When as a teenager Lissa Resnick first met choreographer Alan Scofield he introduced her to the "human side of dance." The ironies in this statement begin with the notion that dance is inseparable from the body and the human body is what defines us as human. That a teenager who was already dancing at an advanced level would never have contemplated the humanity of her art form is perhaps the least surprising aspect of her statement. Having already spent well over half her life training to be a dancer, she was singularly focused on developing her technique. Ideas of artistry and individual expression would come later. Much later, as it turns out.
Scofield, a Bay Area choreographer, much loved teacher and leader in the field of arts education, has spent decades working with young dancers and does not find anything surprising in Lissa's statement. Reflecting on the specific piece of choreography that Lissa performed over twenty years ago, he created it as a "celebration of the human spirit in all its pleasures and trials, a bold affirmation that teens could get beyond technique and perform from the heart."
"Young ballet dancers do not usually realize the dimensions of their souls, but even the meekest among them has grandeur and passion within. Just awaken it, I tell them, awaken the golden dragon guarding your soul. The young are called to dance," he continued, "they don't know why. They serve something higher in themselves."
Lissa's story perfectly illustrates these truths. She continued to train throughout her teen years attending competitions, winning scholarships, eventually being selected as an apprentice to the San Francisco Ballet. Years of hard work and struggle had brought her to the pinnacle of a dancer's dream yet it all felt so tentative. Her successes felt fleeting and the hard work and challenges never ended. Living a cloistered life, having no control over something as mundane as her own schedule or as significant as casting began to take their toll on her.
During her recuperation from an injury she began a period of serious reading and realized both the pleasures and passions of the mind. She had begun to travel down the one-way lane of self-discovery that enabled her to see herself as something more than merely a technician, a muse to a choreographer's vision, or a place marker in an elaborate, if beautifully costumed, board game.
After fighting her way back onto the stage from her serious injury she faced a personal crisis. All at once feeling that she had been called to be a dancer yet yearning for something different, she also felt a sickening guilt at the thought of walking away from her years of training. One thing was certain: she could no longer continue to walk through life wearing blinders to the richness within and around her.
An abrupt and complete departure from her world up to that moment was necessary. She pursued and obtained a Doctorate in Physical Therapy with the same tenacity and sharp focus that had fueled her dance years. She did not take a single dance class in college because she knew "the momentum would take over" and she would once again be swept into the isolating world of polished mirrors and smooth floors to which she had devoted herself wholeheartedly.
Fast-forward through years of working as a physical therapist to both children and adults, a marriage and two children, and Lissa Resnick is dancing again. To someone who did not know she ever stopped this tale of career interruptus would be a surprise. Her technique is sharp and clean, her body is fit and lean. Perhaps she is making up for lost time or perhaps it is her true nature to do everything with complete commitment and passion.
She now lives in Los Angeles but retains strong ties to the Bay Area and a number of dancers and choreographers living in Northern California. While balancing performing, teaching and taking class with the rest of life's demands she is now entering another phase of her career: choreographer and impresario.
On November 12, she will make her debut in both roles, as well as appearing as a performer, in an evening-length production entitled "Artists' Tribute to Veterans" in Redondo Beach at the Hermosa Beach Playhouse. Conceived as a way of honoring those service personnel who have served the country, especially those who are now returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Resnick has created a collage of dance, music and performance art pieces that touch on themes of loss. Among the works to be featured that evening will be a new solo work for Lissa by her friend and mentor, Alan Scofield.
In "The Gift" Scofield has created an emotional and beautiful journey for a woman who feels trapped in a body that will not allow her the freedom she deeply needs. About the process, he said "Lissa's solo needed to embody that excruciating ache to find freedom through dancing, held back and denied at first, and later given release. It was difficult in the beginning because Lissa is already such a graceful and technically liberated dancer. She needed go backwards, to learn to be unfree, uncomfortable and needful. So we used the sweet sadness of Ludovico Einaudi's yearning adagio in the first half. Later, though, his violins' restless ostinato empowers her new found freedom and she rises to triumph."
In rehearsal Lissa portrays the complex feelings of resentment and longing, as well as sorrow and freedom. Scofield encourages her to allow the classicism of the form to invite the audience in and to use her well-honed technique to carry the emotions. "If you have one moment where you react to the emotion of [what you are going through]," he said in a recent rehearsal, "the audience will feel it with you."
Other works currently under creation, reconstruction and rehearsal include an original piece of choreography by Lissa Resnick for five dancers; two musical performances, and an excerpt from Kathryn Roszak's "Fifth Book of Peace," as adapted from Maxine Hong Kingston.
Lissa Resnick's compassion for veterans and their experience is telling about the depth of her humanity. Having long ago been introduced to the "human side of dance," she uses dance to express emotion and experience about war, loss, grief and the complementary experiences of freedom, exploration and "what rises from the ashes."