Bodiography’s Maria Caruso Unveils Her New Show: Phoenix Rising

By Maggie McCauley | Photograph from Eric Rosé

Maria Caruso is no stranger to the stage. The veteran dancer and artistic director of Bodiography Contemporary Ballet spent 15 years with the company, taking one last bow in 2015 and setting off to travel the world. But now she’s back with her first post-retirement, full-length solo show, Phoenix Rising, which is already being referred to as her biggest creative project yet. “I was inspired to challenge myself, to learn something new, and to not just perform and create works that cater to my strengths,” Caruso says. We chatted with the dancing queen about how she tackled those challenges and used her body of work to prepare for the February 18 performance at the Byham Theater.

Tell us a little bit about your time traveling the world during retirement.
Traveling around the world has drastically broadened my horizons. In every country and place that I have visited, I have had the unique opportunity to meet with cultural ambassadors, artistic directors, and teachers to learn about their movement, customs, and practices. Having the opportunity to perform, teach, and learn others’ practices and traditions has opened my eyes to the vast array of movement vocabularies that are beyond what we practice in America. I was most impressed with the utilization of ethnic and folk dance into traditional ballet and modern forms.

How did this inspire your art?
Seeing dance companies in China, India, Israel, and Europe inspired me to do more for myself than just celebrate my achievements. It encouraged me to dig deeper by opening my eyes to movement and practice that I have never seen before.

What made you come back to Pittsburgh?
Touring is tough! It is exhausting, and travel is always difficult. I loved spending two years on the road, but it was time to return to my home audience and really challenge myself in a new way. I was hungry to bring my new solo work to my home audience and share the impact and influence that it had on my dancing and my work.

How does it feel to be dancing again?
Dancing feels amazing! I haven’t really stopped. Dancing and learning how to do new things is like teaching an old dog new tricks. This is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life and my career. I just take a great deal of time to just laugh at myself and thank God for the patience of my choreographers and partners.

What is the theme of Phoenix Rising?
Phoenix Rising is a solo show exploring a variety of movement vocabularies spanning from ballet to ballroom. My focus for this format was to really reach beyond my comfort zone as a solo artist by recruiting a variety of world-renowned choreographers from different mediums to create works for me that challenge the choreographic structures that I traditionally utilize for my own creations. Additionally, I wanted to be sure that I was spending more time on the genres that I am not as proficient in so that I could really make myself uncomfortable and recall what it was like to be a student again. In doing so, and in challenging my body and mind in this way, I am hopeful that it will greatly impact my future choreographic palate and further expand my horizons.

What do you hope to be the audience’s biggest takeaway from the show?
I hope that the audience walks away inspired to do new things and has a better appreciation for who I am as a dancer. When I retired from the stage, I had the opportunity to tell my life story through my solo show My Journey. I really worked hard to showcase the many facets of my work and my leadership and how I created Bodiography. Now, I have the chance to show my community who I am as a solo artist. I hope that they understand that you can do anything you put your mind to and to always dream big.

For tickets to Phoenix Rising, visit Bodiography Contemporary

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