October 9, 2019
Tales of Hopper has been a process unlike any I have experienced before on my artistic path. Choreographer Cherylyn Lavagnino’s interpretation of Edward Hopper’s various paintings and her biographical readings string together her fictional narrative for this new work. My role is the character of Josephine, the red-headed wife of Edward Hopper himself. The narrative Cherylyn creates through her choreography and staging of this section of the work is one of betrayal and heartbreak. Josephine’s husband has taken a lover and she has the proof: a slip of paper with a name, phone number, and smudge of lipstick.
This role requires more acting of me than ever before. I am challenged to put myself in Josephine’s situation and feel through her emotions which are a duality of anger and sadness-- anger that her lover and life partner would betray her in this way, and sadness over the loss of his trust, love, and companionship. It’s not to say Hopper actually ever committed unfaithful acts against his wife, who was almost always his model for any of the female figures in his paintings, yet Hopper’s history of disappointment in intimate relationships, learnt from Cherylyn’s biographical readings, influenced this narrative choice.
Through my formal education at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, I’ve taken a few semesters of acting classes and learned a few of the formal acting methods. The challenges of this new work have required me to tap into those lessons and tools. Cherylyn has used the umbrella term “theatre-dance” to describe this new work and I don’t think it could be more accurate to describe the emotionality and techniques it requires of the dancers.
Cherylyn is very particular in the way her choreography is portrayed - it is understated work filled with nuances and subtleties. In rehearsals, she asks her dancers not to act with our faces but with our bodies-- through posture, touch, tension, and release. It is a challenge to not “over act” the thoughts and emotions running through my head as Josephine. Anger, hatred, love, and sadness are all such strong emotions, yet I must exude them in subtle, considered ways to encompass Cherylyn’s vision of the piece.
Thankfully I share the stage with remarkably experienced and gifted artists Justin Faircloth (Hopper) and Claire Westby (the mistress). Working with these mature dancers is simultaneously inspiring, motivating, and alleviating of some of the pressures that come with such a serious and artistically challenging role.