master of my own schedule and what I want to do, which in a way is harder because at RDT, you simply just exist out of the company and wonderful opportunities come through the door every day. So it wasn’t like I was doing a lot of the legwork to make that happen, and now that I’m starting to make this transition, I’m starting to realize how much has to be done on my part to make sure that I get into the classes or the places I need to be to get the work that I want to do. And also … just having [a] reputation kind of built in is different than me trying to start over … I feel like I’m having to reinvent the way people see me, so that’s been very interesting, but I think overall it’s just more work to be out on your own than to be part of an organization that already has all of these opportunities in its wings for you.
Jaclyn, are there opportunities you’re looking forward to regarding having this freedom to reinvent yourself? Does it excite you at all?
Brown: Absolutely — it really does. You know, being a part of a rep company is really interesting because it’s hard to have an opinion of your own sometimes because you are emulating something very specific in the type of work that we do … like, Martha Graham doesn’t want you commenting on her work … There is this technique [and] there is a way to do it. I’m good at that, because I’m a very Type A person and I like control and specificity and codified things. But what I’m finding now is I’m like, “Woah, the sky’s the limit!” I can go do things for camera; I can go do more dance theater stuff … I’ve done a lot, and now I’m like, “What haven’t I done?” But I think that in terms of having more space in my life, mostly I’m just excited to be with my family more, because this job [is] a very demanding one. This profession [is] maybe geared towards people who are single or don’t have children, so I’m excited to have more time to dedicate to my family.
Bashaun, how do you think your time with the company might influence your future endeavors?
Williams: That’s easy. One of the beautiful things about Ririe-Woodbury is that they invest in you as not only as a performer, but also as a teacher … Now I can go out and teach any levels of dance; any techniques of dance … whatever I put my mind to.
Do you know where you’ll be going from here? What’s the next step?
Williams: I wouldn’t say that it’s where I’m going — it’s more how I’m gonna get there. I don’t have a set destination … I just want to play it by ear and there are so many things popping up in my life right now that I just want to make time and make opportunities to be present and be fully invested in those — especially in raising this little girl. [Williams leans in to kiss his ten-month-old daughter, who has been sitting on his lap, making adorable sounds, and playing with Williams’ computer keys during this entire conversation.] Just being a father is really important to me right now, as well as being a husband, and being a friend. So I don’t know what’s next, but I know that when one door closes, another one has to open.
Brown: It’s tricky because I’m going through a stage of transition where I’m redefining that, but I know that I’m going to grad school [to pursue my MFA at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee] … I know that I’m going to be teaching as an adjunct faculty at UVU this coming fall … I definitely feel like I’m not done performing; I’m just done performing in a full-time capacity … I don’t know what I’m getting into with school. I’m trying to figure out how time-consuming that’s going to be. I don’t want to overcommit myself because that’s what I’ve done for the last seven years.
Do you have any advice you’d like to offer emerging artists and future members of any professional dance company?
Williams: Advice! That’s always hard for me, because I feel like we’re all so unique and so individual, and … I know that the advice someone gave me wouldn’t apply to how I’m here right now. So any advice to give I think would just be to keep a journal. I think that’s one thing I wish I would’ve done more of with my time — is to actually write down places that I’ve been, people I’ve interacted with, and keep a connection on that basis. I think other advice is to take the time that you need [and] that you’re given — your off-season. Let your body rest … if you’re not taking care of your body by letting it rest and letting it recuperate, then you’re not fueling your sustainability. Drink lots of water. Get lots of sleep. But maybe the biggest thing is to enjoy the process and know that you can always get to where you want to be if you continue to work hard.
Brown: Making the most out of your time there … The most successful dancers that I’ve seen are very diligent in figuring out a system that works for them to handle [everything]. I always call it “doing your homework.” I don’t think it is a great idea to always leave everything in the studio … there needs to be some sort of engagement for you at home, whether it be … writing the entire dance down … watching a video … or asking [a] friend on their lunch break or their fifteen minute break to just walk through things. I think some people expect to not go that extra mile and they expect more time to be created for them if they’re not getting a dance, and that’s not how it works in my experience in the professional world … Another piece of advice is if you don’t make it to the company setting there is a stage for everybody, so just be really diligent and faithful and if it’s something you want to do, just continue to reimagine how it is that performing will fit into your life … Some of the most successful people I know are people who do freelancing work because they’re like, “Look, I’m really passionate about this, and it kind of ebbs and flows in and out of my life and that doesn’t make me any less than. It actually shows my maturity that I have a lot better of a balance.” So I wish I would have known that — that it doesn’t have to be full-time or nothing… I [also] heard some really great advice that I always think about, and that is that you should always go out when you’re on top instead of waiting to plateau then being like, “Oh maybe this isn’t good for me anymore.” So I’m hoping that’s what I was able to do … And I just wish the new dancers the best of luck. I think it’s a really interesting process from the beginning to the end.
This article is published in collaboration with loveDANCEmore.org.
UTAH’S ART MAGAZINE SINCE 2001, 15 Bytes is published by Artists of Utah, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.