- The Latest
- Breaking Stereotypes
- Rant & Rave
- Dance As Activism
- Dancers Trending
- Viral Videos
- The Dancer's Toolkit
- Health & Body
- Dance Training
- Career Advice
- Style & Beauty
- Dance Auditions
- Guides & Resources
- Performance Calendar
- College Guide
- Dance Magazine Awards
- Meet The Editors
- Contact Us
- Advertise/Media Kit
Why Sonya Tayeh Hasn't Slept This Month
I'll admit it: I've been a Sonya Tayeh fangirl since I was a teen. Like many aspiring dancers from areas of the country where dance is a less appreciated art form, I watched "So You Think You Can Dance?" religiously. Living in a town hundreds of miles from anything remotely resembling contemporary dance, Tayeh's first choreographic outings on the show had me cycling through shock, bewilderment and awe in quick succession. The appreciation I gained for the unexpected and athletic served me well when I later transitioned from being a bunhead to a BFA candidate taking contemporary technique and composition. So when I got an email asking me if I wanted to interview her, I immediately said yes (and fangirled internally for the rest of the day).
Sonya Tayeh. Photo by Maria Baranova.
Tayeh (one of our 2009 "25 to Watch") is perhaps most widely known for her Emmy-nominated work on "So You Think You Can Dance?" In 90-second snippets, viewers are treated to hard-hitting, hyper-physical movement that veers from the hypnotically strange to the delicately, emotionally raw, her solid concert dance foundation shining through as compositional clarity. Since moving to New York, the choreographer has been steadily building a body of work for such disparate destinations as off-Broadway musicals and the Martha Graham Dance Company. Now, she’s raising funds for her first self-produced, evening-length concert piece that will premiere in December through a commission from New York Live Arts. I spoke to Tayeh about the project and the experience of self-producing her work.
You’re at work on your first evening-length dance piece, you’ll still call me by name. Can you talk a bit about what you’re exploring with it?
It’s about the desire and need for acceptance and mutual respect in your family, and the barriers that it causes when you don’t have that. I think it’s such a universal, ageless idea. I’ve been working on it for about a year and a half.
Did it start as an evening length, or did it evolve?
It definitely evolved. The Bengsons, Joanna Lampert and I were in the midst of recording these conversations about our family, and we were asked to do this works in progress show. We got into the space the first time and were just spewing ideas—it was crazy how fast it came about. So we did about 12 minutes, and the crowd really took to it. It was such personal responses that I knew there was something there.
Photo by Shervin Lainez
How has your success on "So You Think You Can Dance?" impacted your work in concert dance?
It’s been amazing and challenging. SYTYCD changed my life, but they’re really short pieces, so the concert world questions whether you can do a full length work. It just takes people getting to know me and understanding my story. I didn’t start on SYTYCD—I was immersed in other forms of dance prior to that. I have my degree in dance, I was in concert pieces, I took Graham. I’m knowledgeable in that sense, it’s just a matter of people understanding the root of who you are, and showing them that you’re going to do the work. At NYLA I’m under the direction of Janet Wong and Bill T. Jones, so I better have my stuff together!
You self-produced this work. Was there anything that surprised you about that process?
Raising money is really difficult! Any time I do a project I do everything in my power to pay who is helping feed this project. It’s never easy, and it’s not always possible. The beauty of getting a commission is that they give you an amazing amount of space to rehearse and then a show in their theater. But they give you a small portion of money and then you raise the rest. I promised myself that I was going to use the people that I dreamed of using, and that I would do anything in my power to raise the money. We’re 75 percent funded on Kickstarter, which is exciting, but with Kickstarter, if you don’t raise all of the money you don’t get the money, so I’m hoping we make it. My goal is to pay the designers and dancers what their fee is, as opposed to paying them whatever we can pay them.
Funding is always a challenge, isn’t it?
I haven’t slept in a month, honestly. But it’s also been really inspiring; it made me remember how human I am. Sometimes in this industry people think you’re invincible. Especially the way I look and speak, people think I’m just this beast of a person that doesn’t carry vulnerability, and it’s frustrating. I am, I’m nervous, and to share that with my students really has put us into an even playing field that I’m really enjoying.
Do you have any advice for up-and-coming choreographers who want to self-produce?
When you have a big dream, do the work. Be honest about what you need, be demanding about who you want in your team and your crew. Don’t lower your abilities, really strive for it. In terms of raising money, it takes bravery to talk about yourself, to talk about why this piece is important. It takes a lot of work.
Mash-ups aren't uncommon in the dance world: Performers of varying styles have been known to share the stage, from ballerina Tiler Peck and famed clown Bill Irwin to Michelle Dorrance, who's mixed tappers and break-dancers. Likewise, collaborations between choreographers and artists from seemingly mismatched disciplines have produced magical creations, such as Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream, featuring Mark Ryden's whimsical and even grotesque designs and costumes.
But the Israeli troupe Ka'et Contemporary Dance Ensemble has found success in one of the most unlikely partnerships: Secular contemporary choreographer Ronen Itzhaki creates movement for a group of rabbis.
While undoubtedly best known for her dancing, American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston has also been getting noticed for her style by Allure and Vogue—and with good reason. Her Instagram feed features a mix of on-trend athleisure wear and detailed dresses from runway designers like Valentino and Anna Sui, none of which would be complete without the makeup and hair to match. With a penchant for skin care and an ever-growing lipstick collection, Boylston talked us through some of her beauty must-haves on and off the stage.
Photo by Jayme Thornton
Before she became the 20th century's most revered ballet pedagogue, Agrippina Vaganova was a frustrated ballerina. "I was not progressing and that was a terrible thing to realize," she wrote in a rough draft of her memoirs.
She retired from the Imperial Ballet stage in 1916, and for the next 30-plus years, devoted herself to creating a "science of ballet." Her new, dynamic teaching method produced stars like Rudolf Nureyev, Alla Osipenko, and Galina Ulanova and later Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. And her approach continues to influence how we think about ballet training to this day.
But is the ballet class due for an update? Demands and aesthetics have changed. So should the way dancers train change too?
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
DanceBreak came roaring back to life on Monday after seven years on hiatus, and six choreographers now have the opportunity to be the next Andy Blankenbuehler. Or Joshua Bergasse, Kelly Devine, Casey Nicholaw, Josh Prince or Josh Rhodes. These stellar Broadway choreographers all got their first big shows after Melinda Atwood's musical-theater launching pad let them show the industry what they could do.
Since 2002, DanceBreak has been a sort of "So You Think You Can Choreograph" for Broadway. Although not everyone goes straight there—Mandy Moore and Mia Michaels are alumni, too—the program is meant to funnel talented choreographers to the Broadway stage by providing a platform for their work. Prince, who introduced Atwood to the cheering crowd, has paid DanceBreak the ultimate compliment, creating his own non-profit incubator for theater choreographers, Broadway Dance Lab. On Monday, he recalled the story of how he was offered the role of choreographer on Broadway's Shrek just days after its director saw the 2007 edition.
When caring for your feet or trying to make them look good, it's tempting to seek shortcuts. Bad ideas—like dangerous stretches that promise perfect lines or ointments that were never meant to go on your toes—catch on all too easily backstage.
We asked podiatrists who've seen their dance clients try it all share the habits they'd like to see gone for good.
My dance coach wants my word that I'll keep competing under his school's name for the next year and not audition. I'm 18 years old and already doing lead roles and winning medals. I love his teaching, but shouldn't I be ready to go out and get a job?
—Gil, Las Vegas, NV
How do we make ballet, a traditionally homogeneous art form, relevant to and reflective of an increasingly diverse and globalized era? While established companies are shifting slowly, Richard Siegal/Ballet of Difference, though less than 2 years old, has something of a head start. The guiding force of the company, which is based in Germany, is bringing differences together in the same room and, ultimately, on the same stage.
Claude Debussy's only completed opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, emphasizes clarity and subtlety over high-flung drama as a deadly love triangle unfolds. Opera Vlaanderen and Royal Ballet of Flanders are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the composer's death with a new production of the landmark opera that is sure to be anything but traditional: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet are choreographing and directing, while boundary-pushing performance artist Marina Abramović collaborates on the design. Antwerp, Feb. 2–13. Ghent, Feb. 23–March 4. operaballet.be/en.
Black History Month offers a time to reflect on the artists who have shaped the dance field as we know it today. But equally important is celebrating the black artists who represent the next generation. These seven up-and-comers are making waves across all kinds of styles and across the country: