What It's Like to Dance Lucinda Childs to a Chorus of Ducks and Car Traffic
Intermittent quacking issued from the Just Ducky Tours amphibious vehicle floating along the Monongahela River. Revolutionary War–era reenactors recreated historical events at Fort Pitt. Bridge traffic rumbled overhead. This ambient symphony at Pittsburgh's Point State Park accompanied The Blanket as the dancers rehearsed and performed Lucinda Childs: The Early Works, a retrospective of four architectural, pedestrian works choreographed by the award-winning, post-modern dance maven between 1975 and 1978.
The Blanket, a project-by-project driven ensemble established in 2016 by Matt Pardo and Caitlin Scranton, aims to enhance Pittsburgh's modern dance community through reconstructions, commissions and collaborations with noted choreographers. Last weekend's presentation, which included Childs' Radial Courses, Katema, Reclining Rondo and Interior Drama, marked its first major presentation, challenging the dancers to perform the intricate choreography originally set to silence in an ambient, unpredictable soundscape.
"At first, I couldn't hear the rhythmic footsteps of the other dancers. I felt like an individual apart from the group," recalls dancer Eric Lobenberg, who had relied on auditory cues developed in-studio. "After several rehearsals, we began to connect with each other in different ways," adds the Point Park University senior.
Lucinda Childs: The Early Works. Photo by Ben Viatori, Courtesy The Blanket.
In rehearsals, the dancers were taught movement phrases from the four works and issued homework—scores with letters and numbers to decipher and memorize. Reconstructing the patterning with castmates, developing an internal meter and acquiring unity provided additional challenges.
"To the untrained eye, it just looks like walking and skipping," says modern dancer/choreographer Jil Stifel. "But there is a lot to think about." Reclining Rondo, a geometric floorwork, consists of a single repeated phrase but requires extremely slow execution, while the angular Katema calls for shifts in counting as well as "walking backwards in opposite directions." Radial Courses demands exacting attention to spatial alignment and its relentless, rhythmic circular pattern. Pardo and Scranton, both exponents of Childs' works, helped ease these challenges.
Lucinda Childs: The Early Works. Photo by Ben Viatori, Courtesy The Blanket.
The three-week rehearsal period was capped with a session conducted by Childs, en route from receiving the Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award. "She was gracious," says Stifel.
Adds fellow cast member Bianca Melidor, for whom dancing such rhythmically-specific work in silence was a new challenge, "I learned to trust myself."
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:
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.
You know that how you care for your body before curtain can impact your performance. But with so many factors to consider, it can be difficult to nail down an exact routine. How much rest is enough? How close to showtime should you eat? We asked the experts.
How do you make your athleisure collection stand out from the pack? Get the ultimate studio-to-street seal of approval by having dancers star in your campaign, of course.
For his second collaboration with activewear brand Carbon38, ready-to-wear designer Jonathan Simkhai traded in his usual top models like Gigi Hadid and Karlie Kloss for the original Hiplet dancers—and the resulting video is as cool as we'd expect from such a fierce collaboration.
Last week, we highlighted the deliberately, hysterically bad @biscuitballerina Instagram account, created by a then-mysterious dancer with a great sense of humor. This week, the artist behind @biscuitballerina—who turns out to be Royal Ballet of Flanders corps member Shelby Williams—got in touch with us to set the record straight about the intentions of those LOL-worthy posts.
Her photos and videos, with their exaggeratedly cringe-worthy technical flaws, are NOT meant to mock amateur dancers. Instead, Williams is actually hoping the account will help all dancers move past their shortcomings and accept themselves and their dancing.
Everyone knows that training is the cornerstone of a successful career in dance. But as a dance educator, I also take comfort in the fact that high-quality dance training helps shape students into genuinely good people (in addition to creating future artists, which is a wonderful goal in itself.) These are the lessons dance teaches that help make students into better humans:
Improvement Takes Commitment Over Time
In my tap courses at Cal State University, sometimes students are shocked when they can't learn something quickly. In today's world, we're used to getting fast results. You need an answer—Google it. You need to talk to someone—text them. The cooking channel wants your dinner to be easy, the physical trainer wants your workout to be five minutes, Rosetta Stone can have you speaking Mandarin in an hour.
Again and again, dance teaches me that when the filters fall away between people—when the boundaries of geography, religion and politics soften—the beginning and end of our relationships is always human.
In March, I traveled with Keigwin + Company to Cote D'Ivoire, Ethiopia and Tunisia, on a tour sponsored by the US State Department and facilitated by DanceMotion USA/Brooklyn Academy of Music. Our mission was cultural diplomacy: Simply, to share ourselves with diverse communities, to promote common understanding and friendships.
Our last stop was Tunisia. Until that point, we had mostly been learning varieties of traditional African dance, and sharing American modern dance. But Tunisia was different. The dancers already had a solid grasp of contemporary movement invention. Though we didn't speak the same language, we could make movement vocabulary with surprising ease. Everything about our backgrounds was different, but there was this special intersection through dance that seemed to present an open door to collaboration.
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet.
Christopher Wheeldon's new Nutcracker for the Joffrey Ballet was huge news when it premiered last winter. The choreographer shifted the setting from the home of a well-off German family to the Chicago world's fair, making the hero the young daughter of a working-class, Polish immigrant sculptress. This month, WTTW Chicago, the city's public broadcasting station, will premiere Making a New American Nutcracker, a new documentary showing how Wheeldon and his high-profile collaborators made the magic happen. Premieres on WTTW11 and wttw.com/watch on Nov. 16 before appearing on public television stations across the country. Check your local listings.
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.
The business side of dance can often fall second to the art. Contracts, which usually appear after you've done the hard work of securing a job, can seem like an inconsequential afterthought. You might decide to simply sign without reading the terms—or be understandably confused by all the legalese.
Ultimately, though, contracts can play an important part in setting the expectations for your job. A basic understanding of the legal terms you might see can go a long way in making sure that signing is a positive step toward growing your career.