Dancers & Companies

We Totally Nailed These Past "25 to Watch" Picks

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.

2010

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.)

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Megan Fairchild in Jerome Robbins' Dances at a Gathering. PC Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB

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.

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Dancers & Companies
Lopez in Circus Polka. PC Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB

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.

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Breaking Stereotypes
Ash in Rochester, NY. PC Thaler Photography by Arleen and Daryl Thaler for the Swan Dreams Project

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."

If you're interested in supporting the project, check out the online shop, or donate directly at swandreamsproject.org.

Training
Sylvie Guillem, via 1843magazine.com

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.

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Dance As Activism
Matthew Neenan used images of silencing and control in let mortal tongues awake. Photo by Bill Herbert.

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.

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Dancers & Companies
Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series

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

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In The Studio
Abraham.In.Motion performing "Drive." Photo by Ian Douglas.

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.

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News
Tero Saarinen's Morphed. Photo by Darya Popova, Courtesy Helene Davis Public Relations

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.


Rant & Rave
PC Break the Floor

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."

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Dance in Pop Culture
Roberto Bolle and Kenall Jenner on set. Photo via tods.com

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.

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