Interview with Susan Leftwich: A Dancers Response to Surviving Breast Cancer

Susan Leftwich has choreographed an emotional dance about her own experience as a breast cancer survivor. The dance will be performed as part of the High Release Show: “NEXUS”, 3-4 June 2011 at Cubberley Theater in Palo Alto. The following is an excerpt from an interview with her in the weeks before the show.

Q: I understand you are one of the newer members of High Release, is that correct? When did you join?

A: This will be my first full-length concert, but I joined High Release 2 years ago – right after seeing the previous show. I was impressed by the quality and decided to audition.

Q: Why did you decide to join the company?

A: Life is short. After my experience with breast cancer, it didn’t seem scary at all to audition for a dance company. Plus, I wanted to do something just for me.

Q: What do you like most about being a member of High Release?

A: I enjoy the collaborative work that we do. Being with other dancers fulfills a need in me to be with others who understand dance. I can’t get that feeling at work or even at home.

Q: What is your piece, “Gathering the Pieces” about?

A: “Gathering the Pieces” is about the response of the people around you when they find out you are seriously ill. Some walk away. Some RUN to help. Others need time to decide what they are feeling. In the end, it’s the support you get from the people around you that truly makes the difference in your recovery. Facing death is scary because you are alone. Knowing that others are there lightens the burden.

Q: What was the inspiration behind your choreography? How was this drawn
from your own personal experience?

A: About a year ago, I wrote a reflection of my experience with this illness. As a storyteller and a dancer, the natural and necessary next step for me was to create a dance to tell the story.

Q: Tell me about the music you selected for the dance

A: I started out with one piece of music that, to me, sounded like “regular life” and then switched to “something’s wrong.” However, three rehearsals before the end, I switched music. Several months before, I had shared my story with a friend who had agreed to write and sing a song for it. When I didn’t hear from her, I went with the first piece of music. But then she contacted me with the song she had written. Praying that it would work, we watched video of the dancers and played the new song in the background. It was like the dancers were dancing TO the new music! The dancers will perform to this new piece – “Susan’s Song” by Palo Alto resident, Paige Gibbons.

Q: Do you feel like the process of choreographing this dance has helped
with the healing process?

A: Absolutely. The story is told, but what we learn from the telling is the most important thing.

Q: Are you nervous about the show?

A: Everyone gets butterflies before a performance. But it’s okay as long as your butterflies are flying in formation!

Q: Is there anything else you think our audience should know about your dance?

A: As you watch it, which dancer do you relate to? How is the ending connected to the beginning? Why is it called “Gathering the Pieces”?

High Release Dance was founded in 1994 by a group of modern dancers seeking to pursue their own artistic visions and performance opportunities in a collaborative environment. The upcoming concert is called “NEXUS”, and will be on June 3rd and 4th, 2011 at Cubberley Theater in Palo Alto. The show starts at 8pm. Tickets are $15 in advance, or $20 at the door. More information is available at: http://www.highrelease.org/