Dance Spotlight: Devonte’ Tasker

Devonte’ Tasker, 17, first started dancing in church in his hometown of Baltimore, MD when he was five years old, and then began dancing ballet at the age of 10. This is Devonte’’s first year in the Colburn Dance Academy. (Photo: Joaquin Ruiz Photography)

This interview has been lightly edited for style and clarity.

Why did you decide to come to Colburn?
I was at the School of American Ballet (SAB) this summer and towards the end of the summer when people were getting asked to dance companies, I started thinking about looking at year-round programs. A lot of people there told me that Colburn is a really good school, and also that Colburn was looking for boys, so I emailed and then here we are.

I really enjoy the dancing here, especially since it’s structured like a pre-professional program should be, which prepares you for companies. I went to an arts school at home, so I still danced every day, but it wasn’t at a level that prepared you specifically for companies.

What’s your favorite class here?
I really enjoy tap. I used to do musical theater and my favorite part was the dance numbers when we got to do tap and I got learn something that I’ve never taken class in before. I went out and got tap shoes for like, one show that I didn’t even need. It’s so fun to be able to make sounds with your feet. It’s like the verbal version of ballet to me.

The classes with the guest artists here are also amazing, like when we had class with Maria [Kowroski] and Jared [Angle], and Alison Stroming. They treated us as if we were company members, so the level of respect between student and teacher was really nice, and the classes in general too. The combinations were fun, the teachers always brought a nice energy to the room, so like yeah ballet’s hard, but it can be fun too.

Why do you love dance?
Dance for me has always been a form of expression, not because I was a shy or quiet kid, because I wasn’t—I was a very outgoing person. But dance was when I got to be introverted and just express my emotions without talking, because sometimes I do have trouble articulating my words. To be able to dance and convey a message or a story without actually having to use words and to think about what to say is very nice. Throughout the years, as you get better with your technique, you can continue to express and say more and more.

Did you always know that you wanted to dance?
When I originally started ballet, I knew that I wanted to do SAB and New York City Ballet just because those were the it companies for me. As time went on and I was introduced to different styles of dance, I realized that ballet is what I want to do and what I love. Colburn is just so great because I get to do that, and at the same caliber as if I were at SAB or PNB (Pacific Northwest Ballet).

What do you hope to accomplish while you’re at Colburn?
Because I’m an aspiring choreographer, I would really like to collaborate with the musicians here. They’re doing amazing things and it would be great to have more of that connect between music and dance at Colburn, like when Maria and Jared performed Liturgy with the Conservatory musicians a few weeks ago. I feel like it’s very important in both music and dance to be able to collaborate and just get together and create something that’s beautiful.

How did you get into choreographing?
I think I started choreographing when I was 13. I saw Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography for the first time in one of the Royal Ballet’s videos and it just inspired me to get up and find a piece of music to dance to. I feel like the hardest part for me as a choreographer is trying to find music that I would want to see my pieces to. I like composers like Max Richter, and since I don’t know too much about music and contemporary composers, it’s hard to find music that fits the mood and tone of what I’d want to choreograph. That’s why I feel like collaborating with musicians is so important, because then you get to tap into their knowledge of a broader variety of music, and you also have the option to compose a piece together.

What do you think of dance as a field?
Dance itself is very hard. I was always told that dancers are athletic artists, but over the summer, I had a teacher who told me that male dancers were warrior poets. That made more sense to me, because in dance you have to be strong, but you also have to be artistic and fluid. Dance is just as athletic as sports and just as mentally challenging as, honestly, high school to me because you have to know the combinations, know the counts, think about the technique while you’re doing it, so it’s kind of like a game in a way. All the puzzle pieces need to fit, and if they fit correctly or if all the things in your body are aligned correctly, it goes well.

Nowadays, a lot of choreographers are branching out and getting into the male-on-male or female-on-female pas de deux and just being more generally accepting of non-traditional gender roles. In my mind it actually makes dance harder, because now there’s this added pressure of being expected to be able to do this, this, and this instead of just this set of steps for men, and this set of steps for women. But I think it’s very important because when people go to see ballet, it challenges their pre-conceived ideas about gender roles and they take away ideas from the ballet. The more people see male-on-male and female-on-female pieces, the more they will apply it to everyday life and accept it in our culture.

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