How Being The Met's Artist in Residence Has "Completely Changed" Andrea Miller's Approach
More than 2,000 years ago, the Temple of Dendur sat on the west bank of the Nile River in Egypt. Today it overlooks Central Park from a large, sunlit hall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
"It always hits me when I see the temple, what an incredible transition it's been through," says choreographer Andrea Miller, the museum's current artist in residence, a week before the premiere of her new work inspired by the ancient structure. "That lifecycle is something I can't avoid."
Standing behind a reflecting pool, she observes her 16 dancers—10 from her company, Gallim Dance, plus 6 students from Juilliard—swarming the large stone plaza in front of the temple during a run-through of the piece, Stone Skipping. Dramatic tableaux echoing the temple's engravings are juxtaposed with intricate solos and duets that highlight the grandeur of the site.
"This piece is very much trying to be in conversation with the temple and the space," Miller says.
Being in conversation with one of the world's great artifacts is one of the privileges of being an artist in residence at the Met. Miller is the fifth performing artist invited to create at the iconic museum as an artist in residence, and the first choreographer to do so with that title.
"I'm always looking for artists that have something very deep to say," says Limor Tomer, the general manager of MetLiveArts, who oversees the program. "Andrea is someone who brings a lot of depth and at the same time flexibility."
Tomer first invited Miller to create a 15-minute work at the temple in the fall of 2016. Afterward, she asked Miller: If you could do anything at the museum, what would you do? Miller said she wanted to further develop the temple work and then make a work that wouldn't respond to any other art but simply be a piece of art itself. Last spring, Miller was named artist in residence.
"One of my not-so-secret agendas is to change her process, to change her," Tomer says of the program's goals. In particular, "I thought the opportunity to break out of a traditional space would be an interesting challenge to her."
But a big part of the challenge is reconfiguring Miller's reference points, daring her, in a sense, to grapple with history and the highest levels of visual art. Or, as Tomer puts it, one objective was to "see the Met as a place of inspiration…a repository and source of ideas rather than a repository of a bunch of objects." In return, Miller takes what can feel like a static place and fills it with energy and a sense of momentum, helping visitors experience it in new ways.
Over the summer, Miller began shaping Stone Skipping, but when she brought in much of the material she had created in the studio, "it made no sense." She realized that she needed regular access to the temple, so she asked to rehearse on site, which the Met granted once a week during museum hours.
Suddenly, she had an audience, which helped her understand how movement can offer visitors a new layer of meaning to something as imposing as the temple. "I see their physicality change and the amount of time they spend in the space," she says.
The next piece that Miller is creating during her residency addresses the second part of her proposal: to make a work that stands alone, without playing off an existing sculpture, painting or artifact. That work, for eight dancers, is slated to premiere at the end of May and occupy the entire fifth floor of the Met Breuer, the museum's nearby contemporary outpost.
In keeping with Tomer's mission, though, Miller is taking inspiration from an upcoming exhibit called "Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300–Now)." Miller's work will similarly engage with the passage of time, performed without pause throughout museum hours.
"It's going to be grueling," she says. The durational aspect is a nod to one of Miller's heroes, the famed performance artist Marina Abramovíc. "I recognize myself in her approach and her humanity as a woman," Miller says, praising Abramovíc's urgency and risk.
Miller's opportunity to explore that aspect of her own creativity seems to be having precisely the effect Tomer intended. Miller says she feels the residency is "completely changing my approach as an artist," from her definition of performance to the way she considers sites and collaborators.
"I can't be more specific, but I know it's happening. I just need a little more hindsight."
From the minute my journey as a dancer began at age 4, there were no other options of what I might do with my life.
Sure, I tried other "after-school activities." I tried desperately to master The Phantom of the Opera with my squeaky violin rental—a headache for my parents who paid for private Suzuki method lessons at our house. Constantly attempting famous show tunes on my violin, the effort was completely futile. I actually remember thinking, 'Surely this sheet music is wrong, this sounds nothing like the Phantom of the Opera.'
I even tried my hand at gymnastics. But when my mom's brilliant bribery of $100 for my first mastery of a kip or a back handspring didn't produce any results, we quickly threw in the towel.
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.
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."
Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.
But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.
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.
When London-based perfume company The Beautiful Mind Series was looking for a collaborator for their next scent, they skipped the usual celebrity set and brought in prima ballerina Polina Semionova instead. "I was fascinated by what goes on in the mind of a great dancer," perfumer Geza Schoen said in a press release. Semionova's ballet-inspired scent, Precision & Grace, celebrates the intelligence and beauty behind her craft.
Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series
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!
We caught up with Abraham during a recent rehearsal where he revealed what he is tired of hearing in the dance community.
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.
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?
If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.
"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."
I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."
It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.