The Rockford Dance Company has a new Artistic Director. Wayland Anderson has been a lead dancer and choreographer for ballet companies in Texas, Maryland and South Carolina, and co-founded the modern ballet company Dancewordz. It's been a busy career, but to hear him tell it, it's all perfectly natural.
For me it’s just a way to communicate, quite honestly. I just remember college years and trying to find my way, and dance allowed me on many fronts, personal and in other ways, to just be able to tell my story. You don’t see many African-American ballet dancers, let alone principal dancers, that have the opportunity to put their own heritage, their own flavor, their own feelings, their own concerns about life into the art form of ballet, and I think that’s why I do it.
Anderson says he certainly has a few memories of dance when he was younger, but nothing that made him consider it as a career. Until, that is, when he was in college at Stephen F. Austin University, and a roommate suggested that he take a modern dance class. Anderson, then a biology major, thought, why not?
And from that point, I just fell in love. And they suggested, ‘OK, well maybe you should take ballet. It will only help and improve what you do.’ And after my first ballet class something hit me, I don’t know what it was, and I knew that I had to follow this journey, whatever that looked like and that’s led me to being here.
One feature of Anderson's career is that, early on, he began doing choreography as well as dancing. Why?
Ballet for me is really about talking. It’s really about sharing stories and bringing people together to communicate. So, it’s always s been a way for me to share and to deal with ideas, whether that be politics or whether that be issues of the heart, like love.
So throughout career, Anderson says he would take a break from being a professional ballet dancer to do choreography for different companies, startup work and different projects. As Anderson puts it. that’s allowed him to use both sides of his brain.
One of those projects was the co-founding of Dancewordz, described as "the place where poetry meets ballet."
Anderson says he started the company because he wanted to reach outside the confines of traditional ballet.
For me, classical ballet is steeped in history, but my question as a dancer, a performing artist, is how does this relate to people that are alive today? We think of stories like Giselle, and they’re classic stories, but it was really important to me to create something that someone who is at Lowe’s could come in and say ‘OK, I get that. That makes sense in my life, today in 2014.'
Anderson is in the prime of his career, having achieved the rare status of a principal dancer which, along with his choreographic work, means he could go just about anywhere. So why choose the Rockford position?
Rockford for me was a place of many potentials, within the dance company, but also within the city. And I think the biggest draw for me to come here is the potential to use art as a way to unite and bring people together for common good, to share a story, to share a laugh, to share a cry, because life is really dance. And when everyone can see that, understand that, and see themselves on stage, then we’re bringing people together to deal with other issues that we have going on in the city. But art can be a way to share, and I think that was the biggest draw.
Another factor, Anderson says, is that the very fact that the Company's board chose him for who he was.
They saw the passion, they saw the drive, they saw the courage that it took to be the person that I am in this art form and accepted me, and that doesn’t happen very often. So for me it was a no brainer. Rockford is now home.
Anderson says he would like to grow the company, in more ways than one.
I’d like to see a full company of twenty-plus dancers. I would also like to create, shape and birth prima ballerinas. So instead of importing from Chicago [for Company productions], I feel that it’s my job to create those artists right here in the Rockford Dance studios. Another thing is, I would also like to see our company reflect our city - all shades, all shapes, all facets – and it’s a process. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Anderson says it begins with education, for both children and adults, and not just in the classroom.
It’s important for me to not only to share the art, but communicate what the art does for artists and what it does for the community and what it does for us as a whole.
Anderson begins his tenure as Artistic Director July 15.