Dance




Columbia Daily Tribune - Dancer Feature

Date: March 13, 2011

Niche: A weekly peek at an area artist

Fernando Rodriguez

“If you’re thinking about the future too much, then you’re not able to give yourself completely. You can’t exert your energy into something that doesn’t already exist. Let yourself be in the moment 100 percent.”

A wise philosophy from a 23-year-old man who has lived in Columbia only a short while and is doing his personal best to live in the moment from day to day. But this particular man is not only a philosopher by trade — he’s also a dancer. And he can effectively argue that the two professions are one and the same.

Fernando Rodriguez, a member of the luminous Missouri Contemporary Ballet, described how he compressed the symbolic elements of his “be in the moment” philosophy into scrupulous dance choreography, which he created last fall for the ballet company’s choreography installation.

“It started as a group piece but went into a duet toward the end,” Rodriguez elaborated. “I also used a core of dancers as representation of past and future struggles.”

To him, dance is not only the technique of particular movements — pirouettes and pliés, arabesques and fouettés — but also a highly conscientious expression of the raw emotion flourishing inside an individual. Dance is a wholly unique way of telling a story: “You don’t use words, and it’s all physical. Maybe the music says something, but you’re able to just release anything that is on your mind or express an idea that you’ve had to a broad audience,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez grew up in Michigan but, amazingly for a professional dancer, had no formal training until he was 18. He participated in sports and musical theater in his community and in school, snapping up roles in the musicals “West Side Story” and “Chicago.”

“I was always more connected to the dancing than all the other parts,” Rodriguez remembered.

Others began to notice: During Rodriguez’s senior year, theater professional Gerry Schultz contacted him about joining Port Huron’s Nutcracker Ballet Theatre Company. Schultz had heard from many of her female ballet students that he was an apt dancer in musical productions, and she hoped to recruit him for the next production of the Nutcracker Ballet. Schultz offered Rodriguez a free ballet class through the company to see whether he would be ripe for the challenge. As it turns out, he was.

“I went down and had my first ballet class, and I loved it,” he said. “I had never done it before, but it was a lot of discipline and control. I loved being able to express yourself while dancing.” Perceiving this as an opportunity to express himself in an entirely new form and language, he reveled in how the art form drew upon his physicality and his emotions.

Rodriguez soon decided he wanted to pursue dance as a career. But colleges had already conducted auditions for fall dance programs. So he waited a year and obtained a massage therapy degree in the interim, which turned out to be a wonderful boon.

“I know a lot about the body and the kinesiology of it,” Rodriguez said. “I was aware of my body and what it needed to do, what it could do — which I think helped me grow so quickly as a dancer.”

He attended several dance intensives in Michigan and New York before and during college, well aware that he had much catching up to do in comparison to colleagues who had studied dance for their whole lives.

During Rodriguez’s term at Grand Valley State University two years ago, Karen Mareck Grundy, the director of MCB, came through to audition students. She offered a contract to Rodriguez, and he accepted without even taking a jaunt down to Missouri.

“I just went on Craigslist and found a place to live,” he remembered, laughing. “That’s what I was going to school for, so I took it. A dancer’s career doesn’t last their whole lives. It’s the one art form that’s very short-lived.”

Rodriguez relishes the style that infuses MCB, the particular combination of structured classical ballet and the more free-flowing, expressive feel of modern dance.

“You get the best of both worlds,” he said. “You can only do a pirouette one way, and it’s universal. That’s something you work toward. But with modern, it’s more loosely interpreted.” Regardless of the style, he noted, “You’re giving a story to the audience.”

He loves being able to draw upon his own life experiences and emotions and infuse those into the dance expression he is moving through at that time.

“Everything we do has to have an expression,” Rodriguez said. “Otherwise it doesn’t really mean anything.”

His own calculated, arching movement in a recent daily rehearsal clearly conveys that sense of focus and expressive storytelling. Within the team at MCB, Rodriguez is a pivot point for the emotional energy that courses through the other ballet members. And he knows that the experience doesn’t cease once he stops moving in the studio.

“If you work in an office job, you might be able to leave it behind and go home,” Rodriguez said. But dancers “have to take it on as a lifestyle. You’re always living and breathing dance. A lot of self-growth happens.” But Rodriguez ultimately believes it is worth the sacrifice.

“I believe in the art form that’s being created. That’s why I’m here,” he said. Both his voice and his body, lost in the moment, will speak that truth.

Reach Jill Renae Hicks at 573-815-1714 or e-mail jrhicks@columbiatribune.com.

This article was published on page C3 of the Sunday, March 13, 2011 edition of The Columbia Daily Tribune.

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