Todd Fox is back in the second installment of our feature on “One Dancer’s Journey”…answering questions 2 & 3…if you missed his first post, check it out here…
2. What are you currently doing in the field?
I perform mostly short term or guest artist engagements abroad these days as well as teach master classes at various schools and universities. For the past 13 years I have run my own management agency, Elitedance Artists Management, which continues to collaborate with dance projects and organizations all over the world.
I also oversee the distribution of a retail product I created for ballet dancers called “Balletband” and in the coming months will be introducing a brand new product to the market which I anticipate being popular among student and professional ballet dancers everywhere.
3. Can you share a special or memorable moment from your career?
My career has spanned a little over two decades, it would be difficult to narrow down just one memorable or special moment so here are a few.
I don’t think any dancer ever forgets that very first time onstage fresh out of school in a professional company environment. For me, it was in Swan Lake at Pennsylvania Ballet when Robert Weiss and Dick Tanner ran the company. I was 17 years old, had just joined the company’s trainee program and during my first week, the company was in the middle of a Swan Lake production at Philadelphia’s ‘The Academy of Music’.
A bunch of company dancers were injured and as a result I got the opportunity to perform in the ensemble of the Act III “Czardas” dance. Even though I was in the back of the ensemble it was super exciting and I will always remember that first nervousness and excitement onstage in what was the beginning of my professional career as a ballet dancer.
In 1994/95 I was a member of The Joffrey II Dancers during what was The Joffrey Ballet’s final year of existence in New York City. Joffrey II or ‘J2’ as it was commonly referred to back then was basically the apprentice program for the main company and consisted of 10 dancers, 5 guys and 5 girls.
For most of the year we had a rehearsal and performance schedule separate from the main company with one exception; Nutcracker. During the first day of Nutcracker rehearsals that year I got to take my first full class with the main company. Prior to the integration all of us in J2 were instructed that under no circumstances were we to ever get in the way of any company members in class or rehearsal. So, as a result I did my class mostly on the sides of groups or in the back of the studio which allowed me a fantastic perspective to watch the company members do their thing up close and personal.
In that class I couldn’t help but take particular notice of this one ballerina who for me just stood out from everyone else. I remember it vividly, she was wearing a red cutoff unitard, had an incredible command of movement, and I just couldn’t get over her grande jetes, which seemed to suspend in mid-air defying gravity. Her name was Maia Wilkins and out of all the fantastic amazing ballerinas I watched and admired that year in the Joffrey Ballet, she would remain my favorite.
I spent lots of time watching the company from offstage as my actual dancing in Nutcracker was minimal. I remember thinking to myself, with a lot of hard work someday this will happen, I will actually be onstage dancing with these amazing ballerinas, maybe even Maia Wilkins.
Unfortunately, things don’t always work out the way you plan, and at the end of that year the Joffrey Ballet in NYC ceased operations and would eventually relocate to Chicago, the Joffrey II program officially closed and I ended up taking a contract to go dance with a ballet company in Caracas, Venezuela. My career went down a wildly different path than I ever anticipated and I remember thinking that my hopes of dancing with the amazing Joffrey Ballet dance artists I admired so much would never happen, but as the old saying goes, never say never!
12 years later, in 2007, Maia Wilkins actually got in touch with me through my agency seeking to secure guest artist engagements to supplement her performance schedule at Joffrey Ballet. As luck would have it, at that same time I myself was in need of a partner for a production of Giselle which I was to perform in as a guest artist. We worked out the particulars of rehearsing together and voila, there I was onstage performing one of my favorite full length classical ballets opposite none other than Maia Wilkins. I couldn’t believe it, I remember thinking to myself, somebody needs to pinch me, I’m finally getting the chance to perform opposite Maia Wilkins, unbelievable! I never got the opportunity to dance with the main company but in the end I did get to perform with my favorite ballerina from the Joffrey Ballet and that experience will always hold a very special place within the timeline of my career.
In 2006 I performed with a ballet company in Johannesburg, South Africa, and that was a very memorable moment for me. South Africa has a rich cultural history and throughout my career I have performed alongside many exceptional ballet dancers who used to grace the ranks of the ballet companies there. Whenever they told me stories about dancing in South Africa I would always say, “I’m going to do that! Someday I’m going to travel to South Africa and dance with a ballet company!”
For me, South Africa was about as far away a location as I could ever possibly journey from my home to go dance and experience. It seemed an impossible accomplishment, and for me if something seems impossible or intimidating I am more drawn to try and achieve it. I always had my radar up for any chance to perform there and it remained a career bucket list item of mine for close to 15 years before an opportunity finally materialized.
It was Martin Shonberg, Artistic Director of Johannesburg’s Ballet Theatre Afrikan who got in touch with me regarding the possibility. Martin was seeking to hire dancers of international background to be featured during his company’s winter season at the Johannesburg Civic Center. I of course jumped at the chance and before I knew it I was on a plane flying south across the globe with my dance bag. The experience was amazing, I had the best time meeting and working with all the people and dance artists I met while mounting the production.
The opening night performance was very special for me, I had imagined what that moment would be like for so long and then there I was, onstage half way across the world in South Africa, dancing. It was one of those experiences where you just can’t wipe the smile off your face for days from being so happy, I will remember it for the rest of my life.
I don’t want to just highlight good memorable and special moments, every dancer has ups and downs throughout their career so here is one of my worst memorable moments. For a little over 1 year I toured the United States and Canada with what was then labeled as the North American Farewell Tour of “Oh! Calcutta!” the nude erotic musical which at one time was the longest running show on Broadway.
Just for the record, Oh! Calcutta! is the trashiest piece of crap ever created for the stage! Sorry but I don’t consider this statement an artistic opinion, it’s pretty much a proven fact. The production’s subject matter is at best dated with audience appeal relying mostly on shock value by featuring 100% nude cast members onstage in scenes that celebrate aspects of the 1970’s era of sexual revolution.
I was hired on as a chorus member but more specifically to dance the “pas de deux” in the 2nd Act choreographed by Margo Sappington. One of the worst memorable moments of my entire career was the opening night on the US leg of the tour. The production was rehearsed and mounted in New York City but the opening in front of an actual public audience was in Greenville, North Carolina. I was the youngest cast member and the only person new to the production as most everyone had done the show on and off for years. Up until that opening night I kept saying to myself, “dancing onstage naked within the production’s erotic contexts won’t be difficult to handle, I don’t know anyone in the cities we are touring to so why would I care what they think?”
Well….. as the minutes got closer and closer to places on the opening night and I could hear the 1000+ audience members sitting just beyond the curtain, suddenly my nonchalant attitude changed; dramatically. I just kept thinking, what the hell am I doing??? It wasn’t where I want to be and it certainly wasn’t what I had intended to achieve with my dancing, I remember thinking I had made a giant mistake. I was the most nervous I have ever been throughout my entire career walking onto the stage that opening night. All I could focus my attention on that opening night were the lights and fellow cast members as I just couldn’t acknowledge there were people in the audience. It was humiliating.
After a couple more performances in different cities and a bit of time I eventually got over all the nervousness and qualms about my decision to be in the production, Calcutta just became a gig for me as it did for most of the cast members. We did our thing onstage and people would gasp, clap, boo, or in many cases protest the production’s subject matter right outside the front of the theatre, then we would travel to the next city and do it all over again.
Try to understand, as unpleasant as the experience was at first for me I don’t at all regret making the decision to be a part of the production. I was 20 years old at the time, had no money living in New York City, and for the life of me I couldn’t find another job opportunity dancing. My involvement in ‘Oh! Calcutta!’ was the result of a desperate attempt by me to keep creatively active and it served as a means to get to the next stage of my career. If I had to go back and do it all over again I absolutely would without any hesitation. However, in retrospect, nothing throughout my tenure as a professional dancer has ever sunk lower than performing in ‘Oh! Calcutta!’. It is what I have compared every other unpleasant experience in my career to and thankfully nothing has ever topped it.