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Abraham.In.Motion: Passion, Purpose & a Quirky New Setup
It's the end of a long rehearsal day for the dancers of Abraham.In.Motion. They're reviewing phrases of a new work, Dearest Home. It's a pretty typical rehearsal scene. Some dancers cluster around a laptop trying to piece together steps learned long ago. Others review choreography together, working to figure out who remembered which arms correctly.
What isn't typical: The company's director and choreographer, Kyle Abraham, is nowhere to be seen.
That's because while the company is based in New York City full-time, Abraham spends most of his year teaching at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he joined the faculty last September. It's an unconventional model for a single-choreographer–led troupe, almost functioning like a repertory company in which choreographers drop in for a week to set a piece, leaving it up to the rehearsal directors and dancers to keep the momentum going.
But the formula seems to be working for the 11-year-old company. The more stable the troupe has become—full-time salaries, health insurance, a robust 38-week season with 21 weeks of touring and a loyal cast of dancers—the more flexibility it has allowed Abraham. "The company in the iteration it's in right now, I'm so inspired by them," he says. "It makes me rethink how I make dance and what it means to even have a company."
Abraham became a household dance name when he won a MacArthur Fellowship, dubbed the "genius grant," in 2013. With it came a flurry of press coverage and touring opportunities. But it also brought a lot of pressure.
"I was so caught up with people's expectations and what I could do, what I should do," says Abraham. It affected his work. He admits he isn't particularly happy with what he made for the next three years. "There's a period where the work fell off from keeping it real. My voice was gone, for better or for worse."
During this time, more than half of Abraham's dancers and staff either left or were fired. Then, in 2016, he was offered the position at UCLA. He took the job, not just because of the opportunity to teach young dancers, but to be closer to his partner at the time, and to take some space from A.I.M. "I started to build up a lot of animosity toward the company, that it was keeping me from happiness and love."
Today, Abraham only sees his company during residencies, performances and the occasional rehearsal. That means the dancers are often on their own, led by choreographic associate Matthew Baker and rehearsal director Tamisha Guy, who reset work and run rehearsals. They're in charge of making calls about choreographic details. If there's a major discrepancy, they'll shoot Abraham an email or Skype with him to sort it out. But it's the dancers—most of whom juggle multiple responsibilities at A.I.M—and staff who keep the day-to-day operations of the company running.
Baker says he's noticed a change in Abraham's work since he left for L.A. "Kyle is an examiner of life and soul," Baker says. "And I understand why he has set this up for himself. It allows him to have space, because he takes up to two years to do research for and create a piece."
But this structure doesn't come without its hardships, whether it's mastering Abraham's complex movement or remembering exactly how a step is supposed to go. "Kyle really knows how to guide a dancer," says company member Connie Shiau. "I'm more familiar with his style and aesthetic now. But I miss his presence. Just the energy of him being in the room."
Guy calls the experience this year a growing one. "I feel like I can stand on my own a little more," she says. "Kyle trusts me, which is a great feeling." Abraham's work in academia has changed the way he approaches choreography, she adds. "He's done a lot of research to revamp his technique class, and that has made him a little more experimental in the studio. It's helped him figure out new A.I.M-isms, like, 'Oh, we do figure eights a lot. Let's find new ways of moving.' "
The dancers are loyal to Abraham not just because of the quality of his work, but also its content. His pieces have tackled issues like race and violence head-on, and it's given his dancers a greater sense of purpose onstage. "On an artistic level, the work is charged," says Guy. "We're talking about Black Lives Matter and the senseless killings. He's addressing what's going on in society today."
Abraham feels that Dearest Home, which premiered in May, is the most honest work he's ever made, commenting that he pushed himself and was more open than he had been in recent years. "Maybe the space helped," he says.
But would he change anything about this experimental setup? "Nothing! I'm in a really healthy place with a renewed sense of purpose," says Abraham, whose UCLA contract is renewable after three to five years. "I've rediscovered why I was making dances to begin with."
Sarah Haarmann stands out without trying to. There is a precision and lack of affectation in her dancing that is very Merce Cunningham. Her movement quality is sharp and clear; her stage presence utterly focused. It's no wonder she caught Mark Morris' eye. Even though she still considers herself "very much the new girl" at Mark Morris Dance Group (she became a full-time member in August 2017), in a recent performance of Layla and Majnun, Haarmann seemed completely in her element.
Company: Mark Morris Dance Group
Hometown: Macungie, Pennsylvania
Training: Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts and Marymount Manhattan College
In 2012, freelance contemporary dancer Adrianne Chu made a major career change: She decided to try out for A Chorus Line. "Even though I didn't get the job, I felt like I was meant to do this," says Chu. So she started going to at least one musical theater audition every weekday, treating each as a learning experience. After several years of building up her resumé, Chu's practice paid off: She booked a starring role as Wendy in the first national tour of Finding Neverland.
Approaching auditions as learning opportunities, especially when you're trying to break into a different style or are new to the profession, can sharpen your skills while helping you avoid burnout. It also builds confidence for the auditions that matter most.
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."
It's easy to feel whiplashed thinking about everything Emma Portner has achieved in such a short amount of time. Last fall, the 23-year-old was the youngest woman ever to choreograph a West End production (it was based on Meat Loaf's greatest hits). This was, of course, after she already choreographed and starred in Justin Bieber's viral hit "Life is Worth Living," and before she charmed major media outlets when she secretly married actress Ellen Page. Now, she's L.A. Dance Project's first-ever artist in residence, and she's working on a commission for Toronto's Fall for Dance North Festival.
We caught up with her for our "Spotlight" series:
Last month, the International Association of Blacks in Dance's third annual ballet audition for women of color was expanded to include a separate audition for men.
The brainchild of Joan Myers Brown (founder of both Philadanco and IABD), the women's audition was created to specifically address the lack of black females in ballet. However, the success and attention that audition drew made the men feel left out, so IABD decided to give the men equal time this year.
Pina Bausch's unique form of German Tanztheater is known for raising questions. Amid water and soil, barstools and balloons, the late choreographer's work contains a distinct tinge of mystery and confrontation. Today, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch's dancers use questions as fuel for creativity. The company's most recent project introduced a new group of performers to the stage: local high school ninth-graders from the Gesamtschule Barmen in Wuppertal, Germany, in an original work-in-progress performance called Veränderung (Change).
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?
I love being transgender. It's an important part of the story of why I choreograph. Although I loved dance from a very young age, I grew up never seeing a single person like me in dance. So how could I imagine a future for myself there?
The enormous barriers I had to overcome weren't internal: I didn't struggle with feelings of dysphoria, and I wasn't locked down by shame.
The dance community is heartbroken to learn that 14-year-olds Jaime Guttenberg and Cara Loughran were among the 17 people killed during the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
Guttenberg was a talented competition dancer at Dance Theatre in Coconut Creek, FL, according to a report from Sun Sentinel. Dance Theatre owner Michelle McGrath Gerlick shared the below message on her Facebook page, encouraging dancers across the country to wear orange ribbons this weekend in honor of Guttenberg, whose favorite color was orange.
A statement released yesterday by New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet reported that an independent investigation was unable to corroborate allegations of harassment and abuse against former ballet master in chief Peter Martins, according to The New York Times. This marks the end of a two-month inquiry jointly launched by the two organizations in December following an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment and violence.
The statement also included new policies for both the company and school to create safer, more respectful environments for the dancers, including hiring an independent vendor to handle employee complaints anonymously. These changes are being made despite the independent investigation, handled by outside counsel Barbara Hoey, purportedly finding no evidence of abuse.