Dancing for Doug
All photos by Kyle Froman
Above: Elkins demonstrates a step. Here: Mark Gindick and Cori Marquis work on a phrase
It’s been a while since Doug Elkins has made a dance without a big story to guide him. In 2006, he affectionately spoofed The Sound of Music with his popular Fräulein Maria, which toured 17 cities over three years. In Mo(or)town/Redux (2012), he used Shakespeare’s Othello as a framework for risky partnering and steps inspired by his b-boying past.
His latest work, Hapless Bizarre, maintains his signature wit—made goofier by new collaborator Mark Gindick, a visitor from the world of clowning and physical comedy—but forgoes any predetermined storyline. At a rehearsal at DANY Studios in New York City, prior to the piece’s February premiere, five of his dancers played around with new material as Elkins nudged the dance in different directions. Siobhan Burke spoke with him after.
What were you working on today?
Transitions. Right now we’re tying loose ends together. If something’s ambiguous, should it stay ambiguous? I don’t necessarily feel the need to resolve everything.
Do you choreograph with a story in mind? It seems like there are a lot of little narratives happening at the same time.
I’m not looking for a linear narrative, but I’m looking at things accumulating, and you build meaning out of that. More of a collage than anything. There are definitely a lot of little stories and premises that bang into each other. Watching those things happen, watching them connect or fail to connect, is interesting for me. Part of the structure is its own failure. That sounds a little esoteric, but the missed opportunities are just as important as when connections are made.
Left top: Kyle Marshall with Mark Gindick. Bottom: Marshall with Deborah Lohse.
What’s an example of that?
Like, someone going to do something and doing it poorly—which isn’t really poorly, it’s just the failure has a different quality.
What are you exploring in this piece that’s new for you?
Well, integrating a range of people. But I tend to always be interested in playing with everyone’s collective corporeality—their movement languages and ideas—and how that either synthesizes or fails to in rehearsal. It’s interesting watching Mark, who’s not a “dancer.” After a while, I don’t even think that’s a special feature. He just becomes part of the community, and he brings his movement palette with him, or a new palette is made out of everyone’s abilities.
But do I feel it’s new? I feel it’s developing in a different way. Part of me wants to satisfy you by saying what I think this piece is about, but I have no real idea yet. That’s fascinating for me, too, because with my last two works, I knew what the vessel of the ideas was. Watching these narratives appear and fade into smoke—it’s more abstract than anything I’ve done in a while.
How do you approach making the actual movement?
If you and I and Mark were making a work, we’d get in a room and just start asking, “What interests you in terms of moving? All right. Teach me a phrase of yours so I can learn the DNA of it. Wow, you like to lead with the joints a lot. You like to spiral forward before you go back.” Or sometimes I ask the dancers to build a phrase with me. “Can you retrograde it in the middle? Now can you use the phrase to go under me when I go up and around? Can our dances dance together?”
You’re known for combining different movement languages very fluidly, like Scottish dance and voguing, or break dancing and Graham technique. What are you working with this time?
New vaudeville. Strange snippets of odd musicals. Cinematic ideas, from silent comedians like Keaton, Chaplin, a French filmmaker named Jacques Tati. And Jackie Chan.
What do you look for in a dancer?
People who are willing to play seriously. Deep play. People who have a very strong tolerance for uncertainty. Like, “Hmmm, I don’t know if that’s right. Hmmm, that looks pretty. But do we want it to be pretty? Pretty’s just one choice.” Sometimes my approach is like, “Mark, come in at the wrong time. Come in after you’re supposed to come in. Amusing. Let’s try that a few more times."
For Hapless Bizarre tour dates, see dougelkinschoreography.com.
Above, clockwise from left: Gindick and Lohse. John Sorensen-Jolink and Cori Marquis. Elkins watches a scene come together.
Have you ever seen a performance and thought, "Wow, this was so good. Dance Magazine should really be writing about this!"? You're in luck.
We're collecting nominations for our annual Readers' Choice feature, and we need your help! We'll compile our favorite nominations, and then you'll vote on what should make it into our December issue. But for now, we want to hear about the most memorable dance you've seen so far in 2017.
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago enters its fifth decade with a new training program designed to propel young professionals toward careers in dance. The Hubbard Street Professional Program (nicknamed "HS Pro") provides a two-year postsecondary alternative to university dance programs.
We've known for a while now that New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck can do anything. She tackles everything in the NYCB rep—from "Emeralds" to Aurora to Justin Peck—with precision and pizzazz. And, we recently found out that she's kinda an amazing tap dancer:
In the '90s, low-fat diets were as popular as boy bands. But by the early 2000s, the high-fat, high-protein Atkins and South Beach diets had people stocking up on steak and eggs. Now, avocado toast is arguably trendier than *NSYNC ever was, and fat is no longer thought of as a naughty f-word.
But there's still some skepticism around how necessary fats are in a well-rounded diet, particularly among dancers. Before you reach for that grass-fed double bacon cheeseburger, make sure you know the difference between rumors and reality.
Throughout the summer, we've been noticing beachside views and scenic waterfalls sprinkled in with all of the usual rehearsal and performance posts we see from ballet's biggest stars. But even while enjoying some sun and relaxation, dancers like Sara Mearns and Michaela DePrince prove that they never really take a break from ballet. Ahead, check out some of the cutest vacay pictures and videos our favorite dancers have been sharing this summer. Not only will they give you some future vacation inspo, they'll also have you itching to get back in the studio.
This fall, the University of Utah's School of Dance welcomes the first class of candidates to its newly reinstated Master of Fine Arts in Ballet program, currently the only ballet-specific MFA in the country. Geared toward those with professional ballet experience, it requires courses in pedagogy, choreography and scholarly inquiry. Melonie Murray, the director of graduate studies, says, "We want to support students in understanding ballet in a deeper way."
The 2017–18 Broadway season is just getting underway! But before we look ahead to new productions, let's recall what came before. Here are a few of the sparkliest shows that opened on the Great White Way in previous Augusts.
42nd Street (1980)
The cast of the 2001 revival of 42nd Street performing at the Tony Awards
If you need an example of traditional Broadway-style tap, this couldn't be any closer. The original production of 42nd Street ran for over eight years. That's a lot of time steps.
When I saw Kele Roberson dancing at New York City Dance Alliance Foundation's college scholarship audition, I only had to watch a deep plié before writing down a 10 out of 10 on his score sheet and scribbling a giant star next to his name. Before he even had a chance to show off his incredible lines, I was mesmerized by his nuanced grace in even the simplest of movements.
He walked away from that audition with NYCDA Foundation's Dance Magazine College Scholarship worth $25,000 to the college of his choice, which happened to be Juilliard, where he was planning to attend this fall.
But shortly after winning, it turns out, his plans changed. I caught up with him earlier today to find out what happened.