By Leigh Schanfein.
It’s rare when we meet someone who impresses us completely, not just with technical skill, musicality, humor, smarts or the ever-impressive ability to successfully juggle an intense schedule, but also with everything that they are as a dancer. A recent discovery of mine, who ranks ever so high on the impressiveness scale, is dancer, choreographer, teacher, photographer and former chef Breton Tyner-Bryan.
Breton is taking the notion of the ballet dancer and bending it to expand what she can achieve within the genre. She is traveling the world to dance and inform her own creativity, and bringing that world of knowledge to her students. As a dance instructor, Breton feels she may have found her calling.
Yet, she didn’t dream about becoming an instructor. The route took many turns and her drive to discover and push herself in new directions led her to become a skilled dance photographer and even to delve into culinary school. I asked Breton to share a little bit about what drove her to these various pursuits and what continues to propel her to discover new aspects of dance and art every day.
You have danced and performed in much of the English-speaking world (USA, UK, Australia). How did you come to perform for companies in these various countries?
I’ve always been an adventurous person and I can’t seem to say no to a challenge. Some of my very close friends invited, inspired or encouraged me to make the leap across the pond. I spent many years seeking and searching for something that was outside of myself, and now I just laugh at my incessant appetite for the unknown. I was yearning for something to believe in, and in my heart I found that what I must invest in is myself. At times I crave solitude and traveling allows me a brief moment, or the illusion of anonymity! I’m a huge fan of culture, and my desire has always been to travel the world through dance.
Do you find that the art form, under its various genre classifications, differs greatly between countries? Does culture affect the approach?
Culture absolutely shapes whatever essence is being generated from a particular location in the world, be it music, design, food, etc. Dance is no different. I find that origin also greatly affects how dance is defined. My friends in the UK have a very distinctive understanding of what “modern dance” is for example, and it’s directly associated with their perception of New York. I feel the type of movement being generated in the world will always be specific to its originators. However, as the world becomes smaller the opportunity for more cultural influences increases.
What do you think of the aesthetic of ballet today? It’s changing with contemporary styles and sensibilities. Are we going in the right direction?
Direction is really based on perception, and there is no map. I don’t have an attachment as to what ballet should become. However, I find training in America to be very speedy where ballet is concerned. We are a young, impatient country, and it is reflected in the training available here. Ballet cannot be rushed.
Moving out to New York City you are now much closer to family and where you grew up. How has your family shaped your creative choices?
My family is a bunch of crazy artists, musicians, singers, dancers, writers, woodworkers and painters. We are a very dramatic/physical bunch, and art was always supported and facilitated. Growing up was like living in a play with all of us leaping around the house and someone having a dramatic meltdown at any given moment. My brothers are highly skilled musicians who grew up playing rock and roll and then turned their focus to jazz. The house became a virtual conservatory, always filled with sweaty jam sessions. I thought it was madness, and in retrospect it was amazing. I am extremely blessed to come from a family that has always supported my artistic endeavors, and encouraged me to fly. Whenever I’m home I always leave a note on the fridge for my Dad, thanking him for letting me live my crazy life.
When you were younger you stubbornly thought you would never become a teacher but now you’ve taught as a regular instructor at some major dance institutions! Why do you think your plans changed?
I believe the universe enjoys proving me wrong, and revealing who I am to myself. I never intended to teach, so excelling at it became easy for me because my ego was never wrapped up it in. I just saw it as an opportunity to share what I love with others, and to facilitate them beyond their own perceptions of themselves. I always wanted to be a surgeon as a child but never had the stomach for it, so teaching became an avenue for me to help people, minus the blood and guts. Teaching gave me the gift of confidence, removed much of my shyness and became a great compliment to my income as a performing artist. For whatever reason I have a really good eye and can easily see what a particular dancer needs to hear or feel in order to make a positive change. My Dad has worked with Autistic children his entire teaching career, and his father was a professor at Harvard. I think it’s just in my blood.
I love dance. Ballet specifically is the most complete language and science for me, but its accompanying culture can be less than desirable for some. I have been very fortunate to work with many amazing artists and I love being able to offer that to my students. The world needs art, and dance enthusiasts keep it alive. Dance is for everyone!
Progressing from student to dancer to choreographer and teacher is a fairly standard route. Even venturing into photography isn’t unusual for someone who already works with aesthetic and form. But what led you to study culinary arts?
To me the “arts,” that expression of passion, opinion and motivation, are all connected. It’s simply about the medium that appeals; it’s how someone chooses to “paint.” I’ve baked all my life, and grew up surrounded by the most immaculately beautiful Italian pastry shops. I went to culinary school because I wanted to eventually become a food photographer for the magazine Gourmet. I was interested in developing another skill to compliment my dancing. I also had a dream the night before I applied to CCA (California Culinary Academy) with a voice telling me I “couldn’t do this,” so I stubbornly did! I worked in the very fast-paced kitchen of Traci De Jardins’ restaurant Jardinier in San Francisco.
You studied at University of Utah. Do you think it’s important for today’s young dancers to go to college?
I feel there is no set path for anyone. Life is going to unfold as it will, and each individual knows what’s best for him or her. College was really important for me because it afforded me four more years of training and strength building. I was a bit of a late bloomer, and sometimes think I still am since I finished growing at 21. I secured my first dancing job outside of being a student at 22, but I’d been offered an apprenticeship with a ballet company at 19. I wouldn’t have excelled in that environment at the time, so college became a necessary bridge to having a professional career.
With all that you do, what is your most important focus right now?
Performing, and finding joy in all of my shared and dancing moments.
Just for fun, who is currently your favorite dancer?
I’m a huge fan of Yujin Kim, Xavier Furla, Josephine Baker, Tony Jaa and Sylvie Guillem. However, my favorite dancer currently is Greg Lau, an undergraduate student at Juilliard. I have never seen anyone move the way he does, utilizing an amazing facility to express a humanity that far exceeds anyone’s definition of “fierce”.
Coming up, Breton will be teaching and choreographing for Columbia Ballet Collaborative. Take ballet class with Breton on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:30a at Peridance Capezio Center in New York City.