The Start of a Professional Journey

20-year-old Daniel Russell Cooke is in his first season with Ballet Memphis. Cooke documented the beginning of his professional career—including work on the company's mixed-repertory program The River Project, which opens tomorrow and runs through October 28—for Pointe.

I arrived in Memphis at the beginning of August and got started right away. Company classes and rehearsals for our season kickoff, a costume fashion show in recognition of the company’s new costume shop, began immediately. This first project was a fantastic icebreaker. It allowed me to get to know the company dancers, and them to get to know me.

But things got even more intense when we began rehearsing our mainstage season opener, The River Project. It includes new works by Julia Adam, Steven McMahon and Matthew Neenan. All the choreography is inspired by the Mississippi River—the people whose lives were shaped by its path, the music that was created on its banks, and the tales of its history.

I’m in the opening piece, Confluence, by  Steven McMahon, who is both a dancer with the company and its resident choreographer. I see his ballet as a story about about creating a home and a community, making something new and maybe even unexpected. The work has three evolving acts—it starts slowly but grows steadily, until it takes on a life of its own. We begin by building a physical place, but by the end of the piece we are trying to ascend to a higher place, maybe a spiritual one.

I love working with Steven. He is a seamless dancer with a beautiful movement quality. Since he's about 6' 5", I literally look up to him (which is rare because I'm 6'4"!). But I also look up to him as an experienced dancer and choreographer. He's constantly in a state of cognitive play, working and re-working ideas, which I believe is a quality of a true visionary.

I’m so excited to be a part of a professional company. I'm finally living the dream—and learning a ton! The advice my coworkers share with me is so helpful. I couldn't be more grateful to them for making me feel accepted and included. I'm lucky to be here. And this is only the beginning.

It’s still hard to believe that I’m making my professional debut tomorrow. I'm so excited. I hope that Steven's piece connects with the audience in a way that leaves them wanting more, and inspires thought and conversation.

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