Dancers & Companies

Dance Magazine Contributors Spill on Their Favorite Dance Moments of 2017

The Museum Workout, PC Paula Lobo

Dance Magazine editors and writers chose their favorite dance happenings of the year:

Liveliest Revival: Merce Cunningham's Sounddance

Ballet de Lorraine in Sounddance. PC Laurent Philippe, Courtesy Richard Kornberg & Associates


When Ballet de Lorraine came to The Joyce Theater in February, the dancers looked transformed—electrified—by the final work on the program. The piece was Merce Cunningham's Sounddance, a tour-de-force from 1975 in which the dancers ricochet about the stage without stopping for 17 minutes. The audience held its breath until it was over. Then in June the Merce Cunningham Trust staged Sounddance in New York City with young dancers from Juilliard, Purchase, Ailey and other programs. The results received a whooping ovation. Almost a decade since Cunningham's death, the work's propulsive power is undimmed. —Marina Harss, writer


Most Versatile Soloist: Aakash Odedra

Aakash Odedra. PC Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow

Aakash Odedra slipped into the Doris Duke Theater at Jacob's Pillow this summer with a solo debut show called Rising, an apt way to describe his career momentum. Odedra is both a virtuosic kathak dancer and a smart curator, as he assembled works by global iconoclasts Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Akram Khan and Russell Maliphant, revealing a protean ability to enter each dancemaker's world. Odedra opened the show with a stripped down kathak piece, showing off his attention to rhythm, shape and the malleability of tradition. To witness his extremely light and un-muscled approach throughout the evening proved an astonishing experience. —Nancy Wozny, writer


Most Powerful Documentary: Bronx Gothic

Bronx Gothic. Courtesy Grasshopper Film

Bronx Gothic, directed by Andrew Rossi and based on Okwui Okpokwasili's performance of the same name, grants the choreographer and performer's audience intimate access into her process, including her family life and the struggles and triumphs of being a mother. The film is a reminder that in order to produce meaningful dance, you have to dig deeper than you might anticipate during the initial planning. There is so much power that drives Okpokwasili's work, and Bronx Gothic lets us see the blood, sweat and tears that go into that. —Kelsey Grills, assistant editor, audience engagement


Most Surprising Performance: Catherine Hurlin in Whipped Cream

Hurlin in Whipped Cream. PC Doug Gifford, Courtesy ABT

In Alexei Ratmansky's fantastical Whipped Cream, American Ballet Theatre's Catherine Hurlin was just as bubbly as the champagne she represented. Until this spring's premiere, the crisp technician was known for her more polite performances, but here she was vivacious, fun, enticing. In a show that's full of visual spectacle, I kept being drawn back to Hurlin's antics. Who knew this corps dancer had such comedic flair? —Madeline Schrock, managing editor


Best Non-Dancing on Broadway: Come From Away, Indecent and Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

Indecent. PC Carol Rosegg, Courtesy Connecticut College

The line separating choreography from musical staging became thinner in 2017. Three musicals put non-dancers front and center and made them look like experts. The actual experts were Kelly Devine, David Dorfman and Sam Pinkleton, expanding Broadway choreography with ordinary moves used in extraordinary ways. Their exuberant dances in Come From Away, Indecent and Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 were utterly distinctive and impossible to extricate from their contexts—a Newfoundland town caught up in the aftermath of 9/11, Jewish actors re-enacting history and a boisterous rendition of War and Peace. —Sylviane Gold, On Broadway columnist


Most Relevant Ballet: Justin Peck's The Times Are Racing

The Times Are Racing. PC Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB

The Times Are Racing is a sneaker ballet in the Robbins tradition with the choreographic inside jokes typical of Justin Peck's work. But it's also wholly contemporary and undeniably reflective of the world we live in now. I loved that the leads were created to be gender neutral, that Peck danced in the original cast and that his duet with Robert Fairchild anchored the ballet. But mostly I loved how recognizable it was as a creative 20-something living in New York City: the anxiety, the friendships, the solidarity, the individuality. —Courtney Escoyne, assistant editor


Zaniest Idea That Totally Worked: Monica Bill Barnes' The Museum Workout

The Museum Workout. PC Paula Lobo, Courtesy Metropolitan Museum

The Museum Workout could have just been a fun gimmick. But Monica Bill Barnes & Company's aerobic journey through the Metropolitan Museum of Art felt not only subversive, but surprisingly poignant. By breaking the rules of expected conduct—doing squats to the Bee Gees while looking at Madame X instead of quietly discussing it with companions—this project made me rethink the whole museum experience, and even wonder what other parts of my life could be improved with some cardio. —Jennifer Stahl, editor in chief


Most Successful Ballet as Theater: Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire. PC Andy Ross, Courtesy Scottish Ballet

The Scottish Ballet's production of A Streetcar Named Desire made its West Coast premiere in Los Angeles in May, and Tennessee Williams' classic play came to life with all the poetry and tragedy that ballet demonstrates in peak form. By collaborating with theater director Nancy Heckler, choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa wove a complex portrait of Blanche Dubois, including her vital backstory. It's an idea for a ballet that could have gone wrong in every way, but instead emerged brilliantly with the luminous Eve Mutso as the ill-fated protagonist. This production, led by women, shed a light on a 20th-century play from a 21st-century feminist perspective. —Joseph Carman, writer


Boldest Site-Specific Performance: Solange's An Ode To

Solange's An Ode To. PC Carys Huws, Courtesy Red Bull Content Pool

Recording artist and indie music world icon Solange's An Ode To in the Guggenheim Museum's rotunda was nothing short of magical. She demanded that we be fully present the moment we entered the room, having all phones checked at the door and requesting that audience members wear white. Solange's own choreography—performed by an army of black women and occasionally by her super-groovy band—at some points felt like an homage to Trisha Brown. But at other moments, she completely let loose, twerking on the floor, sprinting through the audience. It was beyond special to see postmodern dance used by a high-profile artist in a way that made it an essential partner to the music and the experience. —Lauren Wingenroth, assistant editor


Most Exciting Debut: Sarah Lane in Giselle

Lane in Giselle. PC Erin Baiano, Courtesy ABT

Sarah Lane seemingly did the impossible by making a 19th-century ballet feel completely fresh and modern—and during her New York City debut as Giselle, no less. She was technically pristine, with jumps that soared and arabesque lines held until the last second. Her acting was equally impressive: From starry-eyed innocence, as she falls in love with Albrecht, to heart-wrenching devastation when she learns of his engagement and later protects him from the wilis, Lane swept the audience into the story along with her. —Marissa DeSantis, assistant editor

Find out what Dance Magazine readers chose as their favorite performances of the year.

Megan Fairchild in Jerome Robbins' Dances at a Gathering. PC Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB

From the minute my journey as a dancer began at age 4, there were no other options of what I might do with my life.

Sure, I tried other "after-school activities." I tried desperately to master The Phantom of the Opera with my squeaky violin rental—a headache for my parents who paid for private Suzuki method lessons at our house. Constantly attempting famous show tunes on my violin, the effort was completely futile. I actually remember thinking, 'Surely this sheet music is wrong, this sounds nothing like the Phantom of the Opera.'

I even tried my hand at gymnastics. But when my mom's brilliant bribery of $100 for my first mastery of a kip or a back handspring didn't produce any results, we quickly threw in the towel.

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Dancers & Companies
Lopez in Circus Polka. PC Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB

When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."

But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.

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Breaking Stereotypes
Ash in Rochester, NY. PC Thaler Photography by Arleen and Daryl Thaler for the Swan Dreams Project

Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.

"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.

After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.

Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org

In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."

She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."

Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.

Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.

Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."

If you're interested in supporting the project, check out the online shop, or donate directly at swandreamsproject.org.

Training
Sylvie Guillem, via 1843magazine.com

Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.

But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.

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Dance As Activism
Matthew Neenan used images of silencing and control in let mortal tongues awake. Photo by Bill Herbert.

From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.

New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.

A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.

Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.

In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.

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Dancers & Companies
Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series

When London-based perfume company The Beautiful Mind Series was looking for a collaborator for their next scent, they skipped the usual celebrity set and brought in prima ballerina Polina Semionova instead. "I was fascinated by what goes on in the mind of a great dancer," perfumer Geza Schoen said in a press release. Semionova's ballet-inspired scent, Precision & Grace, celebrates the intelligence and beauty behind her craft.

Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series

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In The Studio
Abraham.In.Motion performing "Drive." Photo by Ian Douglas.

The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!

We caught up with Abraham during a recent rehearsal where he revealed what he is tired of hearing in the dance community.

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News
Tero Saarinen's Morphed. Photo by Darya Popova, Courtesy Helene Davis Public Relations

Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.


Rant & Rave
PC Break the Floor

Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?

If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.

"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."

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Dance in Pop Culture
Roberto Bolle and Kenall Jenner on set. Photo via tods.com

I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."

It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.

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