Meet the Artist: Maya Harr

Get to know the dancers! This week Maya Harr talks to us about gleaning inspiration from animals, eating at tables, and her favorite book. Read on to hear from this Virginian who joined the company in 2016 after participating in the LINES Ballet Summer Program.

Can you name three animals that inspire you by the way they move?
Every animal inspires me. There is not a single animal I can think of that doesn’t amaze me and leave me humbled. Each animals’ movement is an optimal mechanism, biologically, and physiologically constructed by centuries of evolution. Every animal moves in their perfect way to increase their chances of survival and reproduction, simple goals that propel evolution. Every motion is meticulous but effortless, almost unconscious, as they react and operate on instinct, trusting their evolutionary trajectory and behaving as the most “finely tuned instruments” that know no way else to operate. I respect this simplicity and their certainty. At times I question if I’m walking through a room in a way that looks awkward. What a stupid thing to wonder about. Have you ever seen an ostrich run? What a brilliantly odd way to move. Their tiny head floating on a skinny neck, unmoving as their massive body struts and bounces hoisted across the ground by flying legs that appear skinnier than their long neck. It appears disjointed, but it’s seamless and undeniably efficient. That wonderfully weird bird never questions how awkward it may look, all of a sudden too aware of their physical body. Instead, it moves without a doubt because it listens to evolution communicating by way of instinct.

What is your favorite weather and why?
I need sunshine. When it’s cloudy, I sit in front of a light that mimics solar rays for thirty minutes before I start my day, much like a lizard under a heat lamp. I was born in the heat and humidity of a Virginia May, welcomed by sun sending its energy and warmth to me so that I would always feel welcomed and strong. Ironically having skin the color of translucent, white tissue paper. I don’t feel full without the threat of sunburn. 

Did you ever miss a pair of flat or pointe shoes that worked like no other?
I used to skip rehearsals in the warmer months to go outside and dance on my own. I’d simply walk out of the building, no shoes on, because I needed to feel myself connected to something more sure and stable than the Marley floor that drowned me with the cooperating downward push of its partnering wall of mirrors. I’d go out and dance in my bare feet in soft, cool grass, and then on hot asphalt. I liked how I could move my feet quickly enough to only feel the sear for a moment before I pushed away and landed on somewhere that tricked my feet into thinking it was cooler until it burned again. It was a forceful reminder that I couldn’t stop moving, a brutal metaphor for my reality.

Maya Harr | © RJ Muna

I would dance until blisters the size of quarters or larger lined the bottom of my feet. Then I’d walk back into rehearsal, usually with a newly made flower crown on my head, exhilarated. Somehow I felt pride for the gigantic blisters I fought against to walk; they felt raw and real. The blisters were like a symbol of freedom on the soles of my feet. My burned feet, blistered and stained in grass, were shoes that worked like no other.

What have you learned from partnering?
I’ve learned from partnering that people are trustworthy based on personal agendas, some selfish, others selfless. Some trust is built on love and care, others prompted by duty and desire to accomplish. I have continued to confirm for myself that I don’t trust easily. However, when I decide to trust, in any form of partnership, it is unconditional and desperately loyal. 

What is your favorite food?
Handmade corn tortillas can bring me out of my deepest holes. Until around age three I was taken care of by a Guatemalan woman named Norma whom my mom did immigration work for. I remember the smell of her house. It smelled of warm, corn tortillas being mixed, shaped, and cooked by her hands. A recipe respected by decades of tradition and familial expertise. I sat on the floor, too young to walk properly, as she fed me corn tortillas straight off the grill. I can feel the giggle that probably erupted from my two year old self as the same feelings bubbles up into my throat now, thinking of that pedacito de cielo. (Little piece of heaven.)

What is your slam dunk dish for a dinner party?
I would probably bake something. I recently made a freshly picked mulberry swirled cheesecake. It got rave reviews from my family. Some went as far as to say it was, “the best cheesecake they ever had.”

Eating at the table or away from the table?
What qualifies a table? I’ve sat at proper tables, lined with embroidered linens, porcelain plates, engraved utensils, and hand-picked flowers to embellish the pomp of the occasion. I have also sat on an old blanket at the top of a hill, eating on paper from a basket shoved full of ice packs in paper bags. This table was equally glorious because of the company across from me and the view circling us, declaring its grandeur and our place inside it. If I were eating the most decadent meal on the fanciest table, but I was surrounded by coldness and tension, the table would remain what it is, a cold, hard surface capable of bearing the weight of a meal. The meal would taste bland. If I’m eating that same meal on my lap surrounded by laughter and joy, my lap becomes the largest, most exquisite table because it is then a surface for shared loved. On my lap the meal is rich.

Do you have some helpful wisdom that you can share with us?
Stay happy. If you find yourself out of joy, look for something, anything, that can bring you happiness. It can be something tiny, you may even have to push the happiness out of yourself. It’s hard work sometimes, but it’s necessary. There is SO much to find happiness in, so many reasons for joy. If you can’t find happiness, and you can’t fortify your own joy, just be content. There is something good happening for you at every moment, even if you can’t see it. The trees are making oxygen for you to breathe, the sun is sending you love and encouragement through its warmth and Vitamin-D rich rays. The Earth is working hard for you in its silence. If you can’t find happiness, see no possibility for joy, and are unable to be content, then be grateful. Graciousness will leave you full and grounded. 

Maya Harr and James Gowan | © RJ Muna

What is your favorite book and why?
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll because who is to say the things we imagine are not our reality when most of the memories we hold dear are confabulated or misinformed by our imagination. We’ve never experienced many of the things we “remember” to have experienced. So then, if we imagine our memories how can we not experience our imagination? If nothing is real, everything is.

BIO: Maya Harr grew up in Alexandria, Virginia where she studied ballet at The Washington School of Ballet under the tutelage of former LINES Ballet company dancer Kristina Windom, and award-winning choreographer Mimmo Miccolis. As a student, Maya was the recipient of the Mary Day Scholarship and was selected to participate in the Kennedy Center Master Class Series. Maya spent her summers with San Francisco Ballet, PNB, Ballet West, ABT, and the Kirov Academy. After graduating from high school, Maya moved to the Bay Area to attend the LINES Ballet Summer Program and began her training in the LINES Ballet Training Program. Maya joined LINES Ballet in 2016.

Photos: © RJ Muna