An uncommon dance studio

COMMONConservatory Artistic Director Terry Marling (Photo courtesy of Terry Marling)
COMMONConservatory Artistic Director Terry Marling (Photo courtesy of Terry Marling)

Arts and entertainment aficionados who check choreographer, teacher, dancer Terence Marling’s COMMONconservatory site on Instagram will see what is happening now in his unique program and classes.

But if they check back closer to June they will find a date and link for COMMON ‘s production featuring the dancers and choreographers in the full conservatory program. Marling created the conservatory when he returned from a stint in Germany to find that A&E dance jobs disappeared, their venues closed and their funding tumbled.

“Dancers have to do barre or muscles go away. When I came back from Germany I realized everything had shut down but dancers need to do ballet every day. The dancers in the COMMONcoservatory program are close to professional,” said Marling. “They are putting in time in the studio but do not touch one another which in ballet is hard,” he said.

Marling whose own professional dance and choreography career extends back to the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater in the 1990s, had moved on to Germany’s National Theater Mannheim. There he added dance instruction. Then he went to Hubbard Street Dance Chicago as a dancer, choreographer and teacher before becoming rehearsal director. In 2013, he took  on directorship of Hubbard Street 2  and toured the company internationally with new works he created and commissioned.

The road to COMMONconservatory started in 2017 with freelance choreography, teaching and staging productions for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Visceral Dance Chicago, A&A Ballet and the Chicago High School for the arts.

Just as important was his choreographing solos in the past few years to be used in auditions and competitions because what COMMONconservatory does is get good dancers prepared for their next career move.

However, Marling also offers daily ballet classes that includes what he calls the Flying Biscuit Show, a live broadcast of the barre portion that viewers could also try.

If going to Classes/COMMON the note about limited space is not a come-on. Dancers or, as Marling likes to say, “artists,” a term he prefers to students because of their high skill level, who want to be in the full conservatory program, have to audition. It was limited to 10 artists this year and may go to 15 next year.

Some of the conservatory program dancers commute from family homes while others moved here from Brazil, Russia, both US coasts and North Carolina.

They are dancers such as Lauryn Masciana who worked with Marling three years ago at Hubbard Street Summer Intensives.

“I enjoy his teaching style and then I had been taking barre classes in his Biscuit program. The classes meant I could keep up dancing and ballet work during the pandemic. It really helped me through the pandemic.

Masciana, a former Fordham University student, had moved back to her parents’ home in New Jersey during the pandemic. She moved to Chicago for the conservatory program.

“His program really helps me toward the next step professionally which hopefully is in Chicago. I really like the contemporary dance that is here. The program is excellent training and also provides networking,” she said.

Her goal? “Step into my professional dance career.”

Dancer Anna Isaacs, a commuter from Elburn, IL where she lives with her family, heard about COMMONconservatory through social media. (Check facebook).

“I was undoubtedly captivated by the program as well as the principles Terry created and believes in,” Isaacs said.

“At the time, I had already enrolled with my former dance studio for the year and didn’t think it was a possibility to audition for COMMON.,” she said.

“I met with Terry later on. He was truly unfeigned and welcoming. He introduced me to the space and offered that I take class with the conservatory for a day. I knew this program was the right fit for me and an entity for furtherance. I joined the COMMON family in January 2020.”

Isaacs is not bothered by her weekly five-day  commute. “It is tolerable and it is worth every minute for the exceptional training and guidance I receive. Movement to me is indispensable. I would be adrift in the absence of it. Training with COMMON Conservatory this year has been out of this world.”

She added, “COMMON is unique. Working with many knowledgeable choreographers has sparked an unused artistic creativity and an unrecognized internal curiosity. I have obtained a finer comprehension for why I love this art every day. I am forever thankful to Terry for creating an environment for growth, community, and possibility.”

The program’s itle, COMMONconservatory is more than unique. It’s key to understanding Marling’s philosophy and goals.

“I enjoy juxtaposition as an artist. I really like how differing things shed light on each other.  A conservatory brings to mind both serious study of a discipline and also is a rather snobby word, to put it bluntly. COMMON is the opposite of a snobby word and is entirely inclusive,” he said.

“I’m a “new school” teacher. I don’t teach dance with the body shaming, negativity, and verbal abuse that went with dance training in the past. I believe that dance is for everybody, no matter the shape, size or inherent ability. It is something to be shared as a community with joy and curiosity. We all have in common at least some inkling of a compulsion to move our bodies.”

His philosophy is shared by the programs’ choreographers who are also teachers such as Alysia “Allie” Johnson, a full-time member of the Hubbard Street Chicago Dance company who met  Marling when he was her teacher. After “testing the waters” elsewhere she returned to Chicago to work for Hubbard.  “But now we have a peer relationship,” she said.

As to her choreography style Johnson said, “I rely heavily on rhythms and musicality. Groove is my style.”

Characterizing the group as a wonderful “gumbo” she said “They are all at a high skill level but have different backgrounds, different flavors of experience. ”

She worked with COMMONconservatory in December for about two weeks and will be back in April to refresh the choreography for the June program. Now, Johnson is preparing for a Hubbard Street Chicago program that will stream live March 2, 2021.

“I  like performing but also like choreography. I love teaching. I love dancing. No priorities.”

Talking about the dancers she has been working with, Johnson said, “I want to challenge them and they also challenge me. It’s about challenge and comfort. I want them to be able  to walk into a room with the confidence that they will be comfortable with the choreography being done.”

For now, Marling is concentrating and pulling all the choreography together so it flows in the June showcase. And while still viewing the dance world clouded by the pandemic he is considering expanding conservatory enrollment to 15 next season.

But his goal? I would like to form my own dance company,” said Marling.

Jodie Jacobs

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *