Dancers & Companies

Dance/NYC Symposium Gets Down

Stepping into the annual Dance/NYC Symposium last Sunday was an adrenaline rush for dance educators. With a record number of 500 attendees, we were all embracing old friends and respected colleagues. Sprawling out over six studios at the Gibney Dance space on Chambers Street, the all-day affair covered topics from technology to fundraising to diversity initiatives. The glamour event of the day was a simulcast talk between Misty Copeland and Virginia Johnson; the film event was the showing of the Emmy-nominated documentary PS Dance!

Misty Copeland and Virginia Johnson, all photos by Christopher Duggan

Other sessions focused on advocacy work, City Agency Partnerships, and the CUNY Dance Initiative. But the main focus was diversity and inclusion, a central mission of Dance/NYC.

I attended two back-to-back events that I would call serious fun. The serious part was the panel on diversity and inclusion in dance education, and the fun part was Camille A. Brown’s exhilarating master class titled “Journey through Juba and other social dances.” (See this wonderful “Choreography in Focus” with Camille.)

The first was moderated by Camille, who asked the panelists to spread themselves around the room rather than up on a pedestal (as it were). They were Theresa Ruth Howard, Joan Finkelstein, Maria Bauman, Ananya Chatterjea, and Zazel-Chavah O’Garra. Also in the room were dance educators Charmaine Warren, Ron Alexander, Davalois Fearon and many more. The tone ranged from strident to uplifting, but the comments were always stimulating. Some memorable moments:

Ananya Chatterjea speaking

Theresa Ruth Howard: “The small dance studios are feeders to the big companies, but they are not part of the conversation. They are doing the work of diversity, but the big studios get the funding.”

Joan Finkelstein: “From my experience, the dance community is the most diverse of all the arts in NYC.”

Ananya Chatterjea: “There is no support to bridge the gap between studios and the university. The university system collects students of color. The women of color are the bodies of excess.”

Davalois Fearon: “A photo of me was posted on the University of Milwaukee’s website even before I got there. But the training was all about pointed feet and erect spines. It was European-based and everything else was Other. So I said, ‘If you’re gonna put me on your website, you can’t ignore my perspective.’ Then they started to listen.”

Davalois Fearon speaking

 

A disabled dancer: “The groups working to find their place in the diversity agenda are sometimes pitted against each other. We’re the new kids on the block. Dance pedagogy, casting directors etc have the opportunity to enrich the conversation but we’re seen as a problem. We need to talk openly about these ideas.”

A public school teacher: “I don’t need my students to perform at the Joyce. I want them to become responsible, caring citizens.”

Maria Bauman: “We need to undo racism through community organizing, not because dance world is flawed but because we are a microcosm of the community.”

Theresa Ruth Howard: “College should teach the complete dance history. Stop segregating the information.”

Maria Bauman: “I am not always an advocate of diversity. Disabled dancers can get together, black dancers can get together, feeling affirmed and getting together at the same time. Sometimes I just want to dance with my folks.”

Maria Bauman speaking, Charmaine Patricia Warren at left. (I am behind Maria.)

This was a rich discussion with everyone listening to each other and no one shouting down anyone else.

Nevertheless, after hearing these points of view, it was a sweet release to follow the charismatic Camille Brown in a series of shoulder moves, knee-knocking, and clapping with your whole body pitched forward. (For my body, the forward-tipping stance is more comfortable than the held-up spine of ballet.) The drummer kept the momentum up so our energy never flagged. With a positive and encouraging demeanor, Camille showed us basic structures that we could riff off of in our own ways. Her shoulders and hips kept in constant motions while she talked gently about how slave dances evolved. “Find the freedom in oppression.”

 

Get more Dance Magazine.

Kader Attou - Compagnie Accrorap flying high in Attou's The Roots. Photo by João Garcia, Courtesy Richard Kornberg & Associates

The coming weeks see not one, but two companies that can best be described as French cultural mash-ups landing at New York City's Joyce Theater.

Keep reading... Show less
Courtesy India Bolds

It was a Christmas Eve that The Lion King dancer India Bolds will never forget.

Exhausted from a long week of performances, Bolds was clueless when she saw her cast mates randomly dancing in Broadway's Minskoff Theater lobby, and even more confused when they morphed into a choreographed flash mob. But when her boyfriend of four years, Dale Browne, popped up in the mob wearing a beautiful blue suit, she realized what was coming.

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Keep reading... Show less
Geologic Moments in rehearsal. PC Barry Gans

Back in the 80s, Molissa Fenley introduced a luscious, almost Eastern-feeling torque in the body that made her work compelling to watch. Her sculptural shapes and fierce momentum showed a different kind of female strength than we had seen. Now, as part of The Kitchen's series on composer Julius Eastman, Fenley has remounted her 1986 Geologic Moments, the second half of which she had developed with Eastman. The result, which premiered at Brooklyn Academy of Music, is a richly textured piece in both music and dance. (The first half has music by Philip Glass.)

Keep reading... Show less
Laura Halzack shows off her elegance and fire in costume for ...Byzantium. Photo by Jayme Thornton

When Paul Taylor created Beloved Renegade on Laura Halzack in 2008, he gave unequivocal instructions. She was the figure, sometimes referred to as the angel of death, who circles dancer Michael Trusnovec in a compassionate, yet emphatic way.

"He choreographed every single step for me," she says. "He showed it to me—do this développé, reach here, turn here, a very specific idea," she says. His guidance was that she be cool and sweet. Then, she says, "he just let me become her. That's where I really earned Paul's trust."

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers & Companies
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.

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Keep reading... Show less
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

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!