An Original Thinker
Interview with Stephanie Saland
by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin
We recently caught up with the much-in-demand and nonpareil Stephanie Saland – to hear about her teaching and coaching approach and to what she will be bringing to her work as a guest teacher for Northwest Dance Intensive this Summer.
Tell us a bit about life before SAB...
I grew up, the eldest of three sisters, on Long Island. My father was in the film industry and my mother was a stay at home mom. My parents gave my sister and myself the option of many extracurricular activities, such as violin or music lessons, skating, ballet classes. I tried the violin but gave it up quickly. I didn’t have stage parents and ballet at the early stages was just another hobby. I was more interested in a “normal” life. I liked old movies and musicals from the 1930s and ‘40s and was leading a healthy suburban life.
Lucy Harperink, a refined and elegant white Russian in our Great Neck neighborhood, urged me to take more ballet classes. but I did not take her suggestion in earnest until a certain day. When our public school converted to computerized report cards, I felt an immediate loss of identity, and grabbing at straws, recalled Lucy's opinion and decided to go into dance.
My parents called Andre Eglevsky who gave them a list of five schools, including SAB. We called and they said to come and audition and to bring my pointe shoes – I didn’t have any, not having been on pointe. I had a private audition with Diana Adams, was accepted and put into the class with 11 year olds, as I was about four years behind. I commuted on the Long Island Railway. My coming into serious ballet was more like the typical path of a male coming into it late.
I was surrounded by skilled, ambitious people. I felt left open to new ideas, and interestingly, Muriel Stuart taught us “The Dying Swan” which I thought was great – little technique needed and all that flapping around!
Dance is so subjective and personal, especially for adolescents. while you’re doing it and I was lucky to find writers, critics, and other observers, including Judy Weiss, who had been in class with Lucy and I, who could give me an outside perspective on my development..
What were some of the benefits or stories – there must have been many -- coming out of your performing career experience at NYCB?
I enjoyed the breadth of perspective available in New York in and outside of NYCB, I have always been in love with many different ways of moving. At NYCB, the emphasis was on musicality, the lack of ego as center – it was about the work and the music, with the dancer in service to both (not the dancer as star). Balanchine brought the Imperial Russian training with him and took so much from musical structure. The choreography makes it all self-evident.
The dancer and the music need to be woven as one, inseparable. Balanchine would give dancers roles to which they were not suited in order to challenge them, including myself, and then follow with something perfectly well suited. I have so many “favorite” moments and ballets that it’s impossible to narrow it down to a few.
What are you looking to bring to the students at this Summer’s Northwest Dance Intensive?
I never come with a script – I try to discern what the needs of the class are. I’ve found that at NW Dance Intensive, the students are especially porous and expect to actually learn things, rather than to merely parrot what they see. I love bringing the larger teaching package, instead of a narrow slice of knowledge.
What might be human interest item about you that you may want to mention?
I loved the film “PINA.” I went to see it twice, and the second was a post discussion with the director Wim Wenders.
I was always a fan of her material and making the film was contingent on it not being biographical. In essence both she and Wenders worked to produce something where “It’s not about me!” -- it's what works in creating truth and beauty. I admire the director’s ability to elicit each person’s truth without telling them “how.” It felt not directed but facilitated.
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