Annique S. Roberts talks about dancing for Ronald K. Brown

Annique S. Roberts talks about dancing for Ronald K. Brown in advance of Evidence's Joyce Theater season.



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Time Out New York: So you only worked with him for one day. What happened?
Annique S. Roberts:
He came back to work with us my freshman year. He and Dr. Johnson had a very close relationship, so he ended up having a close relationship with the school. He choreographed a piece where we were kind of like soldiers—it’s not a piece that the company has done. We did internships at Howard every summer and they had to be away from our home, so I ended up being able to work with him for the summer; I spent three weeks with the company when they were doing a residency at NYU. Part of my responsibilities was in the office—helping him out administratively with anything he needed. But the other part was participating in rehearsals, taking notes. It’s so crazy because the company was working on a piece that we’re going to be doing at the Joyce now, so it’s like full circle for me: Walking Out the Dark. It was great for me to see his choreographic process, how he treats his dancers; I looked up to his dancers and just to see how they worked was good. It was a professional setting, and I had never seen it before.

Time Out New York: Was it markedly different from school?
Annique S. Roberts:
Yeah. These are professionals and they have to take responsibility. No one has to tell them what to do—they do it, or they don’t. From what I saw, they did. [Laughs] No one tells them how much to give in rehearsal. That’s on them. I remember thinking about how quickly they had to take in notes and apply them. Watching how they interpreted what Ron wanted from them—they experimented and explored with a certain freedom that I wanted to be able to have.

Time Out New York: Do you mean individuality?
Annique S. Roberts:
Definitely. When I first saw the company, I remember thinking, Each dancer is different, but they’ve found a way to celebrate their uniqueness and still do what it is Ron wants them to do. They did it and were doing it. And Ron allows for that, too. It’s part of the mission of the company: For people to be able to see the company and see themselves. Maybe that has something to do with why he allows for us to be ourselves in the movement. But the dancer has to be willing to take that chance, too, and be okay when he says, “That’s not it.” Sometimes that happens and that’s okay. You just have to keep exploring. But that’s what I love about the company: the individuality of all the dancers.

Time Out New York: What summer was that internship?
Annique S. Roberts:
It was 2001. I ended up interning every summer for him even when, before my senior year, I asked Dr. Johnson if I could go somewhere else. I wanted to see other companies and she was like, “No. You’re going to Evidence.” [Laughs] I guess I was being groomed for the company, which was wonderful, but I was too up close to really realize that. The last summer, I ended up doing a [community] project with him that lasted throughout my senior year called “Brown v. Board of Education: Echoes of Brown,” which was celebrating the history of the decision. I ended up being his assistant and also participating in the project and performing with students doing spoken word and dance. It was a wonderful project. And then I ended up going to Fagan, so it was like, Oops! [Laughs] But he was so supportive and so happy.

Time Out New York: How did that go down?
Annique S. Roberts:
Dr. Johnson sent me to the Joyce for an audition during Garth’s season. I didn’t think I was going to make it into that company. I didn’t think I was what he would want but it was part of our process as seniors to go out and audition. And Dr. Johnson told me, “Hey, you have nothing to lose—just go up there and do your best” and I did and they hired me and before I knew it, I was packing up a U-Haul truck and going to Rochester. I actually left school a semester early to start. I was able to finish up away from campus.

Time Out New York: What did you think of Garth’s work?
Annique S. Roberts:
I’d say I appreciated it and there were certain parts that I loved. I remember seeing In Memoriam at the Kennedy Center, and I still have the paper that I wrote about that piece. I loved the music, I loved the dancers, I loved the movement, and I loved his change of dynamics. And when I auditioned that year at the Joyce, they did Dance Collage for Romy, the piece for Romare Bearden. I had just seen the exhibit in D.C., and I really appreciated his work with that. So I had a respect and appreciation for it, but that’s it—I never saw myself there. Whereas when I first saw Evidence, I immediately saw myself in that company.

Time Out New York: Isn’t it such a different way of moving?
Annique S. Roberts:
It is. [Laughs] It was a bit of a 180 going from Garth to Evidence. But I’m so grateful for my experience with Garth because I think Garth made me the strongest and best dancer I could have become. Probably the most disciplined I could have ever become. I was able to learn from [veteran dancers] Norwood [Pennewell] and Natalie [Rogers-Cropper].

Time Out New York: It’s crazy—Norwood. He looks so young. What pill is he taking?
Annique S. Roberts:
I don’t know! I talk to him all the time. It was just perfect for me to have gone there first, because I did get to learn so much from them, and they challenged me in ways that I don’t think I would have been challenged had I not gone there. Also, in Rochester, you’re isolated—you’re rehearsing seven, eight hours a day and you get a chance to really be selfish and to really focus on your craft. That studio was really a laboratory for me. I enjoyed taking class. I loved that part of it. Garth was tough. But it’s made me a stronger dancer with Evidence. I don’t think I would have been the dancer I am with Evidence if it weren’t for Fagan.

Time Out New York: I can see that. It’s such an old-school company.
Annique S. Roberts:
[Cracks up] Very old school. Lots of traditions, lots of traditions. Some dying out, but others they hold steadfast to. It’s one of those things: I look at someone like Steve Humphrey, who’s nearly 60. He still takes class every day, he comes in every day and works out; who am I to say anything? I can’t complain, I can’t make up any excuses because they’re here and they’ve been here and they’re working. It was good for me to go to work in that atmosphere.

Time Out New York: Did you have a strong mentor there?
Annique S. Roberts:
I’d say PJ [Pennewell] was my strongest mentor there—and Natalie. I ended up going into a lot of her roles and she was right there coaching me along. They guided me, and it wasn’t too difficult to talk to them about diet and about what Garth was looking for—they could reassure me in certain situations and give me advice.

Time Out New York: What are you referring to in terms of diet?
Annique S. Roberts:
Garth is very much about lines. You’re always in unitards. He wanted our bodies to look the best that our bodies could be; he never wanted me to look like someone who’s small and skinny. So to keep from falling into the pitfalls of crash dieting and doing really stupid stuff, I would go to Natalie. Some of her advice I took and some I didn’t, but she helped me. And also where to go in Rochester–where to shop. She taught me all of that. With diet, as a dancer, I’m a professional now. I’m not on a college campus; I’m not eating at the cafeteria or at the neighborhood Subway or McDonald’s. What do I do? How do I cook? I didn’t know any of that stuff at all. What do you eat on the road? How do you prepare for going on the road? And how to do it in a way that you’re able to handle the physical demands of the work—the long hours. Garth loves to rehearse until 10, 11 at night. That’s standard, whether you’re on the road or at home. So how do you eat around the schedule? When I come to Evidence, and we rehearse three days a week, five hours a day I have a better idea of how to handle that.