Dancers & Companies

Allison DeBona On What's Really Wrong With the Kendall Jenner Video

After Allison DeBona's Facebook post commenting on the recent Kendall Jenner controversy went viral, we invited the Ballet West first soloist to elaborate on the Dance Magazine blog.

Let’s cut to the chase. The recent Vogue Spain video with Kendall Jenner was not the first ballet representation gone wrong, and it will not be the last. So, as professional dancers who spend our lifetimes working on our craft, I call you to arms: conceive, create and educate.

From DeBona's Vogue Italia shoot. PC Emma Summerton for Vogue Italia.

I came across the Jenner video on Facebook because a friend of mine shared it. My first reaction was, “not this again!” This summer I was hired by Vogue Italia and the creative photographic mastermind Emma Summerton to be part of an eight page editorial and video for their August issue.  Emma told me she was very dedicated to finding someone able to do extraordinary things with their body. I submitted photos and video to be considered for the job. I was up against models who really wanted the opportunity as well, but Emma found my technique to be important to her and her vision, so I booked it.

When I first saw it, I wanted to make light of the Jenner video because it seemed to me Vogue Spain hired her to pretend to be a dancer in her room—I originally wanted to post my video on my Facebook page and write, “Beautiful video Kendall, but I raise you a pointed toe.” But, I slept on it and the photo of Kendall in pointe shoes surfaced. There was a bigger issue to discuss.

I think it is wonderful that ballet is becoming more mainstream. Dance needs that to survive. I have made that point numerous times since Ballet West signed on for “Breaking Pointe.” But, as artists we can no longer allow pop culture to dictate the content that is being released on our behalf. “Breaking Pointe” was pitched to us as a docu-series to showcase the blood, sweat and tears it takes to be a professional dancer, but in post-production we fell victim to what the masses wanted—cat fights and love triangles. Ballet was lost in translation. How do we keep a mass of companies who are trying to capitalize on our art form, but are highly uneducated in our craft, from shaming us? We stop sharing the trash, create art we believe in and support each other.

Emma Summerton for Vogue Italia

There is a high level of competition in ballet, and it is not often that dancers look to their peers in support. We all can say we do, but do our actions support it? I posted my Vogue video weeks ago, and it did not get half of the shares and comments as it did after the Jenner video surfaced. Everyone partakes in self-promotion, but in order to educate the masses we must come together and support the content we find intelligent, thought provoking, artistic and technically sound. I try to practice what I preach. In 2014 I started “Art with Alli – A Random Thought” to create a forum where I could share other dancers' content and endeavors. I ask dancers to tag #ARTWITHALLI for a chance to be featured. I also direct artÉmotion Summer Intensive along with Ballet West principal Rex Tilton, a program we started to invest in the future of young dancers and artists. We will also be launching a new endeavor where we hope to reach the masses on a more regular basis with dance. Be the change you want to see, collaborate with artists who share your vision and share what moves you. Or else Kendall Jenner will continue to get the one million views you’re hoping to get for your latest project. As a commenter on my Facebook page put it: "I know nothing about ballet, but Spanish Vogue made me think, 'clothes + Kendall = $$,' whereas Allison's video made me wish I'd taken ballet."

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Lopez in Circus Polka. PC Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB

When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."

But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.

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From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.

New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.

A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.

Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.

In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.

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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."

If you're interested in supporting the project, check out the online shop, or donate directly at swandreamsproject.org.

Dancers & Companies
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Lucky for us, that isn't the case with today's star dancers—like American Ballet Theatre principal dancers Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside, aka The Cindies. These two aren't just onstage partners. They're serious #BestieGoals. Our evidence, as documented on Instagram, is as follows:

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Dancers & Companies
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Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series

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Abraham.In.Motion performing "Drive." Photo by Ian Douglas.

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!

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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.


Rant & Rave
PC Break the Floor

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?

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"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."

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