My name is Matthew Frain, and I am a lifelong dancer. I have danced professionally for about 10 years, the last few of which I have been creating my own choreography. Tomorrow, I will embark on the main rehearsal process for a new creation that will premier in 10 days. I have already created about half of this ballet throughout the year since August. As I write this, I am in the midst of a neurosis and a madness that I think only the truly troubled weirdo will identify with. I spent the entire day in the house, didn’t leave once except for calling up a friend to come pick me up, to go spend some time with other friends that help me to maintain sobriety. Oh yeah, by the way I am a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 4 years and some change. But before any of that, I am really just a regular dude. I am not writing this to mystify my self-image or this art into some elitist bullshit that separates me from you. Instead, I am trying to share with you my thoughts and emotions throughout this journey while at the same time, not completely lose my mind. I have had works performed by professionals with my name on it within the past three years. However, this is the largest project I have taken up and the first time a work of mine will be featured on a Studio Series for the Richmond Ballet.
So far, in my experience creating new work the night before the first rehearsal is always crazy. Questions, doubt, disbelief, frustration and the typical ‘feeling of impending-doom’ lurk around the corner every few minutes. It really is a special feeling. I am not complaining, nor do I want to appear morbid, these are not problems they are blessings. Whatever you are feeling right now in this moment reading this whether it’s good or bad, if you’re human you know what that big four letter word is. FEAR. It’s the most beautiful thing out there. People can be afraid of being afraid. I used to be a lot, and can still be sometimes. Fear can cause me to act out in many different ways. Fear of not having what I THINK I want or need. Fear of being alone. Fear of being homeless. This basic primal instinct to survive I used to cloak as being ambition, or drive. Which most of the time pushed people away from me instead of closer.
Today, it is different. I look at fear as a reminder that I am still living. I embrace it. Earlier today, the thought popped into my head: “Why do I even try to do this? Create? Choreograph? Why?” If it’s always going to feel like this before I start creating something then damn, give me an application to McDonald’s or sign me back up to drive for Uber (there is no shame in doing that work, I used to be an Uber driver part time, it’s not easy! And to the folks at the McDonald’s on Chamberlayne Ave. Get your shit together!) But then that thought was replaced with “because this is what you want to do….” Duh. I’ve wanted to do this for a very long time and now I have the opportunity, this time, in this moment, to create. What am I expecting?
My last work entitled “Inventory” turned out to be a lovely experience. I remember the night before entering the studio to start I was feeling exactly as I do now. I was working with an original score by friend and mentor D. Randall Blythe. Randy’s kind of taught me how to be sober, and still do this art thing. Without him, I’d be in the gutter because I don’t think I would ever have stopped drinking. At the time I got sober, I needed to hear from somebody who was more “unique” and “special” than me to tell me that…. Dude, you’re not that freaking “unique” or “”special.” I use those terms flippantly. If a rock-star front man of one of the heaviest of heavy metal acts who tours the world can be sober, so can I. End of story. It’s not a veiled ego-trip to cut myself down. Anyone who has ever recovered from the disease of alcoholism or addiction knows that the idea of being “unique” or “special” could kill you.
I remember getting new music from Randy everyday, working and trying to fill out the tracks and make them into the piece that was performed in March of 2014. It was exciting, I felt so much emotion well-up when I saw that thing performed the first time. Not that I had any illusion that it was the most amazing piece of dance ever made, but because I found out I was capable of creating something. Two years prior I could barely go a day without sucking down a six-pack and a fifth of Jameson just to feel ‘OK,’ my ballet career is in SERIOUS jeopardy and I want to be hit by bus. Now, suddenly I’m watching a piece with my name on it being performed by an outstanding professional company. Wait, somebody asked ME to do this?! Those are just some of the gifts that have shown up along this road so far.
“Inventory” was a piece that was very much centered around a personal struggle of “life on life’s terms” and dealing with taking that long stare in the mirror at the end of the day. How an honest appraisal can give someone freedom, much like it did for me. This new work I am creating is a bit different. It is very much about US. Yes, US. Us as a people, as a species. This is a socially conscious work and a warning about where we are headed as a people. In the early, early days of conceiving this ballet I have been weary of diving into disclosing the nature of this ballet. For “Inventory” I felt I was putting myself and my life out there. For this ballet I am putting myself out there in a different way. I am putting myself out there to make an appeal to society. An appeal to pay attention and think. This ballet will not be bashing anyone, or presenting any opinion about anything, it will present narratives and scenes from an objective viewpoint, told through the art of ballet. Many of these narratives and scenes are things that we have seen happen in our society over the past year or so. Some of them may be disturbing, some of them may be sad, some of them might be funny. This socially conscious work will be called “An Open Letter…” I invite you to come back here for the next 10 days to hear about this journey. To see a form take shape, hear my thoughts and emotions. But most of all because I would like your support and positive energy with me.
March 22 2:01AM