Who: Maureen Needham-Aldrich
What: Dancer, choreographer, writer, and scholar
Where: Born and raised in New Orleans. She currently lives in Florida but comes home often
Q: What is a still life art piece you’d like to see translated into movement?
MNA: I’d like to see a Cézanne still life of fruit. The colors, specifically. There’d be a perspective and a shift that surprises you when you think you’re looking at a real picture of real life, and all of a sudden it’s an illusion of perspective and shifting colors. I’d like to see that. Something abstract [laughing].
It’s interesting because back in the time when I was researching the history of ballet in America, I came across all of these newspapers. I read at least 50 years of newspapers from America, Europe, and New Orleans. I discovered that people in the 19th century during the romantic ballet period were calling ballet the ‘poetry of motion.’ I always found that a bit extravagant [laughing], but now I started writing a book of poetry. I guess now that I don’t dance anymore, I’ve picked up poetry [laughing].
With the movement of still life, it’s connected to this idea of dance being poetry because it has illusion and metaphor, and it stands for things in the emotional imagination.
Q: What would you still like to apply for?
MNA: I’ve been so lucky to get research grants to go halfway around the world that the moment you said ‘apply for,’ I instantly thought of grants.
I’m going to use the word ‘apply’ in a broader sense. I’ve gotten into poetry and written a couple hundred poems, so I’d like to apply for a writer’s space where I can learn about poetry and how it’s being done in the contemporary way.
I consider myself original, and at the same time I’d like to see what others are doing and how they’re doing it.
That, or maybe I’d like to contact my old college and tell them, ‘How about you give me a grant and I come visit you out in Cambridge?’ I love the academic world. I’ve been in and out of it for almost all of my life.
Q: Who is someone you remember creating with as a kid?
MNA: I would have to say Lelia Haller of New Orleans who was my ballet teacher and my inspiration for all of my life. I watched her as a creative artist, and I saw how she used the right people for the right job, which is part of being creative.
I saw how she was able to take what she had learned from three different sources — she studied ballet with the Italians in the Italian school in New Orleans, she went to Paris and triumphed in the French school, and then she took time out to attach herself to the Russian ballet — she knew the three sources, and she put her own creative stamp on her own choreography, which was quite modernistic. Yet, she could easily step into the traditional form of ballet.
Q: When do you feel like your imagination works on its own?
MNA: I must drive my husband crazy [laughing], but I wake up at odd hours in the morning reaching for a pen or a notepad to write down my ideas. Or, I’ll sketch out a picture since I’ve recently picked up painting.
I have creativity in a variety of areas, sometimes coming out of my fingernails in the middle of my sleep.
I don’t think I’ve been dreaming; instead, my brain has been mulling over ideas and they’ve been percolating while I’m sleeping, so when I’m conscious my mind says, ‘Hello! We have to get this down because it is a wisp, and it can easily float away.’
Q: What was one of your very first passions?
MNA: The total one is dance, and that means all of its facets. It’s more than just the performance of dance, the technique of ballet, or the fun of being with people in that world. The passions went on from there because I went on to be known as a dance therapist.
My first book was book called Therapy in Motion. I taught dance therapy to graduate students at the University of Illinois, and my books are still selling on Amazon. I can’t believe it since I wrote Therapy of Motion back in 1978.
Then, I tripped over a footnote after I hurt my back and couldn’t dance anymore. I tripped over a footnote in an article about America’s first ballerina, who I’m going to discuss in my THNOC talk. I discovered that she died in New Orleans, which [being from New Orleans] I found to be incredibly interesting.
From then, I figured that when I visited my family I would head out the door and instead of going to the local oyster bar to get a PoBoy I’d go to the cemetery instead. I found her grave, and it started from there. She’s been a part of my life since that point on.
I was so grateful I found her, and it helped that her neighbor around the corner in the cemetery is Marie Laveau’s grave [laughing].
Maureen Needham-Aldrich is the author of Therapy in Motion, I See America Dancing, and Ballet Comes to America 1792-1842 as well as the author of various articles and encyclopedic entries, many focusing on ballet in New Orleans. She will be the speaker at The Historic New Orleans Collection on September 8 for “In the Spotlight: Stories of Performance Dance in Early New Orleans,” which will trace the history of dance performance in New Orleans from the mid-18th century to the early 20th century. Moderated by THNOC Library Cataloguer Nina Bozak, “In the Spotlight: Stories of Performance Dance in Early New Orleans” will feature talks from scholars Monique Moss, Freddi Williams Evans, Maureen Needham-Aldrich, Olga Guardia de Smoak, and Patricia Aulestia, all of whom are also current or former dancers. Maureen’s talk will take place from 11:00 AM until 11:45 AM. For full details, you can check out THNOC’s website.