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In 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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