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By LAUREN KAY
For many premier dance companies, a junior troupe serves as a stylistic breeding ground, while also providing training for rising dancers and educational programs for the community. This month, the second companies of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre and Paul Taylor Dance Company will perform in rotation in the 1.2.3 Festival at the Joyce Theater. TDF STAGES will profile a rising star from all three groups. Today, meet Madelyn Ho of Taylor II.
Madelyn Ho never aimed to be a dancer. Until a few years ago, this Harvard grad was on her way to medical school with the happy blessing of her parents. Growing up, Ho always managed to balance academics and art, enjoying the passion and freedom of dance and the cerebral challenge of science. In the end, however, she opted for the stage, and judging by her skill with Paul Taylor’s specific, stylized work, she made the right choice.
At the beginning of Taylor’s sullen 3 Epitaphs, for instance, Ho skulks around with a jutted chin, a furrowed brow and legs anchored to the floor with a juicy plie. In Company B, her face shines with girly giggles while her feet pick out the notes of Andrews Sisters songs in a dizzying blur of kicks and turns. Patrick Corbin, rehearsal director of Taylor II, explains Ho’s appeal this way: “She’s a diminutive physical presence, but she has a depth and scope of power in her movement. She’s not just a ‘little cute one.’
Wearing jeans and toting a scooter, the five-foot dynamo explains that while at one point she wouldn’t admit to herself that dance was her dream, now she’s indeed, “living the ultimate fantasy—the life of a dancer.” Her interest in the arts started at home. “Though my parents always wanted me to have a more conventional goal like medicine, my mother was a piano teacher, so there was always music around,” she says. “I did a lot of home performances.”
The Sugarland, Texas native became serious about ballet in middle school, but it wasn’t until she performed in The Nutcracker at age twelve that she discovered her passion for performance. “That was the first time I was part of a full-length piece versus a two minute recital dance,” she says. “It was thrilling.”
At Harvard, Ho became part of the Harvard Ballet Company and took Harvard Dance Program classes. Though her major was chemical and physical biology, dance slowly ascended her priority list. “Away from home, I finally had the freedom to take as much dance as I wanted,” she says. “There were a lot of performances, and I did everything—usually at the expense of sleep and schoolwork!”
Classes with Ruth Anderson, a master from the Paul Taylor Company, were the inspiration Ho needed to attend a Taylor II audition last year. “I went just for the experience without an objective,” she says. “I couldn’t believe it as I kept making it through each round. I wanted it so badly, but I didn’t expect anything.”
Regardless, Ho was a natural. Her tiny, muscular body fit perfectly into the arching lines, springing jumps and witty phrasing Taylor is known for, and she earned her first professional dance job before she even graduated college. “Madelyn has a weight to her movement even though she’s so small,” Corbin says. “At the same time, her arms and footwork have a delicacy, and that’s what you look for in a Taylor dancer: the light and the dark.”
Ho cites educational residencies and lecture/demonstrations as her favorite aspect of her work. “We didn’t have that type of experience when I was in school, and I would have loved it,” she says. “What we do helps kids understand how to look at dance and find fulfillment from it, not be intimidated by it. They’ll be the next generation going to performances because of it.”
Asked about her parents, Ho says, “[They’re] still getting used to the idea that I’m a professional dancer, but my mom has come to see me and told me she was impressed.
She adds, “I’m not thinking of doing anything else. I love this style and getting to eat up space the way Taylor choreography demands.”
Lauren Kay is a writer and dancer in NYC.