Rushing to dance in Vail
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – There is no way to describe the language of dance. Each dancer creates his own with, perhaps, a look, a gesture or a pause.
Acclaimed dancer and choreographer Judith Jamison once said, “Dancers don’t always intend to communicate something specific. Dance comes from someplace internal. It’s something that happens inside, spontaneously and it might happen to suggest something.”
Alvin Ailey dancer Matthew Rushing has the ability to suggest something. He allows his audience to dig deep and feel joy or love or sadness. His moves might be serene or passionate. And when he steps onto the stage, you simply cannot take your eyes off of him. He exudes a presence that captivates. But, of this, he is seemingly unaware.
“For me, a lot of the process of dancing takes place in the rehearsing, the coaching,” the soft-spoken Rushing said during a recent phone interview. “The choreographer will give me a lot of images relating to a piece, say, giving love, receiving – and, at times, it takes a lot to communicate those images. Sometimes I approach something in a lyrical fashion. Sometimes steps are more syncopated or more grounded. So many times, in the midst of my dancing, I have to think about what the choreographer wants me to communicate and how I might approach the movement. So there are always many images and dynamics going through my mind.”
Rushing, who has been with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for 18 years, considers himself a workaholic. He is involved with after-school programs, teaches at the Ailey school, gives choreography workshops and sometimes choreographs for smaller companies.
In 2008, Jamison asked Rushing to create a piece as a tribute for her 20 years as artistic director of the company.
“I wanted to give him the opportunity for his singular voice to shine,” she told The New York Times.
It was while performing in Vail, that summer, when Rushing – relaxing in his hotel room – began to create the dance.
“It was so peaceful. And I had time to think and work things out,” Rushing said. “I came to a point where I knew that I wanted to choreograph a Harlem renaissance.”
And so began “Uptown,” which Rushing said is “structured as an episodic tour through Harlem in the 1920s.”
“When I got back to New York, I began my research,” Rushing continued. “I went to the library and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. I got DVD’s, looked at Youtube clips. Whatever I could get my hands on to get myself into the era.
“And I asked people to come in to coach and teach jazz and swing dances and basically put together a Harlem renaissance seen through my eyes.”
“Uptown” features 28 dancers. Rushing is not one of them.
“I was so overwhelmed,” he said. “I never thought of dancing in the production.”
To Rushing, the choreographer has to think of a larger picture; a dancer deals with the material and steps and the role that he or she is assigned.
“As a dancer, I would just focus on things that refer to me as a dancer,” he said. “Rarely does a dancer have to look at the complete picture because he is basically an element or tool or piece of the puzzle, so he doesn’t get to step back or get in front of the room and look at everything as one huge picture.
“On the other hand, the choreographer has to do that from the beginning: figure out how the piece is going to look at the beginning, the middle and the end and what brings each section to another section. You’re involved with all the different elements of the piece – the music, the lights, the costumes, the steps. When you dance, you interact with other dancers, but it’s not such a huge picture.”
Through his exacting technique and principled integrity, Rushing has an uncanny ability to interpret a choreographer’s intentions and has performed for former presidents George H. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, as well as President Barack Obama. He as also performed as a guest artist at galas in France, Russia, Canada, Austria, Italy and, of course, Vail.
“Damian is an incredible person, an incredible artistic director,” said Rushing of Damian Woetzel, Vail International Dance Festival’s artistic director. “I have learned so much from him by being involved in the Vail Festival. One of the reasons I do the festival is just to be around him and absorb who he is as an artist and a person.”
One of the dances Rushing will perform with fellow Ailey company members, Jamar Roberts and Clifton Brown, is “Sinner Man,” from “Revelations,” a piece Alvin Ailey created in 1960 that has become the company’s signature ballet.
“He is tenacious,” Jamison once said of Rushing. “He studies dance. He lives his life, but he remains a lover and a learner. He always thinks there’s something more, and that makes him hungry for it. So that’s what’s so beautiful about him. When you see him dance, you see that hunger and that yearning for perfection that is just immense.”