Dianne McIntyre has been called a “groundbreaking artistic pioneer,” a “choreographic genius” and “one of modern dance’s reigning divas”—praise showered on her since 1972 and the birth of Sounds in Motion, her now-defunct dance company, and throughout a four-decade long career.
From the beginning, McIntyre’s choreographic signature has been a seamless mix of scripted and spontaneous moves capturing both her intent and the souls of master musicians such as Max Roach, Cecil Taylor, Olu Dara, Ahmed Abdullah and others. She has also created scores of dances for other companies, such as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Joan Myers Brown’s Philadanco, award-winning Broadway shows, regional theater productions, motion pictures and TV shows. The list is impressive: the Lincoln Center Theater/Broadway production of August Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” the TV production of Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” Oprah Winfrey Harpo/Disney’s “Beloved” and HBO’s “Miss Evers Boys,” which won her an Emmy nomination. And that is only part of it.
So when the NYPL announced “Dianne McIntyre’s Selfie Session” Thursday, April 23 at the Performing Arts Library’s Bruno Walter Auditorium, folks flocked. This, after all, was an opportunity to peer behind the curtain at a brilliant artist whose work and life is inspired and inspiring.
The NYPL’s “Selfie Session” blended a traditional one-on-one interview with modern technology. The selfies were cellphone photos offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse at McIntyre’s process while creating a work for Joan Myers Brown’s Philadanco using folksinger Odetta’s music or working with the talented youngsters in Def Dance Jam or members of Dancing Wheels, whose abilities are enhanced, not limited, by their wheelchairs.
Photos flashed on a giant screen sharing the stage with McIntyre, and her NYPL interviewer included everything from a picture of the massive weights wrapped around her ankles, of a pre-rehearsal warm-up, a passage from Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” CDs, notebooks and more. They sparked memories and comments that opened a window into her creative process, her life and her joyful and generous spirit. Reminiscing, a relaxed McIntyre even looped the audience into the conversation, asking, “Is this interesting?” Of course, the immediate response was “Yes!” At one point, she cooed with delight when spotting friends and colleagues, including Carmen de Lavallade, Aziza, former Ailey dancer Michele Murray, teacher and former Eleo Pomare dancer Carole Y. Johnson, singer-actress Tina Fabrique and others.
Of the ankle weights, McIntyre said, “Before I go into the studio, I do warm-ups with legs. It’s very strengthening because I have had challenges with arthritis with my hips.”
A picture of her vitamins flashed on screen. “I like glucosamine, calcium, condroitin and vitamin C, A and E. Vitamin B is just good in general,” she said.
The sound of Odetta’s rich mournful voice singing “Another Man Done Gone” prompted McIntyre to explain why she’s using it on a current work in progress. “I even met Odetta once. The first time I heard her music was while taking dance classes at Cleveland’s Karamu Theatre.” She pinpointed specific lyrics: “Before I be a slave I’ll be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free.” Said McIntyre, “Its her words, her voice and my history.” Also, she says, unlike some musicians, Odetta’s music leaves space for the dance. “Some music is too dense for dance.”
Another picture shows McIntyre applying stage makeup so she describes a day before a performance beginning with a tech rehearsal, then “walking the space to see how it felt” and “offering a blessing for me being in the space.” At one point, chuckling, she recalls a walk-through that evolved, before she knew it, into dancing full-out. “I’m doing jumps and I haven’t even warmed up.” She chuckled. “This is not a good idea.”
The treasure trove of insights and information packed into McIntyre’s “Selfie Session” even touched on how costume choices can make or break a dance, warm memories of painter Romare Bearden, an ardent supporter, and praise for collaborator Aziza and rehearsal director Deborah Chase-Hicks. All of these revelations gave us a glimpse of the soul of one for whom dance is life but none more fully than when McIntyre said, “I used to be wracked with nerves before a performance. Now, nervousness I have when I’m dancing myself is, can I become one with the dance? Can I become one with the message?”