- Stella Isis Rothe
- 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
- When I first experienced DAMNED Exhibition, as an artist and photographer, I thought I had retired from dance for good. This was eight years ago, and chronic pain had made ballet feel like an impossibility. I watched the performers swirl around Tangent Gallery with an aching – but hopeful – heart. I missed dancing, and suddenly I could see myself performing in this atmosphere, doing something different from the world of swans and pointe shoes and precise technique that I had left behind. What the DAMNED performers were doing felt freeing, unique, heady, emotional. There were no constraints; even the music was all improv! Inspired, I went home with the motivation to dance again, and I immediately began working toward that goal. Soon, I began performing around Detroit - but I had no idea how I would get into DAMNED as a dancer. When DVS asked me to perform at the Aphrodisiac Dinner, less than a year later, stars fell from the sky. I was terrified and electrified, and when my piece was over, I only wanted twelve months to pass so I could do it all over again. Eventually, I began dancing the Darkness, and then the Enlightenment, as well. When I experienced deep heartbreak, I took it onto the glowing, bullet-proof stage and beat it down with dancing. When one of my best friends died, I carried my pain into DAMNED and danced on top of it – not destroying it, but working with it, understanding it better and honoring my friend through Dixon’s violin and my own movement. And on, and on. DAMNED has been a place for me to explore my deepest fears, to vent my darkest pain, and to share my passion for soulful characters such as Ophelia and Lady Macbeth. I look forward to it every year; it is a catharsis, a spectacle of the soul. I never feel more honest than when I am dancing at DAMNED. Since that fateful evening eight years ago, I’ve had the honor to be a supernumerary with American Ballet Theatre twice, where I met James Benjey, who became my dance partner. Last year, we created a duet for The Enlightenment, which we called “Daybreak.” That was one of the proudest moments of my dancing career. The soaring music of Dixon, being lifted up into the dark air, the hush of the crowd, the glow of the stage, the person who whispered “wow” when it was over – it felt like the culmination of everything I’d been working toward since I first made the decision to put my body – and my soul – through the rigors of dancing again. DAMNED taught me that ballet doesn’t have to involve perfect technique (which I once had, but, alas, no longer!) … ballet can be about expressing the soul perfectly. What a revelation! I will never be a corps dancer. The possibility for that has long ago ended. But what I have is not only “something.” It is everything.