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Memorium, 2-27: The Comet-Chaser
Portrait of an Artist: Amy Sue Rosen
By Rosa Mei
Copyright 2003 Rosa Mei
A woman in a red dress
stands on a jetty of boulders, gazes at the horizon, turns and gradually,
precariously, makes her way slowly from point A to point B. Amy
Sue Rosen named that piece "Boulder" and the character appeared
in many of her works, the quintessential wanderer and soul searcher,
someone much like Amy Sue herself. Last Wednesday, February 19,
Amy Sue Rosen, at the age of 48, died peacefully in her home after
a three-year battle with brain cancer. Her characters -- this woman
standing on a jetty, the lone travelers on trains, an abandoned
man-child and other fairy tale creatures -- journeyed, most often
in slo-mo, to odd lands filled with edible sugar dresses, hills
of astroturf, lab equipment, feathers and polka dots. Amy Sue's
imagination was both wild and calm, and in certain ways more profound
than most; she understood the nuances of gesture, intonation and
silence, how to express the human condition in a nutshell.
Amy Sue's pieces were
filled with lone souls, dysfunctional communities, wanderers and
dreamers. Her people almost always seemed to be in search of something
elusive, steadfast in their determination to make a journey regardless
of end destination or time. Much like a good mystery writer, Amy
Sue knew how to sketch out a moment, adding only the necessary details.
Not more, not less. I remember the eggs dropping in "One Magnificent
Gesture," the dancers nibbling at each others' confectionary dresses
in "Sugarlei," the blood transfusions in "Object Lesson" and cavorting
revelers of "Dot..Dot." During the last couple of years, she lived
with brain cancer, the daily agonies of chemotherapy mixed with
an awareness of impending death. Her most recent pieces, "Abandoning
Hope" and "Break/Broke," were, more or less, her conversations with
cancer. Onstage, we saw the mental exhaustion and physical anguish
of the disease mixed with slice-of-life bloopers. What a long, strange
trip it's been.
Most of my conversations
with Amy Sue took place in the dressing room of NY Aikikai, where
we both studied aikido. She was quite religious about her practice.
One day we were talking about Field Day, that NYC dance marathon
where greener, fresh-off-the-boat choreographers generally go to
hawk their goods. She was still participating in it even after 20
years in the business. "Well, if more seasoned choreographers aren't
willing to take that risk, what is that saying to younger ones?"
Amy Sue understood the importance of duration and continuity.
She worked with the
same collaborators show after show. She allied herself with people
of the same ilk; they were her co-conspirators. Her husband, Derek
Bernstein, a gifted artist and a kind, soft-spoken man, designed
sets with her for over 20 years. Jeff Fontaine was her trusted lighting
designer and Reiko Kawashima, her costume magician. She loved her
dancers and always seemed to work with ones -- everybody from Thom
to Tanya -- who understood how to carve character.
When I was back in New
York last July, I popped into NY Aikikai and saw Amy Sue practicing
on the mat. She came up to me and we chatted a few minutes. She
seemed content and beamed with positive energy, and I thought to
myself how good it was that she was better. And she was. She was
doing what made sense to do in her life, training in aikido and
making dance. She was someone who made dance out of conviction and
compulsion; she was fascinated by the world around her and had a
keen eye for the quirky. Jerzy Kosinski once said that one of the
keys to surviving in wilderness is the possession of fire, or a
"comet" of one's own. I think of Amy Sue as a perpetual chaser and
catcher of comets, someone who, come hell or high water, brought
a little more light and sense into the world.
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