Contracting and Releasing
by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin
October, 2003 – We recently visited with Tadej Brdnik on the University of Washington campus while he was on break from rehearsals in preparation for the opening night concert of the Martha Graham Dance Company on the UW World Dance Series in Meany Hall Theatre. We had a delightful time talking about the Company and Brndnik’s involvement with it. Following is a summary of our discussion.
What is your background and where are you from? How did you get to Graham?
I’m from a small town of about 10,000 people in Slovenia and was literally recruited off of the soccer field! It was thought I had good coordination and rhythm. I found myself being in modern dance class with 18-19 year-old girls and myself, a 10 year-old boy! The very first piece I was ever in was a modern version of Jesus Christ Superstar (laughter). I went to the capital for summer/winter dance intensives. Tried ballet but didn’t like it that well as it didn’t seem to have a purpose to me as did modern dance; I thought better of ballet later, though.
My original teacher entered me in the Benetton Danza competition in 1992. There were 300 entrants: 150 in ballet and 150 in modern. Susan Graham from the Laban Center taught Graham class. I did a prepared solo and was one of 6 winners. Diane Gray was one of the jurors and I was awarded the prize of a scholarship to the Martha Graham Dance Center. I came first to New York for a three-month summer intensive and then returned in the summer of ‘93 and stayed through fall, for the three-year professional training program, with a Gregory Peck scholarship. I enjoyed the original 63rd street facility, as it reminded me of the cottage in Hansel and Gretel and I liked the two gardens. There, sadly, is nothing like that now.
I began to look around at additional NY companies and performing opportunities, in addition to performing with the Martha Graham Dance Ensemble [the performing group of the School]. I was taken into the main Company in 1996, which was then directed by Ron Protas, Diane Gray, and Carol Fried and danced until the company closed in 2000. We worked very sporadically due to financial and political difficulties. I did work outside the Graham Company, including work with David Gordon, a postmodern pioneer. I was thrilled when Baryshnikov called me and asked me to join the White Oak Project. We got to work with some famous persons from the Judson Street Church project era including Lucinda Childs, Tricia Brown, Deborah Hay, David Gordon, and Steven Paxton. It was kind of a “then and now” program which contrasted works of the ‘60s with those of 2000. It was great to be able to develop relationships with many outside of the Graham School and Company.
Ever met any of the “old” Graham guard?
I just met Mary Hinkson, and in fact lots of people who were alienated from the Company. Pearl Lang, Yuriko -- old and new! Example Yuriko Kimura --, Dudley Williams, Stuart Hodes, etc. Many are coming back to renew their affiliation with the Company.
Our May 9, 2002 performance was bittersweet in that we did not know at that time if this was “it” or if the Company would continue. The audience response at that time was wonderful and that feeling has continued. It turns out that after the court battle, Mr. Protas only owns one of Martha’s works, Seraphic Dialogue, but not the sets! We have been so happy that every institution that owns part of one or another work has been very suppportive.
What roles do you do?
Adam in Embattled Garden; Husbandman in Appalachian Spring; Owl in Owl and the Pussycat; Maple Leaf Rag; Circe; El Penitente. It’s great that the Directors are giving chances to the entire ensemble. There are many casts of things, for example. The current Co-Artistic Directors are Christine Dakin and Terese Capuccilli, with Janet Eilber as director of resources, licensing Martha’s dances.
How long is this tour?
Just the West Coast this time. Seattle followed by Cal State-Northridge, then back to New York to rehearse for the April season. We go to London, England in November and are on layoff in December. I’ll be working with David Gordon during that time. We go back to work in mid-January and then spend February in Italy, plus some run-out performances. Our “big” New York season is in April at City Center and with a live orchestra! We are very excited about this!! We go to Miami in May and in June we’ll be working with a choreographer who will be setting a new work. We actually have bookings that are building, some through 2005! This includes Kennedy Center, Australia, Taiwan and later with the LA Philharmonic.
How do dancers in the Company learn parts these days?
Through a variety and combination of things. Fortunately, it’s NOT like the old days, where you were given an old film and had to go learn the steps on your own, for the most part. Now we watch each other and use videos, particularly for revivals. We talk about what changes may have occurred and why, and then if there is a strong reason to keep the change, we do. We’re given the opportunity to bring ourselves to our roles. We get coached by the more experienced and sometimes, “older” generation of dancers. We try to recreate or bring about the essence of a ballet, as Martha’s work is about the internal, rather than the external. Our art feels alive; we are actually producing art! We are a healthy organization and things are discussed openly. We also now welcome the prospect of other companies doing Graham’s work.
Tadej Brdnik (soloist) began his dance career in Dioniz, Dance Forum Celje and Dance Theatre Aldea in Slovenia. Since moving to New York in 1993, he danced with Coyote Dancers, Battery Dance Company, Avila/Weeks Dance, Baryshnikov’s White Oak Project, Robert Wilson and Pick Up Performance company, among others. Mr. Brdnik has taught extensively in the United States, Slovenia and UK, and is on the faculty at the Martha Graham School where he led their Teen department from 1997-99. He is a recipient of Benetton Dance Award and a scholarship given by Mr. Gregory Peck. He has been with the Martha Graham Dance Company since 1996.
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