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.
If you've ever taken class with Kristin Sudeikis you know that she is as much a motivational speaker as she is a choreographer. Her approach to teaching is rooted in the idea that there should be a conversation between the dancer and all the elements that make up the dance: the music, the movement, and most importantly their connection to the other dancers in the room. Same goes for her company members when they are diving into the process of creating work.
We stepped into the studio with Sudeikis and her company to get an inside look at one of their rehearsals and chat with the dancemaker about her process:
Unbeknownst to pedestrians on the street, inside a warehouse at 383 Troutman is one of the most eccentric dance companies in Brooklyn. Company XIV is known for their ostentatious costumes, raunchy choreography and taboo twists on old classics like Snow White and The Nutcracker. From former Limon dancers on trapeze swings to opera-singing pole dancers, this company has talents that, woven together through a familiar storyline, make for an exciting show.
Between rehearsing for the company's upcoming holiday season run of Nutcracker Rouge in their newly-renovated theater and his choreography work for the Metropolitan Opera, we caught up with artistic director Austin McCormick for our latest rendition of In The Studio.
Award-winning choreographer Preeti Vasudevan has been praised for the juxtaposition of traditional and contemporary elements of Bharatanatyam (classical Indian dance) she implements in her work. We ventured to New York Live Arts where Vasudevan will be performing her new work, titled Stories By Hand, later this week.
Preeti Vasudevan "Stories By Hand" photo by Peter Cunningham
So much of Bharatanatyam is story driven. How do you implement that same communication to your audience when you are doing a non-traditional performance?
I think the biggest difference in this project is actually breaking the boundaries of Bharatanatyam to make it accessible. Because with all the gestures we have and the makeup and costumes we put on as well, there's a distancing that goes on. Even in India, not just here. People who know will sort of get it, but generally not too many people know all the fine layers of it unless you're part of the profession. Over here, the idea of also bringing personal stories is to break that wall. People immediately get access to the gestures. I think that's the difference in communication between this project and if I were to do, say, a traditional Bharatanatyam show.
Preeti Vasudevan "Stories By Hand" photo by Peter Cunningham
What are your thoughts on bringing Bharatanatyam off the proscenium stage and onto more commercial platforms?
When it came out of the temple for the proscenium stage it was a statement -- a nationalistic statement at the time of the independence of India. But now it's been more than 70 years and we're still doing the same thing. I have a big problem about the spaces which Bharatanatyam inhabits. I think it affects the way the dancer responds viscerally to her or his own body. The projection of what they do becomes a performance and then their inner narrative goes away.
Stories By Hand runs November 2-4 at New York Live Arts.
Although she constantly pushes the level of risk in her work, Streb Extreme Action Company artistic director Elizabeth Streb surprisingly looks for more than just a passion for physicality when recruiting
dancers action heroes. We went to S.L.A.M (Streb Lab for Action Mechanics) to get an inside look at a rehearsal, and quickly learned that though she may have an addiction to danger, Streb isn't quite as tough as she seems.
A sense of teamwork is really clear amongst your dancers when they are working. How is that something you have tried to instill in your company environment?
You have to be a team in this work or you are in big trouble. It certainly wasn't like that in the beginning. So this was an end game for a very incremental process. I figured out how to have people who love people in the room. It's a very pacific concept but it's a humane concept. And as we went along we realized it's our job to be socially kind and interested in anyone who walks in the room.
Speaking of which, your rehearsals are all open to the public. Is that something you have always been interested in doing?
When we moved from the Canal Street studio to garages in Williamsburg they were all on the ground floor, so we started practicing what it meant to invite the community in and let people who walk by and don't know Streb come in and be interested in watching us. And that's changed my set of questions and has changed who I'd like our public to be.
Photo by Teresa Wood
The level of risk in your work heightens each year. How do you visualize that risk in the beginning stages of a new work?
There's this great quote from Tim Cahill that says "the explorer is the person who is lost," so I don't pretend to know what I'm doing. I have an idea—is it the spinning ladder idea? Is it the high speed windshield idea? In any of those circumstances where we try to create a sense on unfamiliarity in the space, I don't really pre-amp ideas. If I know before I see it then it's happened before.
This week American Ballet Theatre launches its fall season at Lincoln Center with an exciting lineup of performances. One last-minute addition to the program is a new work from Benjamin Millepied, which will be performed by ABT Studio Company and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School dancers in the theater's promenade during select intermissions. Although the specifics of the performance are hush hush, we stepped into the studio with Millepied for an inside look.
What has it been like to choreograph on younger dancers and how, if at all, did you change your approach?
To be honest, they're really good. Rhythmically, it's not easy at all and they've done incredibly well. The piece could be longer. It's really one movement but, for the first time, to use that space it felt right. Nothing says I couldn't add two more movements next season to make it longer.
What are your thoughts on bringing classical ballet outside the proscenium setting?
For me, it's great to think of spaces theatrically. We build sets with lighting and props, but there are also all these environments that are beautiful and theatrical, and with a little bit of work you can create something within them and that becomes site-specific. That's really fun because you create something really specific for the environment.
What would you like to see more of from young ballet dancers?
What I would want to see more of in ballet is just more interesting collaborations. These ballet dancers are great and they're ready and what they need is more interesting work. I feel people are playing it safe a lot. If anything, I think it's the choreographers and the directors who need to make an effort for these dancers who have made this art form their passion, and to really be as daring or at least as relevant as some of our peers were when they were commissioning pieces a long time ago.
With artistic director Andrea Miller as the Metropolitan Museum of Art's artist in residence this year, Gallim Dance will be debuting a new site-specific work exploring the museum's iconic Temple of Dendur October 28-29. We sat down with Miller to get a deeper look into her creative process and the challenges she's faced creating this piece.
What struck you the most about the Temple of Dendur?
I was really affected when I walked into the space where the temple is. It's impressive to see the way that they've placed this 2000-year-old temple so beautifully in a home in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. But it's also striking to understand that instead of a backdrop of the Nile, it's Central Park. So I felt like I became really sensitive that the temple had to go through a transition from being a temple in its home in front of the Nile to becoming an artifact in New York.
This work is extremely physical. What about the temple drove you to create a more abstract piece?
I don't want to be too heavy-handed in a narrative because I think what's really happening is this invisible momentum—something we can't even recognize or understand that's happening to us, or that maybe happened to the temple. As powerful as it is and as loud as it is. I'm trying to keep it more abstract so that it is more felt than told.
How much do you rely on your dancers input when it comes to the creative process?
It's very collaborative. We really depend on each other. We have complimentary roles and I'm most excited when I'm collaborating with my dancers and when we're speaking together about it and they're responding with movement to the ideas that I'm bringing to them. They also tell me from the inside what's working, what's missing.
As the sun beams into the beautiful John Cage & Merce Cunningham studio at the Baryshikov Arts Center, Roy Assaf and his dancers are exploding in the space preparing for their upcoming performance. The fact that Assaf grew up with no formal dance training would come as a surprise to anyone watching this rehearsal. Afterward, we sat down with Assaf to hear about his creative process and the fears he finds himself trying to overcome.