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.
Sun Feb 3 2013
Time Out New York: What has he told you about Torch?
Annique S. Roberts: That it’s a celebration for Beth. He’s talked a little bit about when you’re around someone who’s going through chemo and suffering from cancer, how oftentimes you don’t know how to help them, but you know you want to be there. And also it’s just celebrating life. The music is South African—it’s got a house feel. It’s definitely upbeat, high-energy from the beginning.
Time Out New York: What is your role?
Annique S. Roberts: I might be symbolizing that woman with cancer. That’s how it’s beginning to shape and form, but I think he’s trying to show that in all the women. There’s a trust factor. In this stage of the choreography, you’re really just trying to be his blank canvas. You’re trying to do what he wants you to do so that he can see the work and mold it and get it to be what he wants it to be. At this point it’s a where-do-you-need-me kind of a thing—and I’ll do it.
Time Out New York: When do you start putting yourself into the part?
Annique S. Roberts: From the beginning I’m always trying to do that. Of course Ron is still looking for a certain individuality. In my process, I’m always trying to figure out where I fit in, but as we continue, it begins to take form. As we continue to do the movement, that’s where the exploration starts.
Time Out New York: What about the other dances?
Annique S. Roberts: Walking Out the Dark is a journey of a piece. It’s a lot about seeking forgiveness, seeking healing and finding a certain peace in your relationship with others, especially if there’s some tension. If there are problems, what does that do to you and also to the relationship? It’s a nice journey to take within a piece. The movement is all over the place, which I like. We go from suspended turns and falling down to the floor into extension, rond de jambe, penché, but then we get into cutumba, which is this Cuban traditional movement—we’re using all these Orisha dances. And then you get into Sente, which is getting into West African traditional work, so again, the piece travels along different vocabularies do.
Time Out New York: I know this is what you do, but it’s so amazing how you organize your body in such a way to move so among all those styles.
Annique S. Roberts: I love that part of it. That’s what I love about Garth too. Even though it’s done differently, being able to move in and out of all the different vocabularies, but do it seamlessly and make it all feel like one language, is a fun challenge. It’s always in my mind and part of my working process because I don’t ever want to be the one-dimensional dancer. I don’t want to be seen as just someone who can lift their leg up or handle the rhythms and groundedness of Ron’s work. You just find ways to make it make sense. Dance is a language. So what are you trying to say with all the movement? There’s a reason why it’s all in there like that, so for me it’s just trying to figure out why and what do I want to say with it? The transitions are there and it’s up to me to find them and make them work and make sense for me, because how it’s going to look on me is going to be different from how it’s going to look on the next person.
Time Out New York: Do you have running dialogue in your head or is it entirely physical?
Annique S. Roberts: It goes back and forth. Some of it is how the movement feels, and there’s not much dialogue that has to go on, but then there are other times when I’m trying to draw on some experiences or I’m thinking about what Ron says the piece is about. That happens in the rehearsal process and then when I get to the stage it’s a little bit different. I don’t know how strong the dialogue is in my head on the stage, but definitely within the process I’m trying to think, What is the purpose of this section of the piece? How is it supposed to feel? Is it weighted? Am I burdened by something? I’m thinking specifically about Walking Out the Dark: There’s this heaviness in my heart. What does that feel like? So these are the things I’m thinking about when I’m rehearsing a piece and some of that comes into play by the performance time, but I’m constantly asking myself those questions. Even in Incidents, the slave piece, I’m trying to pull on images constantly. I think about my grandmother, and I have an image of her sitting on her couch at her house. She has a certain dignity and pride even with me knowing a great deal of her past and what she endured—she grew up in North Florida in the early 20th century and she had her own sense of struggles. But to see the poise that she maintains; dignity is the best word for it. For me, that helps me understand Incidents a lot better, and I use that image. I also hear stories about my grandfather, when he was riding the buses in Florida, he would pass for white, but he would have his hat low over his head so that nobody could really see him. Some of the piece comments on walking out in public, but not wanting to be noticed and trying to blend in. I draw on that image I have with my grandfather.
Time Out New York: What about Order My Steps?
Annique S. Roberts: It talks about calling for peace at a time of war, and we have that going on every day. I get images from CNN. Right before our show at NJPAC in December, we were actually doing Come Ye, but we were working on Order My Steps and I remember saying to him, “Every day I feel like there’s a shooting or something going on that gives us more information for the piece.” Later that week, were the shootings in Connecticut. Here it is again. Maybe I do work a lot in images.
Time Out New York: Do you think much about the spirituality of the choreography? For me, it’s there if you want it, but it’s not forced.
Annique S. Roberts: Exactly. It’s not necessary. I grew up in a family where we didn’t go to church every day. My grandfather was a preacher, and I think that turned my dad away from religion so he definitely didn’t raise me that way. My mother taught me to believe in God, but it was never forced on me. In this company, it’s there for you if you want to use it, and Ron definitely will talk about it because it’s his inspiration, but it doesn’t mean that it has to be mine. I’m not the most religious person in the company, but the stories that he chooses to tell, I get. We don’t have to talk about the spiritual part of it.
Time Out New York: How does he direct you to perform? Are you performing for each other? There’s energy between the stage and the audience, but you don’t necessarily acknowledge us in an obvious way. And you’re not looking off into the distance with a meaningful gaze.
Annique S. Roberts: Oh, he doesn’t like that! He will tell you in a heartbeat, “Don’t do that!” He will break that habit.
Time Out New York: That’s part of why it’s so great to see Ailey dance his pieces.
Annique S. Roberts: Yeah, and that’s one of his challenges when he works with them. If we ever get into that mode, he says no: “I don’t want that modern dance off into the distance—I want you to look straight like you’re going somewhere. So I think he redirects us to the intention. I think he does that with Ailey too.
Time Out New York: You’re on contract with the company. Can you support yourself with this job?
Annique S. Roberts: I can. I am so thankful for my father teaching me how to budget my money. My dad’s an accountant and since I was young I was taught how to manage my money. I now live by myself, which is nice. We have health benefits and we get paid every two weeks and that’s great. I can do side things if I want, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of Evidence work. But the salary alone can support me. I don’t like the idea of the struggling artist. I don’t think it should be that way. I don’t like that what we do is taken for granted often times and that people don’t really understand what it is that we do as dancers and the dedication and the sacrifice that it takes. I’m constantly trying to help people understand that but also reassure younger dancers that it’s possible because that’s another thing that I try to do as much as I can. It’s important that they know that they don’t just have to dance. To love dance doesn’t mean that you just have to be a performer.
Time Out New York: What do you think about when you consider your future in dance?
Annique S. Roberts: I think about being on the stage for a few more years with Evidence. But then I think about transitioning into arts administration. I’m really interested in marketing and fund-raising for dance—and exposure. I didn’t get to see a lot when I was young. But I want to finish out my performance days with Evidence and I feel like I’m just starting to—I don’t want to say peak, but everything’s starting to feel right. It’s challenging work, it’s good work, and I feel like I’m thriving in it, so everything careerwise feels in sync. I’m where I’m supposed to be.
Ronald K. Brown and Evidence, A Dance Company performs at the Joyce Theater February 12–17, 2013.