Interview with James Fuller

by Sarah Burack

James Fuller '10, a dancer and Artist Development Fellow, was nice enough to sit down with me over lunch today. Between lamenting the onset of heating in the dorms--no going back now!--and discovering a mutual appreciation for coconut kongo bars, we talked about his experiences as a serious dancer and Harvard student. Highlights below.

What are you working on at the moment?

Well, the ballet company’s fall show is obviously taking up a lot of time. I’m also working on my senior thesis in philosophy. What’s it on? How language can be used to describe action and experience. [Pause] I realize that’s probably the broadest possible description that you could say about anything, but it’s just the general principle. I’m still working on the details.

You've worked on both modern dance and classical ballet, and mentioned earlier you'd like to perform both professionally. How are those forms different, or what does each bring to your dance?

Nowadays they are starting to blend so much that you almost can’t really be a strictly classical ballet dancer or perform only one type of modern dance. You’d be unemployable, not to mention a not very interesting dancer. I think it’s really healthy and good and makes you a much better artist to study different types of dance. Studying modern dance has improved my ballet; it’s changed my approach, given you a different way of relating to space, to your body and to action. And in the same way Ballet has enriched my modern by giving me a full technical basis. It makes it much easier to adapt and embody other techniques. They work beautifully together. I’m hoping to find a way to continue to pursue both.

Which did you start first?

I started ballet when I was about nine, and only picked up modern in my senior year of high school.

Something I’ve always been interested in is the state of the arts more generally on this campus, and how it’s talked about by both the artists themselves and administrators. There are so many talented performers here, and it’s interesting that they choose to attend school here rather than at a conservatory or specialized academy, or in lieu of going professional right away. Likewise, I’m sure you’ve heard about the Arts Taskforce, which published its findings last year. So I guess I’m interested in hearing about your views on practicing the arts at Harvard. What are some of the challenges or limitations? Are there benefits to pursuing the arts here?

So as for the challenges—definitely time management. To maintain yourself as a dancer you really need to take class on a regular, rigorous basis, in addition to a rehearsal schedule and time spent actively performing. It’s a large time commitment. In that sense the problem isn’t different from anyone else at Harvard working on a publication or a political group. We all like to keep ourselves busy.

But it really is possible to have an excellent dance experience at Harvard. I’ve gotten a lot better here, which isn’t something that I expected coming in. Before coming I was rehearsing for 3 to 4 hours a day. I took a year off to dance. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep that up while being a student, but I’ve actually found that I’ve been able to do enough to continue improving as a dancer. Being exposed to so many new styles and ideas, in dance and just through the general intellectual atmosphere, has helped me deepen, expand and improve my dancing in ways I wouldn’t have expected a few years ago. It actually helped to start not training hyper-intensively, to have more time to think about and process what I’m doing. To allow more bad habits and patterns to relax themselves out of my body. So I think Harvard is—surprisingly—a really good place to dance. There’s such a great community of dancers here; everyone’s on such a high professional level.

Dance is clearly a serious time commitment for you during the week. So when it gets to be the weekend—are you dancing?

YES! As much as possible. Whenever possible.

And your favorite weekend dance tune, at least this week?

That Black Eyed Peas song "Boom Boom Pow." "You so 200-late."

Catchy. They’re very much a guilty pleasure. Any parting words?

I’m always trying to say, especially to dancers, that people don’t think of Harvard as being a good place to dance, and it really is. It’s something people don’t really know about—how good the dancers are, how many opportunities there are, it’s amazing. Through the ballet company, the modern company, the department—so many cool things. I wish the dance community out there knew more, so they would be inclined to come!

James was too gracious to stoop to shameless self-promotion, so I'll gladly do it for him. The Harvard Ballet Company, which he co-directs, will be presenting its fall show, Momentum, starting on November 6th. The performers wanted to incorporate elements you wouldn't typically find in a traditional ballet, so expect cutting-edge choreography, musicians, and visual artworks. This is the show's first year on the Loeb Mainstage, and definitely worth blocking out time for on your calendar.