A Journey Back to Where It All Began

CorbinDances company director, choreographer and Potomac native Patrick Corbin will dance in all the works on this weekend's program.
CorbinDances company director, choreographer and Potomac native Patrick Corbin will dance in all the works on this weekend's program. (By Lois Greenfield)
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By Lisa Traiger
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, August 1, 2008

"I was a spaz, in constant motion all the time when I was little," choreographer Patrick Corbin admits with a touch of glee. "Nowadays I probably would be diagnosed as ADD."

Instead, the Potomac native's mom signed her energetic 5-year-old up for dance classes at the Art Linkletter studio in Cabin John. Despite being the only lad in the lot, Corbin relished the classes. "I really feel like I got some of my best training there that has served me well over the years," he says on the phone from Brooklyn, N.Y.

The high-energy kid, who would bring his tap shoes for show-and-tell in kindergarten, discovered grace and the ability to lead. In 2005, he founded CorbinDances, which makes its area debut this weekend at Dance Place. The program will feature three works by Corbin and a world premiere by French dancemaker Nelly van Bommel. It's a homecoming a long time in the making for Corbin, who also studied at the Washington School of Ballet.

After 11th grade, Corbin left Churchill High School to study and audition in New York. He was determined to join a major ballet company. It took him a few seasons and more than a few part-time jobs (in an ice cream shop, as an exterminator and as a messenger for the School of American Ballet among them) before he found the right fit. And it wasn't ballet at all.

He landed at the Paul Taylor Dance Company, where he spent 15 years as one of the troupe's most beloved dancers, until retiring in 2004. Corbin, 43, credits Taylor, one of modern dance's most acclaimed choreographers, as a mentor.

"The biggest thing I learned from Paul," Corbin says, "is that he is a worker. He comes in completely and totally prepared. Structurally the piece is in place in his mind . . . then he lets mistakes happen . . . which is another great lesson. He lets it flow."

Yet as a rising choreographer, Corbin worries about too closely mimicking the master. Particularly in his earliest choreographic efforts, he says, he would ask himself, "What would Paul do?" and proceed to do the opposite. These days, Corbin, who will dance in all the works on this weekend's program, has settled into a comfortable artistic aesthetic. The program includes "Romantic Conversions," set to Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2. A riff on the carriage of a dancer's arms in classical ballet, the work reveals Corbin's analytic mind and his early ballet roots.

"For the Good Times" and "Reach" draw from a larger work in progress, "Bathing Jeff," which reflects an experience Corbin had saying goodbye to a dying friend, fellow Paul Taylor dancer Jeff Wadlington.

For the work, Corbin says, "my dancers and I made up a system of improvisation, a movement alphabet. We took the uppercase English alphabet and broke it down into lines and curves, assigning a movement to each letter. I spoke about my experience, and the dancers improvised using the system of lines and curves we had created."

"It was very challenging, and very un-Paul Taylor."

CorbinDances Dance Place, 3225 Eighth St. NE. 202-269-1600.http://www.danceplace.org. Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. $8-$22.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company