In only two years, the Colburn Dance Academy in Los Angeles has surpassed expectations. Directed by former New York City Ballet stars Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette, the Academy has placed grads, either as trainees or full professionals, into Dance Theatre of Harlem, San Francisco Ballet, Boston Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet.
Fayette and Ringer have brought in NYCB stars like Wendy Whelan to give master classes. Just last week current NYCB faves Teresa Reichlen and Tyler Angle visited. Benjamin Millepied, director of L.A. Dance Project and an advisor to Colburn, has also been in to teach, as has Peter Boal, director of Pacific Northwest Ballet. Next year, the students will get the rare opportunity to take class with Helgi Tomasson, visionary director of San Francisco Ballet. Millepied, Boal and Tomasson are also former NYCB principals. It's a way to extend what Fayette calls the “NYCB family.”
Colburn is a boutique school with only 12 students ages 14–19, so they get plenty of attention. As I noted two years ago when the Academy was just a gleam in the eyes of Ringer and Fayette, hopes were high. Fayette now says they have exceeded expectations. This video of Reichlen and Angle teaching class gives an idea of the caliber of the school.
Will the Colburn Dance Academy become the West Coast branch of the School of American Ballet? Established in 1934 by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein, SAB is without a doubt the oldest, most storied, continuously running ballet school in the United States. (Disclosure: I’m an alum, having spent two summers there in the 1960s.) It’s such a cornerstone of American ballet training that Jennifer Dunning wrote a book, But First a School, about its centrality in building a ballet culture in this country. And of course, it was SAB that furnished Balanchine with his amazing dancers.
Now the Academy, which is part of the larger Colburn School, offers excellent Balanchine-style training and mentorship to those who live on the West Coast. Half the students are local, and the other half come from as far away as Georgia and Long Island.
Here’s to taking the legendary SAB training westward.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has been seriously getting into dance lately. But now it's taking its love affair one step further: Gallim Dance director/choreographer Andrea Miller was just named the museum's artist in residence for the 2017-18 season—the first dance artist ever chosen for that distinction!
We caught up with Miller to find out exactly what this means.
Gallim Dance at the Temple of Dendur. Photo by Ani Coller, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
Congratulations on being named artist in residence! How did this come about?
I was offered an opportunity to create a work in progress for a private event at the Temple of Dendur last September. It was a really great experience. I was learning about ancient Egyptian dance and art and music. I got to meet archaeologists and work with the curators and the Met Live Arts team. I think they thought it might be a relationship to develop with a residency.
What did you like about working at the Met?
For a while now I've been enjoying working outside of the proscenium theater. The conversations and the restrictions are different. What you can do, what you can't do. Having new set of variables intrigues me—it pushes my craft further.
What does it mean to you to be the first dance person named artist in residence at the Met?
Dance hasn't always been welcomed into these homes for art, but it makes a lot of sense for a museum to be thinking about dance as art. I'm so happy to be running with my ideas in these halls. They are really open about working with me and thinking really closely with me about what could be possible and letting me direct quite a bit what I'd like to do there.
And what do you plan to do?
First, I'm going to build the Temple of Dendur piece into an evening-length work, to premiere in October. That's called Stone Skipping. It has some scenes about the environment and climate change, thinking about the journey of the temple from the Nile to the museum.
The next piece is going to happen during museum hours, a durational work throughout the day. It's very exciting to me because it's going to completely break with the start-and-stop, beginning-and-end setup of most traditional dance.
One of the things I'm trying to do is think about what is "Met-only" about these works. How am I engaging with the Met and its permanent collections and its architecture, making work that is housed in that space?
But the third work will be treating the dance as its own art. Taking art off the walls, into the gallery space, observing dance in a similar way you do with visual art.
We'll also have open rehearsals and workshops.
What do you think this residency will mean for your company?
I definitely hope that there will be a definitive time before the Met, and after the Met. The imprint of this experience is going to be inextricable from my future creative language and process.
How do you see your aesthetic meshing with the museum's very formal, reverential atmosphere?
I think some of it is gonna fly and some of it is gonna be difficult, and maybe a little controversial. I imagine a lot of it will have to do with the curators of the areas I'm working in, and how they see other elements defining the existing art, and how they interact with each other. My aesthetic is very raw and can sometimes feel wild; there's a sense of abandonment. That's very different from how a lot of art is experienced at the Met. Even if the content has that same level of fierce rawness or extreme expression, that only stays within the canvas—everything else is super controlled. We're taking that out into the space.
I love my BFA program, except for one class where the teacher only has eyes for the men—and even seems to flirt with them in class. The women, myself included, get zero attention, while the guys get loads of personal feedback. I know teachers have favorites, but this seems unfair. How can I stay motivated?
—Sara, New York, NY
Dance class is not a place for flirtation, especially from teachers. I suggest you speak to the director about your concerns. Appropriate behavior between faculty and students is usually spelled out in the school's guidelines. Meanwhile, each of you young women can set your own goals for class, such as focusing on phrasing or musicality, and being your own cheerleaders. You'll have a better class and may even catch your teacher's attention. Remember: Improving in dance is a personal journey. Even if the instructor isn't doing his job, you don't have to give up your power to stay motivated and progress.
Send your questions to Dr. Linda Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After a program of Doug Elkins' works last Saturday, I moderated a post-performance talk with him. This was part of the high-powered Peak Performances series at Montclair State University in New Jersey, in which Doug premiered a film and a new dance and reprised his popular Mo(or)town/Redux. Students from MSU as well as Rutgers, where Doug teaches, were in the new piece, O, round desire.
Doug is a wild one to interview because his mind races all over the place. But he's also terrifically entertaining, so I had the feeling the audience was hanging on his every word—and every impromptu sound effect. Here are a few of his scintillating remarks, lacking exactness due to the fallibility of my memory:
• "Abstract and narrative are not opposites for me. They are on a continuum. It's like a Venn diagram, where you can see the overlap."
• "I swim in many oceans, and I sample from each one."
• "I don't have one train of thought; I have a whole squadron of planes of thought."
Kyle Marshall, Donnell Oakley, Elias Rosa and Cori Marquis in "Mo(or)town/Redux," all dance photos by Marina Levitskaya
• "I am in conversation with every dancer in the room. I work with their corporeal history."
• "When a child steps out of the bathtub and hears a party going on downstairs and he goes there naked to grab a potato chip, he's not being provocative. He's just doing what his senses tell him to do."
Elkins, photo by Christopher Duggan
After the talk, Doug emailed me with two more bits of explanation:
• "I often find myself oscillating or vibrating between causal logic and emotional association. For me, the place where they meet is in movement, in dance. It's why I've always loved Trisha Brown's description of herself as 'a bricklayer with a sense of humor.' "
• "Stories are irrevocably affected by the fallibility of the human mind, its limited perspective, distorted perceptions and the decaying of remembering. I can only offer glimpses of moments of things and let you, the viewer, connect it, causally or otherwise, as you see fit."
Doug also made a sort of confession about his new piece, O, round desire: "That's me as a B-boy having a crush on Trisha Brown."
For more Dougisms, watch his "Choreography in Focus":
On Friday, The New York Times posted an article to its website titled "A Conversation With 3 Choreographers Who Reinvigorated Ballet," a joint interview with Justin Peck, Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky. It's a delightful conversation at first, veering from process to style to musical choices—delightful, that is, until a question about the dearth of female choreographers in classical ballet arose.
Screenshot via nytimes.com
These responses range from sort-of-passable (Peck at least acknowledges the need for systemic changes) to worrisome (Wheeldon's apparent bafflement) to troubling (Nijinska? Seriously?). In a word, problematic.
The issue Roslyn Sulcas raises here is not news. We know that there are far, far fewer women choreographers than men in the ballet world. We know that a small group of white men (who are, to be fair, fantastic choreographers) largely dominates the field in terms of consistent international impact.
Justin Peck. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy San Francisco Ballet.
In fact, it's slightly absurd that in 2017, we feel it's cause for celebration when Cincinnati Ballet programs a season equally split between works by men and women, or when New York City Ballet commissions two works by women choreographers for their fall gala for a second year in a row. Even allowing for the reality that the comments from Peck, Wheeldon and Ratmansky are from an excerpted, edited interview in which printing space is at a premium, even allowing that it was a relatively informal conversation, even allowing that it is an extremely complex issue—even then, these three men could, and should, have done better.
Earlier today, Luke Jennings, who writes on dance for The Guardian and The New Yorker, tweeted this response:
Screenshot via Twitter.
And with that, Twitter went mad. NYT chief dance critic Alastair Macaulay laid out a seven point rebuttal critiquing Jenning's response, then parlayed with Jennings on several of the points. Other NYT dance writers also chimed in, as did notable critics from other publications and a number of Dance Magazine contributors. The threads quickly became sprawling.
Christopher Wheeldon in rehearsal. Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet
Meanwhile on Instagram, a flurry of heated comments resulted from NYT and DM contributor Siobhan Burke posting an image of the three responses in question. Choreographer Annie-B Parson simply chimed in with, "Haha. I can speak to this #erasure #beenthere."
Obviously, this is a far, far more complex problem than can be fully discussed in a 140 character tweet or a sharply worded comment on Instagram, or even in an interview like the one that launched this entire conversation. And that's just the thing: We need more conversation, we need more collaborative effort, and we need to stop shrugging and pointing to dance history as though one Bronislava Nijinska makes up for all of the other voices we might still be missing in the ballet world today without systemic change. It's happening—however slowly—and we'd much prefer it if the men who are currently dominating the field can take a step back, acknowledge the power they have and use it to move the conversation forward.
So a message for Peck, Wheeldon and Ratmansky: We love your work. Now do better.
UDPATE (Apr. 25): Alexei Ratmansky shared this post on Facebook, giving more context to the question. He also calls for deeper conversation on the topic.
Screenshot via Facebook.
Growing up, I was an artist, always drawing. It was my escape into a world full of color and light, using my brain in a creative way no matter where I was. But I always looked up to performers like Tina Turner, Madonna and Michael Jackson, and I loved playing around with cousins and performing. I remember my aunt once catching us pretending we were in a band (I was one of the leads, of course).
One day in middle school, in my homeroom class (which was in the dance studio, weirdly enough), I was dancing and the instructor asked if I would come by later and try out some movements. She invited me into the school's magnet performing arts program. From that point on, I was hooked!
In my freshman year of college at New World School of the Arts, my Graham teacher, Peter London, showed the class a video with three ballets: Errand into the Maze, Night Journey and Diversion of Angels. I fell in love with the physicality, beautiful costumes and sets, and drama.
Photo by Brigid Pierce
I continue to love Graham's choreography because it speaks to me in a way no other dance form has, portraying real human emotions in a very smart technique. I still pinch myself when I think of all the opportunities I've had, and biggest of all being made a principal at the Martha Graham Dance Company.
Dance has always been an outlet for me. When I'm frustrated, I know that by taking a class or just dancing by myself in a studio, I can release energy and be a little more at peace. I believe dancers are the strongest people, and for some reason so undervalued, but we continue to prove time and time again that when we put our mind to something, we can do anything.
I had a whole year where I was sidelined with a herniated disc. It was awful to know I couldn't go to class or rehearsal and experience something I loved beyond words. But I always believed in my body and worked to give it the tools it was missing, and eventually came back stronger.
Photo by Hibbard Nash
Dance is humbling in the way that it always brings you down to earth with what you can do, cannot do and have the potential to do. Nothing for me is better than knowing that I can escape into a realm, and take someone watching to somewhere else.
So many times after dancing, I've gone offstage shocked, because I was on a high that could never really be taught. But I would always remember it as an explanation of why I dance.
To The Dancer Who Hates Herself:
I see you. I know who you are. If you think you are hiding your self-loathing, you are deceiving only yourself. It is time to stop. Whatever baggage you are carrying around, whoever told you that you weren't worthy once upon a time or is still telling you that now—let those voices go.
You're not alone in this. On bad days when you look in the mirror and feel insecure and invisible and not enough, remember that other dancers have those days, too.
It's so easy to criticize one's self. Be braver than that. Be brave enough to love yourself. Tiny acts of forgiveness will add up to something beautiful and redemptive. If you don't know how to start, start the way you would start falling in love with anyone: slowly and patiently, with curiosity and infinite tenderness.
Don't be seduced by the feeling that berating yourself makes you a better artist. I know you are trying to protect yourself by saying self-judgmental things so that it won't sting if others do. But putting yourself down will not endear you to the people in the front of the studio. Habitual self-criticism is limiting and distracting and unproductive. It keeps you mired in small thinking.
Habitual self-criticism is unproductive. Photo by Matthew Murphy for Pointe
Be mindful of the feelings you choose to cling to. A well-rounded artist who experiences the full spectrum of emotions and transforms them into dance is going to give deeper performances than the one who chooses only to suffer. Yes, feel all your valid varied and true feelings. But don't give greater weight to the bad ones. Happiness is a choice and a practice. The struggling artist trope may seem alluring but it is ultimately a mask that gets in the way of the work. You can make art with joy, too.
Don't define yourself by what you can't do. Yes, work on your weaknesses, but work on your strengths more. Whatever is special about you, grab hold of that thing and own it.
Shine your shine.
Try adopting the aura of confidence that certain special dancers have. Imagine how you think they feel at their best, form a soul memory of that feeling. What people see is what you project, so project who you want to be.
Adopt an aura of confidence: The Bolshoi's Maria Vinogradova, photographed by Quinn Wharton.
And if people want to love you, let them love you! Take that compliment and run and don't look back. Accept that love into your entire being and let that crack in you heal a little bit.
How you should be, want to be, could be—these are illusions and it is not fulfilling to dwell on them. Get out of your head and into your body. Work so hard you don't have time to judge yourself. Do your best then let it go, and don't attach labels to the outcome.
Dance is only ever a process. A big opening night, an injury, a failed audition—these are but moments. You will never fully understand the trajectory of your career until you view it from afar, years down the road, and realize everything was falling into place, maybe not how you expected, but exactly as it beautifully, imperfectly should.
Work so hard you don't have time to judge yourself. Photo by Quinn Wharton
Progress can be achingly slow. But trust me, one day you'll look back on the years of struggle that felt hopeless. The months that you never saw improvement. Improvement is a shadowy friend: You can never see it right in front of your face, it's only looking back that you realize it was there all along.
There won't be a day when we won't let ourselves down in some tiny or profound way. But you have to love and forgive yourself anyway, even when you are all scraped knees and stumbles, messy hair and missed rehearsals. There is nothing shameful about showing up and being vulnerable and falling on your face. Shame is in closing yourself up and trying to be perfect when all you can ever be is you.
You'll never have a different body, or different training, or get to take back the choices you've already made. Your work is to love this fleeting, glorious career fiercely, to value your place in it and cherish the body that lets you do it. There is no one to prove anything to unless you can be content in your own skin.
Here's what I think. Your self-hatred is just an excuse to not be as bright as you are. But you are better than the fear you have grown used to. Loving yourself takes guts. It is revolutionary. It is worth it.
Let yourself shine.
"Start with less." Those are the first words that Keren Lurie Pardes says as she guides her fellow dancers through a pre-rehearsal class in New York City. They have recently arrived to make their debut at The Joyce Theater as members of L-E-V, the small, intriguing company founded in 2013 by Israeli artists Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar. Eyal is a former star dancer and choreographer-in-residence at Israel's renowned Batsheva Dance Company, and Behar is a former party producer.
Keren Lurie Pardes with Mariko Kakizaki. Photo by Jim Lafferty.
In class, the six dancers start to respond to internal impulses; Eyal joins them, exemplifying the lush articulation of Gaga, the movement language developed by her longtime mentor, Ohad Naharin.
Sharon Eyal and Shamel Pitts. Photo by Jim LaffertyThe instruction by Pardes echoes an ethos of L-E-V's work. Over coffee before class, Eyal reflected on what she looks for in movement. "Never extra stuff," she said. "Do less." But doing less should not be mistaken for being quiet or minimal—L-E-V is anything but. It's dark and sexy and uninhibited and strange, qualities that have defined Eyal's work since she began creating for Batsheva and other top companies, such as Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, NDT II and Carte Blanche.
With its hypnotic dancers, raw movement and evocative music by longtime collaborator Ori Lichtik, L-E-V has quickly become an in-demand company with nonstop global touring and producers from prestigious venues in half a dozen countries lining up in support.
The international presence fits well for a company without a home. Though Eyal and Behar are based in Tel Aviv, their dancers, who hail from Israel, Sweden, Canada, Guadeloupe, Japan and the United States, are widely dispersed. "We're based in the world," Eyal says. The company rehearses in local studios before performances on tour, and creates work during extended residencies in various locations, such as Canada's Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.
In the New York studio, L-E-V is rehearsing OCD Love, a shadowy, sensual work that is the first creation by Eyal and Behar for their own company. (Lev means "heart" in Hebrew, and much of Eyal's work is a celebration and deconstruction of relationships and community.)
Kakizaki. Photo by Jim Lafferty
Mariko Kakizaki begins with a slow but vigorous solo, her muscles trembling with tension and her face contorted in something between ecstasy and fear.
Then Darren Devaney enters slowly, strumming an imaginary mandolin with a detached stare. Neither holds back any energy or emotion, which Eyal notes with approval as she follows them across the studio nodding, and quietly giving notes to her assistant. Behar films the dancers on his phone.
Darren Devaney. Photo by Jim Lafferty
Eyal says she looks for dancers who are "precise and pure and technically extreme" but also, "I really love individuals and emotions and people giving something above the choreography." What's remarkable about the troupe, most of whom were members of Batsheva or the Batsheva Ensemble, is how effortlessly they project a cohesive collective while each maintaining a captivating sense of self. During the rehearsal, they all watch intensely, transfixed by their colleagues. "I love you people," Eyal says during a rare calm moment in the run-through.
The close-knit nature of the group aside, such rapid success comes with an inevitable learning curve. But Eyal and Behar prefer not to dwell on the day-to-day challenges of running a company. "You just need to be strong, to believe in yourself," says Behar. "The most basic clichés are true." Having already realized their dream to create their own work, on their own dancers, in their own way, the founders of L-E-V are just excited to dive deeper.
The new dream? "To continue to do what we love," says Eyal. Next up: a continued exploration of some of OCD Love's themes and style, called Love Chapter 2
For artists working outside of cities with well-established arts scenes, the lack of a creative community can be disheartening. To combat that, Knoxville, Tennessee–based dancer-choreographer Harper Addison founded The Iteration Project, an online platform through which artists from anywhere in the world can connect, experiment and converse. The structure is simple: Every Monday, TIP sends a prompt via email and invites dancers, musicians and writers to share their responses on social media via #theiterationproject. The prompts are usually simple words or phrases—"15 Ways to Say Hello," "Walking" and "Hungry, Alone and Together" are a few. The project also hosts TIP Jams, inviting artists to meet in person to explore the most recent prompt together and forge stronger local arts communities. Get in on the action at theiterationproject.org.