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Crazed Chipmunks & Royal Boxes: Dancers on Their Fave Theaters
For most dancers, walking into the theater elicits a familiar emotion that's somewhere between the reverence of stepping into a chapel and the comfort of coming home. But each venue has its own aura, and can offer that something special that takes your performance to a new level. Six dancers share which theaters have transported them the most.
GLENN ALLEN SIMS
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Glenn Allen Sims in Alvin Ailey's Masekela Langage. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy AAADT
Favorite theater: Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain
Royal details: "The theater is gorgeous and ornate, with deep red upholstery and gold trim. There is a huge royal box in the center, which takes you back to when kings and queens were watching performances there."
Impressive facilities: Even the dressing rooms are a sight to see: Amenities for the dancers include large, carpeted rooms, and towel service.
Spanish history: Sims was fascinated by the history of the theater, which was founded by King Ferdinand VII. "Knowing that I performed at one of the greatest theaters in Europe really holds a warm spot in my heart."
Martha Graham Dance Company
Natasha Diamond-Walker at Teatro Greco Siracusa. Photo by CJ Nye, courtesy Diamond-Walker
Favorite theaters: The Joyce Theater in New York City and the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail, Colorado
City-sized: "The Joyce has a vintage '80s vibe to it, and the backstage space is limited, but that gives it a very signature New York City feel. I love that it's really intimate—I feel like I can relate to the audience because I can see everyone's faces when I'm dancing."
Mountain air and animals: Diamond-Walker recalls performing at the Vail Dance Festival once when a "crazed chipmunk" ran onto the stage. "I love that it's outdoors. The backdrop of the mountains and the natural light that pours in is really beautiful. There is also the altitude issue—they have an oxygen tank on the side of the stage, and it adds a little bit of a dangerous edge to it all."
ALICIA MAE HOLLOWAY
Dance Theatre of Harlem
Alicia Mae Holloway with Nicholas Rose in Dialogues. Photo by Nan Melville, courtesy DTH.
Favorite theater: New York City Center
Proud moment: "Dance Theatre of Harlem performs at City Center every year, and my first year in the company I was injured and couldn't do the performance. I was devastated. But this April, I got to perform Return by our resident choreographer Robert Garland. When I walked on that stage for the first time, I realized that this was exactly what I was working towards all those years of training."
Backstage quirk: "City Center is unique in the way that backstage on stage left is tiny, but backstage on stage right is very open and about the size of a dance studio." For Holloway, having adequate space in the wings eases pre-performance jitters. "I feel more relaxed before a show because it's not the same feeling as when I'm waiting backstage in a tiny wing."
Victoria Hullond (second from right) and Sarasota Ballet at Jacob's Pillow. Photo courtesy Hullond.
Favorite venue: Jacob's Pillow
Peaceful vibe: "It's so different from any other venue. It's kind of out in the middle of nowhere. I found it really peaceful to be able to take class in a barn and walk around outside in between shows to collect my thoughts and refocus. And there's so much dance history there."
Audience appreciation: "In between performances you can hear the audience talking about the show. They have a real appreciation for dance—they all traveled all the way there specifically because they love dance."
Special spot: There's a wall backstage that past dancers have written messages on over the years. "It was fun to read them before the show and find a new one every day to get encouraged before performing. It was comforting to know that we all feel the same way as performers."
Freelance artist specializing in jookin
Lil Buck. Photo by Random Vision Photography, courtesy Lil Buck.
Favorite theater: Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Endless fans: Lil Buck danced in Madonna's The MDNA Tour here in 2012. "The audience was as far back as the eye could see. I stage-dived for the first time!"
Perfectly planned: Madonna's team set up everything beforehand—hair, makeup, food and dressing rooms. "It was perfectly choreographed for the safest routes from the backstage area to where we needed to be on the stage."
Nederlands Dans Theater
Prince Credell in Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot's Stop-Motion. Photo by Rahi Rezvani, courtesy NDT.
Favorite theater: New York City Center
Major nostalgia: When Credell performed at City Center last year, it brought him back to his adolescence at The Ailey School. "During Ailey's 40th-anniversary season gala many years ago, I was able to make a big impression on that stage that inspired the artistic staff to foster my growth from a young age." After spending so many years training to make it to the professional level, performing on that stage felt like coming full circle. "Performing at City Center reminded me how my love of dance has defined so much of my life."
Never did I think I'd see the day when I'd outgrow dance. Sure, I knew my life would have to evolve. In fact, my dance career had already taken me through seasons of being a performer, a choreographer, a business owner and even a dance professor. Evolution was a given. Evolving past dancing for a living, however, was not.
Transitioning from a dance career involved just as much of a process as building one did. But after I overcame the initial identity crisis, I realized that my dance career had helped me develop strengths that could be put to use in other careers. For instance, my work as a dance professor allowed me to discover my knack for connecting with students and helping them with their careers, skills that ultimately opened the door for a pivot into college career services.
Here's how five dance skills can land you a new job—and help you thrive in it:
When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.
"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."
I always knew my ballet career would eventually end. It was implied from the very start that at some point I would be too old and decrepit to take morning ballet class, followed by six hours of intense rehearsals.
What I never imagined was that I would experience a time when I couldn't walk at all.
In rehearsal for Nutcracker in 2013, I slipped while pushing off for a fouetté sauté, instantly rupturing the ACL in my right knee. In that moment my dance life flashed before my eyes.
Last week in a piece I wrote about the drama at English National Ballet, I pointed out that many of the accusations against artistic director Tamara Rojo—screaming at dancers, giving them the silent treatment, taking away roles without explanation—were, unfortunately, pretty standard practice in the ballet world:
If it's a conversation we're going to have, we can't only point the finger at ENB.
The line provoked a pretty strong response. Professional dancers, students and administrators reached out to me, making it clear that it's a conversation they want to have. Several shared their personal stories of experiencing abusive behavior.
Christopher Hampson, artistic director of the Scottish Ballet, wrote his thoughts about the issue on his company's website on Monday:
We all know that companies too often take dancers for granted. When I wrote last week about a few common ways in which dancers are mistreated—routine screaming, humiliation, being pressured to perform injured and be stick-thin—I knew I was only scratching the surface.
So I put out a call to readers asking for your perspective on the most pressing issues that need to be addressed first, and what positive changes we might be able to make to achieve those goals.
The bottom line: Readers agree it's time to hold directors accountable, particularly to make sure that dancers are being paid fairly. But the good news is that change is already happening. Here are some of the most intriguing ideas you shared via comments, email and social media:
With dancer and choreographer credits that cover everything from touring with Beyoncé to music videos and even feature films, Tricia Miranda knows more than a thing or two about what it takes to make it. And aspiring dancers are well aware. We caught up with the commercial dance queen last weekend at the Brooklyn Funk convention, where she taught a ballroom full of dancers classes in hip-hop and dancing for film and video.
How To Land An Agency
"At times with the agencies, they already have someone that looks like you or you're just not ready to work. Look has to do with a lot of it, work ethic and also just the type of person you are. Do you have personality? Do people want to work with you? Because you can be the greatest dancer, but if you're not someone that gives off this energy of wanting to get to know you, then it doesn't matter how dope you are because people want to work with who they want to be around. I learned that by later transitioning into a choreographer because now that I'm hiring people, I want to hire the people that I want to be around for 12 or 14 hours a day.
You also have to understand that class dancers are different from working commercial dancers. A lot of class dancers and what you see in these YouTube videos are people who stand out because they're doing what they want and remixing choreography. They're kind of stars in their own right, which is great for class, but when it comes to a job, you have to do the choreography how it's taught."
Houston's METdance and the Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance have teamed up to commission a new work from Dallas native (and former Dallas Black Dance Theatre artistic director) Bridget L. Moore. The two contemporary companies will take the stage together in Dallas at Moody Performance Hall on March 16 and at Houston's Hobby Center for the Performing Arts on April 13–15. Visit brucewooddance.org and metdance.org for details on the respective engagements.
Onstage, Clifton Brown is a force of nature. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer joined the celebrated company at 19, in 1999. In 2011, he left to dance with Jessica Lang Dance and Lar Lubovitch Dance Company before returning to Ailey last year. Brown has been trying his hand at choreography on the side, but this week his first larger work—a commission from The Washington Ballet artistic director Julie Kent—premieres on a program of new works by choreographers who still perform.
Brown will take a day or two away from the Ailey company's rigorous tour schedule to see TWB dancers perform his Menagerie, danced to Rossini's Duet for Cello and Double Bass in D Major, at Washington, D.C.'s Harman Center for the Arts. We caught up with him last week in Chicago.
Once Adriana Pierce caught the choreography bug as a teenager, dancemaking came naturally. More difficult was navigating the tricky situations that would arise when choreographing on classmates and friends. "If a rehearsal didn't go well, I'd worry that people didn't respect me or didn't like my work," says Pierce, who went on to participate in the School of American Ballet's Student Choreography Workshop twice, at 17 and 18. "I had a lot to learn: how not to take things personally, how to express what I wanted, when to push and when to back off."
Choreographing on your peers can feel intimidating. How can you be a leader in your own rehearsals when you're dancing at the same level the rest of the time? How can you critique your cast without hurting feelings? Avoiding pitfalls takes commitment and care, but the payoff is worth it.
Ever since we heard that Michaela DePrince's memoir, Taking Flight, was going to be a movie, we've been on the edge of our seats waiting for more info. Almost three years later, it's been worth the wait—we just learned that the Queen of Pop herself will be directing DePrince's biopic.
"Michaela's journey resonated with me deeply as both an artist and an activist who understands adversity," Madonna said in a statement. "We have a unique opportunity to shed light on Sierra Leone and let Michaela be the voice for all the orphaned children she grew up beside."