The first time I saw Alethea Alexander dancing, I could not take my eyes off of her. A new member of Bellingham Repertory Dance (BRD), Alethea is a highly skilled, physically brave mover with a focus and presence you feel from across the room. To have the opportunity to experience a dancer at this level, living and working in Bellingham, may seem surprising to those not familiar with our dance community. These dancers only live in big cities like New York, right?
If not for Bellingham Repertory Dance, that might be the case. Formed in 2005, BRD is a collective of accomplished dancers dedicated to bringing high-quality, audience-accessible, vibrant, contemporary dance to Bellingham. Diane Williams, a founding member of BRD, described the formation of the company as something that was meant to be. “I was teaching dance, but that alone wasn’t quite fulfilling everything I wanted as a dancer. I was hungry for more, and talking with a couple other dancers, we learned that there were a handful of local dancers who felt the same. It actually seemed to me like a very organic and natural process getting BRD started.”
When talking about Diane’s dancing with others, bodies soften, faces melt into pleasure-filled grins and the “oooohs” begin. She is a languid, far-reaching, powerhouse. Just when you think she’s reached the end of a moment she finds one more inch. With the strength of an athlete, she is an artist. Her athleticism fuels her artistry, never getting in the way or taking over.
Diane recently took time off from the company to have a baby. When describing her return (which was not guaranteed, because auditions are required for anyone new or hoping to return), she explained both concern and joy. “At first, I had a lot of self-doubt about whether I would be able to get back the physical strength and stamina that is required of dancing with BRD.”
This writer can tell you she is indeed back, and then some. “A subtle shift took place after I became a mother. I feel more grounded and open-hearted as a person and I feel that change energetically when I’m dancing. It’s a lovely feeling.”
Dancers in BRD range from recent college graduates to newlyweds to mothers. The life experiences of the women of BRD (this year the company is composed of all women) make for a rich experience for both the audience and the company members. In Diane’s words, “I really am grateful for the relationships I’ve made over these years with BRD. I love that I get to hang out with such intelligent, talented, creative, hilarious, caring, slightly subversive and fun women. It’s a gift to work with a group of peers that constantly inspires me.”
There is no doubt that Alethea Alexander is providing some of this inspiration. A Bellingham native, Alethea recently graduated from the University of Washington with a BA in dance and soon after landed in San Francisco. “When I was living in San Francisco I felt suffocated by a lack of space: financial space, physical space, creative space, social space. I wanted to come back to Bellingham so that I could explore dance at a professional level, but also be in a community and a geographical place that offered diversity and space.”
Alethea brings a youthful energy and physical virtuosity that is expected of a younger dancer. What isn’t necessarily expected is emotional depth and presence. Perhaps her answer to the question, “What does it feel like when you are dancing?” can explain this. “I have never claimed to understand meditation in the classic sense, but I think that it must be something close to what I feel when I am dancing. There is a powerful sense of simultaneously knowing myself and also being overwhelmed by what I haven’t discovered yet. Sometimes I feel powerful, sometimes scared, sometimes frustrated, or vulnerable, or attentive. But I almost always feel honest.”
In April, BRD will present “Phrasings in Word and Dance” at the Firehouse Performing Arts Center in Fairhaven. This performance is in collaboration with the Chuckanut Sandstone Writers Theatre. Poets submit their work, and choreographers, BRD members and professional choreographers choose poems as inspiration for a new piece. Another opportunity to feel Diane and Alethea perform. . . I wouldn’t miss it.
For additional information about BRD, visit bhamrep.org
By Pamela Kuntz