Passion is a double-edged sword. It moved Sir Edmund Hillary to summit Everest, it perversely also moved the father of Marvin Gaye Jr. to murder his son. Passion can drive us to create beautiful new works of art, it can also trap us in unforgivable isolation. What then is the distinguishing factor between these two extremes? Does passion need structure?
As burgeoning artists and adults, I met Annmaria Mazzini in the fall of 1990 as we started our freshman year at Southern Methodist University. We were the only two dancers who showed up at ballet before 9 am to warm up for class, so naturally I admired her immediately. She went on to be the most prolific choreographer of our dance department and later went on to dance around the globe with the Paul Taylor Dance Company. What I admired about her so much was how she embraced her passion. She could go from jumping, turning and stomping with abandon to whispering in faint nods of her head, captivating audiences nevertheless. At the same age, I wanted to be that free but I did not have the confidence she had. 10 years into her career, some of that unrelenting abandon from her early years caught up to her in the form of two hip replacements. As a mother and jewelry designer she places that passion into new loves. “Dancing Amulets” began during her travels with the Taylor Company, and in her own words because “I was a performer with an often overwhelming reserve of passion, ... I found a special satisfaction in channeling my offstage energy into fashioning lasting objects of delight.” And recently Annmaria was invited as Artist-In-Residence to set “Mercuric Tidings,” a Taylor classic for our alma mater as a representative of The Taylor Foundation.
“The campus is so beautiful. And I’ve been back there many times in these years that have gone by, but this is the first time it felt... as magical as it felt when I first went there...” she said of her recent trip to SMU. It was at SMU in Shelly Berg’s Dance History class where Mazzini first saw “Esplanade”, perhaps Taylor’s most iconic piece; when she knew she wanted to dance his work. She spent many hours watching the collection of work in the stacks of the Hammon Arts Library. She auditioned for Taylor 2 soon thereafter. We were still in school. She got to be in the room with all the people she had been watching on those videos, and it changed her. This was 1993. She finished school and two years later Linda Hodes invited her to join Taylor 2 in 1995. Mazzini joined the first company in 1999.
I asked Annmaria to tell me about company life with Taylor. I knew she traveled far and wide and that she picked up jewelry making on tour because of all the precious stones and minerals she came to know in the various exotic locales. Her first year with Taylor 2 she traveled to the Baltic states; Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. She tasted both the glamour and unglamorous parts of being on tour. While there she realized it was her dancing that had gotten here there. Performing in a beautiful opera house, shopping in cobblestone streets, exploring and wandering while there, were all manifestations of her passion. Touring with a group closely, she valued time alone to help her keep balanced. One day in Latvia she started to feed stray cats. Certain the city cats were communicating about this American feeding them, several waited one day at a store window as she bought some food to feed them. She fed them in an alley by the store when she felt a hand cup her bottom. She turned around to see two young men. “Hey!” she shouted in her slightly New York tinged American accent. To which they responded with something in Latvian as they started to walk away and snicker. Annmaria undeterred, called out, “Do you know what this means?” as she flipped them them off. Her passion also drove her to get lost in an Estonian city searching for a not-to-be-missed Italian restaurant, when she heard her name called out and saw it was a fellow cast member, also lost, and also looking for the same Italian restaurant. They enjoyed a delicious meal, a much needed break from the heavy fare they had been eating on tour up to that point. In Lithuania she fell in love with the amber. Not only the stones, but also the resin that can be worn as perfume. This was the first time she began fashioning the amber into jewelry, giving her the outlet and the quiet time to concentrate her passion and connect with the energy she and the stones shared.
As a professional, Annmaria discovered staying in shape was tougher than when we were in school. She also experienced injury. Hip tendonitis plagued her from pretty early on. “My tendency as a young dancer was to throw myself into the movement, and find the shape at any price. I rarely approached choreography with a technique first process. Inevitably my quads became overworked and thus the tendonitis.” Pilates was introduced to her and she learned how to be mindful of her technique and her injury. It allowed her to both increase her strength and efficiency. “But once I found that I was able to have a whole new relationship with alignment; my understanding of modern, ballet, everything became much clearer to me. And my body started to change from round and curvy to more sculpted. I had also been dancing Paul's work for about ten years at this point - you can almost tell how long a dancer has been in Paul's company by looking at their backs - years upon years of doing his back exercises has a stunning effect.”
She began to schedule her Pilates lessons on the days she needed to perform because it gave her better run-throughs and use of her body. As the injury progressed, the exercises also made the dancing bearable. She was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in both hips, progressing faster on the right. Gyrotonic, Pilates and therapy made it better until she realized she was even having a tough time getting to the additional appointments. When walking to and from appointments, climbing stairs, and negotiating subway stops in the City became too tough so too the discomfort on stage which adrenaline used to spare her, did no more; her energy started to implode. At this point she had to not only take the necessary steps to repair her body, but she had to reconcile with the idea that her body would not be her tool much longer. She stopped dancing and had her first hip surgery. After the first surgery, she created her own dance company. She was dancing and performing with the Mazzini Collective. But once she became pregnant and had her son, she was really able to make the transition to not make her body the number one priority.
Annmaria has made the transformation and prefers now to work from home. She likes cooking, making jewelry, gardening (her spiritual practice), all from home. Annmaria gets nervous being extroverted when she has spent much of her time to herself. Still Annmaria does choreograph, does marketing for Dancing Amulets, performs and does workshops. She gets nervous when she has to go back out and be a “different kind of light.” Although she realizes, “I always end up loving it and being stimulated.” Recently in a workshop with Margie Gills, she had one of these revealing, vulnerable experiences. Gillis’ work currently focuses on conflict transformation through movement. The work symbolized the struggle Annmaria currently has with her introverted versus extroverted self. But this kind of stimulation also urges her “dangerous passions”. The motivation, the excitement causes her to, “sometimes... jump into things I am not ready for or I commit to something before I know what it will take from me.”
“My deep love for the art of Margie Gillis began even before I saw her dance, it was a photo of her seen in the Hammon Arts Library that first captivated my imagination. I saw her perform in the 90s when I first moved to NYC and I'll never forget it...Since leaving the Taylor company I have had more opportunities to learn from her in the studio: in workshops she's lead, on the beautiful duet she made with her brother, and in a recent residency exploring her work with Conflict Transformation…. I have learned so much about energy from her - where it comes from in the body, how it travels through the body, how it can be released, and how it can be taken back in…. ‘Go through the audience, not to them’ she said. Learning to listen to these tiny impulses of nerves that become movement has brought me to a different, quieter place in my performance, trusting in that I’m released from feeling nervous or fearful, and there's this wonderful surrender to each moment.”
With another of our classmates, Michael Trusnovec and Taylor company member she danced the Vers la Glacé, a duet.- “It’s been a special thing to revisit this duet every few months over the last year and a half - pre and post surgery. It's been a gauge to monitor physical progress and a constant script with differing variables that are always wonderful. Sometimes I will travel an hour and a half to the studio just to get to rehearse it for ten minutes, because I treasure every one of those magical ten minutes!”
For Mazzini performing is better with others. "I never really liked being alone on stage, a roller coaster is no fun without a friend. But I feel spirits in the music, in the movement, stepping inside me and taking over, and they carry me. The energy changes with different audiences too, and I love that - especially when there are kids in the audience, or when a bat flies on stage. It's like getting lost in a delicious dream, all your cells are alive and vibrating high, and you feel so close to God. It feels timeless and not all at once, because you want to stay there so badly, but like any stolen fleeting moment you can feel it rushing through your fingers like sand."
Her years of therapy, Pilates and Gyrotonic, have made her more cerebral about movement. She learned to be constantly self-aware of her positions and learning how to reconstruct her movement patterns after years of avoiding certain alignments that caused her pain. Moving with abandon was not on the menu until setting this piece in Dallas, she took a series of group Pilates classes that might not have been so focused on the finite and just got her to move. “There is some kind of athlete still in me. I was fine.”
Annmaria tries to bring her experience she had when she was learning a piece to dancers when she is teaching. The piece she took to SMU she says can only be performed by really good dancers. She could see that they were up to it. One of the key elements for the piece to be a success is that everyone wants to make it work. “Mercuric Tidings” is a piece that is pure dance. It it also about community in its own way, Mazzini said when relating what the piece meant for her, “Paul always has a puzzle he is working on at his home and you can see that is the way his mind works in this piece. There are 12 separate parts, not a lot of unison, there are groupings and grouping with in groupings,... some that do make patterns in the piece. It is nice to be in that head space once you figure it out.” It was also gratifying for her to see when the dancers got it. But there is rebelliousness in Paul’s work. So as much as this piece follows the conventions of the pretty movements, long lines, and pointed feet of lyrical modern dance; there is still the puzzle that needs to fall into place as a result of all the company members working in concert with one another. She used an example from dancing “Esplanade” for the first time as an example to the students. She had one rehearsal before performing with company members, Rachel Berman, Francie Huber, patrick Corbin, and Andrew Asnes; she had watched videos of these dancers, she looked up to them, and here she was dancing with them. The rehearsal was at the same time relaxed and she felt as if she had stepped into a whirlpool and they were just carrying her around the stage. They were so synchronized and like a timepiece, intimately, magically interacting, communicating through the movements.
Annmaria’s jewelry is also communicative and reflects her admiration for patterning and energy created from different stones. She was wearing her “Green Goddess” necklace with moss agate and tourmaline. She used the idea of a skeletal structure when making it. She says when she teaches she does ask her students to get back to their skeleton as well. If the muscles and all the tissues of the body relax down, you can turn on your light and let “it” emanate out in 360 degrees from the structure.
Annmaria similarly emanates passion from a structure of self-love. When starting this piece, I looked up the definition of passion. Because I associate with the word as a positive attribute, I needed something that defined it in this way. I found this talk by author Isabelle Allende, “Tales of Passion, ” that absolutely echoed the passion I see in Annmaria. Passion is courageous, self-assured, seductive,and focused. Annmaria is one of the most charismatic, talented, generous, and lovely athletes I have ever met and her impression upon me has lasted and increased in intensity over the twenty-seven years I have know her. But don’t take my word for it, see more photos of Annmaria on the Passion Lookbook here, and see if you can escape the wiles of this temptress.