With roots that started at the Alpine Montessori School in Sparta, Daryen Rubin, 27, has got a lot going on. In the past two months, this former Sparta resident released their first song and music video, featuring Grandmaster Caz, and debuted a short film in Manhattan that Rubin directed and wrote.
Rubin, or Ru, is a non-binary actor, model, director, dancer, choreographer and writer who began their creative journey as a gymnast, at just three years old. Ru then took up ballet, taking classes and performing at local dance studies such as The Ballet Barre in Newton and the Branchville Dance Center. And her passion for physical expression was ignited.
But Ru’s creative energy could not be contained. Even though their dance teachers described them as a “natural,” Ru said they got kicked out of the dance class for having an “attitude.” So, after 10 years tip-toeing through the local Sussex County dance scene, and a few years with family in South Carolina, Ru set their sights on bigger stages. Much to their parent’s trepidation, Ru traveled, on their own, to NYC to audition for a spot with The School of American Ballet at Lincoln Center in NYC at the young age of 13.
“Once I was accepted, there was no way I was going back,” Ru said. Their parents shipped items like clothing to their new NYC home and they never looked back. Ru spent five years training with the school, and even performed in big shows like “The Nutcracker.” But once they hit 18, Ru started acting and directing, and even spent some time in Indonesia for some soul searching.
Ru’s wild journey took them to places like Manhattan’s bondage scene, working as a dominatrix, and even included time working for the now defunct “Knife of Aristotle” digital news/media fact checking website that was partly established by notorious convicted sex-trafficker Keith Raniere. Ru met Raniere just once, during a social gathering put on by members of his “NXIVM” organization. Ru described Raniere simply as “awkward.” But that venture was short-lived; Ru saw the cracks forming in the system, and got out a few months later, quickly jumping back into the mainstream fray by taking a video production job with Yahoo Finance.
During that time, Ru also directed the short film “Demin,” starring young trans activist Jazz Jennings. The 15-minute film illustrates the abuse young trans kids face from peers and society as a whole. It received much acclaim, and even gained recognition from Ian McKellen, best known for his role as Gandalf in the “Lord of the Rings” franchise. It can be viewed on YouTube.
Ru has also directed music videos, commercials, and other shorts for production companies with Netflix and A&E. But while those endeavors pay the bills, Ru prefers a life of constant motion, having multiple irons in the fire at a time. And that brings us to the two big undertakings Ru took this summer.
Ru’s film “-7” debuted on July 9 at Village East at Angelika in the city. It poses a new way of looking at mental illness. The name, a play on the expression, Lucky #7, is also meant to suggest that these are just seven of the many mental illnesses that people face every day. Seven done, many more to go.
“Through the power of interpretive movement, seven dancers embody mental health issues to visually manifest the unseen suffering of the mind,” reads the film’s description. Ru said they’ve had this idea for a while, stemming from the frustrations they had with how society shows mental health.
“It’s not taken care of the same way as, like, a broken arm,” Ru explained. “It’s easier to believe when you can see it.”
To help illustrate those concepts, Ru chose to highlight seven common mental health disorders – Dissociative Identity Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Major Depressive Disorder. Ru then let the dancers select which disorder they most connected with, or actually struggled with, and they worked together to bring those mental disorders into a physical realm using dance.
When discussing their decision to use dance to illustrate mental disorders, Ru explained, “I felt like a lot of the dance pieces I learned were so surface level – being a pretty girl falling love; it never felt like the stories being told were relevant to me.”
Two of the dancers came from the New York City Ballet, two came from the Dance Theatre of Harlem, one was from the Trokadero Dance Company, and two were freelance. Ru choreographed the dancers’ moves based on symptoms of each disease they represented. Even the music for each disorder was composed based on the symptoms.
“Dance has always been a form of expression for me,” Ru said. “It was my only outlet of freedom when I didn’t have anybody to take care of me.”
The whole production was put on with the help of volunteers and donated studio space.
After their second film debut, Ru moved on to the next iron in the fire: a music single featuring Grandmaster Caz, a former member of the hip hop group The Cold Crush Brothers. Ru’s single, “My Parasite,” is described as “dark, electro-pop.” Ru’s voice hits hard as they describe a former love who just can’t let go.
“My Parasite” is available now worldwide on all streaming platforms (including YouTube). The song is the first single from Ru’s debut EP, which is slated to be released later this year.
This is one former Sparta resident worth keeping an eye on!
Ru can be found on Instagram @daddiiruu.