With her nearly limitless facility, well-timed dynamics and incredible control, Christian Burse's future as a dancer was guaranteed to be bright. A student at the renowned Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX, and at Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, TX, Burse has consistently made waves: She won first runner-up for Teen Outstanding Dancer at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals in 2019, received a grant for summer study at Juilliard from the Texas Young Masters program in 2020, and was named a YoungArts finalist for dance in 2021.
So, it wasn't all that surprising when Burse announced that, at just 17 years old, she would be joining Complexions Contemporary Ballet as an apprentice for the company's 2021–22 season.
Dance Spirit caught up with Burse to hear all about her first season with Complexions ahead of the contemporary ballet company's run at the Joyce Theater in NYC this month.
Dance Spirit: Congratulations on joining Complexions Contemporary Ballet this season! What led to your signing on to one of your dream companies?
Christian Burse: I had been attending their summer intensive since I was 12 years old. So I've built a good relationship with the company and gotten familiar with their repertoire. On the flip side, the company directors have gotten to see me progress and grow as an artist over the years. I didn't know it, but attending their programs all those years really served as my audition for the company, because in August, I got the email saying they would love for me to apprentice this season. I was shocked, and never thought I'd be at the point where I'd be invited to join my dream company, let alone this early in my dance career. But it really showed me that hard work pays off. I still find it surreal that I get to wake up every day and be in a studio with Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson.
DS: What drew you to Complexions to begin with?
Burse: The diversity of the company. I love how we have, for example, both super-tall and super-short dancers—everyone's so different and unique in their own way, and the directors encourage us to all be ourselves and embrace those differences.
DS: And how are you balancing your new role with school?
Burse: That's right, I haven't graduated yet! Luckily my school is very supportive of me doing this, and I've been able to transfer all of my work for senior year online. It's challenging, but you gotta do what you gotta do to stick with your priorities and goals. That's the mindset I always come back to.
DS: What does a typical day look like for you now?
Burse: We generally rehearse from either 9 to 5 or 10 to 6. The first hour and a half we always do a ballet class to warm up. Then we go straight into rehearsals, working really hard to prepare for all of our performances. Then it's mainly just getting home, eating dinner and going straight into homework.
DS: What was your first time performing with the company like?
Burse: I got to make my Complexions debut at our performances in Riga, Latvia, where we traveled this past October. I was practically in tears when we rehearsed onstage, because every dancer dreams of performing with their dream company or role, and to finally be in that moment was so liberating. Every time I perform, I get such an adrenaline rush, and it reignites my passion for dance.
DS: What was it like making the transition from competition kid to company member?
Burse: It wasn't as scary as I thought it would be, because a lot of the values I learned prepared me for where I am now. Things like training in all styles, rehearsing pieces for comp season, preparing my solos—all translate here. In particular, being able to adapt and pick up quickly has served me, because we go super fast in rehearsal and learn new choreography at a rapid pace.
DS: What advice do you have for aspiring company members?
Burse: Auditioning for a company can be nerve-racking, but try to keep the mindset that you're simply sharing your talent, and remember that what you have to offer has value. Everyone is so different, and company directors are looking to see who you really are.
DS: What have you learned from more seasoned members in the company?
Burse: The dancers who have been with Complexions for a while move so differently. It's less of "I have to get this technically correct" or "I have to use the correct arm," and instead they pay attention to the feeling that the repertoire brings. Of course their technique is still there, but they focus on more than just steps, and take big risks with a certain maturity that I want to get to someday.
DS: Is it nice having a few other company apprentices to go through this with?
Burse: Definitely! One of the other apprentices, Emma Branson, joined at the same time as me, and it's been great to have someone to freak out with about how cool this experience is, and process it together.
DS: What do you have in mind for the future?
Burse: I definitely see myself with the company, hopefully, for a little bit longer. But after that, I hope it's with another amazing company that I can also move up through. I love contemporary ballet, and see myself doing that for a long time.
Catch Burse performing from November 16–28 during Complexions Contemporary Ballet's program at the Joyce Theater in NYC!