Whilst in America for the Trinity Laban in New York reception, we caught up with two dance alumni who are living and working in New York City and found out about how they have built their careers there. This week we talk to Dylan Crossman who graduated with BA (Hons) Dance Theatre in 2006. After graduating he joined the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and now has a full and diverse freelance career.
Why did you chose to study at Trinity Laban?
I grew up in France and started dancing when I was ten. For two years, I took contemporary and ballet classes at the Conservatoire in Montpelier in addition to attending regular school. In my teens, after a few years’ break from dancing, I was doing improvisation, ballet, jazz, hip hop and contemporary.
I had a Limon teacher who knew about Trinity Laban and so I auditioned there and for the Winnipeg Ballet. I chose Trinity Laban as I decided I wanted to pursue a contemporary dance training rather than ballet and also because I wanted to be based in London.
What was it like coming to Trinity Laban as an International student?
I didn’t feel lonely, I felt welcomed. There were a lot of international students in my year and there was a sense of community in the year group. I had a job in a bar as well and that helped to make friends outside of Trinity Laban.
Shortly after you graduated, you joined the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Tell us about your journey to America and joining the Company.
In the summer between my second and third year, Julia Gleich, one of my teachers at Trinity Laban recommended that I take part in Burklyn Ballet Theatre, an intensive summer programme In Vermont, USA. Through one of the teachers I met there, I was offered a part in the Nutcracker in Key West and after I graduated I moved to New York. I enrolled on a programme at the Cunningham studio, got a scholarship, and as soon as I began I knew that’s why I started dancing, it made complete sense to my body.
After six months a space opened up for a new understudy so I went to Merce [Cunningham]’s Assistant, Robert Swinston, and said that I was interested. I was told to take company class and that ‘Merce will decide’. I did one class and Merce said yes!
By that stage Merce didn’t go on tour with the company anymore, so when they were away he constructed new work on the understudies and I got to work with him a lot. He was so curious; to him you were like a problem to solve. I was an understudy for two years before being hired into the company and I was in the company for the two year farewell tour. It was an intense and amazing experience.
You now have a very busy career as a performer and choreographer. What are you working on at the moment?
Right now I am performing at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in Brooklyn in a piece called Buffer by visual artist Xavier Cha. As well as dancers there are also actors and an opera singer in the cast. I’m also working on new pieces with Pam Tanowitz and Kimberly Bartosik, both of whom I have worked with before, and am continuing to develop my own work including showing a new piece at the Cunningham centenary celebration. I also teach at Sarah Lawrence College and Purchase College and am choreographing a piece for the students at Purchase which will be performed next spring.
How did your training prepare you for your career?
I was given responsibility for my own training whilst at Trinity Laban. We were exposed to so many things, every kind of dance, analysing dance, music for dance, dance on film, choreography, Labanotation, so I had to choose what to focus on. This planted the seed for life as a freelancer, you have to take responsibility and manage your own work; administration, tax, funding, paying for classes and paying dancers.
And finally what are your top tips for current students?
Be patient and trust people in charge of your training, but break rules because you need to learn to listen to yourself and your instincts also. Challenge yourself as freelancer. And do more cross training and aerobic exercise! You’ll need it as a performer.