Not all of Byrne Miller’s “adopted” children are as famous as the legendary modern dancers Eiko+Koma, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/26/arts/dance/26eiko.html but she made each and every one of us feel utterly treasured. For almost a century she created this family and filled it with students and friends – starting with her husband. Duncan Miller was estranged from his own parents – some deep dark secret that she said he never shared with her and she never pried. She just simply offered him her love, and set about creating a new life with him.
I’ll never forget the moment I realized I was joining this celebrated circle, the moment when my re-parenting began. It was after the Martha Graham master class I wrote about in an earlier blog. I was waiting outside the Silver Slipper for a ride home with a woman I met in class, Lillian. She would become my first sister-by-Byrne.
“I’m one of her adopted daughters,” Lillian said. “We’re scattered around the world, wherever she’s danced.”
I didn’t have to ask what Lillian meant by adopted daughters. I was beginning to know the silky feel of Byrne’s favor, the web she wove that made me feel more charming, witty and talented than I did with anyone else.
Of course I knew her love for me was not exclusive. But a little part of me didn’t accept it, until the night Mark Dendy performed for the Byrne Miller Dance Theatre, in Beaufort, South Carolina. After the performance, Byrne introduced Dendy to the astounded audience as if he was her own invention and then reclined in a chair that stage hands whisked in from the wings. The audience asked the questions Dendy heard everywhere he performed. How long do the dancers have to practice each day? What qualities does you look for in a dancer? Where will you be going next?
He was charming and deferential, yet every answer paid homage to the woman who had brought him here.
“You all have no idea how lucky you are,” he said. “Or should I say how lucky ya’ll are?” There was laughter and a murmur of agreement. “Byrne Miller isn’t just the Grande Dame of modern dance. She’s its Johnny Appleseed as well. Performances like this would not be possible without her vision and determination.”
By then the other dancers had gathered on the stage, after changing into street clothes. Each of them brought a flower to present to Byrne. They leaned over Byrne’s chair, offering first one cheek then the other for her kiss. She was clearly accustomed to such admiration yet received each dancer as though they were the last that she might ever meet.
A pang of jealousy stabbed through me. I recognized the way she scanned their faces, moving her head in an orbit of observation so that her damaged eyes could draw wholeness from periphery. She was adopting every one of them as she had adopted me.