10 Minutes With Mia Michaels
The contemporary queen is taking on the most famous kickline in the world.
Michaels working with the Rockettes. Photo by Rebecca Taylor, Courtesy MSG Photos.
When you’ve launched your own company, become a three-time Emmy Award winner from your work on “So You Think You Can Dance” and choreographed a hit Broadway musical, what would you pursue next? Most people would think “A vacation.” But this summer, Mia Michaels will make her directorial debut as the director and choreographer of the New York Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes, a revamped version of last year’s New York Spring Spectacular.The show runs June 15–August 7 at Radio City Music Hall.
You choreographed the opening number of the Spring Spectacular. Now you’re running the whole show.
I’m getting my first official director credit—it’s really exciting! I’ve wanted to direct for a long time, and it’s happening. This show is huge. It’s a beast. But that’s perfect for me. I don’t start small, apparently.
What is your vision for this show?
The Rockettes have been around for more than 85 years and now they’re putting themselves into my hands. That’s golden. We’re creating this spectacle and making beautiful eye candy for the viewers. There will absolutely still be kicklines—that will never go away! But I’m excited to breathe fresh energy into it. My goal is to bring a Mia vocabulary into the Rockette world, and really marry the two. When a brand is this iconic, you don’t want to change it—it’s iconic for a reason. I’m protecting this little nugget while playing around with all the gravy that surrounds it.
What is the new story about?
It’s a magical journey through New York City, told through the eyes of a child, so it brings that fantastical quality of what New York can be. There’s a lot of dance, a lot of leg and a lot of original music. I’m bringing on a group of male ensemble dancers, so that’s a big change. The movement is all over the map, from the classic Rockette rep to more contemporary flavors. Not only do the dancers have to do Rockette material, they also have to do the physical and technical Mia work.
What are some of the challenges you’re facing as a director?
It’s so different from just choreographing because you have your eye on every team and every department. You’re looking at everything from the colors to the lights to the videos to the music. As a choreographer, you’re in your own pocket. As a director, you’re in every pocket.
Do you have any other projects in the works?
I wrote a book—an instructional inspirational memoir, if that makes any sense—called A Unicorn in a World of Donkeys. Everyone is always trying to look the same, be the same. This is about challenging yourself to stand out and celebrate it. It has a lot of stories from my life and career, but it’s not just for dancers. I’m also working on “Mia Michaels Live,” which is an online mentorship program for artists, dancers, choreographers and teachers. As I get older, I realize how much I needed a mentor when I was younger. Now it’s my turn to be a mentor—to be Mama Mia.
Any chance we’ll be seeing you on this season of “So You Think You Can Dance”?
Oh, I don’t know! I have no idea! But never say never. That brand is a big part of my life, so if Nigel [Lythgoe] wanted me to come back, I would definitely do it if the time was right.
We've been saying for years that dance training has benefits that reach far beyond preparation for a professional dance career: The discipline and attention to detail fostered in technique class, the critical thinking skills acquired in composition, and the awareness and rapid reaction times required for improvisation can all carry over into other fields.
But what if a choreographic tool kit could have a more direct application outside the studio? Say, to city planning?
"What if you could learn from the world's best dance teachers in your living room?" This is the question that Dancio poses on their website. Dancio is a new startup that offers full length videos of ballet classes taught by master teachers. As founder Caitlin Trainor puts it, "these superstar teachers can be available to students everywhere for the cost of a cup of coffee."
For Trainor, a choreographer and the artistic director of Trainor Dance, the idea for Dancio came from a sense of frustration relatable to many dancers; feeling like they need to warm up properly before rehearsals, but not always having the time, energy or funds to get to dance class. One day while searching the internet for a quick online class, Trainor was shocked to not be able to find anything that, as she puts it, "hit the mark in terms of relevance and quality. I thought to myself, how does this not exist?" she says. "We have the Daily Burn for Fitness, YogaGlo for yogis, Netflix for entertainment and nothing for dancers! But then I thought, I can make this!" And thus, Dancio (the name is a combination of dance and video), was born.
There's a surprising twist to Regina Willoughby's last season with Columbia City Ballet: It's also her 18-year-old daughter Melina's first season with the company. Regina, 40, will retire from the stage in March, just as her daughter starts her own career as a trainee. But for this one season, they're sharing the stage together.
Last night, the New York City Ballet board of directors approved ballet master in chief Peter Martins' request for a temporary leave of absence amidst an ongoing investigation into sexual harassment.
The investigation came to light on Monday, when the New York Times reported that NYCB and the School of American Ballet had hired a law firm to investigate their leader after receiving an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment.
You dance like a knockout—but can you take a punch? Intense stage combat is a crucial element in many shows, from the sword fighting in Romeo & Juliet to the left hooks of the Broadway musical Rocky. But performing it well requires careful body awareness, trust and a full commitment to safety. Whether you're dancing a pivotal battle in a story ballet or intense partnering in a contemporary piece, these expert tips can help you make your fight scenes convincing, compelling and safe.
1. Master the Basics
When Luke Ingham was cast as Tybalt in San Francisco Ballet's Romeo & Juliet, he spent a full month practicing the basic body positions, footwork and momentum of fencing. "You need to be really grounded, you need to know where your feet are," Ingham says.
Brooklyn-based burlesque troupe Company XIV isn't afraid to take risks. Nutcracker Rouge, their take on the holiday classic, features a cast of jack-of-all-trades dancers who double as greeters, ushers, singers, actors and aerialists, while baring a good amount of skin but even more confidence. (Disclaimer: The show is for mature audiences only.) What's most impressive about these artists is how captivating they are. Regardless of what style of dance you do, if you want to become a better performer, consider taking a page out of their playbook.
You've got to be "on" the moment the audience walks in the front door.
Former New York City Ballet dancer Wilhelmina Frankfurt first spoke out about sexual misconduct at NYCB in Psychology Tomorrow in 2012. Since October, she's been working with The Washington Post reporter Sarah Kaufman for a story about Peter Martins, and when the School of American Ballet began investigating Martins for an anonymous accusation, she was called in to discuss her experiences. But Frankfurt feels there's more to the larger picture, and shares that here with Dance Magazine, as edited by Maggie Levin.
In 1994, I began to write a book of essays about my life in dance—mostly as an exercise. When the #MeToo movement began this year, I knew it was time to brush the dust off and take another look. Although incomplete, these essays addressed the roots that have long run between sexual abuse, alcoholism and ballet. They involve George Balanchine, Peter Martins and numerous stars of the New York City Ballet. It's painfully clear that my story is the same story that has occurred thousands of times, all over the world.
I'm heartbroken that I might have to drop out of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. My back has been spasming since I did an extra-high kick to the back. My X-ray and MRI are normal, but my doctor thinks I hurt my sacroiliac joint. Physical therapy hasn't helped yet. How can I know for sure that this is the real problem?
—Injured Rockette, New York, NY
Freddie Kimmel's musical theater career was just taking off when he woke up one morning with a pain in his groin. A trip to the doctor assured him it was nothing of concern, even though the sensation returned a few months later. As a dancer, Kimmel was used to pushing through discomfort, so he kept going to dance class to "work it out."
But the pain persisted. During a run of The Full Monty at Westchester Broadway Theatre, Kimmel was diagnosed with advanced metastasized cancer. Ten tumors had infiltrated his body.
Japanese-born, New York–based choreographer Kota Yamazaki returns to his roots as a butoh dancer in Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination. He explores butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata's idea of the extreme fragility of the body. Yamazaki is joined by contemporary luminaries Julian Barnett, Raja Feather Kelly, Joanna Kotze and Mina Nishimura, each of whom engages in drastically eccentric pathways, making the body appear to disintegrate before your eyes. Music is by Kenta Nagai and visual environment by lighting wizard Thomas Dunn. Dec. 13–15, Baryshnikov Arts Center. bacnyc.org.