Bellingham native Alethea Alexander, 25, is among the dancers in Bellingham Repertory Dance's (BRD) annual fall performance, "Gradient," at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 8-9, continuing Nov. 15-16, and at 5 p.m. Nov. 17 at Firehouse Performing Arts Center. Details: bhamrep.org.
Question: What was your youth like?
Answer: I grew up in a lovely forested house on top of Samish Hill, pursuing alternative education at Bayside Montessori School and dancing six days a week downtown at Pacific Dance Company with the lovely Elise Nolan.
But of course, for all its beauty, I had to get out of Bellingham with the speed of two jackrabbits as soon as I finished at Sehome High School. Rather than jump right into a university, I spent the first year after high school in Washington, D.C., wrangling wily children in an after-school dance program at an elementary school.
This was enough to convince me that I missed school, and I promptly moved back to Seattle to work on my B.A. in dance (minor: environmental studies) at the University of Washington.
Q: How did you become interested in pursing dance professionally?
A: The only time in my life that I have ever considered not dancing was in my junior year of high school when the question was university choice and long-term life goals. Isn't dance an irresponsibly impractical goal? I think most of this skepticism was a result of the relatively small and isolated Bellingham dance scene.
But while in D.C. back in 2008 I saw adults of many styles and abilities all seriously pursuing dance. This was a shock for me, but was immensely encouraging. And then I completely fell in love with the meditation, discovery, challenge, self-reflection and viability (yes! viability!) of dance at the University of Washington.
Q: What brought you back to Bellingham?
A: When I decided to move back to Bellingham I first had to be sure I would have somewhere to dance and some beautiful people to dance with. I actually flew up to Bellingham specifically for the BRD audition last April. It was a snap decision, but I am so happy to be here.
Q: And you are teaching dance now?
A: I was enthralled by the anatomy class I took at UW and started to really geek out over the applicability of that knowledge in dance. My first passion for teaching is actually ballet, because that is where I first learned to interact with my own body on a very scientific but artistically freeing way.
Before moving back to Bellingham I had been supporting myself by teaching for three years, both in Seattle and in San Francisco. It is harder in this town, though, because of the smaller community. The contemporary class that I started at the Firehouse has been my attempt to offer the kind of physical, advanced modern dance class that I wish I could take as an adult in this town.
Q: What will people see if they come to the performance?
A: Bellingham Repertory Dance is a truly unique group of dancers. These are women whose passion for dance is so driven that they have literally created a professional company to support that desire. And they do all of this work while raising children, working full time in other jobs and living otherwise extremely full lives.
These are the things that I was missing from dancers in the huge San Francisco scene. In my experience, dancers seeking professional work in bigger cities hurl themselves into dance so fully that they lose all other forms of community, exploration and depth; BRD is a company of dancers with rich lives, supported by a rich community and this depth of focus comes out in rehearsals and on stage.
We are performing seven works, by choreographers from Seattle to Bellingham to Boise, Idaho, and I can guarantee you these works have never been performed with as much diversity of character as you will see in our show. We are accessible, professional and generous with each other and with our audience.
Our program showcases a wide range of casts, from a solo piece to a large group of nine dancers. These pieces are the culmination of three months of intensive work, and tell abstract stories about humanity and relationships, from isolation to joy, loss to family.
Q: Why do you love to dance?
A: The reason I love to dance changes as often as I do, but I think at the core it comes down to simplicity and meditation; dance is something I do to know myself, to learn about myself. And the more honest I am in that learning, the happier I am and the more I can offer to other people and to the world.
Q: What are some of your plans?
A: Do we ever get to a place where we can stop looking for answers to this question? For now I am happy here in Bellingham, balancing dance with bonfires, canoeing, hiking, volunteering, teaching, working on independent projects, and making space to discover other interests.
There may come a time when I don't feel like I am getting enough dance here, though, and then I would have to move back to a bigger city. I think the ultimate goal is to go back for an MFA in dance and then to teach at a university somewhere. But there is still time to make these choices down the road!