If you ever wanted to know what it’s like to spend a day in Todd Rosenlieb’s shoes, you’ll need to eat your Wheaties first. And you'd better hope those shoes are comfortable because you’re going to be in them for a long time.
On the move for 14 hours a day, seven days a week, Rosenlieb is artistic director of Todd Rosenlieb Dance, a professional modern dance company that celebrated its 10th anniversary this past November. He's also chair of the Dance Department of The Governor’s School for the Arts and a whole lot more.
TRDance Center in Norfolk houses a number of organizations and activities including Todd Rosenlieb Dance, as well as the Virginia Ballet Theatre, which is the oldest professional company in Coastal Virginia. Each company has a second company that’s an ensemble, so there’s the TRDance Ensemble and the Virginia Ballet Theatre Ensemble that is made up of high school, college and post grads who want to continue to explore their dancing.
In addition, they house The Governor’s School for the Arts Dance Department, which encompasses 80 students, every afternoon from eight school districts, as well as Tidewater Community College’s Pilates and Dance Program. There’s also the Actor’s Workshop of Virginia, and they hold an adaptive dance class for kids with Down syndrome.
Their outreach programs include Virginia Beach’s and Portsmouth’s public schools all year long, and they have a program that goes throughout all of the school districts in the state with young audiences called “A Horse of Different Colors.” There is also a program for children whose parents are incarcerated, through Seton Youth Shelters organization. And they contribute to the United Way’s United for Children program.
“The building is constantly going,” Rosenlieb says. “It has a theater that seats 120, and there have been over 300 performances, both from our organization and organizations from the community that have been in that space over the last 10 years. So it’s an organization that has grown and expanded, and it has certainly turned into a community center.”
Todd Rosenlieb was born in New York and raised outside Philadelphia. He attended Bucknell University for undergraduate degrees in English and Economics, then went on to the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University for his MFA in Choreography and Performance. “I was supposed to be a lawyer,” Rosenlieb says with a laugh. “I’m not sure what happened.”
After graduation from NYU, he started dancing professionally in New York, primarily for the Erick Hawkins Dance Company. “Erick Hawkins was one of those legends of modern dance, “Rosenlieb says. “He was married to Martha Graham, danced with George Balanchine and was very much an exciting part of that '50s, '60s and '70s of new music and modern dance. I joined the company when he was very old, but I got to work hand-in-hand with this legend. And he’d tell stories … He’d say something like, ‘I remember when I was walking with Martha and we had just heard Stravinsky conducting his new score.’ And I’d be like, ‘What? Seriously?’”
Rosenlieb was with the Erick Hawkins Dance Company for 11 years and became company director at the young age of 28. In between, he danced in music videos and anything his friends were producing. He performed with Mikhail Baryshnikov, a man who is considered one of the greatest ballet dancers in history. “I remember waiting to go on stage with Baryshnikov on opening night of a Hawkins piece we were doing when he looked at me and said, ‘Um, Todd, don’t make us look too bad,’ And I’m thinking, ‘Did Baryshnikov just say that to me?’”
From New York To Norfolk
Sometime during his tenure with the Erick Hawkins Dance Company, a woman named Deborah Thorpe, who was then chair of the Dance Department for The Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk, came onto the scene. She had also studied with Erick Hawkins and would often hire company dancers who were off-contract to come be guest artists at her Dance Department. Rosenlieb came down once the first year, twice the second year, got hired by the Virginia Opera to replace an injured dancer, then got hired by the Virginia Arts Festival to choreograph a dance.
“I was getting older and realized I wanted to relocate out of New York,” Rosenlieb says. “As you get older you have to figure out what your next career move is. I loved the weather here, I loved the water, and it seemed like such a hub for arts and culture, I thought, ‘If I want to be the next Mark Morris or Twyla Tharp somewhere, this could be the place.’ So I moved to Norfolk in 2000. I went from 73rd and Broadway to Shirley and Colonial.”
Rosenlieb was working for The Governor’s School and had opened a pilates studio when he first moved here, in addition to working with professional dance companies and universities across the U.S. It was his pilates studio connection that eventually led to him opening his own studio. “I had a pilates client named Lisbet Hanson who happened to catch a concert I was doing in New York,” Rosenlieb says. “Two weeks later she came to me and said, ‘My husband and I have a dream, and we think it might be for you. We would like to buy a building for your dance company.” Two years later, they purchased the Hofheimer building (once an iconic shoe store) on Granby Street. “It was the perfect place,” Rosenlieb says. “It had 23-foot ceilings and no pillars in the middle of the room. You just can’t find that anywhere in downtown Norfolk.”
In addition to his boundless efforts to support the arts, Rosenlieb is active with Equality Virginia. He was named Outstanding Virginian in 2014 for his work to promote marriage equality. He’s also a big supporter of other causes. “I’ve raised money for kids, for schools, and I love to do it," he expresses. "I can talk non-stop, so if you need someone to ask for money, I’ll ask.”
Catch these performances coming up in TRDance's 10th Anniversary 2015–16 season: Virginia Ballet Theatre Sweetheart Concert (Feb. 26–27 at TCC Roper Performing Arts Center, Norfolk), TRD & VBT Ensemble Concert (March 11–12 at Benjack Studio Theatre, Norfolk) and Todd Rosenlieb Dance (March 18–19 at The American Theatre, Hampton).