“The ego is very much present. I don’t think it’s a negative thing to have an ego, I just think it’s something to be conscious of.”
Images by Jim Lafferty | Words by Lara Wilson
Natasha Diamond-Walker was born and raised in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, but after 14 years in the city, New York is now equally her home. We met early on in our time there as students, but it took contributing photographer Jim Lafferty and this magazine for us to catch up from opposite coasts after ten years had elapsed. Following are excerpts of our phone conversation, where we covered her electrifying red dress, Diamond-Walker’s years as a Graham dancer, and her aspirations for more self-driven, commercial work.
I left Graham for two years, but now I’m back… I was pursuing commercial work, acting, some print jobs. Still dancing, but dancing with an agent for films and TV. I was curious as to what that kind of life would be like. And it was great! It was just a lot of work. A lot of freelancing, that sort of lifestyle, so it was a little bit tedious.
I am drawn to the routine that concert work builds into your life. When you’re dancing full-time or pursuing dance full-time, it commands you to be in shape physically, and that builds a structure within your life and your days that I find rewarding. I don’t always love to do that kind of hard work, but if I commit to it—the commitment of it has amazing rewards and benefits for me across the board as a person.
The first experience I had of Graham was Denise Vale at Alvin Ailey, and she has this wild-woman, untamed, animalistic sense about her and her classes. I was really taken by her initially when she was my teacher… the more I got to know Graham, I realized that the work she created, the stories, were very psychological, and I’m an intellectual person. I am interested in the way that people think or the way they feel affecting how they behave… I was drawn to the fact that she was so raw; so many of her works are about a female killing someone or being hurt and avenging herself… there’s so much in there about feelings, and humans, and how we react when something happens.
On dancing Graham in the 21st century
Within the past two months, we’ve seen so many stories come to life about the male and female dynamic, and power, and sexual abuse, the abuse of power and its meaning, the archetypes of women and men. Those are all prevalent in Martha’s ballets. If it were up to Martha she probably would just kill these men, but, you know, that’s not always the best idea.
On first impressions
When I started dancing with Graham, at one of my first meetings with the rehearsal director, [they said] I was being too social… too laid-back, when really, I just pick and choose the hats I want to put on in a particular moment. In group situations it is maybe my initial thing to be like that, to kind of let things roll off my back without any real intensity or severeness about it, but underneath it all, I’m very focused, understanding, clear about what my goal is and the path I’ll take to get there.
[Now] I’ve shown myself as someone who is laid-back, who is calm, who is still able to deliver under pressure. So people are more accepting of who I am or who they think I am, even if I’m not impassioned by someone telling me that this is a very serious thing, it’s life-and-death. I’m kind of like, “yeah, I know, sure.” They trust me, they trust my process and who I am, and they know that I’m going to give them far more than what they expect as an end result in performance. That I’m professional.
Sometimes rehearsals can get really intense. People are crying, there’s a lot of competition, and I don’t let that affect me negatively. I don’t play into that, necessarily, I just try to have my own sense of myself, and I deliver.
On ego and age
I’ve learned not to take things personally. Even if someone is coming at me in a personal way, usually it’s a projection of that person, where they’re coming from, what experiences they’re having… I try to be more sympathetic and empathetic for people, including myself, and that’s very different from how I used to be.
My understanding of the ego has evolved through the practice of meditation and my yoga practice.
The ego is very much present. I don’t think it’s a negative thing to have an ego, I just think it’s something to be conscious of.
It takes a certain presence of ego, whether you want to call it confidence or belief in yourself, to survive. And I’m saying that because of Martha Graham. If you look at who she was in public, if she had just been a relaxed, chill, laid-back lady, I’m not sure she would have forged the path that she did and been such a huge public figure… it’s a card that you need to know how to play when it’s necessary.
On life after dance
As a dancer I’m hired to perform the work of other people, and Graham’s works have already been performed for so many years, so I am not contributing to the originality of those particular works. And that’s wonderful, I’m grateful to do it, but at the same time I also find a need to express my own voice, or the way that I see things, in a new way.
… Acting full-time, that’s my next goal. And not just acting, but also writing, creating. I also have these plans to be a director of movement, someone that works with actors to create the character’s personality based on movement, and what that person’s body language is like. It’s great because while I’m dancing I can still keep these things in front of my brain. They’re being activated by the dancing I’m doing, by walking around the city, by reading plays.
On the rigor of New York living
When I look back now on how I was from middle school to high school, my work ethic was very much regimented, in terms of dance class… There was a certain amount of routine already structured into myself that I connected to well in New York.
So diverse, so jam-packed… whereas California is very spread out, and that really changes things, in terms of design, in terms of people, and of course the weather. The elements are such a huge part of how people come to be and how we live our lives.
On the color red
The color of passion, desire, it incites feelings of fire and heat, warm sensations. I also think of it as a phoenix… The red [matador] cape, and love, and death; also birth, though, because inside of the womb is reddish-colored flesh.
On her dress
It’s an Italian, couture dress I got from a thrift store, and I was like, this dress is beautiful, this red color is just electric, but I didn’t try it on, right? I was like, ah, it’s great, I’m just going to look great in it. So I get it, and I put it on, and this dress does not look like what I thought it was going to look like. I didn’t like it at all. So I’ve had it in my closet for a few months now, and I thought, I’ll bring this red thing to Jim and see if something happens. And that was really the most epic part of the photoshoot when I put on the red dress… Maybe it was the color, maybe it was Jim… it’s kind of like one of the costumes I wear [for Lamentation]… but now it doesn’t have a purpose. Now I can get rid of it. It was solely so that you and I would reconnect, and Jim and I would have that moment, and I am deeply grateful for it.