Dancer Bryan Cunningham on his role as the Mad Hatter in Avant Chamber Ballet’s Alice in Wonderland and the pros and cons of being a freelance dancer.
Richardson — With the competition better than ever and the number of jobs dwindling, a lot of ballet dancers are taking the freelancing route in order to survive. “To be a successful freelancer you’ve got to have a good personality and be able to adapt to new situations pretty quick,” says freelance dancer Bryan Cunningham.
Originally from West Virginia, Cunningham trained at North Carolina School of the Arts, School of American Ballet and Houston Ballet Academy. After high school he joined Cleveland/San Jose Ballet. When Cleveland Ballet closed its doors in 2000 Cunningham called around to other dance companies to see if they had any openings. His take-charge attitude has guided him throughout his career which has also included Kansas City Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Madison Ballet and Florida Ballet. “My career path has been my own doing.” In some cases instead of waiting to be let go Cunningham went ahead and made his own plans. “You have to be smart and watch for the signs.”
After six years working in the ballet world, Cunningham took a break and headed to Las Vegas. He gave his notice without lining up another job first, something he says he would never do today. “In the early 2000’s the economy was better and there were more dance jobs readily available especially for men. Today, dance jobs are harder to get so I would never leave a job unless I had something else lined up.”
In the end his gamble paid off when he was cast in the Las Vegas show New Boy. After four years with the production Cunningham realized he wasn’t going to go any further so he decided to return to ballet. It was during his time at Madison Ballet after this that he met current Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) company member Madelaine Boyce. His connection with Boyce helped him obtain his most recent job playing the Mad Hatter in ACB’s new ballet Alice in Wonderland, April 12-13, at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. The production features original choreography by artistic director Katie Puder for a cast of 46 dancers and a commissioned score by composer-in-residence Chase Dobson for nine musicians performed live.
“I didn’t know Katie personally, but I have seen some of her work and she has a really good reputation, so I was excited to come to Dallas and work with her.” Even though Cunningham has been freelancing for a while, he says it’s still nerve-racking to walk into a room where you are the odd man out. He adds in this case the company was very open and accepting of him. “Not only is the company made up of good dancers, but they are also good people.”
While Puder’s choreography in the show is predominantly classical, Cunningham says she keeps the dancers on their toes by reversing movement and repeating certain phrases starting on the other foot. Puder also has the company practice to a couple of different recordings of the music to prepare them for the live orchestration. “Katie is so clever. She doesn’t tell us which recording she is going to play so, we could be running the tea party scene and I’ll notice that the rhythm is a lot quicker and all I can do is adapt.”
This Q&A was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.