2014 Summer Study Guide: Dancing with the Stars
American Ballet Theatre artistic director Kevin McKenzie instructs students at Kaatsbaan's Extreme Ballet. Photo by Gregory Cary, Courtesy Kaatsbaan.
Boston Ballet corps member Sylvia Deaton will never forget when one of her idols, former principal dancer Pollyana Ribeiro, led variations class. Ribeiro was teaching the solo from Diana and Acteon, and Deaton, then a Boston Ballet School summer intensive student, was awestruck at how fearlessly she attacked the choreography. “It was so inspiring to watch her demonstrate and hear the same corrections she had been given for a performance,” Deaton says.
Boston Ballet School is just one program of many that invites guest teachers to supplement their summer staff. Company members are often invited to teach technique, pointe and variations class, and, like Deaton says, “they bring physicality to the table.”
It’s not surprising that young dancers are drawn to guest artists when choosing summer programs. But the smart students shouldn’t get caught up in the glamour, especially since summer intensives are a critical time to make serious improvements.
So what should be weighed against the glamour of guest artists? Take it from Alan Hineline of Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet: “Decide what you want from your training and where you can get what you’re looking for,” he says. “You have to do a little digging.”
The Allure of Guests
Summer is the time to expand your horizons and try out new styles, and guest artists can be the key to these foreign experiences. Each summer, Princeton Dance and Theater Studio augments its faculty with an experienced roster of guests such as Cynthia Gregory, Kyra Nichols, Roy Kaiser and Susan Jaffe. And while PDT’s year-round faculty consists of American Ballet Theatre-affiliate instructors, director Risa Gary Kaplowitz makes a point to bring in at least one Balanchine-based teacher each summer. Francesca Forcella, a PDT alumna who dances with BalletX in Philadelphia, remembers taking classes with former New York City Ballet principal Stephanie Saland during a summer at PDT. “It was my first taste of Balanchine,” says Forcella. “It was totally different than what I was used to, which was great.”
CPYB faculty member Bruce Thornton corrects a student. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy CPYB.
Guest artists can also help finesse your artistry—they know the intricacies of what it takes to get to the next level. While former ABT ballerina Cynthia Gregory does not teach technique classes at PDT, she comes toward the end of the summer program to coach variations. “She brings the details and the authenticity,” says Kaplowitz, who spent the first half of last summer’s intensive teaching students Aurora’s entrance from The Sleeping Beauty before Gregory came to help add the finishing touches. “She enables each individual to find whatever it is inside to become Aurora.”
While sessions with guest faculty may influence your desire to attend a particular program, you might want to ask if the stars will be teaching at your level. At San Francisco Ballet School, for instance, it’s the advanced levels that are treated to guests such as Sofiane Sylve, Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan. Lower levels, says associate director Patrick Armand, have fewer guests and “are taught by instructors with a lot of experience teaching.”
Don’t forget: While stars are stars, they don’t all have the teaching chops of full-time faculty. Armand does note, however, that the company dancers’ “enthusiasm and real-world experience brings an important element to their classes.”
Davis Robertson, artistic director of summer programs for the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City, agrees. The school offers multiple satellite programs in cities including Los Angeles, Dallas and Miami. (There’s even one in Italy and an exchange program with the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Russia). Each program offers a diverse range of teachers and big-name guests. Many guests, like Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute, have Joffrey roots, though others, like ABT soloist Misty Copeland, come from different backgrounds. But one thing they all have in common is the powerful way that famous professionals can connect with students. “Teachers can say the exact same thing to a student in many different ways,” says Robertson. “But Misty will get through to them because their eyes and ears are open out of being starstruck.”
From left: Robertson, guest teacher Dwight Rhoden and Brian McSween at the Joffrey Ballet School. Photo by Melissa Bartucci, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet School
Some programs, like Kaatsbaan’s Extreme Ballet, are built around star teachers. Students in each three-week session of Kaatsbaan primarily train with two teachers, along with a guest instructor. For program director Martine van Hamel, it’s important to make sure students aren’t getting too many perspectives in such a short time, especially since the program is summer-only. “I make sure we’re all on the same page, so that there’s progress,” says van Hamel. “Too many styles could be confusing if you’re not advanced enough.” Last year, for instance, ABT dancers Stella Abrera and Sascha Radetsky were guests, joining Kaatsbaan’s primary faculty which included ABT veterans Lisa Lockwood and Bonnie Mathis.
Guest Faculty: Icing on the Cake
While celebrity instructors bring an exciting element to summer intensives, students should keep in mind that they are an added bonus. It’s a school’s primary faculty that works as a cohesive network, following a syllabus that advances toward a desired objective. If you’re interested in attending the school year-round, you’ll want to get to know the full-time teachers.
Darleen Callaghan, the new director of Miami City Ballet School, plans to emphasize the school’s newly solidified full-time teachers, rather than guest artists. “It’s important to have a lot of the principal faculty on staff during the summer so that students can get a feel for what the program is like,” she says. “We want our students to understand that if you come here, these are the teachers you’re going to have.”
Miami City Ballet School's Darleen Callaghan coaches summer students. Photo by Mitchell Zachs, Courtesy MCB.
And at CPYB, the school’s year-round faculty teaches during its five-week intensive, using the curriculum built by founding artistic director Marcia Dale Weary. The program does bring in guest instructors, such as Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Carrie Imler and ABT’s Adrienne Schulte, though school principal Nicholas Ade is careful to point out that some guests each year, though not all, are CPYB alum. “We concentrate on what makes Marcia’s syllabus work,” he says, “so that we can instill what CPYB is all about and so they can reap the benefits of the training.”
Since year-round staff members often teach the majority of classes, they deserve the closest consideration. If names don’t ring a bell, read their biographies online and pay close attention to their own training and whom they’ve instructed in the past. Are they in high demand? Take a look at what style they teach—will your summer be all Vaganova? All Balanchine? Study a school’s faculty as a whole, and think about how the intensive can help you reach your goals. “It’s not about an individual teacher,” says Kaplowitz, “The crux of a summer program is its entire package.”
Amy Brandt danced with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet and is an associate editor for Dance Teacher.
The 2018 Oscar noms are here. Which is fun and all; we'll never not get excited about a night of glitz and glamor and, when we're lucky, pretty great dancing. But we'd be a heck of a lot more excited if the Academy Awards included a Best Choreography category. And really—why don't they?
Last year, La La Land's Oscars domination (FOURTEEN nominations) made the fact that Mandy Moore couldn't be recognized for her fantastic choreo—a huge, indisputable part of the film's success—seem especially cruel. This year, it feels weird not to recognize the dance contributions of Ashley Wallen (The Greatest Showman), Anthony Van Laast (Beauty and the Beast), and Aurélie Dupont (Leap!), to name just a few.
It might not have a U.S. tour on the books (yet), but we have to admit that we're getting exceptionally excited for Akram Khan's Xenos to premiere.
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."
You're standing in the wings, moments from entering the stage. You've done your planks to warm up your core, pliés to feel centered and dynamic stretches to loosen up. But your mind won't stop racing through all the ways your performance could go wrong.
Sport science strategies can get you in the right headspace. Photo by Thinkstock
Ideally, a warm-up should be more than just a physical preparation to dance. Because if you want to unlock your full potential, you need to get in the right headspace. "Your mentality is going to dictate which version of you comes out on any given day," says performance psychologist Dr. Jonathan Fader, who serves as director of mental conditioning for the New York Giants football team. These top strategies from the sports world can help you reach the state of mind that will serve you best.
Conversations about body image in dance typically revolve around female dancers. For an obvious reason: It's usually women who are driven to dangerous means to reach the ideal "ballet body."
But they're not alone in the struggle. Former Twyla Tharp dancer Charlie Hodges recently told his own story during a TED Talk at California's ArtCenter College of Design.
Recent media attention on sexual harassment has me wondering about my director, who has gotten involved with adult dancers in the company while being married. One friend became depressed after the relationship ended. Another dancer's contract wasn't renewed when his wife found out about his affair. Is this behavior crossing the line?
Toasted almond, caramel, nutmeg and mocha aren't craft ice creams or flavored coffees. They're among the choices in colored tights at the boutique in Dance Theatre of Harlem's headquarters in upper Manhattan.
And for Tru Annafi, an 11-year-old first-timer at the DTH summer intensive, those brown hues matter. At her former summer program, in Chicago, "I was the only African American, and they made us wear pink tights," she says. Chloe Edwards understands. A 13-year-old from suburban New York, she points out that the skin-toned tights "help you keep your line. In ballet, line is so important."
The coming weeks see not one, but two companies that can best be described as French cultural mash-ups landing at New York City's Joyce Theater.
It was a Christmas Eve that The Lion King dancer India Bolds will never forget.
Exhausted from a long week of performances, Bolds was clueless when she saw her cast mates randomly dancing in Broadway's Minskoff Theater lobby, and even more confused when they morphed into a choreographed flash mob. But when her boyfriend of four years, Dale Browne, popped up in the mob wearing a beautiful blue suit, she realized what was coming.
Back in the 80s, Molissa Fenley introduced a luscious, almost Eastern-feeling torque in the body that made her work compelling to watch. Her sculptural shapes and fierce momentum showed a different kind of female strength than we had seen. Now, as part of The Kitchen's series on composer Julius Eastman, Fenley has remounted her 1986 Geologic Moments, the second half of which she had developed with Eastman. The result, which premiered at Brooklyn Academy of Music, is a richly textured piece in both music and dance. (The first half has music by Philip Glass.)