Dances and a song: Alison Clancy juggles three Metropolitan Opera productions with personal forays in music

Alison Clancy in black and white
Dancer, composer, choreographer, musician Alison Clancy outside the Metropolitan Opera
Photo by Bob Krasner

Alison Clancy isn’t the only person who got her start as a dancer at age 5, but she is one of the very few who ended up dancing at The Metropolitan Opera, where she has performed for the last 14 years.

And though you would think that appearing in three current productions — “The Hours,” “Carmen” and “Turandot” — would be enough to keep one busy, Clancy spends the rest of her time on her music and solo performing career. 

“I pretty much live in the Met basement,” Clancy admits. “When I’m not rehearsing, I spend a lot of time there playing the piano and writing. The running joke is that I am the Phantom of the Opera.” 

It’s a long way from where she was raised, in an “off the grid” 500 square foot cabin in Nevada City, CA that was “very primitive.”

“We had solar power that didn’t work so well,” she recalls. “Sometimes I did my homework by the light of a kerosene lamp. We would get snowed in for a week at a time … it felt like the middle of nowhere.”

Music became a focal point, as they didn’t have a TV, and she often stayed up late listening to the radio.

As her single mother had a job selling concert merchandise at a local arena, the very young Clancy was able to accompany her to the shows — and, since everyone knew her there, had the run of the venue and was exposed to “a lot of amazing music.”

One of her earliest memories is standing transfixed at the feet of Tina Turner. “I used my allowance to buy music,” Clancy says, but they couldn’t afford both dance and music lessons, so the latter was put on hold until she hit college.

“I came to NYU on a dance scholarship,” she recounts. “I took a music theory course for first year dancers with Bill Moulton at Tisch. I loved that class — it demystified music for me. I started composing right away.”

Alison Clancy playing the guitar with a microphone at the Every Woman BiennialPhoto by Bob Krasner
Alison Clancy outside at the Metropolitan OperaPhoto by Bob Krasner
Alison Clancy in her happy place, a rehearsal room in the basement of the MetPhoto by Bob Krasner
Alison Clancy outside at the Metropolitan OperaPhoto by Bob Krasner

Her music career — which has run simultaneously with her dancing — has included “Huff This!”, an all-girl punk/thrash band; the electro-pop experiment “Electric Child”; a film score; and numerous multi-media performances that include her music and choreography in collaboration with video artists and other musicians. 

She recalls her first dance job as a less than auspicious, but productive, beginning.

“In 2004, I was the understudy in Martha Clarke’s ‘Belle Epoque,’ but no one missed a show. I spent the whole time in the rehearsal room writing songs,” Clancy recalls.

An early mentor was choreographer Zvi Gotheiner, who Clancy describes as having “a more wholistic, kinder approach to ballet. A lot of what I am as an artist I attribute to him.”

A recent performance at the Every Woman Biennial (an all-women/non-binary group art show at the La Mama Galleria) encapsulated Clancy’s approach to performance, as it combined her music, guitar playing and singing with dancers whose movements were a mix of Clancy’s concepts and their own improvisation.

“I was initially only going to do music,” Clancy says of the event. “But when I first walked into the space I got emotional. The collective energy was very beautiful — the power was not from just one individual and I wanted the performance to reflect that. I wanted it to be a conversation with the space.”   

Alison Clancy with dancer at the Every Woman BiennialPhoto by Bob Krasner
Photo by Bob Krasner
Alison Clancy at the Metropolitan Opera with banners for two of the productions she is currently appearing in ( the third is Turandot )Photo by Bob Krasner
The performance was a mix of choreography and improvisation at the Every Woman BiennialPhoto by Bob Krasner
Clancy’s dancers were inspired by the moods of the music at the La Mama GalleriaPhoto by Bob Krasner

Clancy’s playing and vocals were a mix of ethereal beauty and measured abrasiveness, such as the sounds achieved by scraping the microphone across the guitar strings. Looping effects, all done live, added to the musical depth.

“I’m trying to create work that is open enough that people can bring themselves to it,” she muses. “I’m not trying to tell a specific story or get across a point of view. I’m trying to create a space for someone to have an experience.”

The worlds of dance and musical performance are “two different directions that arrive in the same place,” she explains. “That sense of melting into the ether is a commonality. As a dancer I live in worlds that other people create. With music and choreography I create the environment , which satisfies a different part of who I am for sure. But you’re always looking for that moment of transcendence, where you are so open that you disappear. With both dance and music I am trying to evaporate the barrier between me and the rest of reality. When I get to that state, that’s when it gets really fun.” 

Much more info is available at alisonclancy.com and you can follow her Instagram at @_alison_clancy_.