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Breezy Berryman

  • Breezy Berryman

Breezy Berryman is a dancer and choreographer in Homer. She uses dance to tell the stories of the human experience and pushes herself to expand her artistic voice.

    2017

  • Fellowship
  • Choreography

Birth, death and renewal — through dance

At the age of 5, Breezy Berryman performed in of one of her mother’s dance productions. At one point, she was tucked inside a giant fold of cloth and “birthed” out. “I knew then that I wanted to spend the rest of my life dancing.”

Homer, Alaska, born and raised, choreographer Berryman is trained in modern, ballet and jazz dance. Her dances meld music, movement and intricate stories about the human experience. She’s inspired by art, literature, music and nature. Once, after reading the book “Immortality” by Czech-French writer Milan Kundera, she was intrigued by a line that read, “For me that is the real life, to live in the thoughts of another; otherwise, I am the living dead.” From this line, she choreographed a dance depicting a love triangle, a combative piece filled with pushes, pulls and lifts that reflects not only the line from the book, but also a tumultuous relationship she was going through at the time.

Passionate and disciplined, she pushes the boundaries of her artistic voice through an organic creative process that unfolds after inspiration sparks her imagination. At the heart of her love for choreography are the magic moments that feed her soul, when dancers fully embody the passion of a piece she has choreographed capably enough to portray the story or feeling — humorous, abstract or tragic — to the audience.

Her piece “Bound” moved audience members to tears. In it, five dancers wear white jumpsuits crisscrossed with bands representing straight jackets. They thrash across the stage in rough, angular movements, in control one moment, then being controlled in the next. “I asked the dancers to interpret the idea that they were women who had been institutionalized and sedated and who were unable to escape from their surroundings because of the system and circumstances that had been placed upon their lives.”

The recipient of a 2014 Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award, Berryman produced the inaugural Homer Summer Dance Festival and her own 20-minute dance piece, “Nature’s Walk,” inspired by Alaska landscapes. Exploring the theme of conservation and the colors of the season, images of glaciers, water and forests were projected behind the dancers. Later, she envisioned a more expansive version, transposing the original piece outside into nature, rather than having nature as a backdrop.

After receiving a 2017 Rasmuson Foundation Artist Fellowship, she spent a year choreographing, filming and editing one specific dance on video, capturing her dancers out in nature exploring light, color, shadow and the themes of birth, death and renewal. Shooting the footage and working alongside cinematographers and dancers, she plans to screen the completed film at dance and film festivals throughout Alaska.

Berryman’s own journey into dance came at a very young age, when she joined her mother, a modern dance teacher, in her studio, enamored with the dancers she watched moving across the floor. At the age of 2, she joined the toddlers’ dance class, the youngest of all. By 5, emerging from that giant piece of cloth, she was smitten.

At 13, she performed in the local production of the Nutcracker in the lead role of Clara and went on to other roles, including Snow Queen and the doll. Studying music and dance throughout her school years provided a solid foundation. In college, choreography became her passion.

“The very first couple of pieces I choreographed, I really dove into the structure and feeling of the music in order to help facilitate the telling of the story. I was fascinated because there were so many moving parts in making it a creative work.”

Once in a while, she likes to break rules. Responding to a teacher’s requests for dancers to position themselves in interesting spaces in the room, Berryman climbed up into a window alcove and another time went inside the piano.

As she learned the technical aspects of choreography, she discovered not only the performance that comes out of the process, but her own artistic growth. Each time she choreographs a piece, she learns a new lesson about what works and what provides challenges.

Leaving Alaska for college and grad school, she went on to run a modern dance company in New York City and to perform in Europe with two dance companies. In 2008, she returned to Alaska, teaching choreography at the University of Alaska Anchorage and the Alaska Dance Theater. Today, she lives in Homer again. She teaches private and group dance classes and choreographs the local Nutcracker ballet.

As she shares her love for dance, she continues to evolve as a choreographer. She is building a dance studio in her home in hopes of opening the Breezy Berryman Dance Company where she will be able to choreograph, mentor dancers, and nourish a small, seasonal Alaska dance company. Touring around the state will allow them to introduce dance to communities who might not otherwise have this exposure.

Using dance to share stories of the human experience, Berryman connects her dancers with the movements, music, stage patterns and ultimately, their audience. In her expanded “Nature’s Walk” piece, a young dancer emerges from the trunk of a tree, not unlike that scene from childhood when she emerged from cloth. The dancer wears a nude unitard to represent the skin of a newborn and walks barefoot through the seasons. “When the dancer walks through the snow, she encounters distinguished people of age, representing the later seasons of our life. Birth, death, renewal — this is life and this is what I strive to portray.”

Christina Whiting is a writer, photographer and adventure traveler who calls Homer, Alaska, home when she is not out wandering the world. She writes a weekly feature for The Homer Tribune and hosts the Shut Up & Write and Wanderlust groups. Her work-in-progress is a book of personal essays.

Image credits - All gallery images and artist portrait courtesy of the artist. Writer portrait by Taz Tally Photography.