by Beth Blachman
I first met Janelle Spruill when I was a senior at the Governor’s School for the Arts (GSA) and Janelle was a freshman. I remember that she was shy and I had to approach her to hear her speak, and she had crazily long and skinny limbs and was good at jazz.
Janelle and I are among several local dancers who grew up at GSA and eventually came back home to join TRDance after dancing or attending college in other cities. When I next saw Janelle in my third year with TRD, another dancer had been injured, and Janelle stepped into a role in Todd Rosenlieb’s “From Within” at the last minute, learning the part with what I would later come to know was her typical quick memory. I was immediately struck by the way her skinny, long arms had gained graceful, birdlike strength since high school. She truly captured my heart a few months later when she was scarfing cheese fries shortly before heading onstage looking ravishing in a white dress.
In my seven seasons of dancing with Janelle, she continued to inspire me with her technical power and performance quality. She danced in Erick Hawkin’s “Classic Kite Tails” with grace and long limbed elegance, in Ricardo Melendez’s “Voiced” with raw power, and in Todd Rosenlieb’s “Nina” with pizzazz and a showbiz smile. During her tenure at TRD, I watched Janelle turn down offers from one New York-based and one Chicago-based company in order to remain in this area with her students, her choreography, her family, and her TRDance family.
Janelle is beloved by her modern and jazz students at TRD academy, Evelyn Ott School of Dance, and the Governor’s School. She walks the fine line between being a strict disciplinarian and being a friend. I’ve known her to spend hours on the phone comforting a student through a difficult time.
I’ve seen Janelle mulling over a notebook, generating ideas for her next work of modern or jazz choreography. She’ll often plan pieces for months, listening to music and infusing the work with the emotional background of her life. Janelle is a studious choreographer, showing up to rehearsal with a plan and a list of where the piece will go next. During her time dancing with the company, she has choreographed ten pieces on her GSA students and three pieces on the company. Janelle’s choreography is sometimes edgy and staccato, sometimes elegant, always full of point and counterpoint rhythms. She has choreographed work with bungee cords and video projections as well as more classical explorations of the body.
Janelle is retiring from TRD after nine seasons of dance to attend a master’s degree program in arts administration at Goucher College in Baltimore. Janelle will continue to be a part of the TRD family.