Jaclyn Brown: Ever-Changing Theatre
This year, I had the opportunity to be a rehearsal director during the restaging of “Theatre,” which is a Danielle Agami piece that was originally set and performed on RDT in 2016. This piece is special to me for many reasons. During the original staging Danielle brought her company, Ate9 of Los Angeles, to Utah for a two-week residency. I felt pushed to my limits in every way. I immediately connected with the drive that Danielle had in her rehearsal process; she demanded so much physicality of us always…asking us to execute phrases over and over with accumulating feedback each time.
I was mentally and emotionally exhausted, yet exhilarated by her high expectations and no-nonsense demeanor. Her feedback was harsh at times, but always the truth. The company members were equally inspiring, describing with great articulation the specifics of the Gaga movement language that heavily influences the work. I have reflected on that moment in my career often since, trying to recall my personal feedback and growth gained to keep myself away from complacency.
The responsibility I have been given to re-stage Theatre means a great deal to me. I have such fond memories of how this piece came alive for us on stage and left its imprint on me as an artist. The importance of this led me to seek further training to make sure I had the tools to “do the piece justice.” I decided to spend more time training with Danielle in L.A. in the RDT off season, something that Linda C. Smith (RDT Executive/Artistic Director) gladly supported me in. To say that I was changed is an understatement.
Seeing Danielle work in her home studio with incredible artists at her disposal was an amazing sight. I got to know her better, and admired her freshness about movement. She has a way of directing you to feel things in your body as if for the first time. When I’m in her work, I feel as though I’m a kid again; I experience sensations with uncontained joy rather than feeling like an old dog that can’t learn new tricks. I came back to Utah with the desire to help my coworkers feel this same excitement and respect for the work at hand.
As the time approached to re-stage, I found myself worried about fitting in this important commitment amongst all the other directions RDT was being pulled as a non-profit organization. We weren’t just re-staging Theatre. We were also performing lecture demonstrations in the elementary schools, working on our upcoming tour show, and re-staging or maintaining the other three works for the same season concert!
I was originally given about six hours, which was a lot of pressure for a 20-minute work that requires such specificity. Two of our dancers were not original cast members, so this would be no easy task. I poured over video materials, my original notes I had kept, and learned multiple different sections that weren’t my own to prepare for this endeavor. We all banded together to make it happen. We miraculously squeezed more time into our schedule, and worked like an efficient machine to get the piece up. That part was easy. Connecting to the meaning-making of it always proves to be the most difficult part of the task. I did my best to express my personal experiences that would hopefully spark a unified mindset in us as a company that I knew Danielle would expect.
A few weeks later, Danielle came to “check” the progress of the work. She was just as honest as before, calling us out on our faults while simultaneously offering solutions that seemed so obvious after the fact. In true Danielle fashion, she changed much of the music, order of events, and groupings in effort to enliven something that used to feel like old material to us. The piece is practically brand new! I love her wild card attitude.
Although much of the actual material we dance is the same, nothing feels familiar about it this time. When we dance it well, it feels re-investigated with every run. The imagery in my mind replenishes each time, my timing of movements answers to the cues of sensations given, and I feel like something is happening to me rather than trying to make something happen. I feel fresh every time I dance Theatre, and I can’t wait to share this ever-changing piece with our lovely audience of supporters.
Jaclyn Brown is a Utah native and proud alumni of Utah Valley University, where she graduated Cum Laude with a BFA in Modern Dance Performance. She currently serves as an Executive Leader of Dance on UVU’s School of the Arts Alumni Chapter and is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer. This is her fifth season with Repertory Dance Theatre.