Nolan Dennett grew up in the small town of Parma, Idaho. He was the director of Western Washington University's dance program from its inception in 1998 until 2008, and is now a professor of dance at WWU. He performs in "Conventicle of Curiosities and Other New Works" at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, July 26- 29 at WWU's Western Gallery.
Question: What was your childhood like?
Answer: My mother taught me to love art and books and music. She had a lovely alto voice and sang in the church choir. Dad was tone-deaf - a small, handsome man who read cowboy books and dreamed of being tall.
This, however, did not keep him from swinging a baseball bat like a pro and dancing like Gene Kelly. Watching Dad play ball gave me an overwhelming urge to be a winner. Watching him dance with my mom gave me a love of beauty and theater.
My parents were devout churchgoers and church dances were one of the few times when work was forgotten. Dad would take mom in his arms and the world would go away. In those moments there was only the two of them - no kids, no cows, and no crops yet to be planted or harvested.
The church gymnasium became a ballroom. As I watched, I melted, and somewhere deep - on some profound level - I felt, even then, that if I danced I would be happy, too.
Q: What's the back story about your book, "Place of Shelter?"
A: My father, who lost his father early on, patiently bore his lot in life, which was always, until he died of cancer at the age of 62, to work for other men. He was a man of few words. His calloused hands told his story.
He was always present - but never there. His silence, his inability to speak his emotions, and his athleticism may be in part what pushed me toward an art form that requires unbridled physicality while attempting to communicate profound feelings without words. In this I am my father's son.
It was his unexpected death, and my unresolved feelings for him, that led me to write "Place of Shelter." The book is out of print; I think you can Google it and find copies for sale online.
Q: What brought you to Western?
A: I came to Western as a graduate student in 1974. As director I often times felt like Sisyphus pushing stones uphill, only to watch them come crashing back down. At other times I felt like Prometheus having his liver eaten by great carrion birds.
It took 10 years, but when the dust cleared and I had stacked all the stones I had been pushing up hill, Western had a dance major - the only BFA in dance at a public institution in the state of Washington. Then the vultures descended, who tried to devour me and the program and regurgitate it as something of their own making. Only problem was, I'm not carrion. I am alive and well and so is the program, and it continues to grow and prosper in its original incarnation. And the carrion birds? I'm thinking a big case of indigestion.
Q: What have been some of the highlights of your career?
A: Creating the BA/BFA dance majors would be a highlight, of course. Each dance that I have made would be as well. Recruiting and hiring Penny Hutchinson, a founding member of the Mark Morris Dance Group, would be another. Hiring and working with Cher Carnell, Susan Haines and Rick Merrill has also been extremely rewarding. I have great respect for their work ethic and for their talents. We make a great team.
Q: How do you inspire your students, and how do they inspire you?
A: I think my dances inspire my students. My success lies in giving my students back to themselves. My gift to my students is my absolute belief that together we can make something wonderful.
I often say to them and to those who will listen that in dance we start with nothing but an empty room and ourselves and if we are lucky when we are finished, we end up with this quick bright thing that can speak eloquently of those things that cannot always be spoken with just words.