Adrianna Thompson keeps her feet in dance |

Adrianna Thompson keeps her feet in dance

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado
Contributed photoAdrianna Thompson

ASPEN – When Adrianna Thompson was in Long Beach State’s dance program, she became accustomed to the intensely rigorous routine that aspiring dancers put themselves through. It was three ballet classes a day, performing in the college company, working with the prominent choreographers who visited the school. Arriving in New York after graduation, she figured she had put herself into position for an easy entry into the professional dance world.

“I thought, OK, I’m going to get a job,” she recalled. “No one tells you how hard it is.”

So Thompson, who had been performing since the age of 11, and whose resume included an appearance, at 14, at an Oakland drag queen convention, just raised her energy level. She auditioned about every other day, which made it clear that scores of dancers more or less just like her were competing for the same scarce jobs. She took gigs with upstart movements, apprenticed with more established companies and taught dance in the public schools. Seeking more opportunities and another outlet for expression, she branched off into choreography. She co-founded a troupe, New Dance Order, and stayed up till 2 one night putting up posters all over the city, to attract a standing room only crowd of 150 into a tiny East Village studio – which she considers a success story. “It was incredible,” she said of the experience.

She launched another company, Meftas Dance Theatre, which performed often in New York, including appearances at Joyce Soho, an offshoot of the famed Joyce Theater. Then she started another company, Soulskin Performing Arts Group, which featured six dancers and five musicians. She also made inroads with the more established dance world, eventually landing in the Battery Dance Company, where she spent eight years.

At 43, Thompson isn’t ready to call it quits for her stage career. She’s fit and sharp, thanks to the classes she takes regularly with the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. But she and her husband, David Ledingham, an actor who grew up in Aspen, made the decision a few years ago to live and raise their 9-year-old son, Aidan, here, which severely limits the chance to pursue dance. She believes that if she lived in, say, the San Francisco area, the opportunities and attitudes would allow her to dance in the way she wants; in March, while in California’s Marin County, Thompson was invited to perform in a community project with dancers of a similar age.

“I was so flattered. And yeah, that would be fun,” she said. “In California, it’s a different vibe. People my age are still performing and showcasing their work.

“But I live here. I would love to dance. But I’m a professional. I’d have to take classes every day. I’m tough on myself like that. Do I want to perform again? Oh yeah. I love dance. And I’m not that old.”

Thompson’s extant ambition is being directed to different channels, among them the Spring Recital by the students of the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. Thompson, a guest faculty member with the ASFB for a decade, teaches, with former ASFB company member Eric Chase, the modern/jazz class. Those students, age 9-16, all appear in the spring performance, and Thompson isn’t taking the easy route of sending the young dancers out just in small groups.

“I’m the crazy woman who puts all the kids onstage. I have to do that. So it’s 34 kids onstage, all of them,” she said, explaining that there will also be segments that include smaller bunches of dancers. “To have every kid onstage, doing the same thing – that’s really hard. And impressive.”

Thompson was likewise aiming high in the choreography. The piece she contributed to the recital – which is set for Saturday, May 14, with performances at 1 and 6 p.m., and includes some 200 students – is inspired by the movies of Esther Williams, the Olympic champion swimmer who turned into a movie star, known for her water-based musicals like 1944’s “Bathing Beauty.”

“It’s that Esther Williams, 1940s old musical with the water ballet,” Thompson said, adding that her previous works for the Spring Recital have been based on Twyla Tharp and Martha Graham, and includes imparting some dance history lessons to the students. “I have every metaphor – the Rolls Royce, the Titanic. It’s very cliche, very kitschy – rose petals, leg kicks all in unison, which is very hard. And it’s really fun. It ends, and you want more.”

Thompson has also choreographed a solo piece, set to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” for dancer Cassie Lewis. (Thompson, who looks more ballerina than hard rocker, created in the late ’90s a suite for eight dancers, “Led Sequins,” set to Zeppelin’s “Baby I’m Gonna Leave You” and “How Many More Times.” It was performed several times in New York City, including at Joyce Soho.)

Of the solo piece, Thompson said, “It’s modern. And technical. It’s not flowy.” It is a point she makes repeatedly – though the class she teaches for ASFB is modern dance, it is rooted in the fundamentals of classical ballet. “I always tell the kids we’re training them to learn that solid technique, then being able to move away from it, to something different than classical, but with classical elements.”

• • • •

The Spring Recital is one piece of Thompson’s dance-related activities. And while her life of professional dancing and choreographing is on hold – the last time her choreography was presented professionally was in 2007, when New York Theatre devoted a full evening to her and one other choreographer – Thompson’s schedule isn’t much less packed than it was in those first months in New York.

Her husband, Ledingham, called on Thompson to help add a dance component to the Aspen Fringe Festival that he launched two years ago. She declined, for the moment, the opportunity to stage her own work, figuring that would pile a logistical nightmare of dancers, housing and fees on top of the artistic element. So instead, last fall in San Francisco, Thompson arranged to have eight choreographers audition for a spot in the Fringe Festival. She picked Maurya Kerr, whose 2-year-old Tinypistols company will appear June 10 at the Aspen High School Black Box, to kick off the festival.

Thompson sees the Fringe Festival expanding further into dance. “Our vision is to bring new plays, new choreographers – emerging artists,” she said, noting that she and Ledingham would like to provide three-week residencies for the artists. “That vision of letting artists make work and present it in a laboratory setting – why wouldn’t the town want that? It’s cool. And it’s fringe – so not so safe.”

Alongside the dance activity is the dance-related career in gyrotonics. Thompson is one of 20 people who trains others to teach the physical exercise, designed to prevent injuries in dancers. Thompson, who has been teaching gyrotonics for 18 years, was in a Houston health club last week; a few weeks before that, she was in San Francisco, working with dancers from the Alvin Ailey company. Her itinerary in the months ahead takes her to Brazil, Singapore and Melbourne.

“It’s unique, a full-range motion,” she said. “Juliu Horvath, who invented it, calls it the art of exercise – and beyond.”

Thompson, whose mother was an actor and musician, and whose father was a drama professor who moved into teaching Alexander Technique of movement, says her primary inspiration in dance was her stepmother, who worked at the Boston Conservatory and danced till the age of 49, when she died of breast cancer. Thompson says her stepmother was a good model for thinking about dance in the long term.

“I don’t understand why, at 30 years old, you should throw out your pointe shoes and call it a day,” she said. “There are certain things you can’t do – my leg doesn’t go as high. But I have as much passion as any kid coming out of college. That’s what really sucks being a dancer – once you figure out where it all comes from, you retire.”

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