Breaking the Fourth Wall
Dancers are using new media to get closer to audiences.
Social media maven: NYCB’s Megan Fairchild. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB.
In a world of online over-sharing, it may not come as a surprise that dancers are using visual platforms like Instagram for personal expression. But some are turning to even more intimate forms of media like Viber chats, vlogs and Periscope live streams to give audiences an honest look into their lives. In many cases, social networking is the first step toward attracting fans and marketing their skills.
Helping young dancers is the primary goal of New York City Ballet principal Megan Fairchild’s weekly “Ask Megan” series on the Balancing Pointe podcast, in which she talks about everything from leaving home for the School of American Ballet to how she prepares her pointe shoes. Fairchild also participates in “A Ballerina’s Life,” a live public chat on Viber. Through the app, users can follow a conversation between Fairchild and Sara Mearns, Ashley Bouder and Stella Abrera, among other dancers. “This world is confusing and stressful, and I want to dispel ideas that in dance you’ve got to deal with a life of drama,” she says. “I like letting people see us as regular people—that after a long day we need a glass of wine and talk about stuff other than ballet.”
Barry Kerollis, a former Pacific Northwest Ballet corps member, has a similar goal. His blog, Life of a Freelance Dancer, candidly recounts the ups and downs of his current career as a freelance dancer and choreographer in Philadelphia. Since 2012, he’s penned more than 140 posts on topics such as doing taxes, life on tour and auditioning. Most of his 100,000-plus views have come from dancers themselves. He also has an online video series, “Core-ography,” in which a dancer shares a personal experience on film, and then creates a piece inspired by the story with Kerollis. “Pennsylvania Ballet’s Lauren Fadeley was my first Core-Artist,” says Kerollis. “She talked about suffering from clinical depression. She was nervous to share, but ultimately found it liberating because she didn’t have to hide anymore.” In another episode, a dancer talks about his struggle with drug use. “I hope this series can be helpful to others who may be in similar situations,” he says.
Through these platforms, Kerollis has bolstered his social media following. But he’s seen more tangible benefits, too. The blog gave him a product to show while he was raising money for “Core-ography.” And talking about being a freelance choreographer has actually helped him book more dancemaking gigs—employers can watch videos and familiarize themselves with his work ethic and personality.
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.