The Joy (definitely) Unfolded for Jessica Bryan

by Lewis Whittington

Jessica Bryan has been with MM2 for five years as both a dancer and a choreographer. She is currently in the midst of developing her new work “The Joy Unfolded” for the MM2 spring concert series. It will be the largest undertaking she has created for the company and a departure from her general approach and aesthetic.

Earlier this month in the studio, Bryan reflected,  after a run-through scored to the music of mystic rockers Sigur Rós, on what she was trying to accomplish.  “I guess this piece is really about happiness. In the past my choreography has always tried to deal with difficult subject matter, be deeply emotional, even negative…and here I wanted to really break away from all that.”

“And I’m really breaking away from everything I usually do,” Bryan intimated, then laughed and added,  “This is probably why it’s been the hardest thing to choreograph for me, actually,  because I just want to capture and explore the simple  joy of movement. ”

Bryan started dancing in her freshman year of high school, building off of an extensive athletic background in basketball, softball and tennis. “Once in college, I continued to play tennis up until my sophomore year.”  With the passing of each year, dance took over her life and a sport was lost.  “As a junior, I started teaching dance and it was interfering with my matches,” she recalled.  At that time, Bryan explored becoming a teacher, but after she tried it, she said she decided it wasn’t for her.

In 2006, after studying and dancing for several years, Bryan started working more on creating dance. “I love choreographing and that where my heart is. I love doing both, but as I get older, I see myself just choreographing more. I feel the need to express myself with choreography,“ she said.  Bryan sees herself doing it full-time.

Like other members of MM2, Bryan has to balance other jobs to subsidize her creative life and professional ambitions.  “We all have other demanding lives outside of the studio. I’m a server in a restaurant. So It can be stressful, the days go by and I think oh no, rehearsal is tomorrow and I still have to create something. But once I get in a groove, it takes off. I come in with an idea, but seeing it take shape on these dancers, that process, is so inspiring. I love that.”

Bryan study of ballet, jazz, African and hybrids of contemporary dance has led her to be “a blender of styles. Depending on the project, it’s nice to blend different genres and dancers are more versatile now.”

“I like going into rehearsal having a certain framework. Then when I see movement emerge from that framework on different bodies, it’s such an exciting process. A few years ago, I did a piece about loss. I had the dancers write a letter about any loss or tragedy in their lives and I pulled all my choreography from their emotions and their feelings. While this is what usually inspires me,” she realized that this time she wanted to go in another direction.

Bryan considers MM2 and working with this collective “Definitely part of my artistic journey.” She is considering some life changes, perhaps a move, but wants to stay with MM2 if she remains in Philadelphia because of the unique opportunities it has provided her.

“I feel that Philly has a great dance scene right now. This is our home and it‘s cool to remember where we were five years ago and to see where we are now.  But, I also love the fact that we tour out of the area as well. It was amazing in Italy last year and in Canada in 2012, when we performed at the Botanical Gardens. It was one of my best experiences, especially talking with audiences there.”

It informed Bryan in her new work, The Joy Unfolded to “Dance the way you feel. I want my dance this time to show, they are dancing because they love it, in the moment and enjoying themselves,” Bryan said.

The second part is set to ethereal rhythms of “Feel Real” by Deptford Goth, Bryan noted that it will be even more playful. I want to capture individuals and the MM2 group as a whole. Some moments of pure bliss that we feel when we dance together. I hold my breath, actually, sometimes when I watch them.”

MM2 Modern Dance Company
Spring Preview of BREATH
Sunday, April 6, 2014 at 2:00 PM
The Performance Garage, 1515 Brandywine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19130
Tickets online on
Lewis Whittington’s articles on the performing arts have appeared in several print and online publications including The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Dance Journal, The Advocate, Dance Magazine, American Theatre Magazine, Playbill and Stage Directions.