Michelle Dorrance Took Over the Guggenheim Rotunda, And It Was Genius
Michelle Dorrance isn't a MacArthur-certified "Genius" for nothing. Last night at New York City's Guggenheim Museum, she premiered the first ever Works & Process Rotunda Project, a brand new initiative announced last summer that commissions site-specific work specifically for the Guggenheim's iconic Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Rotunda. (Next up: Daniil Simkin.)
Dorrance's project, in collaboration with fellow hoofer Nicholas Van Young, has set the bar for future projects almost unfairly high. The 40 minute piece was funny yet breathtaking, endlessly entertaining but compositionally brilliant, and as interesting aurally as it was visually. It had all of the rhythmic complexity that we've come to expect from Dorrance's work, but by placing the audience on the ramps (spiraling up seven stories) and the performers on the floor (okay, and occasionally on the ramps, too), the rhythms took on new dimensions. Basically, we loved it. Here are six reasons why.
It was impossible to label it as a single dance style. I spied breakdance, contemporary release technique, hints of Latin ballroom and (of course) some fantastic soft- and hard-shoe tap. Aside from hoofers Dorrance and Van Young, break dancers Ephrat Asherie and Matthew West were the other featured couple. Mixing genres can be hit or miss, but in this case the the amalgam of styles was a definite hit.
Dorrance and Van Young making music.
The dancers were musicians, and the musicians dancers. Dorrance spent as much time astride a drum as she did battling with Van Young on mobile platforms or using wooden sticks. A trio of dancers appeared periodically on the ramps to sing haunting melodies. The dancers who played instruments never felt secondary, because making dance and making music were valued equally—and often were the same action. It was surreal seeing familiar tap steps but hearing them sound completely different because of the acoustics of the space. The sensibility that anything can be a percussive instrument, including the ramps and walls of the Rotunda, pervaded the work, a strong reminder that both Dorrance and Van Young are STOMP veterans.
The audience made music, too. In one well-received section, Van Young stood in the center of a platform on the floor and wordlessly coached the sections of the audience in different clapping rhythms. If you were in the room, you had to pay attention—otherwise you'd definitely miss your cue—and it made everyone watching acutely aware of just how difficult it was to coordinate the complex sounds we'd been hearing from the performers all night. (As Dorrance put it, "Acoustically, this thing is a whole new animal.")
She took advantage of the "fifth wall" to add a new dimension. There was as much attention paid to how the work would look from above as to how it sounded—the intricate pathways carved by the performers had an almost kaleidoscopic effect, so no matter how high up you were you had something fascinating to see. When Asherie used b-girl floorwork to cross the floor, she seemed to be floating in space; when a handful of the performers ended the piece lying flat on their backs and took their bows from there, it created an optical illusion of them standing on the walls. And their energy was infectious—even if you couldn't see their faces from above, you could feel the focus, joy and determination radiating from every person on the floor.
Dorrance and Van Young.
She really responded to the space. When we talked to Dorrance about the project in November, she had a few ideas of what she wanted to do with it, but was quick to point out, "We would be fools to walk in there and think we're going to do something without the space telling us, 'No, you're not going to do this.' " Sure enough, the final structure was many, many steps removed from the initial ideas she had tossed around before beginning rehearsals, but the exploration she had set for herself—"non-traditional percussive movement, in a direction where we maximize what we can do in that space"—was evident throughout.
It was just fun. I saw senior citizens, small children and everyone in between crowded onto the ramps, and not a single person wasn't nodding along to the beat at some point or cheering as hard as they could by the end. You never knew what was going to happen next, but it almost inevitably evoked smiles, laughs or murmurs of approval. Who says great, serious choreography can't be fun?
Best of all, if you weren't one of the lucky few to make it to the one-night-only show, one of the performances was streamed via Facebook Live—you can watch it here.
All images: Works & Process Rotunda Project: Michelle Dorrance with Nicholas Van Young, February 16, 2017, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Rotunda. Photos by: Matthew Murphy
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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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."
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.
Everyone knows that community college is an affordable option if a four-year school isn't in the cards. But it can also be a solid foundation for a career in the dance field. Whether students want an associate in arts degree as a precursor to obtaining a bachelor's, or to go straight into the performing world, the right two-year dance program can be a uniquely supportive place to train. Don't let negative stereotypes prevent you from attending a program that could be right for you:
Conscientious theatergoers may be familiar with The School for Scandal, The School for Wives and School of Rock. But how many are also aware of the school of Fosse?
The 1999 musical, a posthumous exploration of the choreographic career of Bob Fosse, ran for 1,093 performances, winning four Tonys and 10 nominations; employing 32 dancers; and, completely unintentionally, nurturing a generation of Broadway choreographers. You may have heard of them: Andy Blankenbuehler and Sergio Trujillo danced in the original cast, Josh Rhodes was a swing, and Christopher Gattelli replaced Trujillo when he landed choreography jobs in Massachusetts and Canada. Blankenbuehler remembers that when Trujillo left, "It was as if he was graduating."
January 16 might as well be a Broadway holiday. Three gigantic names were born on this day, in 1908, 1950 and 1980, and they represent three distinct eras of powerhouse musicals. Without them, there'd be no belting Reno Sweeney, no "Fame"-ous Lydia Grant and no rapping Alexander Hamilton. Happy birthday to these indelible superstars.