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A Day with Daniil
Lately, when Daniil Simkin hasn't been performing with American Ballet Theatre or flying off to dance in international galas, he's been putting together his own project: INTENSIO. “I miss European contemporary dance," explains Simkin, who grew up in Germany. “This is an outlet for me and my colleagues to experience that and approach the ever-looming question: Where is ballet going?" The evening-long performance features new works by Jorma Elo, Alexander Ekman, Gregory Dolbashian and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, created on a group of ABT dancers and Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal's Céline Cassone. Each piece merges dance and technology, with innovations like real-time video projections. After its world premiere at Jacob's Pillow this summer, INTENSIO will tour to Houston and Buenos Aires in November, and New York City in January.
Caffeine and productivity
Simkin starts his day with coffee and his iPhone. “I'm not a functional human being without a cup of java," he says, “and I just can't get enough of those endorphins from the notifications from my phone's home screen." Breakfast is usually yogurt with trail mix while checking e-mails and shopping online (typically hunting on eBay for deals on clothing from designers like Rick Owen). As one of the biggest techies in the ballet world, Simkin has set up his iPhone 6 Plus to control the temperature and lights of his apartment. “You can argue that my phone is my alter ego," he says. “All it needs is to grow legs and it'll soon be dancing!"
Simkin starts each morning online, often shopping on eBay.
When time is tight, Simkin gives himself his own barre before rehearsal.
Before going to rehearse for INTENSIO, Simkin warms up by taking class with other company members at ABT or by giving himself his own barre. ABT provides its dancers with 36 weeks of work each year, so Simkin schedules all INTENSIO rehearsals and tours during his 16 weeks of off time. “It's a win-win situation," he says. “We get to stay in shape and do new, exciting work."
Rehearsing Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's new work with Cassandra Trenary.
Experimenting with Alexandre Hammoudi and Blaine Hoven.
Rehearsal at DANY Studios
To Simkin, the best part of rehearsals is seeing how each choreographer's approach develops. He likens learning new choreography to learning a new language. “The more you speak it, the more fluent you become and the more enjoyable the piece becomes," he says.
Filming rehearsals helps Simkin remember what they've done. He also likes to share clips with his 47,000 followers on Instagram. But he never uses the videos to judge the merit of works in progress. “Something that looks good on video in slow motion but might not look good onstage."
Simkin with Calvin Royal III.
Simkin prefers a light lunch such as salad or sushi, and during their break he often plays delivery boy. “Annabelle might request a Red Bull, somebody else wants a banana. I get myself a cookie or a coffee."
Simkin considers it a luxury when he gets to be at home alone in the evenings. “I just want to play my computer games," he admits. He has a projector and surround-sound system and plans to get a PS4 to play games like Call of Duty: Black Ops III. He also winds down by reading, typically working on two books at once—one fiction and one nonfiction. (He's read all of Haruki Murakami and recently finished The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt.)
But first, Simkin usually attends fundraising dinners or grabs food in his Brooklyn neighborhood with non-dance friends. “I like getting to learn about different ways of thinking," Simkin says of socializing with people in different fields. After spending every day surrounded by dance artists, “outside company stimulates my imagination."
Mash-ups aren't uncommon in the dance world: Performers of varying styles have been known to share the stage, from ballerina Tiler Peck and famed clown Bill Irwin to Michelle Dorrance, who's mixed tappers and break-dancers. Likewise, collaborations between choreographers and artists from seemingly mismatched disciplines have produced magical creations, such as Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream, featuring Mark Ryden's whimsical and even grotesque designs and costumes.
But the Israeli troupe Ka'et Contemporary Dance Ensemble has found success in one of the most unlikely partnerships: Secular contemporary choreographer Ronen Itzhaki creates movement for a group of rabbis.
While undoubtedly best known for her dancing, American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston has also been getting noticed for her style by Allure and Vogue—and with good reason. Her Instagram feed features a mix of on-trend athleisure wear and detailed dresses from runway designers like Valentino and Anna Sui, none of which would be complete without the makeup and hair to match. With a penchant for skin care and an ever-growing lipstick collection, Boylston talked us through some of her beauty must-haves on and off the stage.
Photo by Jayme Thornton
Before she became the 20th century's most revered ballet pedagogue, Agrippina Vaganova was a frustrated ballerina. "I was not progressing and that was a terrible thing to realize," she wrote in a rough draft of her memoirs.
She retired from the Imperial Ballet stage in 1916, and for the next 30-plus years, devoted herself to creating a "science of ballet." Her new, dynamic teaching method produced stars like Rudolf Nureyev, Alla Osipenko, and Galina Ulanova and later Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. And her approach continues to influence how we think about ballet training to this day.
But is the ballet class due for an update? Demands and aesthetics have changed. So should the way dancers train change too?
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
DanceBreak came roaring back to life on Monday after seven years on hiatus, and six choreographers now have the opportunity to be the next Andy Blankenbuehler. Or Joshua Bergasse, Kelly Devine, Casey Nicholaw, Josh Prince or Josh Rhodes. These stellar Broadway choreographers all got their first big shows after Melinda Atwood's musical-theater launching pad let them show the industry what they could do.
Since 2002, DanceBreak has been a sort of "So You Think You Can Choreograph" for Broadway. Although not everyone goes straight there—Mandy Moore and Mia Michaels are alumni, too—the program is meant to funnel talented choreographers to the Broadway stage by providing a platform for their work. Prince, who introduced Atwood to the cheering crowd, has paid DanceBreak the ultimate compliment, creating his own non-profit incubator for theater choreographers, Broadway Dance Lab. On Monday, he recalled the story of how he was offered the role of choreographer on Broadway's Shrek just days after its director saw the 2007 edition.
When caring for your feet or trying to make them look good, it's tempting to seek shortcuts. Bad ideas—like dangerous stretches that promise perfect lines or ointments that were never meant to go on your toes—catch on all too easily backstage.
We asked podiatrists who've seen their dance clients try it all share the habits they'd like to see gone for good.
My dance coach wants my word that I'll keep competing under his school's name for the next year and not audition. I'm 18 years old and already doing lead roles and winning medals. I love his teaching, but shouldn't I be ready to go out and get a job?
—Gil, Las Vegas, NV
How do we make ballet, a traditionally homogeneous art form, relevant to and reflective of an increasingly diverse and globalized era? While established companies are shifting slowly, Richard Siegal/Ballet of Difference, though less than 2 years old, has something of a head start. The guiding force of the company, which is based in Germany, is bringing differences together in the same room and, ultimately, on the same stage.
Claude Debussy's only completed opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, emphasizes clarity and subtlety over high-flung drama as a deadly love triangle unfolds. Opera Vlaanderen and Royal Ballet of Flanders are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the composer's death with a new production of the landmark opera that is sure to be anything but traditional: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet are choreographing and directing, while boundary-pushing performance artist Marina Abramović collaborates on the design. Antwerp, Feb. 2–13. Ghent, Feb. 23–March 4. operaballet.be/en.
Black History Month offers a time to reflect on the artists who have shaped the dance field as we know it today. But equally important is celebrating the black artists who represent the next generation. These seven up-and-comers are making waves across all kinds of styles and across the country: