In memory of my mentor, teacher and choreographer Jennifer Muller, who died last week after a long illness –
John Brooks (Company Member & Associate Artistic Director of Jennifer Muller/The Works),
Jennifer Muller & Me at the 2015 Company Gala
Since 1980 I have been shaped and influenced along the trajectory of my life as a dancer, performer, teacher, personal trainer, yoga teacher/therapist, and artist by Jennifer Muller.
My dear friend Christopher Pilafian, a founding member of Jennifer Muller/The Works, wrote:
“I believe Jennifer Muller’s deepest impact issues from her calling to teach and share the transformative potential within a human being’s physical action, mindful awareness and spiritual connection.”
For me, these aspects that Jennifer taught are the threads that are transferable between performance on stage to the yoga mat and beyond.
Her extraordinary approach to movement involved working with polarity – gravity and letting go fully into the ground – as well as lightness, with the power of our imagination becoming as light as a fluffy cloud or a floating feather. We plumbed the depths and heights of technical possibility with precise moments of changing the texture of our bodies and riding the emotional changes of our hearts. We were encouraged to use the full richness and authenticity of our human experience.
I first met Jennifer at an audition for her company when I was 22 and had just graduated from college. I was accepted as a Scholarship Student, which was the beginning of 10 years under her guidance in her studio on West 24th Street in NYC. As a Scholarship Student, I took the daily ‘Company Class’ in exchange for cleaning the floors, mirrors and bathroom in the studio. Back then the classes were real ‘happenings,’ typically with several live musicians in the studio, and I learned so much. I next moved into the role of Apprentice, which meant I could participate in company rehearsals, not spend any more time cleaning, but still no performing. Finally in 1983, I became a Full Company Member performing, touring, learning repertory, and having pieces set on me by Jennifer.
Jorge Gale & Me, Interrupted River 1987
Jennifer was an exquisite dancer, artist and teacher and so much of what I am today, I have learned from her. I emulated her every move in hopes of becoming as lush, fluid, powerful, connected and fully embodied a dancer. She gave me the time, space, and encouragement to learn how to use my body, as well as my humanity for artistic expression.
Within the company Jennifer created an environment of trust, respect, and love. I was surrounded by people who supported each other and became the best of friends and to this day, we are still close.
Jennifer also taught us how to be teachers. Teaching Master Classes was part of each tour in different cities and universities. And we alternately shared the responsibility of teaching Company Class. Jennifer’s 3 most important points for teaching a class still resonate with me:
1) Get them moving.
2) Teach them technique.
3) Have fun!
Essentially, Jennifer taught me how to let go. And this is a life lesson that I’m still learning.
Starting from top left then clockwise: Christopher Pilafian, Me, Lana Carroll Heylock, Jorge Gale, Sylvia Logan, Angeline Wolf Gloria, Ron Brown, John Brooks, Jennifer Muller, William Adair, Allison Diftler