Magazine

Curtain Up

The new Ailey repertoire is going to knock your socks off. In a recent rehearsal of Aszure Barton’s new piece, I was blown away by the searing, pulsing vitality of it. The company is also taking on Wayne McGregor’s hyperactive, strangely clinical, kinetically powerful Chroma. Plus there’s Bill T. Jones’ hard-driving, exhilarating D-Man in the Waters. These three works are technically confounding for dancers—and will bring the audience at Ailey’s City Center season up to the minute in currency.

Our cover story reveals Ailey artistic director Robert Battle’s thinking behind his choices, as well as the challenges that two of his most stunning dancers, Jamar Roberts and Rachael McLaren, face with these new works. In Kina Poon’s “The New Ailey,” you’ll get a sense of how much the company has changed, and yet how much the Ailey spirit has remained an anchor.

On the other side of the dance universe, I got to see the legendary Lyudmila Kovaleva teach class at the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg last June. Apparently, Kovaleva still, to this day, coaches her former student Diana Vishneva on certain roles. That gave me the idea to ask Vishneva, as well as other top dancers, about their favorite teachers, the ones who really made a difference. Read “They Taught Me To...” to learn who Ashley Bouder, Kathleen Breen Combes, Desmond Richardson, and Jason Samuels Smith cherish as the mentors who changed their lives.

 

Right: Rachel McLaren and Jamar Roberts in Barton's LIFT. By Jayme Thornton

While I watched class and rehearsals at the old Mariinsky theater, I was surprised to encounter a British dancer. I had no idea that Xander Parish had left The Royal Ballet and joined the Mariinsky. He guided me from one studio to another, and I soon realized that his story could be told quite nicely in a “Why I Dance”—which appears on our back page this month.

Lastly, this is my final “Curtain Up” because I have transitioned into a role as editor at large. As you will see in “DM Recommends,” a book of my writings has just come out, and it has opened up some new opportunities for me. I am leaving the magazine in good hands, those of the very capable Jennifer Stahl. I have enjoyed working on Dance Magazine immensely.

 

Wendy Perron, Editor in Chief

wendyperron@dancemedia.com

dancemagazine.com/blogs/wendy

twitter.com/wperrondancemag

Photo by Theo Kossenas, courtesy The Washington Ballet

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.

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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.

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Still from La Folía. Shot by Olivia Kimmel, Courtesy Adam Grannick

As we approach Thanksgiving, there's much to be grateful for. Perhaps one of the most important things on your list is dance. Whether you're a full-time company member, an aspiring professional, an audience member, or you simply delight in dancing in your daydreams, this art form is a creative escape.

That's not to say that being a dancer is easy: Pursuing such a competitive career can be heartbreaking, especially when you're faced with rejection.

La Folía, a short dance film by director Adam Grannick that was recently released online, echoes these sentiments in under 12 minutes.

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Pixabay

It took two years of intense nutrition counseling and psychotherapy to pull me out of being anorexic. My problem now is that I've gained too much weight from eating normally. Is there no middle ground? I can't fit into my clothes, but I don't want to go back to being sick.

—Former Anorexic, Weston, CT

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Health & Body
LINES dancer Courtney Henry. Photo by Quinn Wharton

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.

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Training
Laurel Jenkins, Photo by Vincent Beaume

Efficient movement is easy to recognize—we all know when we see a dancer whose every action seems essential and unmannered. Understanding how to create this effect, however, is far more elusive. From a practical perspective, dancing with efficiency helps you to conserve your energy and minimize wear and tear on the body; from an artistic point of view, it allows you to make big impressions out of little moments, and lasting memories for those watching.

So much struggle and determination goes into your training that it can be difficult for early-career dancers to recalibrate their priorities toward simplicity and ease, says Laurel Jenkins, freelance performer and Trisha Brown Dance Company staging artist. "Your aesthetic might shift, and you might have to find new things beautiful." Mastering the art of effortless movement requires a new perspective and a smart strategy—on- and offstage.

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Dancers & Companies
Photo by Johan Persson, Courtesy ROH

Whatever your feelings about Wayne McGregor's heady, hyper-physical choreography, we can all probably agree on one thing: We'd really, really love to pick his brain. And tomorrow, Dance Umbrella, a UK-based dance festival, is giving everyone the chance to do exactly that.

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Dancers & Companies
Nisian Hughes

"Women are often presented as soft, fragile little creatures in ballet," says Léonore Baulac. "We're not." The Paris Opéra Ballet's newest female étoile is discussing her unease at some of the 19th-century narratives she portrays. "It was real acting," she says with a laugh of La Sylphide. "James kills her by taking away her wings, yet she tells him not to worry and goes to die elsewhere onstage!"

Sitting in the canteen of the Palais Garnier, Baulac embodies some of ballet's contradictions in the 21st century. With her fair curls and dainty features, she could easily pass for a little girl's fantasy princess. As Juliet, she exuded a girlish ardor that felt entirely natural; her reservations notwithstanding, her Sylphide was committed and carefully Romantic in style.

Yet the 27-year-old is no ingénue. At Garnier that day, her sweater reads "I can't believe I still have to protest this s**t," a feminist slogan; last winter, Baulac proudly wore it over a Kitri tutu on Instagram. And her repertoire is as thoroughly modern as she is offstage. A versatile performer even by Parisian standards, she is equally at home in Nutcracker as she is in the works of Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.

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Dancers & Companies

You know Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo as the men who parody your favorite ballet variations—and make it look good. But there's more to the iconic troupe than meets the eye.

A new documentary, Rebels on Pointe, goes behind the scenes of the company, and it's full of juicy tidbits about what it's like to be a Trock. These were some of our favorite moments:

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Breaking Stereotypes
AXIS's Lani Dickinson and James Bowen. Photo by Matt Evearitt, courtesy AXIS

After 30 years of pioneering work in physically integrated dance, AXIS Dance Company co-founder Judith Smith has announced plans to retire from the Oakland, California, company. Throughout her tenure, she strived to get equal recognition for integrated dance and disabled dancers, commissioning work from high-profile choreographers like Bill T. Jones. Her efforts generated huge momentum for expanded training, choreography, education and advocacy for dancers with disabilities.

By phone from her home in Oakland, Smith reflected on how far the field has evolved since the early days of AXIS, and what's yet to be done.

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