Alumni Spotlight: Rulan Tangen
At Marin Ballet: 1981-1983
Rulan Tangen discovered her passion for dance in a dream she had after listening to classical music a few years prior to joining Marin Ballet. She vividly recalls feeling what it would be like to be in full classical form while listening to Ravel’s Bolero and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Despite being physically unsuited for ballet with stiff knees and a hunched back due to her inclination towards writing and art making, Rulan was determined to make dance her life.
To pursue her passion, Rulan moved in with her grandparents, who provided her with a strong anchor. Through her grandfather’s job she had the opportunity to take ballet classes at a little Kwanza hut. She then enrolled in classes at the San Francisco Dance Theater, where her teacher recommended that she audition for Marin Ballet’s summer program. Her dedication and readiness to pursue her passion were evident, and her journey in dance began at Marin Ballet’s summer program.
Q&A with Rulan
Q: How has your experience at Marin Ballet affected your life?
A: As I mentioned those physical challenges, being extremely stiff and all, the idea of, a certain body type was very much preferred. I felt really blessed to have been offered a scholarship from Marin Ballet. I attended during a period of Harkness methodology coming in from New York via Maria Vegh, who came to Marin Ballet with a very interesting movement, a way of addressing movement that was quite ahead of its time, it took the principles of ballet and the principles of physics and brought them together. My connection between Maria, Marin Ballet, and David Howard, who was a master teacher, helped me make that arc to New York at age 15.
My first dance job also came out of Marin Ballet, from a guest teacher who had been there in the summers, Anne Hebard, who was with Catskill Ballet Theater. I continue to have ongoing career in Contemporary Dance. A seed placed at Marin Ballet from a solo that Val Caniparoli created, that I understudied. I didn’t have a beautiful leg and foot line, but the teachers were working with to build that. I did the solo, and it was very intense and dynamic and that’s where my quality of movement came through. That kind of quality is what I think got me into the Perry Dance Company where I was able to, perform with the Joyce Theater. Then the company I worked with for a long time in New York was Michael Mao, who came from that Harkness and David Howard tradition as well.
Michael created a lot of solo roles on me, and we got to tour around the US, Norway, and Paris. So, that’s how Marin Ballet informed my movement dynamic. The understanding, the dynamic of motion, the up to the down to every reaction is an equal and opposite reaction. I remember these from my teenage years at Marin Ballet, and they applied to many dance forms, cultural dance forms, experimental dance forms that I continue to explore to this day, because if physics is within dance and physics helps us know this world, I am continually growing my understanding of this world and my place in it through dance, through physics in the same way.
Q: How have the instructors at Marin Ballet influenced you? Is there anything from their teachings that still resonates with you to this day?
A: It sometimes takes you 10, 20, 30 years to integrate these messages. But I do remember Maria Vegh advising us to be as versatile as we could, so that we could work in dance. The versatility, I think, applies not only to being familiar with many different forms of dance, but it also means being aware of the intersecting arts with dance, music, costuming, creating hair and makeup, prop design, visual arts, and maybe to all of the arts that surround the support for the arts from administration, management, budget, bookkeeping, becoming an agent for your own work, promotions, language, managing, producing. I think has to do with being open-minded, open to learn, not being fixed in a box about yourself. So, if I’m not getting the part I want, what can I bring to this dance? This is how my career as a soloist began.Finding what you can bring besides just fulfilling the vision of a choreographer, sometimes you can fulfill then go beyond.
Q: What is your favorite memory from Marin Ballet?
A: What continues to this day, more than 40 years later, is that I have friends that I’m still in touch with.Of the five that I’m reg regular contact with, four of us have had a dance career and survived it. And it’s been wonderful to have friendships that can see us through that. So even though that’s not what I went there looking for, I found those things at Marin Ballet. And as far as a favorite memory, I think just walking in those first days and being in a big studio with light and seeing dancers warming up at the bar and with their leg warmers on, seeing the pre-professional company rehearse. That was my first time around that. It was bringing to life things I’d imagined or seen photographs of, and feeling like, oh, I’m a part of something big, bigger than me that’s of real dedication.
Q: Considering your impressive dance career post Marin Ballet, what would you say is the highlight of it all?
A: After I went through cancer, I couldn’t walk. I didn’t have any hair. I didn’t have any skin on my face. I was completely burned up. But I still had to support myself to pay my medical bills. I danced, that’s how I’d been earning a living for half my life at that point. And what came through was a vision that of dance in a whole new way for me. Something that I hadn’t experienced through the wonderful, incredible opportunities that I had. And so, I gave birth to that by founding Dancing Earth. That has been my great offering to the dance world. As Dancing Earth evolves and changes, what it allowed me is an incredible way to experience the world and travel in ways that I couldn’t have done coming from that limited financial capacity.
Let me just say, I’ve been able to be in reciprocity, travel, give and receive everywhere I go. I’ve had the chance to mentor incredible artists, maybe people who would not have been like myself. They wouldn’t have been chosen for a dance company. Some of them don’t even have a studio dance background. They might be very committed to dance as a break dancer or as a cultural dancer. But I was able to give them a, a different space to express themselves and their dreams. I’ve been able to stay in touch with colleagues from those teenage days, people who stayed with dance, and those who didn’t. And seeing that long arc of how having a time in your life where you’re completely dedicated to one thing and how that gives you something special for the rest of your life. Whether that’s learning what it is to be disciplined, what it is to have a goal, what it is to fall, not be able to get what you dream for yourself.
Q: Is there anything you would like to share with the younger generation of dancers?
A: Creativity, it’ll bring life force back to you. I wanted to word it that way because I think there was something about ballet with the mirrors where you’re trying to meet those forms, a very specialized form, which is a beautiful goal to have because it’s like a martial art. There’s an incredible power to finding yourself in that. You’re not trying to make a shape to match something in the mirror or try to look like anyone else or try to compare yourself to anyone else. The more you can inhabit with your full spirit, your full attention, your full energy dynamic, that can infuse a form and bring it into art. We want to breathe that life force that makes it art.