2013 25 to Watch
Our top picks for 2013
Photo of Frances Chiaverini by Matthew Karas.
At 5' 10", Emily Kikta of New York City Ballet is hard to miss onstage. But in addition to her long lines, she stands out for the superb clarity of her dancing. In the corps of Balanchine’s poetic “Emeralds” or as one of Titania’s attendants in his Midsummer Night’s Dream, there’s a natural ease in her upper body that draws your eye. But she can also be powerful. In less than two years as a corps de ballet member, she has already stepped into featured roles—one of two towering Amazon Women in Peter Martins’ Ocean’s Kingdom, the whirling soloist in Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet’s first movement, and leading the final section of “Rubies” in the “tall girl” role at last fall’s gala.
A Pittsburgh native, Kikta grew up dancing at Thomas Studio for the Performing Arts, where her mother was her first teacher. When she first auditioned for the School of American Ballet’s summer program at age 12, she was primarily studying jazz and contemporary and taking only one ballet class a week. It was at that time that she decided to focus on ballet, moving her studies to Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh, and eventually SAB. She spent a year as an apprentice before receiving a corps contract in 2011.
Kikta performs with NYCB in this month’s Tschaikovsky Celebration at the David H. Koch Theater. —Kina Poon
Kikta in Balanchine's Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB, © Balanchine Trust.
Johnny McMillan, a fleet, boyish fellow of 20, is a fluid yet expertly articulated dancer who instantly catches your eye. But it was his high-profile choreographic effort, Path and Observations—created as part of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s 2012 danc(e)volve project at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art—that really knocked audiences out. Sophisticated in its structure, impressive for the way it sustained its distinctive modern-primitive style while also suggesting intimate relationships, this 15-minute piece for six dancers (now part of Hubbard Street 2’s repertoire) feels like an intriguingly autumnal variation on Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring. Though McMillan began devising his movement to Beyoncé and the blues, it was a National Geographic article about the Sami, an indigenous people of the Arctic, that set him on course.
McMillan grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, spent his childhood playing hockey and dancing around the living room, and began taking lessons at age 12. He caught the choreographic bug at the Interlochen Arts Academy and ultimately created about 20 pieces before graduating. McMillan joined Hubbard Street 2 in August 2011 and the main company in May 2012. He hopes to hone his skills as both a dancer and choreographer at Hubbard Street, but has dreams of dancing in Europe at some point, too. And he confesses that “part of me would like to be an artistic director, looking at all the different work being done around the world, and figuring out what fits on dancers.” Meanwhile you can see him dance with Hubbard Street in Chicago at the Harris Theater (March 14–17) and the Museum of Contemporary Art (June 6–9, 13–16), and at New York’s Joyce Theater (May 14–26). —Hedy Weiss
McMillan, with Emilie Leriche, in Edgar Zendejas’ Elusive Portraits. Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy HSDC.
It takes self-possession and fearlessness to dance the formidable and fervid works of Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, and Michael Montgomery has that, plus more. Along with a youthful eagerness, Montgomery’s sensitive, musically alert dancing underscores a mature spirit, letting his poetic soul free itself onstage.
The Long Beach, CA, native didn’t discover dance until high school at the Orange County School of the Arts. But after training at The Ailey School in 2006–07, he fell in love with ballet.
Montgomery says that joining LINES, where he is in his third season, was like a calling. It has been his dream company ever since he first bought a LINES Ballet calendar as a student. He entered the company’s BFA program at Dominican University in 2008, and in his junior year, he was asked to join the company.
“I’ve always admired exploration, and I’ve never liked being put in a box,” he says. “I love the idea of limitless possibilities—that there is never a plateau of perfection. I wanted to be with LINES because I knew here that I’d never be fully happy with myself, and that’s great because if you’re happy with what you’re doing, then you’re done, right? And I didn’t ever want to be done.” —Mary Ellen Hunt
Frederick (Pete) Leo Walker II
He pushed against each of her raised palms as her head followed each gesture. Then, in an instant, he had her airborne, spinning on her side in a circle only to come to rest hovering in front of his chest, her body piked like a diver in the moment before descent. The scene from Sasha Janes’ Last Lost Chance with fellow North Carolina Dance Theatre member Anna Gerberich showed Frederick (Pete) Leo Walker II not only to be an expert partner, but a dancer with commanding stage presence.
Walker, who trained at the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts in Connecticut, has a physique à la Desmond Richardson, a technical purity reminiscent of Fernando Bujones, and a wide-ranging arsenal of acting and movement skills.
The Jacksonville, FL, native and 2011 Princess Grace Dance Fellowship winner can be seen in featured roles with NCDT in “Innovative Works,” Jan. 24–Feb. 16 in Charlotte, and in “Ballet Across America III” at the Kennedy Center, June 7 and 9. —Steve Sucato
Photo by Jeff Cravotta, Courtesy NCDT.
Usually we watch dancers grow up onstage, figuring things out as they go along. But every once in a while a ballerina just lands in front of us fully formed. It’s only been a little more than a year since Olga Smirnova graduated from the Vaganova Academy and joined—in an unusual move—the Bolshoi Ballet as a soloist. Since then she’s given luminous performances of big, meaty roles like Nikiya in La Bayadère and the lead in Balanchine’s “Diamonds.”
Though Smirnova has a gorgeously expansive port de bras, which lends her an air of generosity and grandeur, she’s not an ostentatious performer. Hers is a subtler allure. “Mr. B would have loved her,” says Merrill Ashley, who coached Smirnova in Jewels. “She has extraordinary, mysterious presence paired with refined technique. She is very special.” And the Bolshoi knows it: The 21-year-old was promoted to first soloist last May.
The company performs La Bayadère this month, in Moscow, and tours to Australia and New Zealand this spring and to London this summer. —Margaret Fuhrer
Smirnova in Balanchine's "Diamonds". Photo by Marc Haegeman, Courtesy Bolshoi, © Balanchine Trust.
Kayla Rowser is one of those rare dancers who manages to balance artistry and athleticism. Petite but powerful, she ripples across the stage like a feathery breeze, only to explode in an impossibly expansive leap. And through it all, she engages her audience with a face that is innately serene and expressive.
“Kayla is just on the verge of discovering her artist within,” says Nashville Ballet’s artistic director, Paul Vasterling. “She has the perfect proportions and lines of a classical dancer. She has the body and the talent, and is developing it to become a very important part of our company.”
Originally from Georgia, the versatile Rowser trained with Nashville Ballet 2 for two years before joining the main company as an apprentice in 2009. Since being promoted to company member in 2010, she has performed the title roles in Vasterling’s Firebird and The Sleeping Beauty—the first African-American dancer to portray Aurora at Nashville Ballet. Look for her this spring in Romeo & Juliet, as well as in February when Carmina Burana travels to the Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri—St. Louis. —Amy Stumpfl
Photo by Heather Thorne, Courtesy NB.
Broad-shouldered, with a scar on his face that he earned jaywalking at the age of 5, Victor Alexander cuts an imposing figure onstage. He’s built more like a football quarterback than a dancer, which makes his subtle choices and frank emotion come as surprises when he performs with Chicago company Hedwig Dances in works by Susan Marshall, Andrea Miller, and artistic director Jan Bartoszek. The 38-year-old native of Pinar del Río, Cuba, is fully committed to “a few more years” dancing but has ramped up the scale of his choreography, accelerated last spring by a prestigious Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist grant. Line of Sighs, his collaboration with textile artist Deborah Valoma, is set to premiere this fall behind impressive previews last season. With the directness of Marshall and the raw physicality of Ohad Naharin, both of whom Alexander cites as major influences, Line tackles the mind. —Zachary Whittenburg
Photo by William Frederking, Courtesy Hedwig.
Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener
When asked to describe their artistic relationship, Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener declare (via email): “IT’S COMPLICATED.” But really, what true collaboration isn’t? Since 2010, when they were still members of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, these deeply inquisitive dancer/choreographers have been getting together in the studio to wrangle with their differences as performers and as people—“to push each other,” they say, “in ways that individually we might not otherwise explore.”
That embrace of tension, which recalls Cunningham’s own endlessly curious spirit, seems to be working for them. Last spring, with the loss of MCDC still lingering, their duet Nox (which earned Mitchell a 2012 Bessie for Outstanding Emerging Choreographer) careened with dark, restless intensity through the sanctuary of St. Mark’s Church. Tangled motion spilled forth from elastic limbs, sharing the shadowy space with the sounds of Anne Carson’s poem (also called “Nox”), a reflection on death and impermanence. Mourning mingled with hope: Something is gone, the dance seemed to say, but we are here—making, sweating, ensuring that the questions keep coming.
Working on their own and together, the New York–based pair has several projects on deck: Riener’s choreography in Harrison Atelier's VEAL premieres at the Invisible Dog Arts Center in February, and Mitchell’s Interface comes to Baryshnikov Arts Center in March. They’ve also gotten started on what they call “a bright and bizarre” new duet, performance date T.B.A. —Siobhan Burke
Photo by Robbie Campbell, Courtesy Mitchell and Riener.
Cassie Trenary seems a born ballerina. It’s rare to find a dancer with such shapely, expressive legs and feet who has such fine-tuned control over them. Onstage, the American Ballet Theatre corps member evinces clearly defined, musically consonant phrases while conveying serene lyricism or wild-woman attack—whatever the role calls for.
The prodigious talent from Lawrenceville, GA, began training in ballet and tap at 3 and later added jazz, hip-hop, and modern classes to her studies at the Lawrenceville School of Ballet Arts Academy. She was an ABT National Training Scholar for four years before moving to ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. (Up until then, she had only been taking two or three ballet classes a week.) It took just a year and a half before she was invited to join ABT II, then the company as an apprentice, in quick succession. That November, in her first performances as a full company member, she brought soothing beauty to a soloist role (shared with Sarah Lane) in Demis Volpi’s jarring Private Light.
Whether displaying sharp delicacy as Moth in Ashton’s The Dream, cheery speed as a peasant in Ratmansky’s Bright Stream, or classical purity as a Shade in La Bayadère, she’s a mesmerizing presence.
The company performs Le Corsaire at the Kennedy Center in April and L.A.’s Music Center in July, in addition to its home season at the Met beginning in May. —Kina Poon
Photo by Nathan Sayers, Courtesy Pointe.
Claire Calvert is a ballerina with true grit. Few corps members would dare to ask to learn a principal role, but in her third season with The Royal Ballet, in 2009, the British-born 24-year-old essentially cast herself as the Lilac Fairy after noticing the company was short on dancers for the part and showing her mettle in rehearsal.
Her boldness paid off: For Calvert, who received her training at The Royal Ballet School, the role was a stepping stone to more soloist work. With her voluptuous lines à la Sara Mearns, sparkling technique, and fearlessness in performance, she has made a specialty of roles that require a mature command of the stage. In 2011, she was featured in The Royal Ballet’s live broadcast of The Sleeping Beauty and guided Lauren Cuthbertson’s Aurora with quiet authority and musicality. As Lescaut’s Mistress in Manon, her luscious épaulement and witty allure draw the eye, as does her easy, assured rapport with principal Thiago Soares. Calvert was rewarded last summer with a promotion to soloist, and has the potential to break a few molds with her womanly beauty. Look for her this spring in La Bayadère, where she makes her debut as Gamzatti, at the Royal Opera House. —Laura Cappelle
Photo by Johan Persson, Courtesy RB.
Juel D. Lane
In Juel D. Lane’s Touch and Agree, two men blend syncopated steps with fluid undulations in a duet by turns affectionate, hesitant, and aggressive. They sweep passionately through suspended arcs, gliding into the floor and up into balletic spins with pedestrian ease. Long limbs stream outward in a multiplicity of directions. Suddenly, one catches the other in a mutually accepting embrace.
Lane, an accomplished performer at 32, is expanding his dancemaking reach with a style that his University of North Carolina School of the Arts mentor, Brenda Daniels, describes as “kinetically vibrant, brilliant, and emotionally potent.”
Influenced by six years of dancing with Ronald K. Brown, the lithe Atlanta native combines African and contemporary forms, delving into charged social issues with depth and compassion—in his own voice.
Lane tapped everyday personal struggles last March with the streetwise Moments of Dis, Atlanta Ballet’s first-ever main-stage commission from a locally based, independent choreographer. A true peripatetic, he’ll dance with Camille A. Brown’s company at San Francisco’s Dance Mission Theater, Feb. 15–17. Lane will perform with Helen Simoneau in Winston-Salem, NC, Feb. 28 and March 1, and will produce his first solo choreography concert April 26 at Atlanta’s Southwest Arts Center. —Cynthia Bond Perry
Photo by Matthew Karas.
No visions of sugar plums for dancer/choreographer Alan Obuzor, whose prolific imagination draws on African rhythms, contemporary songs, and original scores. The vibrant mover with impeccable partnering skills applies his technical savvy to emotionally layered choreography while savoring the freedom of experimentation. The 29-year-old Pittsburgher has created ballets for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Canton Ballet, and professional schools, and now boasts a 39-work repertoire. Injuries induced the former PBT member to launch Texture Contemporary Ballet in 2011 as an outlet for himself and other artists craving a push-and-be-pushed creative environment. His achingly poignant Wisp, foreboding Taken, and irresistible Emwaby Mee shine, while the billowy Glimpse exemplifies his facility for crafting fluid ensemble works. See Texture April 25 and 28 at Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s “Music for the Spirit Festival,” and in Pittsburgh in July and September. —Karen Dacko
Photo by Katie Ging, Courtesy Texture.
Melinda Sullivan’s Gone opens with boots scraping on a dirt floor. It’s a nod to vaudeville tapper Howard “Sandman” Sims, but aesthetically the work harkens more to Agnes de Mille and the womenfolk of Rodeo. In weathered boots and dresses that could have crossed the plains in a covered wagon, six tap dancers not only drill it down with their feet, they use their full bodies to convey loss and grief. Gone is a moody work that blends the drama of modern dance with the heart-pumping thrill of rhythm tap.
Born on Long Island and raised in Southern California, Sullivan became the first tapper to break the sound barrier of So You Think You Can Dance’s Top 10 in 2010. As a singer, she stole the show from Noah Racey’s New York Song & Dance Company at the 2011 Career Transition For Dancers gala. Now, with Gone, she takes her well-earned place as a choreographer. The piece took top honors at the 2012 Capezio A.C.E. Awards. The prize? A fully produced show at the Roseland Ballroom in New York. Look for it this summer. —Karen Hildebrand
Melinda Sullivan, foreground, in Gone. Photo by Matthew Murphy, Courtesy Dance Teacher magazine.
Nozomi Iijima is the pocket-sized wonder of the Houston Ballet. Don’t let her tiny frame fool you, Iijima knows how to take up space, whether it be on the ground in artistic director Stanton Welch’s jittery Divergence or the air space of his exotic Tu Tu.
In Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, her pristine lines and bubbly stage presence create a whirlwind of interest around her. Bold attack characterized her dancing in Aszure Barton’s Angular Momentum.
Born in Osaka, Japan, Iijima, who trained in Japan and at HB’s Ben Stevenson Academy, was recently promoted to demi-soloist. Her exacting quickness makes her an ideal Stanton Welch ballerina. Look for her in his La Bayadère in February. —Nancy Wozny
Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy HB.
With her iron abs and kittenish face, tiny dynamo Monica Cervantes embodies both power and vulnerability. She was perfect as the lost, manipulative Carmen in Luna Negra Dance Theater’s CARMEN.maquia last spring. Her gaze steely, her movements sure and slicing, Cervantes seduced and betrayed and defied up to the bitter end of this evening-length take on Bizet’s opera by LN artistic director Gustavo Ramírez Sansano (a “25 to Watch” last year). Yet she also conveyed the character’s frailty and premonition of her fate.
“I like a challenge,” says Cervantes, 31. “I like this profession, because you never stop learning.” Raised in Tarragona, Spain, and trained as a gymnast, she danced “casually” until she began ballet lessons as a young teenager. Within a few years she’d decided to make a career of contemporary dance and started studying in Barcelona. She performed only in European troupes—including Sansano’s Proyecto Titoyaya—before moving to Chicago, at his request, to join Luna Negra in 2010.
Sansano describes Cervantes as “a big dancer in a small body.” She says his choreography challenges her “musically and movement-wise—he likes to move very fast, yet he’s very specific.” A promising choreographer herself, Cervantes created her first LN piece, Requiem, last spring. Her second work debuts March 9 at Chicago’s Harris Theater, where she’ll also perform. —Laura Molzahn
Photo by Cheryl Mann, Courtesy LNDT.
A performer who balances searing intensity with agile grace, Ida Saki has made a seamless transition from competition whiz kid to riveting professional dancer. The Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet member is a dynamic presence, possessing striking lines but also giving compelling weight to her movement.
Saki attended Dance Industry Performing Arts Center and Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in her native Texas, racking up titles like New York City Dance Alliance’s Senior Female Outstanding Dancer award. While on summer break from Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, she caught the eye of Cedar Lake director Benoit-Swan Pouffer at the 2011 Cedar Lake 360° summer intensive (see “Big Apple Alternatives,” p. 126). When a company dancer got injured last spring, Pouffer asked Saki to join Cedar Lake on its tour to France. With the blessing (and flexibility) of her teachers at Tisch, she gave her first performances abroad, then back in the U.S.—including shows at the Joyce while completing her final exams.
With her final year at Tisch still to be completed, Saki has taken a leave of absence from school to perform with her dream company. “From the very first time I saw [Cedar Lake] in Ohad Naharin’s Decadance,” says Saki, “I felt, How can I become one of them? They were almost superhuman.” The company tours to the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas in February (a chance for her hometown fans to see their own superhero) and returns to the Joyce in May. —Kina Poon
Photo courtesy Saki.
Jonathan Royse Windham
In the middle of Andrea Miller’s Sit, Kneel, Stand, Jonathan Royse Windham scuttles chairs around the stage, trying to create stable perches for himself and his fellow dancers, all the while being thwarted by his castmates’ oblivious wanderings. In his effort, his elfin face is a palette of emotion, oscillating between agony and jubilation, while strange, raw sounds leap from his twitching mouth. His sinewy limbs contort, jut, pop, and arch in spastic rhythms, pushing and prancing in almost alien-like shapes, creating a hypercolor cartoon. His happy determination is both heartbreaking and inspiring, and his ability to mix idealistic hope and basic human strife through movement is entrancing.
The 26-year-old Vail, CO, native’s understanding of this type of theatricality was honed in musical theater and jazz class. He began studying at the Vail Valley Academy of Dance at 14, and focused on ballet at SUNY Purchase. He danced with American Repertory Ballet and DASH Ensemble before joining Gallim Dance.
Windham relishes working with the edgy, provocative troupe. “It has changed my dancing,” he says. “There’s a lot of freedom, which is empowering. I’ve grown as an artist and learned to experiment with what my body can do, what can be new and what can work, how to make smart choices, and how to turn a bad choice into a brilliant one.”
He’ll be using this knowledge in Gallim’s program at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the spring, as well as in his own work, recently shown at Dixon Place and the Current Sessions. —Lauren Kay
Photo by Lois Greenfield.
It seemed an odd choice for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre artistic director Terrence Orr to select a young corps member to carry the scene-stealing role of Tinker Bell in Jorden Morris’ adaptation of Peter Pan in 2011. But Amanda Cochrane had the audience flipping through their programs in search of her name as she flitted across the Benedum stage, masterfully conveying Tinker Bell’s mischievous joy.
The newly appointed 23-year-old soloist entered the company after graduating from the PBT School in 2009 and has been steadily improving ever since. She’s already demonstrated charismatic swagger with the acting chops of a more senior artist, and her technique is being buffed to a gleaming shine before the eyes of her now devoted Pittsburgh audience. “Everyone at PBT is so hard-working and positive,” Cochrane says. “The dancers are gorgeous and it really keeps me working hard and striving to be a better artist.”
Last February, she held her own alongside the company’s most veteran dancers in works by Dwight Rhoden and Dennis Nahat. You’ll find her under a similar spotlight this season, with Jorden Morris’ Moulin Rouge up next in February. —Kathleen McGuire
Photo by Aimee Waeltz, Courtesy PBT.
In a city known more for its multi-million-dollar movies than its dance, the eye-catching movement of the L.A.–based repertory company BODYTRAFFIC is making its voice heard. Founded in 2007 by New York transplants Lillian Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett, BODYTRAFFIC has introduced the land of Hollywood to the sort of out-of-town stars it may not be wholly accustomed to—less couture, more bare feet. “Lillian and I love dance and know that it should exist at the high caliber that we want it to, where we live,” says Berkett. “We felt like it was our job to take our reality into our own hands and make it what we wanted.” In a strong performance in June as a part of the Gotham Dance Festival at the Joyce Theater in New York City, BODYTRAFFIC showcased its versatility, jumping from Barak Marshall’s deeply human physicality in And at Midnight, the Green Bride Floated Through the Village Square, to Stijn Celis’ more ethereal movement in Fragile Dwellings, to Richard Siegal’s playful jazziness in O2JOY. The company’s repertoire also includes contemporary works by Andrea Miller and Alex Ketley. Look out for BODYTRAFFIC in New York at NYU’s Skirball Center (via Dance Gotham) and the Joyce this month, at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival this summer, and in Santa Monica, CA, at The Broad Stage in October. —Elena Hecht
BODYTRAFFIC’s Guzman Rosado and Miguel Perez in Richard Siegal’s O2JOY. Photo by Christopher Duggan, Courtesy BODYTRAFFIC.
In her first year at Pacific Northwest Ballet last spring, 23-year-old Leta Biasucci unexpectedly found herself delivering a commanding performance of the Black Swan pas de deux at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. And in Seattle, the petite 5'3" corps member danced like a prima in another lead role—Swanilda—in Balanchine’s Coppélia. Biasucci’s early training at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in Carlisle, and then later as a trainee at San Francisco Ballet School, helped her develop enviable technique. As Cupid in Ratmansky’s Don Q, she was precise, with exquisitely coordinated gestures and devilish speed. In the stamina-demanding Divertimento from Le Baiser de la Fée, her first principal role after arriving at PNB (and three seasons with Oregon Ballet Theatre), she maintained the spritely character even in the ballet’s most technical moments. Biasucci is showing she is capable of the big roles—more of which will certainly come her way in PNB’s 40th-anniversary season. —Gigi Berardi
Biasucci in Coppélia, choreography by Danilova and Balanchine after Petipa. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB, © Balanchine Trust.
Fun but not frivolous, the new Ballet BC is physically rigorous, dramatically solid, and truly contemporary. The company brings today’s global dance conversation to Vancouver, British Columbia, like never before. Artistic director Emily Molnar—a former dancer with William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt who was forging forward as an independent choreographer before taking over at Ballet BC in 2009—is a dynamic leader and thoughtful curator. No longer primarily a one-person showcase as it had been under John Alleyne, the company’s lively mixed bills of works by such choreographers as Johan Inger, Aszure Barton, Jorma Elo, and Molnar are attracting enthusiastic audiences. In the studio, Molnar sets a focused but playful tone where challenges are tackled fearlessly, and the 17 dancers are increasingly fluent in several vocabularies. Molnar aptly praises her troupe as “artists who know how to quickly absorb the integrity of the movement.” Look for Ballet BC on tour in Ontario in February, in Oregon and California in May, and at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival this summer. —Kaija Pepper
Ballet BC in Medhi Walerski’s Petite Cérémonie. Photo by Michael Slobodian, Courtesy BBC.
Few young artists would dare accept the challenge of becoming a sizzling duet partner for that supremely electric former “club kid”—now dancemaker—Nicholas Leichter. And if you strolled by lanky, unassuming Bryan Strimpel, you’d never guess he was the man for the job. But the Carleton, MI, native and Wayne State grad, a Leichter dancer since 2009, has lately emerged, in the provocative Twenty Twenty, as the choreographer’s demographic polar opposite yet his match in the all-important slink and sass. Clearly, Strimpel can turn it all on when he has to, inspiring the 20-year-older Leichter to step up his own game. Strimpel will perform with Brian Brooks Moving Company at the Joyce’s FOCUS Dance (Jan. 9 and 13), at The Egg in Albany, NY (Feb. 8), and SUNY Oswego (Feb. 27). Not to be missed: Nicholas Leichter Dance at Dancenow Joe’s Pub (Feb. 14-16). —Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Photo by Andrew Smrz, Courtesy Nicholas Leichter Dance.
First you notice the sheer charisma. Then you notice the gorgeous ease of movement. Then you notice that you’re not sure what gender the person is.
The character is La Cienega, the transgender hip-hop crew member who spices up the Broadway musical Bring It On. She is played by Greg Haney, who has also appeared in Memphis, Tarzan, and national tours of Wicked and Cats. The first actor to portray a high school transgender role on Broadway, Haney brings it on gradually until he’s a big part of the message of the musical: Accept yourself no matter how different you are.
“I try to give respect to this great character: She’s so much fun and she’s so passionate and so strong. I want to be respectful to the transgender community.” His appeal goes way beyond that community, as evidenced by the rousing applause for him each night.
In high school, Haney played football every fall and performed in the school musical every spring. At the University of Arizona, he majored in musical theater before switching to dance. He took a summer intensive at the Gus Giordano Dance School in Chicago, where, he says, “They kind of turned on the light for me.” Unfortunately, Bring It On closes Dec. 30. Fortunately, Haney is auditioning for TV pilots and other projects, so we are sure to see more of him. —Wendy Perron
Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy Bring It On.
In a city like New York, where dance classes regularly cost close to 20 dollars, The Playground is changing things up. For just 5 dollars, professional dancers have access to what founders Loni Landon and Gregory Dolbashian call a “session”: usually two hours of dance playtime with contemporary choreographers, such as Alex Ketley, Danielle Agami, Richard Siegal, and Barak Marshall. The Playground’s exhilarating pop-up sessions do not offer class so much as the chance for creative exploration in what Dolbashian describes as “a highly energized yet non-competitive environment.”
Landon and Dolbashian met in 2010 and connected over what they saw as the difficulties of the New York dance scene for freelance artists: for dancers, the cost of class and a lack of opportunity to contribute to a choreographic process, and for choreographers, the cost of renting space and hiring dancers. Their solution: The Playground. They try to present choreographers from all reaches of the contemporary dance world, offering dancers the chance to experience many choreographic processes in short stints. Keep an eye out for The Playground’s seventh batch of sessions in March. —Elena Hecht
Photo by Emily Terndrup, Courtesy The Playground.
Frances Chiaverini is one of those dancer-magicians who can be velvety-soft without smudging any edges: Everything flows, but each picture is still crisply, delicately framed. Beautiful as those pictures are, though, you get the sense that the real show is happening inside her mind—that the interior images she’s creating are even richer than the exterior ones. To watch her dance is also to watch her think.
Chiaverini has constructed a thinking dancer’s career. After graduating from Juilliard in 2003, she joined Nederlands Dans Theater II. While she enjoyed getting an international perspective on the dance world, she found the company atmosphere stifling. “I discovered that many companies view dancers as dispensable rather than recognizing them as individuals to be nurtured and encouraged,” she says. “I’m glad I learned that lesson so soon. It was my career and my body; I wanted to be able to make my own decisions.” She went freelance, working with artists like Karole Armitage, Shen Wei, Alexei Ratmansky, and Luca Veggetti. Most recently, she joined Benjamin Millepied’s L.A. Dance Project.
“It’s not an easy life,” she says. “You have to hustle. But if you map out your priorities and find a way that doesn’t leave you resenting dance, you’ll be more fulfilled in the long run. And you’ll have the opportunity to experience something new every day, even every hour, if you want to.” —Margaret Fuhrer
Photo by Matthew Karas.
From the minute my journey as a dancer began at age 4, there were no other options of what I might do with my life.
Sure, I tried other "after-school activities." I tried desperately to master The Phantom of the Opera with my squeaky violin rental—a headache for my parents who paid for private Suzuki method lessons at our house. Constantly attempting famous show tunes on my violin, the effort was completely futile. I actually remember thinking, 'Surely this sheet music is wrong, this sounds nothing like the Phantom of the Opera.'
I even tried my hand at gymnastics. But when my mom's brilliant bribery of $100 for my first mastery of a kip or a back handspring didn't produce any results, we quickly threw in the towel.
When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."
But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.
Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.
"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.
After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.
Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org
In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."
She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."
Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.
Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.
Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."
Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.
But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.
From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.
New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.
A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.
Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.
In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.
When London-based perfume company The Beautiful Mind Series was looking for a collaborator for their next scent, they skipped the usual celebrity set and brought in prima ballerina Polina Semionova instead. "I was fascinated by what goes on in the mind of a great dancer," perfumer Geza Schoen said in a press release. Semionova's ballet-inspired scent, Precision & Grace, celebrates the intelligence and beauty behind her craft.
Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series
The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!
We caught up with Abraham during a recent rehearsal where he revealed what he is tired of hearing in the dance community.
Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.
Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?
If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.
"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."
I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."
It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.