It was a rehearsal of the inestimable American Classical Orchestra’s twenty-fifth anniversary concert featuring Beethoven’s 9th and Handel’s Coronation Anthems. The choirs of Trinity New Haven, Trinity Princeton, and The Cathedral Choir raised a glorious voice as one. At the back of the hall, teenage dancers from Ballet Hispanico stretched, ate, texted and ran through movements they’d perform in a week’s time. Cynthia Fuller-Kling, the choreographer of the piece, directed, encouraged and demonstrated, not the least by the example of her own focus and presence. Between movements utilizing the students, Cynthia danced the part of those from Purchase College Dance Corps who would also participate in the performance. Body coursing with music, mind calculating and reviewing, a single lithe, elegant spirit dressed in black swooped and turned, bowed and leapt, an adagio in a world of its own. The orchestra had its backs turned. The kids were otherwise occupied. I felt let in on a secret.
“I danced as a child, but grew up with three brothers and was a tomboy.” Cynthia was on the New York State Ski Team, the only skier who danced and at her classes, the only dancer who skied. She was a crosscountry runner and a basketball player. At Western State College on a ski scholarship, she realized she missed dance and switched majors. It was not enough. Cynthia went home to Toronto and auditioned for Toronto Dance Theater. “I had not studied the Graham Technique, so I kind of fudged my way in on natural ability.” It’s easy to imagine a lanky, coltish girl with energy and grace to spare. The company worked in an old church with live music. She loved it…but after awhile, decided to come to New York, taking up residence with four other aspiring girls.
Feeling “like just a number” at endless auditions, Cynthia looked for smaller companies offering more collaborative work. She performed at The Joyce Theater, Dance Theater Workshop and Saint Mark’s Church. In the early eighties she met and created a piece with the artist Robert Een, an Obie Award winner who did the music for Ashes and Snow at the Nomadic Museum. They met through the Shambhala Meditation Center.
Cynthia had been studying yoga at a time when yoga was anathema to dancers. It made her stronger and more grounded. Her practice is spiritual in the sense of creating a more sensitive and compassionate person; it’s a way of life. In terms of dance, she believes it helps her to be present and not performing, not, as she aptly puts it, “over-efforting.” She was an alien in New York with a desire to look deeper and make her voice heard. The instrument was becoming the music. Her husband-to-be saw her dance and fell in love.
At twenty-seven and four months pregnant with her first child, Cynthia created her first full work at Barn Space Productions: three theatrical solos called What’s The Matter With Us?!
In the first, a woman in a strapless ball gown washed an enormous stack of dishes, her husband otherwise occupied. The exhausted housewife had to dunk her head into the dish water nine times, pulling it out, her long hair spraying everywhere. At the end, she swept her arm across the counter breaking everything… and lay down. Cynthia went all over town looking for cheap dishes that would actually break. “It was very intense. Most men laughed, women tended to be upset.”
The second solo concerned our obsession with weight and clothing: A woman tried on each and every piece of an extremely long rack of clothing…at breakneck speed…and nothing fit!
In the third, she herself sat in a white club chair wearing a nude body suit. “Dancers in robes walked on, dumped their garbage and walked off…I took in the view of the heaps of garbage beside me then melted and slid out of the chair to begin the last solo.”
Indicative of her original work even now, this piece was clearly a far cry from choreographing a coronation…unless you think of music as music, theater as theater, and expression as universal.
From 1988-99, Cynthia performed, choreographed and directed dance/theater for BarnSpace Productions based in Katonah, New York, The Northern Westchester Center for the Arts and Hudson River Museum. The Kling family moved to Seattle and then Cincinnati for her husband’s work. Cynthia started a company in the Northwest and taught yoga in both cities. She had another daughter. They’ve been back in New York (upstate) three years in June. She’s doing some teaching at Purchase as well as holding her own yoga classes. “I have some ideas. I have something I’d like to do at MoMA in their big main space…with moving bodies and ipods.” Take a moment and imagine that.
The American Classical Orchestra was a revelation to Cynthia. “The quality of period instruments to me are just ahhhhhhhhhhh. I’m in awe of the exquisite vibration and beauty of the sound, of the magic the ACO players and Tom create, the wonder and glory of it.” In conversation with the orchestra’s founder and conductor, Thomas Crawford, she learned about the upcoming concert and began to visualize. I could do this, she thought. They excitedly discussed the possibilities. Cynthia was respectful of the fact this was to be a concert and that her contribution was…just that. She would stage part of the Handel, leaving Beethoven untouched. The music would be primary. As the orchestra had not accounted for this additional dance element, Cynthia had her pre-choreographic work cut out for her. She asked Purchase whether they might utilize a number of dancers for credit and Ballet Hispanico whether their students might appreciate and learn from the experience. The latter organization was chosen because they are of the neighborhood. An orchestra board member subsidized costumes and flags. “I got these dowels, seven of them, ten feet long, and the man says to me you can easily cut these with a saw. I can, I thought?!” On to a discount designer fabric store in Nyack where Cynthia ran around the store trailing nine feet of materials she felt might move.
Since the end of February, she has been traipsing up to Purchase twice a week and down to Ballet Hispanico once a week. It’s been, to say the least, challenging. Though Cynthia spent a considerable amount of time listening to the music and walking the cathedral during public hours, rehearsals were conducted far from the size, grandeur and obstacles of St. John’s itself. Her drawings look like plans for football scrimmages.
Most of the Purchase dancers had never even seen the cathedral. Last week for the first time, Cynthia and Tom arranged a rehearsal on site. It took a great deal of logistical planning. As they pulled up to the imposing steps in several cars, eighteen jaws dropped. Describing St. John’s is one thing, but entering and performing in the breadth of its magnificence is quite something else. The twelve younger students joined them and a single four-hour run-through was held. There will be one additional rehearsal just prior to performance the night of April 24th. Two rehearsals on site. In total. “At the end of the day, I’m not interested in how perfectly it turns out. I want them to feel the music, the singing, the grandeur and sacredness of the space and to experience the evening. Life is not perfect.”
Cynthia turns fifty April 24th. This is her gift- to her family, her friends, the dancers, and herself – not to mention The American Classical Orchestra, The Cathedral of St. John the Divine and those privileged to be in the audience. She feels, she says, honored.
In the film Finding Neverland, Johnny Depp as J.M. Barrie has a conversation with his producer. “What’s it called,” he asks pointedly? “A Play,” Dustin Hoffman responds querulously. “Right, what’s it called? It’s called A PLAY.” And J.M. Barrie grins.
This is the example given by the remarkable Cynthia Fuller-Kling which might describe her philosophy of life. My recommendation is to try and join her in the sandbox on April 24th.
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