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Michelle Fleet: A lifetime of dance

CHARMAINE PATRICIA WARREN Special to the AmNews | 3/7/2013, 4:27 p.m.
Michelle Fleet: A lifetime of dance

Another funny thing is the callbacks were on Friday, Monday and Tuesday. We learned a lot of repertory and he made his decision but didn't tell anyone until Wednesday. I was getting my apartment squared away because I just graduated and was [supposed] to be at rehearsal by 12 o'clock, when he would announce who he was taking into the company. I remember using a pay phone--who uses a pay phone now?--to call the office to say, "I'm on my way. I'm so sorry; I had to pay my rent." I got there and he said "Oh, do you want to join the second company?" I said "Of course." (laughs) I'll never forget that.

AmNews: Did you have to audition for the main company also?

MF: I guess I auditioned and didn't know I was auditioning. [Maureen Mansfield] was retiring, but we thought they were going to hold an audition. The main company was away on tour, and we were auditioning for a new member in the second company. Surprisingly, I was part of conducting the audition. At the end of the audition, he came over to me and asked me to join the main company and I was completely shocked. I said "Of course."

AmNews: What is it like working for Mr. Taylor?

MF: We are all a big family. Once you're in the company, you're in this huge family, and you meet dancers from each generation who pass down their knowledge. To work with Paul is such a treat because there aren't that many living choreographers from his time, so we are still a part of the history of the company.

AmNews: What was the first work created on you?

MF: "In the Beginning" (2003)

AmNews: You are the only African-American in the company. Carolyn Adams held that role from 1965-1982. Does this mean anything to you?

MF: I never think about it when I'm there. It's almost as if there are no colors; it's just the work, purely the dancing. After Carolyn retired, there were other African-American men, but there hadn't been another African-American female. Paul has different nationalities, but because he was a painter...I'm not in his brain, but I wonder--because of our personalities and our capabilities--if he sees us as colors on his pallet. Maybe at auditions he thinks, "Oh they would fit perfectly in that color."

AmNews: Do you have any favorite roles?

MF: I get to be a chameleon in every piece. Of course I love "Esplanade," and I am honored to do the role I'm doing now.

AmNews: Who originated that role?

MF: Carolyn! It's such a treat to do that role. I hope that I honor it and bring the same enthusiasm and spirit to it. I also do a duet with Michael Trusnovec in "Piazzolla Caldera," another one of my favorite roles. And there's another duet in "Cascade" with Michael which I love. I also love Paul's darker pieces, because when do you get the chance to be ugly and dark with sweat pouring? (laughs)

AmNews: Is it still fun after so many years?

MF: Yes. I get to see the world; I get to dance on stages and bring happiness or invoke feelings to audiences through the work. It's exciting, it's thrilling.

For more information, visit ptdc.org.