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.
We knew that New York downtown dance darling Okwui Okpokwasili was a big deal. Critics and audiences have been raving about her dance-theater works for years, and the new documentary about her, Bronx Gothic, has attracted the attention of the larger arts community.
But never in our wildest dreams did we imagine she'd show up in a Jay Z video, along with flex dancer Storyboard P. Though we're slightly less surprised to see Storyboard in Jay Z's "4:44" video than we were to see Okpokwasili, we're jazzed that two of our favorites are featured on such a huge platform. (We're also feeling #blessed that we didn't have to subscribe to Tidal to watch this.)
Throughout the years, choreographer Seán Curran has worked with a diverse array of talented collaborators—from Kyrgyz music ensemble Ustatshakirt Plus to the the Grammy Award–winning King's Singers. But perhaps none are as meaningful as his most recent group of co-choreographers: At-risk teens from the after school program and nonprofit The Wooden Floor.
Curran has been in residence with The Wooden Floor since June, where he's worked with students to build choreography based on their lives and communities:
Their creation will be shown July 20-22 at The Wooden Floor Studio Theatre in Santa Ana, California.
"Besides the stage, baking is my other happy place," says New York City Ballet corps member Jenelle Manzi.
Four years ago, she thought her baking days were over when she was diagnosed with gluten intolerance. Manzi had been dealing with pain, frequent illness and joint inflammation for nearly 10 years. Once she cut out gluten, Manzi gradually started to feel better, noticing a transformation in how her body felt and functioned. She found her joints were less inflamed, and she got sick less often.
New York City Ballet soloist Unity Phelan and American Ballet Theatre soloist Cassandra Trenary spend every day making their hard work look effortless and graceful both in the studio and onstage. That's exactly what makes them the perfect spokesmodels for the dance-inspired activewear line, Belle Force.
To celebrate our 90th anniversary, we excavated some of our favorite hidden gems from the DM Archives—images that capture a few of the moments in time we've documented over the decades.
This image was captured during a 1978 New York City Ballet tour that took the company to Copenhagen—home turf for Adam Luders (right), who trained at the Royal Danish Ballet School and briefly danced with the company before joining NYCB as a principal dancer in 1975. Next to Luders is (of course) George Balanchine, in conversation with ballerina Suzanne Farrell. And looking on with a smile? NYCB's current ballet master in chief Peter Martins.
On March 8, 2016, Rami Shafi found himself inspired to film an impromptu dance video of his best friend, Aaron Moses Robin, improvising on Gay St. in New York City's Greenwich Village. Thus was born Pedestrian Wanderlust, a collection of dance videos that has grown to include a monthly improv jam.
Shafi works with anyone who wants to take part in the project, filming videos in locations chosen by the dancers and later adding music. The videos are shot on Shafi's iPhone in one take and, other than the starting and ending points, are entirely improvised. The editing afterwards—including the music choice—is minimal. "I don't like to edit too much. It's just what it is," says Shafi. "I usually can do the editing on the train ride home."
Many people see dance and choreography as separate pursuits, or view choreography as a dance career's second act. For some dancers, however, performing and choreographing inform one another. "That's just the kind of choreographer I am. I feel things so deeply in my physicality. I have to do it to know it," says Jodi Melnick, who is a prolific performer of her own work. She also maintains an active practice as a performer for other choreographers: Throughout her career, she's worked with Trisha Brown, Twyla Tharp, Tere O'Connor and Donna Uchizono, to name a few.
Though a dual career can be fulfilling, simultaneously inhabiting the roles of dancer and choreographer requires focus, organization and a great deal of energy.