by Ashley Werhun
The recent death of Alan Rickman sent me on a YouTube “runaway train” – watching interview after interview of him speaking about the craft of acting.
Lessons about dance aren’t always (or even, usually) learned from dancers.
Some of my best growth as a dancer has happened while learning from different artists, and this is no exception. The lesson that Alan Rickman was taught over and over again at acting school was “less is more”. The most important thing to find in the work was – clarity. “Truth” was the word that seemed to roll off of every teacher’s tongue. These complex ideas required many years of training to trickle down and really settle into Alan’s mind.
He spoke of being taught the humble lesson that he may “never be as good as the play,” in fact, that no actors really are. The intent was to be a servant to the craft. It was this level of depth in training that made him a director’s dream when he moved to Hollywood. After over a decade of acting in the theater he moved to Los Angeles, and because of his deep understanding of the art form – which was required in the theater setting – he could easily slip into a script.
He was cast in Die Hard just two days after arriving in Hollywood.
Alan has said, “Anything involved in telling stories is not just worthy. It is crucial. Otherwise – how the hell do we find out who we are – unless we explain ourselves to each other via books, cinema, theater, documentary….”
This is a reminder to all that art is a reflection of life occurring around us. It is a look into humanity’s current state – the political climate, the condition of nature, social change; society as a whole. When looking at history we read about wars, leaders, business, and technology. But where learn about the feeling, the essence of the era, is the music, books, films, painting…and dance.
Recently Old Navy produced a shirt crossing off aspiring artists and put “astronaut” or “president”. If Alan taught me one thing- it is that the arts are indeed a worthy path and profession. Alan was formerly a trained graphic designer – but he knew that his greater purpose to reach the world was being an actor. In a society that is changing as rapidly as it is – if we don’t have actors, musicians, photographers, poets, film makers, dancers and writers to document this era…what will we have? All progress, and no reflection of it?
When Alan speaks of his artistic process – it is universal to all creative endeavors. “I think there’s some connection between absolute discipline and absolute freedom,” he has said.
This describes dance perfectly. The physical ownership of the form – and the emotional release of that control. The lessons he learned about being a “channel for the writer” sound exactly what it feels like to be the channel for a choreographer – to be a part of the process of creating something larger than yourself. Something that connects to universal themes. To know that the impact of a performance is far greater than just your muscles and bones – that it is a culmination of the creation process with a choreographer, the dancers around you, the lighting design, the score and the audience as a participating collective. Alan stated that an audience responds when “you can tell there is truth happening in the theater…when there is a real connection between the actors”.
In remembering the life of Alan Rickman let us remember that as artists, we are part of a bigger process. We are truly being asked to be a part of nurturing creativity in our society. And, as Rickman reminds us, this task is not “just worthy, but crucial”.
Contributing writer Ashley Werhun began her formal training Edmonton, Alberta. Her training was supplemented by attending The National Ballet of Canada, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, The Banff Center, and The Juilliard School during the summers. Werhun later studied at The Alberta Ballet School and Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet. Ashley is currently dancing with Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal for the 2014/ 2015 season, where she will be performing the works of Barack Marshall, Adonis Foniadakis Cayetano Soto, Wen Wei Wang, and Rodrigo Pederneiras.
Prior to joining BJM Werhun was a guest artist with Ballet British Columbia and was a founding member of Trey McIntyre Project. In six seasons with Trey McIntyre Project, she has been featured in world premieres including: Ladies and Gentlemen, The Sweeter End, Pass Away, and Ten Pin Episodes. Her performances have been acclaimed in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Seattle Times, and Chicago Tribune. Her work has been described as “simultaneously grand and cozy”, and with her partners she creates what has been called a “beautiful, melancholy duet… intertwining bodies in interesting ways; their movements growing with desperation as the work culminates in tragic climax.”
She has toured North America, South America, Asia and Europe performing, teaching master classes, and engaging through outreach with schools and hospitals. During her time as an Artist in Residence at St. Luke’s Children Hospital, she used dance as therapy to promote joy and healing. She cherishes these experiences and finds inspiration in each moment. She has spent her last two summers on faculty at The Sitka Fine Arts Camp in Alaska. Ashley is so happy to have returned to her native country of Canada and to and be part of this group of extraordinary artists.