I met with Chelsea and Adam for coffee on a sunny August afternoon in New York. The two had just come from the studio—they were preparing for a performance at Joe's Pub in a couple weeks—and we leaned in together around a small table, first laughing at how I accidentally spent $6 on iced coffee (we were in Tribeca, after all).
Chelsea and Adam immediately invited me into their fold, sharing with warmth and enthusiasm how lucky they feel to have each other as friends, sounding boards, and creative partners whose growth as performers is amplified by one another. Like many creative duos, they didn't plan on finding each other. They recalled their awe at first realizing their intuitive understanding of one another on the dance floor—Adam choreographing and Chelsea bringing life to the movements in a way no one else did. They've now worked together for eight years.
I left our conversation jittery with excitement—and not just from the coffee. Their connection has an energy to it. "Her influence is in everything," Adam said at one point. Chelsea added, "I gained my life from working with him." I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.
How did you first meet?
Adam: In 2009, we both participated in a 3-week dance program called Springboard Danse Montréal. But I didn’t really see Chelsea dance until we were both back in New York. She performed a phrase I had created—a string of movements—and it was this whoa moment for me. Not only did she execute the movements extremely well, but she made choices with the material that I would have asked someone to do but, with her, I didn’t even have to ask. It was like through osmosis Chelsea knew how to perform the work with this emotional intention behind it.
Chelsea: I remember being in the studio together for the first time. I had just graduated college and I still had access to NYU space. We were in an acting studio, so the room just had a small wood floor and no mirrors. You were dancing in front of me and I was right behind you. You turned around to ask, “Did you get that?” And I was like, “Mm-hm!” You were like, “You did?” And I said, “Uh huh!” [laughing] It was this realization that we speak the same language.
Adam: We’ve been working together ever since.
It was this realization that we speak the same language.
What attracts you to dance as an art?
Adam: Once you get hooked on it, you can’t do without it. There’s something about the practice of moving your body that almost becomes necessary. It’s transformational. It’s a channel for emotions, almost like a meditative practice. We need it to access ourselves.
Chelsea: If I’m idle too long, if my emotions are raw, stuck, or dense, I’m not going to play a sport, scream, go to the gym… I’m going to go to the studio.
When I saw her perform one of the phrases I created, it was this whoa moment for me. It was like through osmosis she knew how to perform the work with this emotional intention behind it.
What's your process like?
Adam: In the beginning, I was surprised Chelsea was learning my work so quickly. We had an immediate sense of understanding each other in movement. That was rare. We didn’t even speak of it. We were always just in sync with each other.
Chelsea: When we first started, often Adam would make up a series of movements and then I would learn it. But with the last duet we did, Belladonna, Adam sat down and gave me prompts, letting me float between them. Then we strung them together.
Adam: Working in this way I found that when I didn’t create movements based off of my body, we developed motions that are more truthful for Chelsea. That way, the movements remain her vocabulary. We have the same language, but there is a big difference between what we each do independently. We trust each other implicitly. We trust our instincts and we know, kinetically, if something’s right for us.
We had an immediate sense of understanding each other in movement. We were always just in sync with each other.
Did you have a point of coming together and deciding to make your collaboration “a thing”?
Adam: It happened organically. We kept making work. It grew. As my work expanded as a choreographer, Chelsea continued to assist me in everything I did. She helps with all my pieces, in one role or another.
Every time we start something new, we sit down and talk through our roles. We discuss what we feel comfortable with and what we’re getting paid. We’re good at open and transparent communication, and I think that’s what’s given us the longevity we’ve had as friends and as collaborators.
Chelsea: We talk every day. We don’t go a week without a rehearsal. Even if we aren’t preparing for something in the immediate future, we come together and work.
Adam: I know Chelsea has a loyalty to our work that’s unquestioned. She’s not going to drop something and leave. It’s rare to have that level of commitment, especially in the freelance world. Everybody’s working on all kinds of projects. People break commitments. If anything else gets screwed up, we have each other to go back into the studio with. You don’t take that for granted.
If anything else gets screwed up, we have each other to go back into the studio with. You don’t take that for granted.
Do you find your strengths and weaknesses complement each other?
Adam and Chelsea: Yes!
Adam: I tend to get very intense and Chelsea is able to stay calm on stage. We also respond to each other while we perform. Chelsea might say after a performance, “I knew you were going to miss that move so I just changed what I was going to do.” Or, “I felt you were slightly off, so I just adjusted.”
Chelsea: The relationship has grown over the years so that we can really sense each other. It continues to shock us. Sometimes we’ll watch videos of us dancing and be like, Wow, we really do move at the same pace.
What do you gain from your partnership?
Adam: The whole evolution of my work is embedded with Chelsea. Everything I’ve done, she’s been there not just as a dancer but as a sounding board. She’s that person I go to to keep evolving. Her influence is in everything. A lot of it might come from my brain but she’s the one who is going to interpret it in order for me to understand it, too.
The whole evolution of my work is embedded with Chelsea.
Chelsea: None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for me meeting Adam, if it wasn’t for Adam’s vision and movements. I gained my life from working with him. He needs a canvas; that’s me. He needs a tester; that’s me.
Adam: She’s like litmus paper. [laughter]
Chelsea: I don’t think there’s any other artist I know of that has the type of relationship that we have. It’s hard to put into words. It’s special, it’s unique. It changes and evolves.
He needs a canvas; that’s me.
Did you ever think your work would benefit from a partner or collaborator before you met each other?
Adam: No, it just happened. I don’t think you can plan it. We were lucky.
Chelsea: We never questioned it as it went along, either.
Adam: Through dance you gain insight into your life—and you may never really know what it was that did it. But that’s why we keep coming back to dance. That’s what we have together in the studio. Sometimes we don’t talk about our personal lives but we just feel at the end of the rehearsal that we’ve worked through something just by moving.
Chelsea: We make each other better inside and outside the studio.
Adam Barruch began his career as a young actor, performing professionally on Broadway and in film and television, and working with prominent figures including Tony Bennett, Jerry Herman, and Susan Stroman. He later received dance training at LaGuardia High School for Music & Art and Performing Arts and at The Juilliard School. As a dancer he has performed the works of Jiri Kylian, Ohad Naharin, Susan Marshall, Jose Limon, Daniele Dèsnoyers, and was a dancer with Sylvain Émard Danse in Montreal. Based in Brooklyn, Adam currently creates and performs work under the epithet of his own company, Anatomiae Occultii.
Chelsea Bonosky grew up in Rochester, NY, studying under the mentorship of Timothy Draper at The Draper Center for Dance Education. Later, she became a member of The Rochester City Ballet, and upon graduation, attended New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. After graduating, Chelsea was an apprentice with Stephen Petronio and was on contract for over three years with Sleep No More. Chelsea has been creating, rehearsal assisting, performing, and working administratively with Adam for seven years. She also works as a freelance model and Pilates instructor, and is a fundraiser and active volunteer for Dancers Responding to Aids.