Choreographer Ralph Lemon Honored by President Obama
How does it feel to have President Obama bedeck you with a Medal of the Arts?
“It was crazy! The most intense one-day event of my life, by far.” That was choreographer Ralph Lemon’s reaction last week after President Obama hung the National Medal of Arts around his neck. Lemon was honored for his contributions along with other major American artists like Philip Glass, Berry Gordy, Mel Brooks and Audra McDonald.
President Barack Obama awarded the 2015 National Medal of Arts to Ralph Lemon, photo by Cheriss May
During the National Medals of Arts and Humanities Awards Ceremony, the President began with his usual eloquence: “Michelle and I believe that the arts and humanities are reflective of our national soul. They’re central to who we are as Americans: dreamers, storytellers, innovators and visionaries. They’re what helps us make sense of the past, the good and the bad. They’re how we chart a course for the future while leaving something of ourselves for the next generation to learn from.”
These words are so true of Ralph Lemon and his work. The choreographer from Minneapolis dropped the comfort of his own company and traveled to Africa, Asia and the American South to delve into his heritage. In so doing he questioned everything he knew as a dancemaker and asked instead, What does it mean to be an American? And, What does it mean to be a citizen of the world? Over ten years starting in 1997, he created a monumental trilogy of works at Brooklyn Academy of Music: Geography, Tree and Come home Charlie Patton.
In his more recent How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere? (2010), he again threw out everything he knew. The piece was so exhausting for the dancers that the title could just as well have been "What Kind of Dance Do You Make When Life Falls Apart?" (I was blown away by it.)
Not only a choreographer (or, one might say, an anti-choreographer), Lemon has also been central to the current trend of dancing in museums. He’s been so instrumental as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art that they just published a book about him. (He has also created a book of writings and drawings with each work in the trilogy.)
In a quick email a few days after the ceremony, this is what Lemon said about the people he met: “Obama is a prince, beyond his presidential highness! And 90-year-old Brooks is a genius joke machine; every time he opened his mouth something hilarious filled the room. Met Berry Gordy too. I told him his music made my young life a joyful dance. He was remarkably convivial and generous.”
It was a good day for dance and music.
Showing choreography at a major venue in New York City is a goal and milestone for many dance artists. Yet when such an opportunity comes their way, choreographers frequently find themselves scrambling for time and technical resources to give their work that professional shine. What they end up performing may not have the polish they intended. "Far too often artists are arriving at their presenting house and the piece isn't ready," says Adrienne Willis, the executive and artistic director of Lumberyard Contemporary Performing Arts, an organization that helps dance artists develop new work.
Back when Lumberyard was known as the American Dance Institute and operated out of a strip mall in Rockville, Maryland, it pioneered its Incubator program to whip new pieces into shape, kind of like the "out-of-town" tryout model for theater. Several of the artists it supported ultimately brought their shows to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, one of New York City's most prestigious venues, which quickly recognized the positive influence of the Incubator on performances.
Since Thanksgiving is finally here, it's officially time to talk Nutcracker. With countless productions taking place between now and Christmas (and even some through the new year), we've been keeping tabs on Instagram to check in on rehearsals. Whether you're obsessed with all things Sugar Plum Fairy or the snow scene is more your speed, we've got your first look at the holiday classic.
We have a feeling even the Boston Ballet dancing bear couldn't keep up with second soloist Lawrence Rines' tricks in Russian.
For the past 3 years, choreographer Stephen Petronio has been reviving groundbreaking works of postmodern dance through his BLOODLINES project. This season, although his company will be performing a work by Merce Cunningham, his own choreography moves in a more luxurious direction. We stepped into the studio with Petronio and his dancers where they were busy creating a new work, Hardness 10, named for the categorization of diamonds.
'Tis the season to have some fun in the kitchen. If you want to get more creative than simply baking another pumpkin pie, try these Nutcracker-themed treats—created by and for dancers. These recipes from former Boston Ballet and Joffrey Ballet dancers were first published in Dance Magazine's December 1990 issue. Today, they're still guaranteed to turn any holiday party or dressing room into a true Land of the Sweets.
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
Everyone knows that training is the cornerstone of a successful career in dance. But as a dance educator, I also take comfort in the fact that high-quality dance training helps shape students into genuinely good people (in addition to creating future artists, which is a wonderful goal in itself.) These are the lessons dance teaches that help make students into better humans:
Improvement Takes Commitment Over Time
In my tap courses at Cal State University, sometimes students are shocked when they can't learn something quickly. In today's world, we're used to getting fast results. You need an answer—Google it. You need to talk to someone—text them. The cooking channel wants your dinner to be easy, the physical trainer wants your workout to be five minutes, Rosetta Stone can have you speaking Mandarin in an hour.
It's no secret that affording college is a challenge for many students. And for dancers, there are added complications, like the relative lack of merit scholarships that take artistic talent into consideration and the improbability of a stable salary to pay off loans post-graduation. But no matter your budget, a smart approach to the application process can help you focus less on money and more on your training.
According to Drexel University performing arts department head Miriam Giguere, figuring out the kind of financial assistance a school offers is just as important as navigating what kind of dance program you want. Here's how to incorporate finances into your decision-making process:
When dancers get injured, they often think they should eat less. The thought process goes something like, Since I'm not able to move as much as I usually do, I'm not burning enough calories to justify the portions I'm used to.
But the truth is, scaling back your meals could actually be detrimental to your healing process.
With her fearless demeanor onstage, it's easy to see how Washington Ballet apprentice Sarah Steele attracted the keen eye of former American Ballet Theatre stars Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. Promoted mid-season from the studio company by artistic director Kent, Steele was cast by Stiefel as the lead in Frontier, his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, this past spring. For the space-themed piece, Steele donned a black-and-white "space suit" onstage, exhibiting dual qualities of strength and grace. Most evocative about Steele's dancing might be her innate intelligence—she was accepted to Harvard on early admission, and plans to resume her studies there in the future. But first, she'll dance.
Lots of college groups do stepping—a form of body percussion based on slapping, tapping and stomping—but Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to do it. They are currently at New York City's New Victory Theater, presenting The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, a show based on the painting series by Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence about The Great Migration of the 1900s, when millions of African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and traveled by train to the North for a better life. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of the country, and Jacob Lawrence's paintings became famous for their bold color and evocative power.