It's January, and that means one thing here at Dance Magazine: It's "25 to Watch" time. Back in January 2001, we started the tradition of highlighting 25 up-and-coming dancers, choreographers, companies and trends who, in our humble opinion, were on the brink of making major waves. This was my first year being in the room where it happens, and poring over the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of worthy nominees inspired me to look back at our previous "25 to Watch" lists—and I have to say, we've got a pretty great track record. So to celebrate the ringing in of a new generation of 25 to Watchers, here are 25 dancers and choreographers who proved us right.
Daniel Ulbricht's 2008 DM cover.
2001 In the inaugural edition, we called out recently-promoted American Ballet Theatre soloist Marcelo Gomes, now a seasoned principal and 2015 Dance Magazine Award recipient; high-flying NYCB stars Ashley Bouder and Daniel Ulbricht (then still an SAB student!); and a pre-Royal Ballet/Chroma Wayne McGregor.
2002 Speaking of seasoned ABT principals: Gillian Murphy got a nod from Gus Solomons jr, who described her as "fearless, flawless, and versatile." On the other end of the spectrum was kathak/contemporary master Akram Khan, then gaining momentum to become the internationally lauded star he is today.
Misty Copeland was a 25 to Watch in 2003. PC Jayme Thornton.
2003 There were a lot of phenomenal artists on this year's list, but you only need to hear one name to understand their collective caliber: Misty Copeland. The barrier-breaking ballerina who now needs no introduction was then a new member of ABT's corps. Georgina Parkinson prophetically told us, "She's going to flourish here."
2004 The year we put Stella Abrera on the cover, a full decade before she received her long-deserved promotion to principal dancer at ABT. Also on the list: tap wizard Jason Samuels Smith, and the first American to become a principal at the Bolshoi Ballet, David Hallberg.
2005 We pointed out the wondrously leggy Teresa Reichlen as a rising star at New York City Ballet, and that view was validated pretty quickly: Peter Martins promoted her to soloist that very month.
Carla Korbes graced the cover of our February 2010 issue.
2006 Also known as: The year of the future cover stars. We had beloved former–Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Carla Körbes (cover: February 2010); ABT's luminous Hee Seo (cover: May 2013); NYCB's dreamy leading man Amar Ramasar (cover: February 2016); and fierce and fabulous Boston Ballet principal Misa Kuranaga (cover: November 2016).
2007 Natalia Osipova? Enough said.
2008 Ivan Vasiliev? Likewise.
2009 Just saying: We knew Kyle Abraham was a genius three years before the MacArthur Foundation made it official.
Alex Wong at the cover shoot for DM's June 2015 issue. PC Nathan Sayers.
Alex Wong wowed us during his fast-tracked career at Miami City Ballet, where he had recently been promoted to principal soloist when he landed on our list. Little did we know he would take the daring leap from classical to commercial that summer, stealing the hearts of "So You Think You Can Dance" fans before going on to have a phenomenal freelance career.
2011 He was still a principal dancer at Pacific Northwest Ballet when he founded Whim W'Him, but we knew that Olivier Wevers was onto something. (If you want proof, we recently followed him through a tech day for an episode of "Behind the Curtain.") Across the pond, Melissa Hamilton was making a serious impression on London audiences with The Royal Ballet, particularly as something of a muse to Wayne McGregor.
2012 When Taylor Stanley was promoted to principal dancer before a New York City Ballet performance in May, the only surprising thing about the decision was the timing. He was a year away from a soloist promotion when we featured him, but he'd already turned heads dancing the lead in Balanchine's Square Dance.
2013 Creative collaborators/offstage couple Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener were standouts as individual dancers in the Merce Cunningham Company, but once they started choreographing with and on each other in 2010 they reached a new level of cool. And that wasn't the last we've seen of the duo: Between what seems like non-stop work on their various creative projects they found time to appear as the cover stars of our "Renegades" issue in 2015.
2014 Another former Cunningham dancer, Melissa Toogood, already had an impressive resume of freelance work to her name in 2014: Pam Tanowitz, Rosie Herrera, Stephen Petronio, Kyle Abraham, Rashaun Mitchell...Yes, this is what really "making it" as a freelance contemporary dancer in NYC looks like.
2015 We loved Stuart Singer so much that when, the following year, we dedicated our March issue to freelance stars of NYC, we had to put him on the cover. The former Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company member and Bessie winner simply shows up (and does amazing things) everywhere.
2016 It was impossible to pick just one. (And besides, we've already hit 25.)
Restaurants have always been a great source of survival gigs for dancers. But today's top chefs aren't just looking for waiters to carry dishes to the table. They're hiring choreographers to give the staff dance-like skills and compose a sort of choreography for the dining room.
Leslie Scott, artistic director of dance theater company BODYART, is one of those choreographers. After working in more typical food industry jobs for 10 years, she's been tapped by top restaurants in both New York City and Los Angeles to lead workshops that finesse servers' non-verbal communication and navigation of tight spaces.
Back in 2002, dancer and choreographer Jonah Bokaer founded an art space in Brooklyn called Chez Bushwick. As Manhattan and Brooklyn were quickly becoming unaffordable, and many studio spaces were closing, Bokaer seized upon "creative placemaking"—the idea that the arts can play an integral role in community-building—before it became a buzzword. "We have been sustaining and maintaining one of the most affordable dance studios in New York State since the very beginning of my career," he says.
Fifteen years later, the challenges for choreographers in expensive urban centers continue unabated, and Bokaer has found his original mission magnified. While Chez Bushwick remains a haven for the next generation, there is also a growing number of young dancemakers who have been inspired to create their own residencies, communities and, ultimately, opportunities.
The New York City premiere of Alexei Ratmansky's sugary sweet story ballet, Whipped Cream, made for one of the most exciting spring galas at American Ballet Theatre yet. While we're usually in awe of the gowns the dancers sport on the red carpet beforehand, this time around, it was all about Whipped Cream's colorful and over-the-top costumes by Mark Ryden—and, okay, a few major dress moments, too. Ahead, check out what went on behind-the-scenes.
Isabella LaFreniere dances like a beam of light. A member of New York City Ballet's corps since 2014, LaFreniere, 5' 8", is a technical powerhouse who exudes a sweet radiance: It's no surprise to learn that while she hasn't danced many principal roles yet, she is being primed for them in the studio. One is Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2. As ballet master Jonathan Stafford puts it, "That's a ballerina role big time."
Yahoo got it all wrong when they watched ballerina Maki Onuki toss out the ceremonial first pitch on May 1 before the game between the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets. The news organization crowed, "Ballerina's First Pitch May Prove Baseball and Tutus Don't Mix."
But the Washington Ballet principal's grand jetés dashing toward home plate were magnificent. They came as a surprise because she wound up as though she were actually going to pitch the ball from the pitcher's mound. And then, surprise—she broke into those crazy leaps. It didn't matter to me, and I'll bet to a lot of people, that her pitch, when she finally threw it, was high.
It doesn't look like your great-grandfather's jitterbug. Yes, the year is 1945, and yes, the setting is a jazz club. But these swing dancers are in the new musical Bandstand, directed and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler. The number, "Nobody," is a paean to determination—"You know who tells me, 'Stop'? Nobody."
The choreography begins as metaphor and then becomes literal as the band members, revved up by the song, perform it for the dancers at the club. It's complicated and entirely fresh, avoiding familiar jitterbug tropes without ever abandoning the period feel.
Little wonder: Blankenbuehler, whose first director/choreographer outing was Bring It On: The Musical, says his influences included Judy Garland's "Get Happy" and Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal." ("I'm imitating Michael Jackson imitating Fred Astaire.")
Photo by Rachel Papo
While still in the corps of New York City Ballet, Jason Fowler was drawn to the role of répétiteur. "Ballet mistress Rosemary Dunleavy was my rock in the company," he says. Fowler loved the process: learning steps quickly and absorbing the choreographer's intentions. He knew early on he wanted to nurture dancers through the rehearsal period one day. So it comes as little surprise that 20 years later, Fowler is a primary stager of Christopher Wheeldon's ballets around the globe.
Fowler first met Wheeldon as a student at the School of American Ballet in 1993, where he danced in the workshop performance of Wheeldon's Danses Bohemiennes. He was promoted to NYCB soloist in 2006, and performed with Wheeldon's company, Morphoses, on the side. Wheeldon first asked him to teach and rehearse one of his ballets, There Where She Loved, on a Morphoses tour to Vail International Dance Festival in 2008.