With Audrey Fenske, T’09
Certain events make up the quintessential Duke Experience. Tenting in K-ville for the Duke-Carolina game. Cramming onto East-West Campus buses like previous generations crammed into telephone booths. Attending LDOC concerts on the main quad. Accidentally taking the Robertson Scholar bus all the way to Chapel Hill. Sunbathing in the Gardens at the first hint of spring. Reading the Chronicle religiously (and in place of any assigned reading), finishing the crossword, and insisting the “Monday, Monday” column isn’t funny.
Wendy Hower: Let’s talk about your job as dancer with Keith Lee Dances company in Virginia. How did you get your job?
Audrey Fenske: I had known about Keith Lee, a former ABT soloist and ballet master at Alvin Ailey, since I was in high school at Virginia School of the Arts in Lynchburg, VA. When I moved to Charlottesville, VA, in 2012 to work with a ballet company located there, I crossed paths with him again. I expressed my desire to work with him as soon as I discovered that he had rebooted his professional company, which existed in NYC in the 1980’s, here in Virginia. Mr. Lee has an incredible amount of challenging repertory pieces, and I really enjoy his style, which has a strong base in ballet technique, but an incredible amount of emotion and expression.
WH: Would you share a memory of your experience as the first dance program major at Duke?
AF: I have so many─so many wonderful classes, workshops, repertory pieces, performances and lectures! Perhaps the most memorable, however, was the culmination of my four years of studying dance at Duke─my senior project, Joissance. It was a full evening of my own choreography, and included four group numbers and two solos. My final semester at Duke had me navigating the normal stresses of graduation, while also hiring a lighting designer, costume designer and graphic designer; finding a student tech crew; printing posters and advertising the show; and, perhaps the most difficult task of all, coordinating a rehearsal schedule with 25 incredibly busy Duke students who so graciously agreed to perform. I was overwhelmed by the support I had from my fellow students and faculty. Most of the tiny budget I had went to buying posters and the installation of lights─everything else was volunteered by students and faculty. The fact that so many people supported my work still fills me with immense gratitude, and is such a testament to the cooperation and community created and supported by the Duke Dance Program.
WH: What is the most unusual or noteworthy art-related event you attended recently?
AF: I’m not sure if I’m cheating at this question or not because I was involved in the event, but our recent performance and lecture event, Le Bal Miro, at the Nasher, was really unlike any other arts event I have seen. I believe what was so incredible about this event was the fact that the cross-disciplinary collaboration between choreography, music, costume design, set design and event planning, was explained and then demonstrated. My partner Devin Sweet and I communicated for months with Jade Bettin, instructor, UNC Dramatic Arts; Molly Boarati, assistant curator, Nasher Museum; Barbara Dickinson, professor of the practice, Duke Dance Program; Scott Lindroth, Vice Provost for the Arts and professor of music; and Kathleen Wright, special events manager, Nasher Museum, who all played a role in making the event come together. I believe the audience walked away with a much better understanding of the creative process, as well as the huge amount of thought and planning that goes into a performance.
WH: Do you keep up with the American Dance Festival?
AF: Devin Sweet and I teach several ballet intensives at Triangle Youth Ballet in Chapel Hill over the summer, so we try to catch ADF performances when we are in the area! I have danced with ADF Project Dance director Gaspard Louis in his company Gaspard&Dancers, and was able to perform a few summers ago in MFA candidate Rainey Lacey’s thesis piece. I have many friends who enjoy ADF’s summer school every year, and I’m hopeful that I can attend the full six weeks in the future. I think it’s really remarkable that so many creative individuals make Durham and Duke their home every summer, and encourage anyone who hasn’t attended an ADF performance before to be sure to check one out this year.
WH: Would you have any advice in students interested in art and/or creative careers?
AF: Be proactive. Make connections, learn as much as you can, and reach out to other artists. I, like so many other artists, have obtained work from strangers simply based on a kind word from a mutual friend. Also, never be a one-trick pony─if you are a dancer, you should learn at least the basics about lighting design, costume design and stage management. As a dance major, I never realized how often I would need to call music and light cues in a show, or quickly sew a broken strap on one of my 10-year-old students’ costumes. Finally, be frugal; because goodness knows, the one problem you will always run into as an artist is lack of funding.