Mandy Moore. PC Lee Cherry.
If you’ve seen the smash sensation La La Land, then you’ve seen the work of choreographer Mandy Moore. She is the brains behind the dance scenes in the Oscar-nominated film, as well as a choreographer on TV and film sets like "Dancing with the Stars," "So You Think You Can Dance," Silver Linings Playbook and more.
When asked how she first got involved with the romantic movie musical, Moore said, “Funnily enough, it was not very romantic.” She went in for an interview with director Damien Chazelle, and it lasted two hours. “I did my homework, came in with ideas and my references, and I got the job.” Speaking from her home in Los Angeles, she shared what she looks for in a dancer, advice on making a career as a choreographer and her thoughts on whether Ryan Gosling or Emma Stone is the better dancer.
Was the response to the film a surprise?
When we were filming, I thought it was something special, but you never know. It’s this thing of, well, I hope people like what we just put our heart and soul into. Then I went to the Venice Film Festival, and after the film people stood up and were clapping for twenty minutes. At that point, I thought: Oh my god, people like this. And the Oscars morning was pretty crazy.
Still from La La Land featuring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. PC Dale Robinette.
How much time did you have to choreograph, and what was the process like?
I was brought on very early. I started initial prep work long before pre-production. Once Ryan and Emma signed on, it was about 4-6 weeks that I trained them privately, working out vocabulary and creating the skeleton of the numbers. Once the official pre-production started, there were another 4-6 weeks when Ryan and Emma were learning the choreography.
Who’s the better dancer, Emma Stone or Ryan Gosling?
They are very different dancers. Emma picks up choreography very quickly, and there’s a quirky and charming feel to her movements. Ryan didn’t pick it up as quickly, but he always had so much style, swag and texture when he moved. So they were a funny little complement. Neither is a perfect dancer; they weren’t supposed to be. I liked the way they took on the challenge.
What was the rehearsal process like for that epic opening scene?
Still from the opening scene of La La Land. PC Dale Robinette.
For the traffic scene, it was a very complex number with lots of layers. There was tons of work that went into that prior to me seeing any dancers. Just in terms of logistics of cars, there was a whole science to that.
In pre-production, I was able to get a skeleton crew. I had ten dancers come in and we parked some of our cars out in the parking lot and I started to create the phrases of movement that ultimately became that number. And it wasn’t the kind of number you could just have 30 dancers dancing around—it had to be particular for the shot. I only had 30 dancers, but had to make it look like it was hundreds. Once we cast those 30, we had 3 days of rehearsal off-site.
What are the top three qualities you look for in dancers?
Number one: Be a smart dancer. Someone who can pick up choreography and make changes quickly, and can understand the big picture. Two: a great personality. You want someone who’s fun to be around, because you end up spending a lot of time with people. I always look for a sense of humor, and a kind personality. Three: someone who has worked really hard at their craft. They don’t necessarily need to be the best dancer in the room because I know they will work hard and stop at nothing to get it right.
What advice would you give to an aspiring choreographer?
Never get too invested in the steps. So much of choreography is collaboration. If I got upset about every step that got changed, I probably would’ve never made it past my first job. You need to have the ability to create quickly, enjoy the process and then let it go.
Even if you make it through to the final round of an audition, that doesn't mean that you're guaranteed a spot on the roster. Before handing out contracts, many companies also require prospective dancers to complete an interview with staff. How can you impress your potential employer with your words as much as your dancing? Three artistic directors weigh in on what matters most.
Dorothy Gunther Pugh, Ballet Memphis
Ballet Memphis in Gabrielle Lamb's Manifold. Photo by Andrea Zucker, Courtesy Ballet Memphis
What do you cover in a typical interview?
"In the studio, I'm already watching closely for how well you pay attention, how you handle your nerves, and are you polite to the rest of the dancers. So, by the time you're sitting down with me in my office, I just want us to get to know each other. I want to see you look me in the eye, be curious and listen. (I might have questions about someone who just can't stop talking.) But I also want to know what you like about your hometown, what drew you to our company, and who you are when you're at ease. Remember that you're interesting to me!"
Colin Connor, Limón Dance Company
Photo by Juan José Escalante, Courtesy Limón Dance Company
What kinds of responses are red flags that a dancer wouldn't be a good fit for your company?
"I think a lot of dancers assume it's bad if they're not extroverted, but I'm happy to hire someone quiet. Do show me you can articulate what you love, because that's what you end up drawing from as an artist. I see a red flag when it sounds like someone has a lot of scheduling conflicts and previous commitments but still insists she can commit to us. I understand that working with other choreographers might be the only way you can survive, but being overextended is not a healthy way to function. You really have to be transparent in the interview about the obligations you do have, so I can be up front about whether it's possible to work with you."
Patricia Barker, Grand Rapids Ballet
Photo by Michael Auer, Courtesy Grand Rapids Ballet
How can a prospective dancer prepare?
"I don't want to be asked how many performances we do or which choreographers we work with. A great way to prove you've done your research is to say, 'I see Robyn Mineko Williams is choreographing this season. I was able to work with her in one of my summer programs.' That draws my attention to something I may have missed on your resumé, and now I know that I can touch base with her about that experience."
It seems like everyone in New York's experimental dance scene is talking about Okwui Okpokwasili right now. Her multidisciplinary work Poor People's TV Room is in the middle of a much buzzed-about two-week run at New York Live Arts.
But although the dance world loves her, Okpokwasili is hesitant to call herself a dancer. In a story about dance theater in Dance Magazine's May issue, she told this to writer Siobhan Burke:
"I have a deep love and appreciation for dancers. And because of that, sometimes I'll call myself a mover, because I feel like dancers are saints. They work so hard, they take classes, they don't get health insurance. Their ability to come into the unknown and commit to multiple languages without question—I find it so generous and beautiful. I don't know that I'm that generous. People can't just walk around calling themselves a dancer."
Even though she's very humble, many would definitely consider what she's doing bonafide dancing. Check out her intense, otherwordly virtuosity in a section from Poor People's TV Room, shot for The New York Times' #SpeakingInDance series.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of George Balanchine's iconic Jewels. And thanks to The Royal Ballet, you can celebrate in the comfort of your local movie theater. The company is screening its production in theaters across the US this spring—along with a handful of other performances both live and recorded.
Of course, we couldn't wait. So we got an exclusive sneak preview of principal dancers Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares performing the regal "Diamonds" pas de deux:
Plus, we're giving away a pair of pointe shoes signed by principal dancer Sarah Lamb—the very pair she wore during this performance of "Rubies." Watch her tackle the playful role alongside Steven McRae and Melissa Hamilton:
Click here to find a theater in your area.
Michaela DePrince is having one spectacular year. On New Year's Day, the Dutch National Ballet dancer was promoted to soloist. And yesterday, she scored a major endorsement as a face of Jockey's "Show 'Em What's Underneath" campaign. We've said it before: There's a right way and a wrong way to feature dancers in mainstream media. This campaign hits the mark by celebrating DePrince's grace, athleticism and story of hope.
If you need a refresher on her remarkable journey—from war orphan in Sierra Leone to being adopted and launching her ballet career—check out Jockey's video below.
DePrince's path has an uncanny connection to Dance Magazine. As a young child, she found the May 1979 cover of DM outside her orphanage. Mesmerized by the image of Pennsylvania Ballet's Magali Messac, she kept the treasured cover hidden in her panties, dreaming of becoming a dancer herself. After she was adopted, DePrince began training at The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia. The rest is history.
@michaeladeprince with the May 1979 issue of Dance Magazine that first inspired her to pursue ballet. We caught up with her in NYC to celebrate her latest achievement: becoming an ambassador for Jockey! #inspiration #vintagedancemag #jockey #showemhope
A post shared by dancemagazine (@dancemagazine) on Apr 26, 2017 at 4:28pm PDT
Congratulations to DePrince on this milestone in her career!
What's better than getting into the summer intensive of your dreams? Getting in with a scholarship, of course!
Hundreds of dancers entered our Video of the Month contests over the past three months, vying for a chance to win a scholarship to one of the Joffrey Ballet School's summer programs. We scoured so many videos, saw tons of amazing talent and are super excited to announce the final winners.
Michelle Quiner took home the grand prize: a one-year housing and tuition scholarship to the school's year-round trainee program in New York City. Check out her winning video:
All of the other winners each received a one-week scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet School intensive of their choice.
Class can be a whirlwind of information. Your teacher throws out multiple corrections at once—often in the middle of a combination—and as much as you want to apply them, they don't always stick. Though some are notes you've heard time and time again, you get too overwhelmed trying to fix all of them to correctly incorporate any of them.
Ashley Tuttle, photo by Duncan Cooper
Feedback is a necessary part of a dancer's craft, providing the guidance to develop technically and artistically. But applying new information is not always easy. You might feel bombarded with too many notes at one time, or insecure about being singled out for criticism. Learning to implement corrections is an art in itself.
Be Receptive to Feedback—And Show It
Smart dancers know that feedback is a gift, so show that you're eager to receive it. Make sure your body language and attitude reflect a willingness to learn. "Have a pleasant expression and look really involved," says Deborah Wingert, who teaches at Manhattan Youth Ballet and the Ailey Extension. Once you've been given a note, try to make the change immediately, or go to the back of the studio and practice on your own. Show that you at least understand the concept, even if you can't apply it right away. (If you have an injury that prevents you from doing something, communicate that to the teacher before class.) Dancers who resist new information might discourage teachers from wanting to help them.
Laurie De Vito, photo by Justin Chao
Remember that teachers usually give attention when they see potential. "It's not that they're picking on you," says former American Ballet Theatre principal Ashley Tuttle, who teaches ballet at Barnard College, Mark Morris Dance Center and other schools. "Stay positive, and quiet the doubtful voice that can prevent you from receiving information and incorporating it."
If you're not getting any feedback, remember that you can benefit from other dancers' corrections as well. "You don't have to wait for a special invitation," says Wingert. "Just have a hunger to learn."
If You Don't Understand, Ask for Clarification
It's okay to ask questions if you don't understand a correction. "Wait for the break, or go up to the teacher after class," suggests Laurie De Vito, contemporary Simonson teacher at New York City's Peridance, Mark Morris Dance Center and Gibney Dance. "Ask for an alternate image and have a conversation about it." You can also talk to a dancer you respect or someone in your class who gets similar corrections. If you don't express your confusion, teachers might think that you're not listening—or that you don't care.
Wingert teaching at the Baltimore School for the Arts
Make Your Corrections Stick
You may need to use additional senses to cement a correction. Visualize it in your mind and, if possible, implement it while looking in the mirror. "Then get your brain out of it and let your body find the position," De Vito says. "If a physical adjustment will help you understand, ask your teacher to move your body into the correct shape." Attaching a movement to music might also help you solidify the right feeling.
Some corrections take time to physically manifest. "It's a commitment," says Tuttle. "Your brain understands, but your body follows to the best of its ability. It takes longer for some people." If you're being told to turn out more, for example, don't get frustrated because you can't do it immediately. Work on engaging the proper muscles, keeping your heels forward and sustaining your maximum rotation. "Remember that dance is not about being able to make the perfect picture, but being able to move in and out of the best positions you can make," says Tuttle. "Don't get down on yourself or force your body into places that will lead to injury."
"True artists have patience," says Wingert. "You do your best until it clicks.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has been seriously getting into dance lately. But now it's taking its love affair one step further: Gallim Dance director/choreographer Andrea Miller was just named the museum's artist in residence for the 2017-18 season—the first dance artist ever chosen for that distinction!
We caught up with Miller to find out exactly what this means.
Gallim Dance at the Temple of Dendur. Photo by Ani Coller, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
Congratulations on being named artist in residence! How did this come about?
I was offered an opportunity to create a work in progress for a private event at the Temple of Dendur last September. It was a really great experience. I was learning about ancient Egyptian dance and art and music. I got to meet archaeologists and work with the curators and the Met Live Arts team. I think they thought it might be a relationship to develop with a residency.
What did you like about working at the Met?
For a while now I've been enjoying working outside of the proscenium theater. The conversations and the restrictions are different. What you can do, what you can't do. Having new set of variables intrigues me—it pushes my craft further.
What does it mean to you to be the first dance person named artist in residence at the Met?
Dance hasn't always been welcomed into these homes for art, but it makes a lot of sense for a museum to be thinking about dance as art. I'm so happy to be running with my ideas in these halls. They are really open about working with me and thinking really closely with me about what could be possible and letting me direct quite a bit what I'd like to do there.
And what do you plan to do?
First, I'm going to build the Temple of Dendur piece into an evening-length work, to premiere in October. That's called Stone Skipping. It has some scenes about the environment and climate change, thinking about the journey of the temple from the Nile to the museum.
The next piece is going to happen during museum hours, a durational work throughout the day. It's very exciting to me because it's going to completely break with the start-and-stop, beginning-and-end setup of most traditional dance.
One of the things I'm trying to do is think about what is "Met-only" about these works. How am I engaging with the Met and its permanent collections and its architecture, making work that is housed in that space?
But the third work will be treating the dance as its own art. Taking art off the walls, into the gallery space, observing dance in a similar way you do with visual art.
We'll also have open rehearsals and workshops.
What do you think this residency will mean for your company?
I definitely hope that there will be a definitive time before the Met, and after the Met. The imprint of this experience is going to be inextricable from my future creative language and process.
How do you see your aesthetic meshing with the museum's very formal, reverential atmosphere?
I think some of it is gonna fly and some of it is gonna be difficult, and maybe a little controversial. I imagine a lot of it will have to do with the curators of the areas I'm working in, and how they see other elements defining the existing art, and how they interact with each other. My aesthetic is very raw and can sometimes feel wild; there's a sense of abandonment. That's very different from how a lot of art is experienced at the Met. Even if the content has that same level of fierce rawness or extreme expression, that only stays within the canvas—everything else is super controlled. We're taking that out into the space.
I love my BFA program, except for one class where the teacher only has eyes for the men—and even seems to flirt with them in class. The women, myself included, get zero attention, while the guys get loads of personal feedback. I know teachers have favorites, but this seems unfair. How can I stay motivated?
—Sara, New York, NY
Dance class is not a place for flirtation, especially from teachers. I suggest you speak to the director about your concerns. Appropriate behavior between faculty and students is usually spelled out in the school's guidelines. Meanwhile, each of you young women can set your own goals for class, such as focusing on phrasing or musicality, and being your own cheerleaders. You'll have a better class and may even catch your teacher's attention. Remember: Improving in dance is a personal journey. Even if the instructor isn't doing his job, you don't have to give up your power to stay motivated and progress.
Send your questions to Dr. Linda Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.