Theater Thoughts

I love being in the theater before anyone else gets there, when the dressing room doors are still locked and the security guard has to fish through his massive collection of keys to find the one that fits my door. Before the stagehands arrive to their dark dungeon of a room, littering foul smells and foul language throughout the backstage area, yelling at each other, cheering for some game on television.  

The house is lit and the work lights cast comforting shadows over the empty red velvet seats. Nothing moves; everything is silent. The enormous space, at once welcoming and daunting, swallows me.  

And there are no mirrors! What a relief, after weeks or months of constant self-criticism, to be free from my own image! I can simply walk out onto the stage and gaze into a sea of darkness rather than being forced to stare at my own reflection. Onstage, I’m not consumed with my fluctuating size or unchangeable proportions. I immerse myself in the artistry of the movement and react to inner impulses as opposed to outside images. I become a less inhibited woman.  

This is ironic, given that on average there are 2,500 sets of eyes watching from the audience. But something inexplicable happens when the house lights go down and the sound of the orchestra swells. My heart beats a little faster and my mind battles itself to stay calm. My legs feel weighted and weak, threatening to buckle. My stomach turns in spite of the two or three Tums I just chewed in the dressing room. I convince myself that I’m ready. I jab the toe of each shoe into the ground in an effort to reassure myself that the floor is still there. I kiss my partner and wish him “merde.” Delicious anticipation!

At the end of the night, I walk across the stage on my way out of the theater. A single, naked light bulb is positioned like a beacon at the foot of the stage. It shines against the black void of house lights, commanding my attention and beckoning my return. The space that was just flooded with the sound of music and applause is now quiet and abandoned. It too needs some rest.  

I listen to the sound of my New Balance sneakers squeaking against the marley and relish these few moments of solitude. Not often can I experience the stage without some other presence in the wings, in the house, or in the lighting booth.  

I take a deep breath and smile. I’m already home.

(From left) Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland (all photos by Erin Baiano)

Congratulations to Dance Spirit's 2019 Cover Model Search finalists: Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland! One of them will win a spot on Dance Spirit's Fall 2019 cover. Learn more about the dancers on their profile pages, and then vote for your favorite below. You can vote once a day now through July 15.

We also want you to get social! We'll be factoring social media likes and shares into our final tallies. Be sure to show your favorite finalist some love on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, sharing their profile pages and using the hashtag #DanceSpiritCMS.

Cover Model Search
Photo by Erin Baiano

Imagine attending American Ballet Theatre's prestigious NYC summer intensive, training among classical ballet legends. Imagine taking the stage at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals, competing against some of the country's best contemporary dancers. Now, imagine doing both—at the same time.

Welcome to Madison Brown's world. This summer, she's in her third year as a National Training Scholar with ABT, while also competing for NYCDA's Teen Outstanding Dancer title. (She's already won Outstanding Dancer in the Mini and Junior categories.) The logistics are complicated—ABT's five-week intensive overlaps with the weeklong NYCDA Nationals, which translates to a lot of cabs back and forth across Manhattan—but Maddie is committed to making the most of each opportunity. "I love contemporary and ballet equally," she says. "While I'm able to do both, I want to do as much as I can."

Maddie has an expressive face, endless extensions, and a quiet command of the stage. She dances with remarkable maturity—a trait noted by none other than Jennifer Lopez, one of the judges on NBC's "World of Dance," on which Maddie competed in Season 2. Although Maddie didn't take home the show's top prize, she was proud to be the youngest remaining soloist when she was eliminated, and saw the whole experience as an opportunity to grow. After all, she's just getting started. Oh, that's right—did we mention Maddie's only 14?

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Cover Story
Photo by Erin Baiano

Click here to vote for Emma.

There's a story Kate Walker, director of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX, loves to tell about Emma Sutherland, who just graduated from the program. "We were watching the students run a really long, challenging piece," Walker recalls. "Several kids couldn't quite make it through. But Emma did make it all the way to the end, which is when she walked up to us faculty and very politely asked, 'May I please go throw up?' "

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