A tall, slender woman with a tightly wrapped bun — the typical image rendered when one thinks of a ballerina. But the truth is that both women and men make professional dance their passion and even Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker or Swan Lake wouldn’t be famous masterpieces without their male performers.
So why does our culture not readily accept and recognize male dancers? Duane Cyrus, founder of Cyrus Art Production, aims to challenge the oversight of male dance artists one step — or padabure — at a time.
Cyrus, a graduate from the Julliard School, first co-authored a book, Vital Grace: The Black Male Dancer, which combines dance and photography to give a more complete and realistic picture of the male dancer and document and validate his grace.
“The book was a way of honoring my mentors while leaving a document that could inspire future dance artists,” Cyrus explained. “With the images by Joanne Savio we captured a connection to a historical legacy forged by black men in dance.
“The live performance on Sept. 20 [at UNCG] is a way to expand the idea of the book. There will still be a focus on the historical legacy that honors those who came before while connecting those who are coming up now.”
The Vital Grace Project, begun in 1995, is a series of performances and events celebrating men in dance that includes annual community-based performances and the photography book. It is sponsored in part by the United Arts Council of Greater Greensboro and is part of the 17 Days Festival.
“The Vital Grace Project is a one-of-akind celebration of the diverse range of styles male dancers are capable of,” Cyrus said. “The goal of this performance is to bring together cross-sections of our local community to meet and enjoy the talent of our creative class living right here in Greensboro.”
The event will include dance theater, classical ballet, modern, jazz, contemporary and more.
Special guest performers at the upcoming show include Lloyd Knight, soloist with the Martha Graham Dance Company, Ben Ingel from the North Carolina Dance Theatre II, and Aran Bell, the ballet prodigy featured in the documentary film First Position, among others. Cyrus will also premiere new work with professional artists and students from UNCG.
“The hope is that each audience member will take away a newfound appreciation and respect for the importance of dance in American culture,” Cyrus said. “And to realize that the gift of movement is one that anyone can share regardless of gender or racial background.”
The male dance artists performing at the event work to “defy the old adage that dance is something men don’t do.”
“I’d also say that I’m working through Cyrus Art Production to help connect young artists with quality professional training and experiences,” Cyrus said. “This is something I was fortunate to receive at an early point in my career development. For me, creating avenues of ‘access to art’ is a way of giving something back… which is what performing is about.”
Cyrus can identify with the challenges and struggles that can come with being in a culturally unaccepted field; and, although that experience serves as motivation, he chooses to focus on the present and future rather than the past.
“I am not looking at my past as challenges that had to be overcome,” Cyrus explained, “but rather as moments of success and learning through hard work as well as blessings. I was fortunate to have access to very good teachers and role models. I am also thankful for the ability to recognize and consistently train with my mentors.”
Cyrus, who is also an associate professor at UNCG, holds a BFA from the Juilliard School and an MFA from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. In between, he danced with the Martha Graham Company, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, in musical theater (including the original London production of Disney’s The Lion King), on television,and in a variety of other venues. He has also worked as an independent artist throughout the United States, Europe and Asia as a teacher, performer and choreographer.
Cyrus Art Production’s Dance Gala Greensboro, The Vital Grace Project, will perform in UNCG’s Aycock Auditorium, located at 408 Tate St., Friday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 general; $12 senior/student; $9 UNCG student. For tickets or more information call 336.334.4849 or visit performingarts.uncg.edu.