A former dancer with Milwaukee Ballet Company, Candice Thompson received her MFA in literary nonfiction from Columbia University. She is a co-founder of DIYdancer, and currently based in Atlanta, GA.
This past spring, Atlanta gave birth to a brand-new dance company: Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre. Embracing a do-it-yourself spirit in a city fond of entrepreneurship, its five founding members created Terminus following last year's leadership change at their former home, Atlanta Ballet.
When John McFall announced that he would retire from Atlanta Ballet at the end of the 2015–16 season, after 21 years, a search for the next artistic director began. The search committee included prominent dancers Tara Lee, Christian Clark, Heath Gill and Rachel Van Buskirk. On the short list was John Welker, McFall's protégé and a veteran company member. Welker had founded and spent several years producing Wabi Sabi, Atlanta Ballet's summer company, and the four dancers felt that he would be the ideal choice. When the board named Gennadi Nedvigin the new artistic director instead, Welker chose to retire and focus on finishing his degree at Kennesaw State University while the other four began to mull over a plan B. "We felt a drastic pivot in process and culture," says Welker. "We were also all at a point in our careers where we were recognizing time was short. So we asked ourselves, 'What do we want? How do we make this a positive thing?' "
Whether you've just started on the circuit or you're already the proud owner of several medals, dance competitions can be nerve-wracking. How can you make the most of the experience? Three former comp kids who've gone on to find major success in their careers shared their top tips.
By itself, a competition trophy won't really prepare you for professional life. Sometimes it is not even a plus. "Some directors are afraid that a kid who wins a lot of medals will come to their company with too many expectations," says Youth America Grand Prix artistic director Larissa Saveliev. "Directors want to mold young dancers to fit their company."
More valuable than taking home a title from a competition is the exposure you can get and the connections you can make while you're there. But how can you take advantage of the opportunity?
At Cincinnati Ballet, the 2017–18 season boasts that 8 out of the 15 company productions are from female choreographers. For the past five seasons, Cincinnati Ballet had devoted one program a year to works by women, which allowed for a directed conversation about the need for female voices. "People always responded strongly to that series, so I thought, Why am I sequestering them?" says artistic director Victoria Morgan. "We have enough feistiness to respond to the conversations that are happening, not only in our community but across the country, about the lack of women in leadership."
Go into almost any dance studio, and you'll find students anxiously trying to stretch their feet. They'll force their body's weight over their toes, or ask a friend to sit on their arches. But stretching your feet might not actually be the most effective strategy to improve your line.
"Stretching is a strategy to go after a tight muscle," explains Mandy Blackmon, a physical therapist for Atlanta Ballet. "But a better-looking foot is not just a range-of-motion issue. What most dancers are after when they want 'better feet' is more about strength and support of the bony structure."
While David Hallberg was recovering from Achilles tendinopathy, one of the treatments that the Australian Ballet rehab team gave him was a stair running exercise. "This is an exercise David needs to continue to do forever, every day," says AB's principal physiotherapist Sue Mayes.
The basic idea is to run up and down flights of stairs to the beat of a metronome in order to monitor and challenge the intensity and volume of loading on the Achilles tendon. The exercise simultaneously strengthens the tendon and provides a cardiovascular workout.
Back in 2002, dancer and choreographer Jonah Bokaer founded an art space in Brooklyn called Chez Bushwick. As Manhattan and Brooklyn were quickly becoming unaffordable, and many studio spaces were closing, Bokaer seized upon "creative placemaking"—the idea that the arts can play an integral role in community-building—before it became a buzzword. "We have been sustaining and maintaining one of the most affordable dance studios in New York State since the very beginning of my career," he says.
Fifteen years later, the challenges for choreographers in expensive urban centers continue unabated, and Bokaer has found his original mission magnified. While Chez Bushwick remains a haven for the next generation, there is also a growing number of young dancemakers who have been inspired to create their own residencies, communities and, ultimately, opportunities.
David Hallberg almost quit dancing two years ago. The international ballet star, whose talent and drive had made him the first American to join the Bolshoi Ballet as a principal dancer, was struggling after a 2014 ankle surgery to repair a frayed deltoid ligament. A resulting mass of scar tissue ultimately required a second surgery. Impingements and Achilles tendinopathy hounded him, making it nearly impossible to plié, as he pushed to get back into the studio.
Meanwhile, he was fielding promising offers to direct companies and curate festivals. Unsure of himself, the American Ballet Theatre principal sought advice from ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie: Was it time to retire and move on to a leadership role, or was it worth giving his recovery another shot?