Interview with Anthony Savoy, of Dance Theatre of Harlem
Anthony Savoy has been dancing with the Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) for four years. Two of those years, he was a member of the second company, better known as the Dance Theatre of Harlem Ensemble. See him perform with the Dance Theatre of Harlem October 17-19 at Sidney Harman Hall.
Q: What was your first introduction to the company? How did you feel the first time you saw DTH perform?
A: Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to see the company perform before it’s hiatus, but many of the dancers still had a major impact on me, like Rasta Thomas and Clifford Williams. My very first introduction to DTH as a company was through the effortless beauty of Alicia Graf Mack. I’d heard of the company because of her name and dancing career. She was my biggest inspiration as a young dancer. She is also from Maryland. I’d Google her all the time and actually did a web search of her one day, which led me to DTH’s webpage. I did some looking around and saw that the company was not only under new direction, but also looking for dancers. The next week I was on a bus, headed to one of their auditions. It’s funny seeing her around now and actually talking to her. She knows how she has impacted me, and treats me more like a friend. She’s everything I expected and more, with the cherry on top.
Q: What is your favorite piece and why?
A: My favorite piece in our current repertoire would have to be Ulysses Dove’s Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven. I am so captivated by this ballet. It’s subtitled Odes to love and loss, set to the music of Arvo Pärt. If you listen to the music, it’s so simple. Yet, it is detailed enough to permit any emotion you want it to express. For me, it helps create a dream-like state. In doing some research on this ballet and its components in preparation to perform it, I found it interesting and ironic that Pärt composed this score after the death of one of his inspirations, composer Benjamin Britten. Then knowing that Ulysses was inspired to choreograph this ballet after the loss of many of his loved ones, it’s rare that music speaks to your pain in such a direct way. But when it does, it’s magic. It’s almost like uprooting your most hidden secrets and forcing you to face them - all at once. The costuming is equally simple - all white unitards. Initially scary, but when you overcome that fear, you see how beautiful and vulnerable it allows you to be. The lighting for this ballet is equally unadorned. Black stage, one central spotlight and six smaller spotlights, placed strategically in relation to the main focal point. No set, no smoke and mirrors. Just you and your soul. The dancing itself dismisses all simplicity and forced me to come to terms with certain “technical truths” about myself. Like, my leg only goes this high or I can only do four pirouettes (to the left), and I can hold this only a second longer - without being late. But somehow, within those margins, I found it only made me want to push my boundaries a little harder each time. Ulysses spoke about the significance of this ballet for himself and it stuck with me. He said, “It was the first time that I feel I used dance to heal myself. It was the most amazing thing. When it was all finally done and premiered, I’d never felt such a sense of healing. Such a sense of healing that I was so much better for having done this piece than I would’ve been if I had not. I had made my peace with this issue.” I’ve held onto that as a reminder when dancing this ballet because dance has always allowed me to heal myself. It’s always been my therapy, and it’s so purifying to step on stage and let it all go. To say, to do, and to be everything that you are. Nothing is better. I feel so lucky and honored to be able to dance this. It’s so honest and pure.
Q: You were a cultural ambassador for the United States while performing and doing community outreach in Kingston, Jamaica, can you tell me a little about that experience and what you took away from it?
A: As a cultural ambassador for the United States, doing community outreach in Jamaica, Israel, Turkey or any country we travel to is always amazing. Daunting but amazing. It really reminds me how small I am, in comparison to our mission. Whenever we go out we have to show well and be a representation of not only DTH the organization, but also America. At best - I can only be and represent myself the only way I have been raised,which is to be courteous and respectful. But I’m always extra well-behaved when out and about in a foreign country. DTH has a one liner that always plays in all of our minds when we travel, “We represent something much larger than ourselves.” It truly has been ingrained in our heads. Once you know that, you only want to be that reflection. The best part, by far, has to be seeing the smiles on the kids faces when we are done teaching class, doing a Q&A, or a hosting a lecture demonstration. You can see that our being there truly levels the playing field and the way they see themselves as future artists. I’ll take that with me, always. I’ve even had kids come up to me and say, “I’ll see you next year or I can’t wait ‘til you come back.” I try to stay in touch whenever they reach out to me on Facebook or Instagram, which many do. They inspire me, just as much as I hope I inspire them.
Q: Who is inspiring you in the world of dance right now?
A: My inspirations in the world of dance right now would have to be my friends. Kind of cliche, but my friends are kind of major. The stunning beauty, Misty Copeland. She’s killing it right now. She’s everywhere. Diet Dr. Pepper commercials, to fashion spreads for Essence, to being the face of the Boys and Girls Clubs, all while being a Soloist at American Ballet Theatre. I mean c’mon! She honestly has a heart of gold and is one of the most beautiful artists I’ve ever encountered. I was going through a hard time with some decisions I was facing and she really helped me. Then, we have my best amigo. The princely Calvin Royal III, who I call “Bean.” He’s a rising star with American Ballet Theatre. He and I are like two peas in a pod. We just get it! He’s coming up on some premiers this fall in Alexei Ratmansky’s Piano Concerto #1 and as one of the principal couples, in Twyla Tharp’s Bach Partita. I’m so proud of him. He inspires me to be better in every aspect of life. Keep an eye out for him. My baby love and ballet’s golden girl, Michaela DePrince. She’s currently dancing with Het Nationale Ballet in the Netherlands. She’s doing it her own way, and I love it. She doesn’t see any limitations on herself, and I am in awe of that. Quite the little power house for someone her size. I miss her dearly, but she’ll be home in December. So dear to my heart, the picturesque Alicia Graf Mack. She’s currently dancing with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. Without her, I doubt I would be here today. I have never met anyone like her, ever. She’s a beautiful anomaly, inside and out. I most certainly cannot forget about David Hallberg, who is a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre and Bolshoi Ballet. I don’t know him personally and can’t bring myself to an introduction. But he epitomizes male dancing to me. Two words - Demi god. I’d literally pass-out.
Photo: Gabrielle Salvatto and Anthony Savoy
Photo Credit: Rachel Neville