Plano — We’ve all experienced rejection at one point or another in our lives, either artistically or professionally; and, we’ve all dealt with that rejection in one way or another, be it negatively or positively. Jill Rucci, Artistic Director and Founder of 8&1 Dance Company, is working toward the latter in her newest show, Rejected, taking the stage this Sunday, June 26 at the Courtyard Theatre in Plano.
She first thought of the concept a few years ago when many of her favorite pieces were getting rejected from dance festivals, and she was trying to reconcile her emotions and attachments to them. More recently, Rucci has faced personal rejection—she has been dealing with a broken foot for the past four months and is recovering from a surgery during which she had to have screws inserted after her bones rejected the healing process.
“I felt like life had been personally rejecting me…and I knew it was time to do something. I started talking to my brother Bob [owner of R3creative Graphic Design] and I told him a few of my show options explaining that we would have to use some rep because I can only stand, or choreograph, for so long. He cracked up when I explained my concept of Rejected…[but] he understood it. Life really is too short to beat yourself down when things don’t go exactly as you plan…there is a point that you have to understand you did everything you can do at that moment so your choices are to grow into the next moment or let the weight of the rejection hold you down. We choose the first option.”
Underlying Rucci’s production is a mission to help her audience find pride in the failures they might experience. We spoke with her in the days leading up to Rejected to find out a little more about the production.
TheaterJones: You mentioned that you all have been working hard to make this the “best worst show possible.” That’s quite a statement! What do you think makes a best worst show? What is the criteria?
Jill Rucci: We are showcasing our works that were rejected or got less than stellar reviews. We have worked hard rehearsing to bring back that rep. Only our opening and closing pieces are new, and we have also added a comedian host and other moments of light hearted comedy, to help make the most of our failed attempts by adding and building a show around them…The pieces vary in style from cool contemporary, to upbeat fist pumping commercial jazz, to a beautiful love story pas de deux.
What message do you want this show to send to your critics?
That we are 100 percent responsive and open to constructive criticism. We appreciate the view of others and are not embarrassed to let their views and critiques be announced to the public. We thrive on it as any smart business does. Our critics have a very educated mind and a sharp eye for specific formulas they expect to see and we understand that. However, we also know our critics have feelings, hearts, and preferences like anyone else. They are trained to be open minded, but through experience I have seen how two trained and seasoned critics can view the same show and have completely different views and articles on how they perceived the show. That does not mean one is right or wrong, it means we as artists are able to understand two perspectives on how our show impacted people.
What message do you want this show to send to your audience?
Rejection is relevant in everyone’s life. It’s like anything—it’s what you do with it. I firmly believe in remaining positive and finding opportunity within the hardship. Let rejection fuel you to try harder and become stronger. Life is full of unexpected moments, things you have no control over, things not in “our plan.” I think we must be flexible, remain strong, and understand life is going to happen. We need to work on our response and reaction in handling it.
How will this show relate to other dance artists who may be experiencing a similar sense of rejection?
All artists deal with rejection, it’s part of our field. I hope this show will help inspire other artists to see the positive within the negative. Understand that no matter how hard you work, no matter how much you give, sometimes you’re just not going to get it. We all face rejection. My message is don’t give up because at some point in your journey your efforts will be relevant and inspiring to others.
How do you describe this chapter of your process as a choreographer?
It’s great for me because I get to research all of our reviews, works, feedback and, of course, I reassess everything. However, I have kept things original. The only thing I have done is really tried to direct a clearer vision and help the dancers execute the story or the style more precisely. I understand the choreography was already rejected at many festivals and by many reviewers, and I take responsibility for that. I’m not passing blame onto the dancers by any means, I’m just saying exactly what we’ve been working on. I don’t want to change anything because the show would not hold true to the title.
What advice do you have for choreographers and dancers who are putting their work out for public consumption and who are facing a challenging situation?
I feel like choreography is written right from the heart. Feel your music, listen to your heart, and tell your story. At 8&1, we create art based on how we are influenced by the world’s forces and where we stand emotionally at the time of creation. We feel it is important to be true to ourselves even if it was not what the world was hoping to see from us at that moment.
As a dance teacher, how do you prepare your students for criticism, failure, and rejection?
I encourage all of my students to work to their fullest potential and try to prepare them for a competitive and demanding journey ahead. I feel like dancers who have an understanding for how challenging and demanding the profession is will handle the process better than someone who doesn’t know what to expect. Like anything, knowledge is the key to success. I feel it is important to share my stories with my students. I have had many tears, many laughs, some proud moments and some weak moments and many “no, thanks.”
I share with them that dancing is such a gracious gift and they should look at each audition as a wonderful opportunity to perform even if they do not land the job. It’s so important that students understand you will not get everything you go out for, so instead of being discouraged and giving up, you need to use rejection as fuel to work harder. I don't believe in failure...anything you do that is refused, rejected, or shot down does not result in failure useless you give up. You need to constantly be creative and seek opportunities to revise, revisit, and redo.
The show’s mission is to create empowerment through adversity. Do you feel as if you have reached a place of acceptance through the creative process of developing this show?
I feel like we are always growing as artists, continually learning as human beings and constantly evolving in this journey of life. When life is demanding and times are hard, it’s important for me to stay strong, positive, and remain focused on what I can do, and not on what seems impossible. My duty as an artist is to continually create works and speak to the community about everything under the sun…My mission as choreographer is to reach out to the community and touch lives. It’s my hope that young and old walk away from this show inspired, empowered, and unstoppable.