Andrea Murillo – A TKS Conversation

Andrea Murillo dancer

Andrea Murillo, courtesy of Imdb. 

Andrea Murillo talks about the conceptual connections that tie together her career, which already includes dancing in lead roles with the Martha Graham Dance Company, playing Lady Macbeth in the Off-Broadway sensation “Sleep No More,” starring in a feature film, performing solo aerial acts with circuses in the United States and Mexico, choreographing and directing her own work, and recently studying for two years at the Terry Knickerbocker Studio.

TKS: How did you come to dance with the Martha Graham Dance Company?

Andrea: I grew up in Florida, benefiting from great public arts programs from grade school through college. At the New World School of the Arts, I trained in ballet and modern dance, and, while I was still a student there, I auditioned for the Martha Graham Dance Company. I subsequently danced with the company for three years, ultimately performing in solo and lead roles.

It was there that I first became fascinated with the concept of lineage – a concept that has intrigued me throughout my career, including my training in the Meisner technique at the Terry Knickerbocker Studio. At the Martha Graham Dance Company, I danced with – and learned from – performers who had danced personally for Martha Graham, who died in 1991. Being part of that direct lineage inspired and motivated me. I’ve experienced that same inspiration and motivation while training with Terry Knickerbocker, who is part of a direct lineage of Sanford Meisner, having spent over 30 years training and teaching with William Esper, one of Sandy’s most respected protégés.

At the Martha Graham Dance Company, I also acquired my love of creating characters: great women characters; ancient ones and modern ones. Yet my desire to add even more dimensions to the portrayal of those characters was what led me into other art forms.

Andrea Murillo dancer
Andrea Murillo dancer

Andrea Murillo dancing, courtesy of the performer’s Instagram.  

TKS: What was your next move?

Andrea: I happened to see the now-legendary Off-Broadway production of “Sleep No More” early in its 13-year run in the warehouse space called the McKittrick Hotel in Chelsea. It won the 2011 Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience and is now scheduled to close on February 25, 2024 – an occasion for which I have been helping design and create a series of farewell parties.

I was so taken by this extraordinary production of immersive, physical theater – based primarily on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” – that I auditioned to play one of the witches, among other characters, and I went on to perform in the show full-time for two years. I later returned to play Lady Macbeth for six months.

“Sleep No More” introduced me to the performance of fantastical theater – with the introduction of the supernatural. That combination of the supernatural, the physical, and the immersive remains truly captivating. It’s part of why I have never completely left “Sleep No More” and have returned as part of the creative team for the farewell parties.

The next step in my evolution as an artist was to take the magical and the physical to new heights: as a solo aerial performer with circuses in the United States and Mexico. To me, the circus is not a different art form from theater but rather an extension of theater – a form that I think of as magical realism. It’s truly not as far removed from classical dance as one might initially think.

TKS: You’re also directing, producing, and choreographing your own work, aren’t you?

Andrea: Yes, I have been since 2017. I wrote, directed, and performed in a short dance film called “Conduit” that explored the physical resistance to change. It premiered at the Lincoln Center Dance on Camera Festival in 2018. In 2021, I produced, choreographed, and directed an evening-length work of dance, theater, and circus called “Eventide” that premiered in Guadalajara, Mexico, and Philadelphia.

Along the way, other opportunities have emerged serendipitously. I starred in a feature film called “Scenes from a Breakup” when Colombian Director Carlos Cardona said he needed someone like me to play the lead. It premiered in New York in 2018. In 2020, I played the lead in a short film call “Susie.” Those film experiences convinced me that I wanted to act.

Andrea Murillo dance

Andrea Murillo teaching contemporary dance. Photos courtesy of Mark Morris Dance Center. 

TKS: Is that how you came to the Terry Knickerbocker Studio?

Andrea: I was introduced to the Terry Knickerbocker Studio by a friend, Spencer Novich, who was performing at the time as a clown in Australia. He had studied acting with Terry Knickerbocker at NYU and later trained at the Terry Knickerbocker Studio. He urged me to train with Terry, and the COVID-19 pandemic ironically provided the opportunity. With performances canceled, I had time to explore acting, so I enrolled in the two-year conservatory. I had long understood what a character could do physically. I wanted to learn what a character could do fully.

I am so happy that I found Terry and the Terry Knickerbocker Studio. Terry is someone who raises the bar just by walking into the room. He shows up for work every day ready to train seriously, and it makes you want to do the same. While there’s humor, there’s also a sense of true commitment. That’s where the lineage comes through. There’s a sense that Terry is passing the torch from Sandy Meisner and Bill Esper through his own presence to a new generation of actors. Terry’s respect for the Meisner technique is the same passionate commitment to lineage that I first encountered at the Martha Graham Dance Company, and it’s just as inspiring today.

TKS: What difference has your training at the Terry Knickerbocker Studio made in your work?

Andrea: My training at the Terry Knickerbocker Studio has been transformational on both a personal and a professional level. It literally enabled me to find my voice. Since dancers don’t train their voices, I had to discover mine. In doing so, I learned the craft of building complete characters. Even more than that, I learned to love my emotions – all of them. I fell in love with being myself.

I am of Colombian-Puerto Rican heritage. I was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Miami, but a lot of the work I’ve done in my career is not Latin American. Terry made me realize that I wasn’t bringing that heritage forward. He enabled me to express mannerisms and tones and colors that I had put away in the process of assimilating. 

Because the Meisner technique pushes you to be unique and truthful in your responses, it allowed me to do that in my art – to make authentic “Andrea” choices. I continue to make those choices in my ongoing work and to explore the opportunity that acting provides to push deeper into my roots and bring a greater sense of myself to my artistry. 

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