A Dancer’s Life: Michael Spencer Phillips

This June, RIOULT Dance brings their sensual, articulate, and exquisitely musical works of modern dance to The Joyce Theater with two programs: Women on the Edge and the New York City premiere of Polymorphous. We caught up with dancer Michael Spencer Phillips to talk the residency, giving back to the next generation of dancers and what keeps him dancing.

Michael Seymor Philip

Photo by: Michael Seymor Philip

RIOULT is bringing their art to The Joyce Theater in June. What are you most looking forward to with the upcoming residency?

For me, when you’re a part of a touring modern dance company, I think the most thrilling part of the work is when you actually get to perform at home for your home audience. The Joyce Theater definitely feels like our home. We’ve performed there for so many years and so many times and it’s always exciting to perform for New Yorkers.

When did you begin using movement as your form of creative expression?

I first started dancing at 11 years old, I began dancing professionally in 1999 and I’ve been with RIOULT since 2002. I’m one of the senior members of the company. I’ve been here for 15 years.

Celestial Tides Dancers Michael Spencer Phillips and Jere Hunt- Whitney Browne

After so many years performing, what keeps it from becoming “business as usual?”

I love it. When I was young, I was an athlete. The opportunity to combine athleticism and emotional connection is what really fuels me as an artist and as a dancer. Pascal’s [Pascal Rioult, founder and choreographer of RIOULT Dance] work is very emotional. There are very few works in the rep that are just movement. All are really layered emotionally.

As a performer, doing his work for so long, every time something happens in my life, it re-informs how I approach the dance. When there is an idea of love for instance, when I was 25, I knew one version of love. When I was 28, I knew another, at 32, another. Now as an older artist, the way you approach love is so different. I am a part of an art form that matures as the artist matures. Every time an artist experiences love or pain or longing or loss, it adds another layer to the dancer. It’s another emotion you know personally that you can convey to an audience. It’s a conundrum because our bodies can do a little less, but we can say so much more.

New York dance photographer Sofia Negron Rioult Dance Joyce Theater On Distant Shores

Photo by Sofia Negron

Apart from being a member of the company, you’re a teaching artist with the RIOULT DanceREACH program. How does teaching fulfill something in you that being on stage as a performer doesn’t?

I think when you’re involved in a single art form for so long, you really feel like you know it backwards, forwards and sideways. The opportunity to share that knowledge with the next generation of dancers is really fulfilling. It’s something I absolutely love. I also feel like as an artist, I continue to grow by doing it. When you see the info being transmitted onto another body, it makes you more self-aware about the way you use your own body. The thing about teaching is that not every student learns the same way, so, when you teach, you have to gain a sense of how to communicate about your art form. You end up learning four or five ways to say the same thing and that is a learning exercise that informs the way I dance and the way I approach movement.

At the end of the day, why do you dance?

Because I love it. I believe what Martha Graham said when she wrote the essay, “I am a Dancer.” That’s what I believe. I wake up every morning and I feel like I’m a dancer. A dancer has to dance and a dancer has to live. They are almost synonymous to me. To dance is to live and to live is to dance. I can’t imagine my life without this beautiful art form I’m so fortunate to be a part of. In New York City, you’re a part of a community that has so much history. From teaching to performing to going to performances, once you’re been bitten by that bug, there’s no turning back.

For tickets, head over to http://www.joyce.org/performance/rioult-dance-ny/#.V0cHhvkrJaS

Michael Seymor Philip

Photo by: Michael Seymor Philip

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