Jamie is not your typical ballet choreographer. He didn’t spend years training in the dance studio or dancing professionally before evolving into a choreographer, he was a drummer, a musician, a copywriter, and even a marketing executive before turning to dance. So, how did this musician and corporate guru go from board room to dance floor? I was fortunate enough to spend an hour with Jamie to find out.
In his mid teens, Jamie was flipping through television channels when he landed on PBS. They had just begun a series called “Dance In America,” and Jamie came face to face with dance for the first time. His main interest was music, but now he saw it in a new light watching Twlya Tharp’s Eight Jelly Rolls. In the following weeks, he curiously watched as Alvin Ailey and then Dance Theatre of Harlem appeared. Jamie remarked, “I was amazed to see the mix of dance forms like ballet, Horton, jazz, and African dance to current music.” In fact, he was so intrigued with the pairing, that he began exploring dance in different ways. “In college I began to watch class and see shows; I even subscribed to Dance Magazine.”
As years passed, Jamie joined the corporate world and kept his love for dance under wraps, and only attended performances from time-to-time. However, one day things began to change for Jamie, personally and professionally, and once again, dance was back in his life. “At 35 years old I’d been watching all this dance, and I decided to see how they (dancers) do what they do and learn to dance.” Not long after Jamie started to dance, he began to choreograph. “Whatever I’m into, I have to experience all of it…. it’s a weird quirk of mine.” Soon Jamie found himself wrapped up in the San Francisco dance scene. He danced and choreographed for Kathy Mata Ballet, entered the ODC Pilot program for emerging choreographers, and found himself hanging out with Brenda Way and other notable choreographers from around the Bay Area. “I had a need to create no matter what and have people take me seriously.”
Jamie classifies his style as contemporary ballet. “I like the beauty of ballet movement but don’t want it to be a museum piece. I want to keep ballet movement but mix in different styles to keep it fresh.” He clarified and added, “I look for a ballet dancer with modern sensibility.” Through his contemporary choreography, Jamie’s goal is to explore and understand his own feelings of masculinity, femininity and relationships. “I keep asking the question over and over again about art in general… the nature of art is to be as self-revealing as possible… this is my story, and this is what I think.”
He also acknowledged that many of his creations are based off acute interpersonal interactions he has witnessed. Like replaying his thoughts, Jamie recreates the incidents with his dancers, creating his vision of the atmosphere as well as seeing what his dancers feel. Unlike most choreographers, Jamie focuses on and celebrates what makes his dancers unique. He mentioned the excitement he felt during a recent performance where one character was double casted. He said, “Two different dancers gave the audience two different pieces.” Although he sets the steps exactly, he said this allows his dancers “to improve what’s inside and the steps will read differently. I try not to dictate movement or direction until they get stuck. I want their discomfort to come across.”
When asking Jamie about his process, he said, “My process is changing. I use to dictate what and where the movements were. Now that I’m working more loosely with composers, I develop as we go.” He continued to add, “My biggest fear is that dancers don’t think I know what I’m doing… I’m trying to give the dancer space to think. It’s a good thing for an artist to be treated better than cattle. However, some people think it’s unfocused.”
Jamie and I spoke a lot about creating, processes, and dancers, but one thing I was most intrigued by was the advice he had for dancers. He said, “Number one, is to be open and try to go as wild as you can. Risk as much as you can until the director tells you to stop. Number two, become engaged with the music. The music is the dialogue between the movement and dancer. Dancers who can’t hear things in the music, have no investment to the music.” In addition, I asked Jamie what a dancer should never do in rehearsal and his opinion was something every dancer should know and learn. He revealed that it makes him angry, “…when dancers are practicing choreography from another show while they are in my rehearsal. When you’re in the room with the choreographer, everything should be about that experience.”
As our time came to a close, I had just enough time to ask Jamie one more question. I asked what dance was he most proud of creating. His answer was “Right now, Bella Donna was my best piece. Almost a year later, I said exactly what I wanted to say with it. I don’t get tired thinking about it.” He also added, “I don’t really know how it was received, but it was the most vulnerable piece for me. It’s such a quiet piece, I will always look affectionately on it.”
It was quite excited to speak with Jamie about his life as a choreographer. When I lived in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to work with Jamie as a co-worker at LINES and as one of his company members. I was always fascinated with his background and choreographic ideas but never really uncovered his story until now.