Get to know Alonzo King LINES Ballet’s artists! We kick off a new Q&A series with veteran Meredith Webster who danced with the company for nine years prior to becoming the Ballet Master in 2014. Read on to learn about the challenges and triumphs she encountered through her 15-year relationship with LINES Ballet…
Meredith, why dance?
Dancing has always made sense to me. Like a bird in the open sky, whales in the ocean, I never asked myself why I was there. What draws me to movement, and especially to the part of it where we share it with other people: I feel there the most complete and direct method of sharing my understanding of what is important.
I wasn’t always aware of that, and I’m not sure whether that has always been why I danced, but my first teacher said of me once: “she always understood me.” As my practice goes on, “the work” becomes more and more integrated with the concept of “me.” As other motivations have sloughed away, I am left with the desire to share ideas through embodying them. Ideas like love, generosity, empowerment, and bravery in vulnerability are best understood by me when I “perform” them – literally when I take their form. If I can become them, dissolve the duality between these ideas and myself, I connect to them directly. If I honestly and single-mindedly become light, I am unified with all that carries light in it: I am connected to you. And this is comforting to me. It is a peace offering and a hopeful gesture. In my experience, it is the truth.
When was the time you felt that there was a big change in your dancing/understanding?
It was gradual for me I think, but I remember at a certain point maybe around my sixth year of LINES I no longer felt inhibited by my technique. It wasn’t that I was perfect on that level, but I had the distinct feeling that at some point things had started “working.” It felt like if I took enough time and focus, I could do *almost* whatever I wanted, which freed me up for other foci. But I’m not sure – maybe it was because I had started focusing on other things besides achieving the physicality, and so it lost some of its power over me.
Can you describe some of the obstacles that stood in the way of you becoming the ‘me’ that you speak about, and how did you break through them?
- Technical training that focused on the science and did not concurrently ask me to make choices and didn’t treat me as a creator. In the Vaganova technique (and in much classical training) it seems even the emotion is given a codified technical form. I do not regret getting that training as it has given me a DEEP understanding of function leading to form, but I was not required to make choices with my dancing for several years, so my muscles there atrophied. Luckily they didn’t completely die, and I could later use my technical understanding of that form-function connection to create forms that had my own messages in them.
- A culture that tells you that being an artist is not a safe career choice, that you will likely not succeed, and that if you do it will end at a young age. Not sure I’ve completely broken through this one yet, but I just keep following my instincts and working hard. After I finished college I was looking for internships and jobs in renewable energy, and I wasn’t unhappy about that. But when Donald Byrd moved to Seattle at the same time, I figured I should probably audition for his company. When I started rehearsals with Spectrum, I sort of remembered: “oh yeah, I’m a dancer.” As I get older I can more easily visualize how the dancer in me will live in other forms even if I’m not performing. But I also realize the truth that not many people talk about – that you don’t HAVE to stop working as a mover if you don’t want to, you just tend to gravitate towards new forms, and that this does not have to mean settling for less, in fact, it gets richer.
- Fear of not being correct, good, productive.
- Self-consciousness, wanting to control what other people think of me.
- The need for external validation.
All of these are a lifetime of work, but the more I get quiet, identify then walk toward my fears, and shed what doesn’t serve me, the more I can break through these obstacles and the more free I am to connect with the truth of my bigger, divine Self.
When did you feel the most understood, supported, and clearest in working.
After that change I described, where I felt an inherent relationship to my technique, I felt most clear and realized. I felt seen during my time as a dancer at LINES, and this increased with time as my relationship with Alonzo and his work grew. This is one of the great gifts of staying in one place.
Some other ways my clarity increased:
- Repetition + a commitment to always finding more. Many shows, many classes, many new phrases.
- Reflection & curiosity
- Shedding effort, relaxing
- Listening more
- My partnerships with some of the other dancers at LINES changed my life – provided safety and support, and opened doors of interdependence and vulnerability that allowed me new visceral sensations. There was something about arriving at ideas in partnership that allowed me to feel the truth of those ideas so directly, to dissolve into those ideas without worry. Those generous partners also allowed me to trust that I would be caught if I fell down, that we would make it work if something wasn’t perfect. The freedom they gave me to be vulnerable in their care taught me how to allow myself to be more vulnerable (seen) when I was on my own.
- Studying gaga and having a continued practice/exploration of new ways to access my physicality helped me feel fresh.
- Watching other artists who inspired me.
When did you feel covered, unseen, hiding, or forced, and how was that reconciled?
Sometimes you just don’t want to move a certain way or approach a process the way someone else wants you to. I guess, probably because of my training (both family/cultural and dance) I often didn’t really allow myself to see those things as optional, they were the work that I was assigned to do and it needed to be done. This is not always a good thing. But part of what it trained me to do was to get over my preferences because often I wasn’t allowed them. When I was really young, I was super resistant and had tons of fights with my dad and in general challenged authority everywhere. Later I learned that I suffered and, more importantly, regretted less if I put up less resistance, even if I didn’t give up my opinion. Now, I aim for a balance – an approach where my preferences and opinions don’t preclude me from doing the work and learning from the work: an acknowledgment that even what I don’t like is related to a part of me. This allows me to be more open: to receive more information from the work I do, and then I can use that information on how I choose, in alignment with my values.
What are some thoughts that you could share that you’ve found invaluable in your life?
Listen first and wait longer than you want to before responding with words. Don’t assume you have to respond with words.
“The deepest pleasure comes from riding the line between commitment and detachment. Commit yourself fully to the process, the journey, to bringing the best you can bring. Detach yourself from ego and outcomes.”
– Adrienne Maree Brown
By Ross Gay
If you find yourself half naked
and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing,
again, the earth’s great, sonorous moan that says
you are the air of the now and gone, that says
all you love will turn to dust,
and will meet you there, do not
raise your fist. Do not raise
your small voice against it. And do not
take cover. Instead, curl your toes
into the grass, watch the cloud
ascending from your lips. Walk
through the garden’s dormant splendor.
Say only, thank you.
BIO: Meredith Webster (Ballet Master) grew up in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, studying under Jean Wolfmeyer. She worked with Sonia Dawkins and Donald Byrd in Seattle and earned a BS in Environmental Science from the UW before moving to San Francisco to work with LINES. In her nine seasons as a dancer with the company, Webster originated many central roles and received a Princess Grace Award. In 2014 she moved into the role of Ballet Master. Since then, she performed with Ledoh/Salt Farm, worked with the Maureen Whiting Company, and co-created Empress Archer, an evening-length duet produced by The Cambrians of Chicago. Webster has served as a faculty member for all of the LINES programs, and as a guest teacher around the world. She has contributed as a writer to Dance Spirit and Conversations.
Photos: © RJ Muna
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