Walking up to Lincoln Center for ABT’s gala a few nights ago, I was filled with thoughts of my eighteen-year-old self on my first day of work. There was a fountain then. Now there is scaffolding devouring the majority of the plaza. Construction workers danced their machines around the disarray on Monday night, drilling new foundation as patrons scattered and searched for a place to wait for their dates. Fortunately I had the lovely Sterling Hyltin as mine.
After wrestling with myself over whether or not to attend the annual opening of the season celebration, I found myself staring in the mirror, meticulously tying my new silver tie at 5:40 on the afternoon of the show; apparently I was going. First the tie was too long, then it was too short, then finally, exasperated, I managed to get it just right and journeyed uptown for what I knew would be a bittersweet evening; in many ways this gala signals the beginning of the end of my time in the company.
One of the most difficult aspects of leaving ABT has been losing the day-to-day life I’d grown accustomed to. As a young dancer right out of high school I found comfort not only in doing what I love with one of the best companies in the world, but also in the family that company created.
Years passed and I developed relationships spanning the ranks. Some continue to be fraught with tension, while others started as surface friendships that later revealed themselves to be trusted companions. In many ways my work life was my social life. Even though I always knew the difficulties of mixing work and play, I also felt lucky to find so much in one place. Those comforts began to fade away when I was diagnosed with EBV.
(I almost wore that (you know, to avoid any tie drama), but then I heard she was and that would have been a DISASTER. I would have looked so much better...obviously.)
Dealing with this illness has prompted a reorganization of my life on every level. It simply isn’t possible for me to populate my life with only dancers when it acts as a constant reminder of what I’m unable to do right now. But stripping away my work life meant taking away much of my New York family. Therefore the gala ended up being a family reunion of sorts.
After an overly long program (as is the case with galas) full of season highlights (and a few random selections, including the “Onegin” pas de deux danced by Marcelo Gomes and the incomparable Julie Kent), Sterling and I swirled down the stairs from the top tier of the Met where we’d been seated. We pushed our way through the meandering patrons and finally reached fresh air, and a bundle of dancers, outside. I took a deep breath and gave Sterling a hug as we parted ways; I would brave the party on my own.
(Sterling and I pose for the paparazzi after the show.)
Each year the festivities are held in a large tent resting in the shadow of the Met Opera House. What looks like a haz-mat tent on the outside, all white tarp and rope, makes way to a cavernous space filled with round tables, two dance floors and a band. A majority of the dancers are seated in the rear half of the room, and all I hoped for was to be at a table with a group of people I knew.
I scanned the seating chart, a piece of paper that resembled a disheveled game of tic-tac-toe, and found my name by table 25. It was practically falling off the paper, as it was situated in the furthest corner from the entryway. Another deep breath and I made my way through the crowd.
It wasn’t long before I arrived at my table and felt a wave of relief as familiar faces welcomed me. Sean Stewart, Daniel Keene, Kenny Easter, Eric Tamm; it was going to be okay. Before I knew it we were catching up about the goings on in the company while I did my best to avoid talking about being sick. In short, it’s draining to catch up with 80 of your family members about health struggles. Yet somehow I thought a shirt detailing the most recent updates wouldn’t look flattering with my suit.
Being on the periphery of the tables gave me an opportunity to sit back and relax as dancers made their rounds once dinner was over. The two dance floors filled up with couture-clad patrons and the occasional celebrity (Kelly Ripa, Donald Trump and Sigourney Weaver were in attendance) while I savored my dessert. All the while I couldn’t help but reminisce about my first Met party when I danced the night away. New company members flitted through the room with the same abandon that we all possessed at one point.
The night wore on and I began to feel tired from just watching the dancers eat up the dance floor. Coats were hooked around seatbacks, and ties began to come undone while the cover band continued their assault of elevator remixes of today’s pop hits. I wove my way through the crowd and said my goodbyes before slipping out as quietly as possible.
Once I made my way out of the tent I was confronted with the sight of a fountain-less plaza, once again. It occured to me that I had stopped to sit at the fountain after every one of the previous Met galas. The hope is that the new fountain will be better than the old, but it’s hard not to miss it while it’s gone.
(Goddess Anne Milewski and I look sibling-y.)
(Marcelo and Anne cozy up with...Grant.)
(Eric steals some dessert.)
THANK YOU TO EVERYONE FOR THE WONDERFUL SUPPORT ON MY LAST POST!!! IT MEANS THE WORLD TO ME!
Wednesday was one of the busiest days I've had in the past year. I managed to make time for all three of my passions: writing, dancing, and
dolphin training photography.
Even though my backpack made me feel like I was carrying a full-grown person on my shoulders, I was limber enough to sneak around the studio and capture some pictures from Marcelo Gomes' new piece, "Tacaca."
The piece marks Marcelo's New York choreographic debut and will be performed on Monday night at the Youth America Grand Prix Gala. Be sure to grab a ticket if you can get your hands on one!
With such gorgeous subjects as Sarwanee Tanatanit (her hair!) and Blaine Hoven, it's hard to go wrong. Many more pictures to come!!!
All photos © Matthew Murphy 2008.
There is a dungeon in downtown Missoula and it goes by the name of AmVets. By definition, a dungeon is a labyrinthine subterranean setting, but to define it in such grandiose terms is to give it false representation. There is nothing remotely grand about Missoula’s only gay bar.
Even though, as the name suggests, it was intended to be a bar for American Veterans, AmVets has turned into a smorgasbord of small town gay culture that is truly one of a kind. Situated between a few bars that have been deemed “hick” establishments, the entrance to AmVets looks more like an abandoned hut than a welcoming nightclub. The wooden enclosure is a gateway to a rock staircase that looks jack hammered and unfinished and is usually scattered with smokers out for a quick puff in the frigid winter air.
The bar scene has been the last place on my mind over the past ten months, but when Blaine and David showed up in Missoula, I knew that I would have to make an exception. Being sober in AmVets presented it in an even scarier light than through drunk-goggles, so my two trips opened up my eyes in new ways.
Once you pass through the rickety wooden door, you are met by a bouncer who scans ID’s with the commitment of a supermarket attendant. His lackadaisical nature is made evident by the abundance of underage patrons who float around the cavernous space.
Both Blaine and David were immediately overwhelmed by the enormity of the bar, which has no natural light and is big enough that it could exist in a hollowed out mountain. Upon entering, there is a bar that offers Jello shots, Jaeger on tap, and cheap drinks served in plastic cups. Just beyond that is a collection of pool tables and if you step a little further you reach the dance floor, which plays a variety of top-40 pop.
It’s on the dance floor that the diversity of the crowd becomes apparent. Grinding against one pole you’ll find a lesbian couple dressed in overalls that are in no way an ironic fashion statement. Next to them you’ll see a leather daddy with a handle bar mustache observing the toothless men smoking continuous cigarettes. Every now and then a drag queen will make her rounds, cavorting with the crowd with an explosion of hair topping off a rainbow colored gown. Peppered between these icons of gay Montana are the college students with popped collars and beaded necklaces straight out of 1997.
(Jes and Blaine tear it up on the dance floor.)
Since I first discovered AmVets at eighteen, I’ve often wondered where these men and women are during the day. The diverse crowd meets only in the way that they party with such ferocity. Even though Missoula is a liberal college town, it’s not uncommon to be given dirty looks, get mocked, or at times even assaulted because of ones sexual preference. It’s a town that prides itself on being diverse and accepting, but one whose actions sometimes overwhelm its intentions. The suppressed nature of homosexuality in Missoula has only a few outlets where pretenses are disrobed, and the main one is AmVets.
To me and my friends from New York, it can seem like a very uncomfortable experience. Whereas we are free to be ourselves, sexuality and all, in our everyday lives, in Montana it’s still legal to be fired for sexual preference. Once ten o’ clock rolls around, the bar becomes scattered with people who are free to be themselves for a while.
Due to my sober lifestyle at the moment, I took the time during my past two trips to observe the crowd as much as possible. If I ever become a documentary filmmaker, AmVets will be one of my first subjects. It’s a fascinating study in gay culture on the brink of acceptance and the freedom that an overtaken bar can possess; it’s a genuine Montana experience.
(Blaine joins me at my observation post.)
You know you're in Montana when one of your best friends comes to visit and the first order of business is shoveling snow. Since my dad left, one of my few "man of the house" duties has been making sure the sidewalk is clear for pedestrians on their way to school. Even though I'm not usually responsible for clearing the freshly fallen snow, I have much more experience than Alabama boy Blaine. It didn't help that he got the small shovel (about as big as a children's plastic sand shovel) which caused him to hunch over like Quasimodo.
(The definition of manly power.)
(Might be in need of a chiropractor.)
I often don’t remember my first encounters with many friends, but I remember meeting Blaine Hoven.
It was a Spring afternoon in North Carolina and I was making my way back to the dance building after grabbing a snack. Ninth grade was winding down, and there had only been a few other boys in my class. As I walked along the second floor of the courtyard, I passed a faded blue “Dance” painted on the wall when I ran into one of my teachers, Christine Spizzo.
“Matt, I want you to meet Blaine,” she said to me as I gazed at a boy and his mother whose Southern roots became apparent the moment they said hello. “Blaine’s thinking about joining us next year at NCSA. Wait until you see this boy turn.”
Immediately I felt threatened. Turning was one of the things that had given me insecurities my entire dancing life. Suddenly there was a boy in front of me who not only had the endorsement of one of my teachers, but he also excelled at my weakness; I’d worked all year on those things.
Before I knew it, the fleet footed turner had stepped into my territory at NCSA. Armed with a yellow “Murphy High School” Track Jacket, and a suitcase full of extra Southern syllables, I wasn’t sure what to make of him at first. He fit nicely into my group of friends, but I remember people began to pit us against each other.
Girls in class would debate our butts, or whose extension was nicer (he usually won both of those contests). Of course, key above those debates was that of our dancing. It was the type of competitive friendship that I had lacked my entire first year.
My friendship with Blaine escalated to a type of brotherly camaraderie. We would bicker (as we still do at times) but there was always a sense that we were looking out for each other.
It quickly became apparent to me that Blaine and I were like night and day when it came to our dancing. One of the hardest things about our initial friendship was learning to rise above the judgment from other people. If there was one dancer I knew I could learn from at NCSA, it was Blaine; falling into the pattern of pitting ourselves against each other would be useless in the long run.
As we grew, it became clear that as different as we were, somehow the same career path had chosen both of us. Two years together at NCSA led to Studio Company contracts, and we moved up to the city in August 2003.
Once we got there, sharing bunk beds in an apartment that had ten mice for each of the six people, we became closer than ever. There were still catty fights to be had, and drunken explorations of the city that are some of the most vibrant memories of my life, but whatever the event, it was just another piece of the puzzle of our friendship.
Somehow we came out of an apartment with six teenage boys alive, and in the spring of 2004 entered the main company. It was then that I began to rely on Blaine more than ever. Blaine is always there to clarify a step, or make a blunt comment to lighten the tension in the room. Blaine is always there to be my friend and push me to be a better dancer.
It’s been difficult over the past year because as much as I’ve gone through with Blaine, this illness was something I could only endure alone in many ways. To say it has cut into my friendships (and obviously my professional life) is an understatement.
When Blaine told me that he wanted to come to Montana, I didn’t believe him. It’s expensive. And far away. And freezing this time of year. All in all, not the most enticing travel package. Regardless, Blaine made the trip and we had a wonderful time exploring several facets of Montana’s gay culture, and catching up on all that both of us have missed from each other’s lives. Just a few more memories to add to the already crowded library.
The mystery guest for the week is none other than everyone's favorite baby bluebird, Blaine Hoven! A few months ago when everyone got together and wrote me notes of support (along with a few presents), Blaine told me that his was on the way. After a few months I wondered if he had remembered, and then he up and surprised me with a ticket to Montana! Nothing like having one of my best friends (we've known each other since we were 15) around for a few days of snowy fun! We wasted no time today doing our first photo shoot. Here are the new Blaine model shots.
("Look at that deer pooping in the yard.")
("Are we going to hunt?")
("No we're just going to strike it fierce.")
Setbacks are frustrating, whether they are professional, romantic, mental, or physical. Over the past eight months I seem to have encountered just about every kind of setback there is. With the recent addition of a horrible cold into the blender of my life, I’m confined to my apartment for what were to be my last triumphant days in New York until Spring.
The past week has been extremely emotional for me. As my departure to Montana draws nearer and nearer, there is no doubt that I am a little bit in denial about it. While my friends assure me that it is just the type of thing I need right now, I am scared for a variety of reasons.
Most pressing of those reasons is my health. After eight months of trying almost everything except drinking my own urine (urine was the answer to every ailment to one of my Russian teachers in high school) I seem to be inching, rather than leaping along to full health. Over the past two weeks, I was bouncing around more than ever and reveling in the fact that people were taking note of my improved spirits. But every time someone noted the improvements, I heard silent thunder echoing in my brain. What I’m starting to learn, as I ride the ups and downs of my illness, is that I always have an impending sense of doom. I have started to live a bit in fear that for every good day I have, there will be a horrible day in the near future. So far, I’ve been right.
Even as I type this, I can logically say to myself that this is no way to live. People in peak health have ups and downs. To have every day bring constant sunshine and singing birds would become nauseating in its own right. Yet, after eight months of fighting a sickness that still lingers, I have adopted this negative mindset, much to my dismay.
With the arrival of my Dance Spirit article, I am elated to finally have a (fairly) definitive and concise account of my battle. All of the friends who have stood in front of me, bewildered by my seemingly healthy self, will begin to have a sense of what has gone on beneath the surface.
When I started writing the article, and working on different drafts, my editor and I joked that by the time the issue hit newsstands I would be living a normal life again. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. If I were healthy, I wouldn’t be surrounded by two large bags and piles of books that I’m transporting to Montana tomorrow.
I haven’t lived at home with my parents for more than a month since I was thirteen. Suddenly I’m dependent on them monetarily, and leaning on them more emotionally than I wish to be at twenty-one. Again, I’m able to see the foolishness of the words I type. Parents are there for you to lean on and I’m fortunate to have fantastic parents that can support me through this difficult time. Yet after years of working towards financial and emotional independence, it’s jarring to know that I need them more than ever.
It will be nice to spend time with my family and a variety of friends who I haven’t seen much since jetting off to boarding school at thirteen. I’m looking forward to working on photography, writing, and perhaps I’ll even start breeding dogs, or capturing leprechauns; there are so many possibilities. Whatever I’m doing in Montana, there will always be the fact that my friends in New York are continuing on their own journeys. The other night I had to say goodbye to Marcelo, Jackie, Blaine and David which was harder than I imagined. Walking home through the wind as snow attacked my face, I noticed how much my inner mood matched the outer tumultuous night air. Let’s hope that my mood and health will match the spring flowers upon my return to New York in March.
HERE IS AN ARTICLE THE MISSOULA PAPER DID ABOUT ME LAST WEEK:
A Bittersweet Homecoming
I haven't felt this type of stress in over eight months. Today I was talking to David about how I feel like I've forgotten what it feels like to do a full rehearsal day; it's almost unfathomable to me in my current state. Even though that feeling is lost to me, I'm learning all about the stress brought on by writing assignments. I've been having extreme ups and downs health wise (especially emotionally) over the past week. In addition to writing for Dance Spirit, I was recently asked to do a little writing for the next issue of Movmnt Magazine.
This is a wonderful challenge for me because it's forcing me to step outside of my comfort zone. Quite frankly, I'm used to writing about myself or at least a topic that I have decided. With my assignments for Movmnt, I'm writing one about the star of the upcoming "Center Stage 2" (you read that right) and another on the fantastic composer Nico Muhly. I'm flexing my reporting muscles, but you'll have to pick up the issue when it hits newsstands in late January to read all about it.
Feeling like I needed a little night of relaxation, I headed over to Marcelo's yesterday for a mini-boys night. We finally had our long-discussed marathon of the brilliant (and canceled) "The Comeback." Marcelo, Blaine, Sean and I were laughing up a storm but it was short lived. I had to return home to my assignments which kept me up well into the night. Right now I'm taking a step back before I go in for a round of editing. In the meantime, enjoy some pictures from our impromptu photo shoot.
(Blaine shows off his hand modeling skills.)
(Lua isn't buying it.)
(Perhaps if we do a photo shoot Lua will love us?)
(Hell yeah she will! Call US Weekly!)
(Let's take a moment to collect ourselves.)
(Family portrait gone wild.)
(Oh no. The props have entered the picture...)
(Lua's still not buying it...back to "The Comeback!")