I Wanted More

Editor’s note: This month on Stance on Dance, several dance artists have been asked to share a pivotal dance experience that changed their trajectory or the way they think about dance. 


Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Salt Lake City 2005

I was 17, in college, and determined to become a ballet dancer.  It was my first semester and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago was in town. My roommate — a dancer from Illinois — told me how she loved Hubbard Street and it was one of her favorite companies, so I went with her to the show.

The first piece was Petite Mort by Jiří Kylián. I had never seen anything like it before. I felt it was different and exciting, yet somehow still classical. I had never seen anyone push classicalism in that way… almost challenging the ideals of what ballet is and could be. All my information and connection to the outside dance world up until this performance were through Pointe Magazine and old ballet videos I checked out at the library.  I had seen plenty of modern dance (my sister was a modern dance major at a different university) and some Broadway jazz and old Bob Fosse videos, but I had never seen such a thoughtful and innovative use of the ballet vocabulary.  I felt the choreographer was trying to awake all my senses and push the boundaries of what is considered ballet.

petite mort 1

The dancers in particular excited me. Even though the work they were showing was relatively dated (it premiered in 1991), I could see that it had been groundbreaking when it was made and the dancers clearly knew this. They demonstrated the material with the utmost conviction; they knew they were carrying on something that had been (and still is in many ways) revelatory for the art form. Their sense of responsibility and passion clicked for me. It was mesmerizing. A new world opened for me during that one hour performance. It literally changed my trajectory. I had been training and obsessing over being a ballet dancer and trying to accept all the rules and requirements of that career.  After that performance I wanted to be a dancer in all its shapes, forms and sizes.  I wanted to be part of processes that demanded that level of attention and passion from me.

petite mort 3

I saw that performance and I told myself I wanted more. I wanted to do more in dance and I wanted to be the explorer and the innovator. I realized that I had been training to be an executor of movement. After that show, I decided I would dive deeper into the well of dance. I wanted to be part of new ways of moving and I wanted to challenge my own ideals and notions of what dance could be. I quickly realized that I did not want to be a ballet dancer (in the traditional sense); instead, I wanted desperately to be part of carrying dance and pushing it forward.

petite mort 2

This experience put me on an endless quest where I have been lucky enough to discover more groundbreaking artists like Summer Lee Rhatigan, Pina Bausch, Shinichi Iova-Koga, Christian Burns, Malinda LaVelle and Muhanad Rasheed, all of whom opened new doors for me in what dance can be and have continuously challenged my perceptions and notions of dance.  But funny enough it all started with a beautiful performance by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in my college town.