Dance and Love (3 of 4)

modern style dancer posing on studio background
modern style dancer posing on studio background

Love, then.

Maggie is a dancer and choreographer; she teaches at a performing arts high school. She'd known for some time one of her colleagues, a musician, was into her, but she didn't think she wanted him; he wasn't what she was looking for. Still, he just kept coming round. Finally she agreed to try out some improvisation ideas together--her dance, his music. "I was so not interested, but then I heard him." She thought, "oh, my god, what is that?" She adds, "I was in love with the product, but I was also in love with the place it came from."

They've been together for four years now, married for one. Beyond the first bloom of love in collaboration, they've stayed close in part because they live parallel lives. When she's performing, "I feel like I have superhuman needs," Maggie says--and he understands, because he's a performer too. Even when they're not working on a collaboration, "We're always being creative together," planning their wedding, restoring an old house.

But making work together, performing, that's the heart of it for Maggie. Being with him alters her performance experience: "I'm more comfortable with myself as a human when he's on stage with me, and I feel so supported." And making work together takes their relationship from companionship to chemistry. Sharing creativity is a rare eros: "There's something about finding an impulse and riding it together," Maggie says.

Taryn was a dancer, twenty-four, auditioning for a residency; Chris was a choreographer, twenty-one and lying about it. "He had no winter coat," she remembers. When the doors were unlocked, "He stood outside and held the door open for every dancer to walk in."

When he saw her dance, he was swept away--not that her dancing was rapturous. Instead, she looked smart, detached, at once accomplished and don't-give-a-damn. "I immediately fell in love"--"a dance crush," he clarifies, but in the months between the audition and the residency, "it grew in my mind."

At the residency, they spent some awkward hours sitting side by side, too nervous to talk, until one night they "got drunk on rum punch and made out," Taryn says. (All right, so sometimes even dancers need a little help from booze.) And that was it. They moved in not long after. For years they "lived together, danced together," and spent "every hour that wasn't at our day jobs together. We were all we had for a long time," Chris says. Now, more than ten years later, settled in a house, plus a baby, they're "like twins--we have our own language. We're part of the same being."

Anyone who's seen them dance knows it. Watching a recent duet was like watching a conversation in another tongue. The content of their sharp little hops and turns, their precision hand gestures, was opaque (they copy a lot of it from film, stringing together still pictures to make a dance), but it all felt familiar: now they're working together, now she's out ahead, now he's annoying her, now she's sassing back, now whatever was serious has become silly, now they put their heads down and get on with it. The audience laughed as if it were I Love Lucy. Chris and Taryn move in concert, too, setting up an alternate world of quick coordination, funny cause-and-effect, fall and rebound, that's entirely convincing. They even look a bit alike--small and dark-eyed, with open, almost childlike faces. When they turn their heads with a snap, their straight chocolate-brown hair flies out and settles in unison.

But what was it that first brought them together? How did their dances fit together? I asked Chris whether he was looking for a muse, whether he'd had one before, and Taryn whether she'd wanted to be a muse, whether she'd been one before. They thought these questions ridiculous. The label muse simply fit what happened--which was, for Chris, seeing his work become everything he meant and more, and for Taryn, deep comfort: "Oh my god, this feels so at home on my body."

Since then, they've built a process and a style together. Talking about how they work gets confusing. They insist that Chris is the choreographer--Taryn says, "I don't make work and have no desire to"--even when their work is collaborative: "She's a brilliant engineer," Chris says. However it works, this collaboration is the creative center for both of them. For Chris, even when he makes work for other people, "I think about it on her body, or ideas through her potential response to them."

Are they jealous? Do they worry Chris will find another muse, Taryn another choreographer? I was surprised to hear that the answer is yes. "I don't want to share," Chris says. For Taryn, watching Chris make work with someone else during her pregnancy was "superhard". She also notes that choreographers have longer professional lifespans than dancers. Still, they trust that they'll figure out their future together. So far, "we've changed at the same rate, which is nice," Taryn says.

How do they see their future? They point me to another dance couple, David Gordon and Valda Setterfield, now in their seventies, who Chris and Taryn recently saw doing "a long slow walk" together, just that--"and it was stunning."

"We've always just dealt with whatever we have," Chris says. When they're old, "we'll make what we make then."

One more stop. And here we'll be going into a more complex relation between how we move and how we love.