Jay Frisby ’10, dance theater genius

“He’s just perfect. Literally, everything about him is perfect,” says Gabrielle Karol ’11 with a smile as she flexes her bare foot, glancing at the lit-up stage of the Off Broadway Theater. She’s talking about Jay Frisby ’10 of course, supersenior of Morse College, former Whiffenpoof, Yaledancer and currently director and choreographer of the upcoming show “That We Are.”

Jay, a Theater Studies major from the day he stepped onto Yale’s campus, exudes the passion for drama and dance that one would expect from a person who has been involved with 25 Yale productions and countless others since age 7. But, as Gabrielle explains, “He doesn’t have the ego that you associate with directors.” His megawatt smile and seemingly boundless energy don’t hurt either. He’s a charmer, even in simple jeans and a button-up shirt late in the evening two days before the most important show he’ll put on at Yale: his senior project.

“That We Are” is a dance theater piece that reflects his impressions of the commonality of the human experience throughout his tour with the Whiffenpoofs last year.

It’s an expression of “the idea of everything being separate versus the idea of everything being one inseparable identity,” Jay explains excitedly. “Midway through the Whiffenpoof tour I came across this scene at a temple in Nepal that really struck me,” he continues. “It was so drastically different from anything I’d ever experienced and this piece is about making sense of my place within this drastically different scene. I encountered things that seemed so foreign to me but when I broke them down and looked at the choreographic aspect I realized they’re very similar to things I experienced every day, just blown up to a macro scale.”

Dance theater is an evolving genre, and Jay credits the 2007 production of “@lice in www.onderland” as one of the ground-breaking forerunners to his own show. Still, this project is a challenge Jay has tackled head on.

“I got to stretch the choreography muscle, especially under time constraints,” he laughs.

“That We Are” combines dance, video, text and speech in a multimedia performance.

“You get to travel through both the real and the fake,” explains producer Amy Lee ’10. “The dances are more fantastical, dream visions,” while the video segments of his travels feature gritty, unedited footage.

But the collage of styles and forms is what gives the show its strength. His project advisor, Emily Coates, a Theater Studies lecturer, noticed Jay’s aptitude for reflecting the details of human behavior in choreography three years ago when Jay took her dance theater course.

“He’s exceptionally observant, which is the quality you find in the finest artists,” she said.

This is more than just another show for Jay — it’s his senior project, a requirement of the Theater Studies major, which is a small and relatively intensive program of only 15 majors that has been a perfect fit for Jay.

“I like that they combine theory, history and literature of theater along with the practical aspects. It really gives that foundation so you can go out and create good work,” he said.

This is also the first year the dance curriculum within the program has been fully funded by the University and supported by the administration, which has eased the process substantially on all sides.

“The dance studies curriculum is new to the Theater Studies program in the last three years, so what’s unique about Jay’s project is it’s one of the first,” explains Coates.

In the past, only a few majors have pursued dance performances as their senior projects.

“We are anticipating there will be even more in the years to come as students see the possibilities in work like Jay’s,” Coates adds.

The dance community at Yale is decidedly small, but there is hope for its continued growth. Dancers like Arun Storrs ’08 are surprised and excited that the program has become a priority. It’s hard work to put together a show of this creative scale in a short time, but for those involved, it is also play.

“Jay is just a dream to work with in terms of being understanding and having a clear vision while still being able to work collaboratively,” enthuses Karol.

Producer Lee agrees: “Jay is an incredibly energetic, committed person who really has a vision for what he wants. It’s been really low key, a lot less stressful.”

Jay said that’s probably because his directing philosophy is more laid back and relaxed, and he’s open to absorbing new ideas from those around him — he was once told to just be like a sponge and soak things in.

“Sometimes it’s a team process,” Storrs, another dancer in the show, adds, “and that helps us have ownership.”

Storrs explains, “Jay is an artist but also a craftsman in how he layers.” Each element of the show is designed to evoke reactions to the essential moments he encountered in each foreign place, while at the root of it are human experiences like death or loss or love, she added.

Jay has met with his advisor each week to discuss the research for his choreography and the message that the piece will convey, which Coates describes as a “beautifully specific narrative about human behavior.” The goal of this show is to bring the audience to think about dance in a new way

“People often argue about the validity of art, but I really do feel it has the ability to access a part of people’s emotions they don’t get to stretch,” Jay says earnestly.

And this isn’t the last you’ll see from Jay. He is involved in Dramat’s “Carousel” this semester, as well as two other senior projects — and he’s hoping to choreograph another show next semester. And why not? With the support of the University and his fellow performing artists, there’s no reason to hold back.

Jay said, “It’s scary to put my work out there for the first time, but who knows when the next time is that I can do dance theater and experiment?”

We say: keep the experiments coming.

“That We Are” will be performed at the Off Broadway Theater on Oct. 15 at 7:00 p.m., Oct. 16 at 8:00 p.m., and Oct. 17 at 8:00 p.m.

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