A Breakthrough for the Limón Company—Bare Legs
There was something very different about the Limón Dance Company last week during their season at The Joyce Theater. It was the costuming: For a long time, women just did not expose bare legs in the modern dance land of long dresses and long tights. But seeing the Limón dancers in Kate Weare's Night Light (2014)—suddenly they looked more like today.
Night Light costumer Fritz Masten dressed the dancers in loose tops and bare legs, giving the dancers a whole new look. The choreography transformed the elegant dancers into adventurous, even confrontational beings. With those bare legs, they sliced the space and entangled their partners. The dancers were restless rather than noble, human rather than heroic.
But here's the funny thing about styles that look new: Sometimes they hark back to the old. Take this photo of Betty Jones, brazenly bare-legged, with Limón in his The Apostate from 1959.
The Apostate (1959) with Betty Jones and José Limón, Photo by Matt Wisocki, Courtesy DM Archives
Of course there were classic Limón pieces at the Joyce too, in which his famous humanity was expressed in large, sweeping movements. But what I rediscovered is that, whether or not you like that aesthetic, his choreographic craft is a lesson in itself. In Concerto Grosso (1945), a trio, the architecture has a keystone in the male dancer, but the patterns are not predictably symmetrical. The clean lines and crystalline counterpoint give a sense of spiritual uplift. There's a nobleness to the dancers' stretched and etched lines.
Concerto Grosso with Elise Drew, Jesse Obremski and Kathryn Alter, Photo by Ben Licera
The Exiles (1950) takes this nobility and makes a story of it. Well…it's an old story: Adam and Eve and their cycle of attraction, intimacy and shame. There are no airborne lifts like in ballet. The partnering is grounded, with leverage, with effort—and startlingly inventive. Kristen Foote, one of New York's most magnificent dancers, passes through the changing emotions with honesty and dignity, while her partner, Mark Willis, is unwavering in his strength.
Mark Willis and Kristen Foote in The Exiles, Photo by K. Chang
Back to Kate Weare's work. Perhaps, under the direction of new artistic director Colin Connor, the definition of humanity in the Limón company is changing. Weare's angular moves and sharp interactions challenged the dancers to inhabit another mode of expression. In this "Choreography in Focus," she talks about giving roles to dancers that change them "psychophysically." But again, perhaps that's a clue to her ability to renew a kind of rawness that Limón had back in 1959.
It's no secret that affording college is a challenge for many students. And for dancers, there are added complications, like the relative lack of merit scholarships that take artistic talent into consideration and the improbability of a stable salary to pay off loans post-graduation. But no matter your budget, a smart approach to the application process can help you focus less on money and more on your training.
According to Drexel University performing arts department head Miriam Giguere, figuring out the kind of financial assistance a school offers is just as important as navigating what kind of dance program you want. Here's how to incorporate finances into your decision-making process:
When dancers get injured, they often think they should eat less. The thought process goes something like, Since I'm not able to move as much as I usually do, I'm not burning enough calories to justify the portions I'm used to.
But the truth is, scaling back your meals could actually be detrimental to your healing process.
With her fearless demeanor onstage, it's easy to see how Washington Ballet apprentice Sarah Steele attracted the keen eye of former American Ballet Theatre stars Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. Promoted mid-season from the studio company by artistic director Kent, Steele was cast by Stiefel as the lead in Frontier, his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, this past spring. For the space-themed piece, Steele donned a black-and-white "space suit" onstage, exhibiting dual qualities of strength and grace. Most evocative about Steele's dancing might be her innate intelligence—she was accepted to Harvard on early admission, and plans to resume her studies there in the future. But first, she'll dance.
Lots of college groups do stepping—a form of body percussion based on slapping, tapping and stomping—but Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to do it. They are currently at New York City's New Victory Theater, presenting The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, a show based on the painting series by Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence about The Great Migration of the 1900s, when millions of African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and traveled by train to the North for a better life. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of the country, and Jacob Lawrence's paintings became famous for their bold color and evocative power.
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
Efficient movement is easy to recognize—we all know when we see a dancer whose every action seems essential and unmannered. Understanding how to create this effect, however, is far more elusive. From a practical perspective, dancing with efficiency helps you to conserve your energy and minimize wear and tear on the body; from an artistic point of view, it allows you to make big impressions out of little moments, and lasting memories for those watching.
So much struggle and determination goes into your training that it can be difficult for early-career dancers to recalibrate their priorities toward simplicity and ease, says Laurel Jenkins, freelance performer and Trisha Brown Dance Company staging artist. "Your aesthetic might shift, and you might have to find new things beautiful." Mastering the art of effortless movement requires a new perspective and a smart strategy—on- and offstage.
As we approach Thanksgiving, there's much to be grateful for. Perhaps one of the most important things on your list is dance. Whether you're a full-time company member, an aspiring professional, an audience member, or you simply delight in dancing in your daydreams, this art form is a creative escape.
That's not to say that being a dancer is easy: Pursuing such a competitive career can be heartbreaking, especially when you're faced with rejection.
La Folía, a short dance film by director Adam Grannick that was recently released online, echoes these sentiments in under 12 minutes.
It took two years of intense nutrition counseling and psychotherapy to pull me out of being anorexic. My problem now is that I've gained too much weight from eating normally. Is there no middle ground? I can't fit into my clothes, but I don't want to go back to being sick.
—Former Anorexic, Weston, CT
Whatever your feelings about Wayne McGregor's heady, hyper-physical choreography, we can all probably agree on one thing: We'd really, really love to pick his brain. And tomorrow, Dance Umbrella, a UK-based dance festival, is giving everyone the chance to do exactly that.
"Women are often presented as soft, fragile little creatures in ballet," says Léonore Baulac. "We're not." The Paris Opéra Ballet's newest female étoile is discussing her unease at some of the 19th-century narratives she portrays. "It was real acting," she says with a laugh of La Sylphide. "James kills her by taking away her wings, yet she tells him not to worry and goes to die elsewhere onstage!"
Sitting in the canteen of the Palais Garnier, Baulac embodies some of ballet's contradictions in the 21st century. With her fair curls and dainty features, she could easily pass for a little girl's fantasy princess. As Juliet, she exuded a girlish ardor that felt entirely natural; her reservations notwithstanding, her Sylphide was committed and carefully Romantic in style.
Yet the 27-year-old is no ingénue. At Garnier that day, her sweater reads "I can't believe I still have to protest this s**t," a feminist slogan; last winter, Baulac proudly wore it over a Kitri tutu on Instagram. And her repertoire is as thoroughly modern as she is offstage. A versatile performer even by Parisian standards, she is equally at home in Nutcracker as she is in the works of Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.