What It's Like to Choreograph a Dance-Only Episode on HBO
Ever wondered what happens in those seedy chain motels attached to airports? In the new HBO anthology series Room 104 Room 104 , created by Mark and Jay Duplass, it's everything from the funny and eccentric to the creepy and absurd.
With no connecting story for its characters, each episode takes place in one motel room. Episode 6 titled "Voyeurs" which airs tonight depicts a housekeeper reconnecting with her younger self in a dialogue-free episode of solely dance.
Dendrie Taylor as Housekeeper and Sarah Hay as Girl, PC: Jordin Althaus/HBO
We caught up with Dayna Hanson, who wrote, directed and choreographed the episode, to get the inside scoop.
How did you get involved with Room 104?
In May 2016 I was invited by executive producer Xan Aranda to imagine a dance-driven episode. I pitched several concepts, each taking a different approach to the integration of dance in a story-based television episode, and they liked "Voyeurs."
What attracted you to this project?
It's not every day that you get to conceptualize something that has never been seen on TV before. The challenges of writing a linear story that uses dance as its expressive language were so appealing. Working with Sarah Hay and Dendrie Taylor was also hugely attractive—both are actors and human beings of terrific depth, talent and intelligence.
How much did you know about the other episodes before filming yours?
Not much! I had very little context other than the conceptual framework of the series. That mystery actually added to the excitement.
Sarah Hay as Girl, PC: Jordin Althaus/HBO
Did knowing this was for a TV series push your work in a different direction than if you had just been making this as a dance film?
Many of the short dance films I've directed in the past have taken a looser or more experimental approach to narrative—or they simply haven't been narrative. In this case, I knew that the script wouldn't have been greenlit if it didn't hold up narratively. During the writing process, there was great discussion about how important it was that this episode function as a story first, then as a dance. That wasn't imposed on me—I agreed. I wanted to create an experience in which the characters on the screen draw the viewer in, and we get wrapped up in them and in their story.
What was the most challenging part?
Time was limited: I had under 25 hours of rehearsal with my actors, total. That included around 10 hours on the stage, which was precious. We added a rehearsal in a motel down the street in Glendale, but even that was of limited value because the room layout and dimensions were different. The stage the only place where we had access to the actual props, beds, spacing and geometry of the room. Limited rehearsals meant that shooting required even more from Sarah and Dendrie, who delivered on a heroic level.
Dendrie Taylor and Sarah Hay with Dayna Hanson on set, PC: Jordin Althaus/HBO
Do you have any favorite moments in the episode?
There are a few moments when the characters connect in a way that really gets me. The currency of the story is visual, not text-based; in some ways it's comparable to silent film. But rather than using the histrionics of silent film we went for subtlety, specificity and authenticity in the actors' performances. I've always found emotional truth in physical detail—this was an amazing opportunity to mine that territory.
As well as being an extraordinary actor, Sarah Hay is an amazing dancer with a professional ballet career under her belt already (a second soloist with the Semperoper Ballet). She's also incredibly open, aesthetically and stylistically. Working with her was a dream, and the solo I set on her is one of my favorite moments of the episode.
What does it mean to you to help put dance on HBO?Such a thrill! We see dance in commercials, music videos, competition dance shows. Occasionally characters in a series will break into a dance moment, but that's a rare; even more rare is a dance-centered series like Flesh and Bone, in which Sarah starred. This is a little different, partly because Room 104 is a little different. The show itself, in taking a fresh look at the old anthology format, is rewriting the terms. This episode upends the show's terms by telling a story in another expressive language. I hope it serves to score one for Team Dance. It would be incredible if this episode could help open doors to new ways of imagining dance on television.
Showing choreography at a major venue in New York City is a goal and milestone for many dance artists. Yet when such an opportunity comes their way, choreographers frequently find themselves scrambling for time and technical resources to give their work that professional shine. What they end up performing may not have the polish they intended. "Far too often artists are arriving at their presenting house and the piece isn't ready," says Adrienne Willis, the executive and artistic director of Lumberyard Contemporary Performing Arts, an organization that helps dance artists develop new work.
Back when Lumberyard was known as the American Dance Institute and operated out of a strip mall in Rockville, Maryland, it pioneered its Incubator program to whip new pieces into shape, kind of like the "out-of-town" tryout model for theater. Several of the artists it supported ultimately brought their shows to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, one of New York City's most prestigious venues, which quickly recognized the positive influence of the Incubator on performances.
Since Thanksgiving is finally here, it's officially time to talk Nutcracker. With countless productions taking place between now and Christmas (and even some through the new year), we've been keeping tabs on Instagram to check in on rehearsals. Whether you're obsessed with all things Sugar Plum Fairy or the snow scene is more your speed, we've got your first look at the holiday classic.
We have a feeling even the Boston Ballet dancing bear couldn't keep up with second soloist Lawrence Rines' tricks in Russian.
For the past 3 years, choreographer Stephen Petronio has been reviving groundbreaking works of postmodern dance through his BLOODLINES project. This season, although his company will be performing a work by Merce Cunningham, his own choreography moves in a more luxurious direction. We stepped into the studio with Petronio and his dancers where they were busy creating a new work, Hardness 10, named for the categorization of diamonds.
'Tis the season to have some fun in the kitchen. If you want to get more creative than simply baking another pumpkin pie, try these Nutcracker-themed treats—created by and for dancers. These recipes from former Boston Ballet and Joffrey Ballet dancers were first published in Dance Magazine's December 1990 issue. Today, they're still guaranteed to turn any holiday party or dressing room into a true Land of the Sweets.
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
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.
It's no secret that affording college is a challenge for many students. And for dancers, there are added complications, like the relative lack of merit scholarships that take artistic talent into consideration and the improbability of a stable salary to pay off loans post-graduation. But no matter your budget, a smart approach to the application process can help you focus less on money and more on your training.
According to Drexel University performing arts department head Miriam Giguere, figuring out the kind of financial assistance a school offers is just as important as navigating what kind of dance program you want. Here's how to incorporate finances into your decision-making process:
When dancers get injured, they often think they should eat less. The thought process goes something like, Since I'm not able to move as much as I usually do, I'm not burning enough calories to justify the portions I'm used to.
But the truth is, scaling back your meals could actually be detrimental to your healing process.
With her fearless demeanor onstage, it's easy to see how Washington Ballet apprentice Sarah Steele attracted the keen eye of former American Ballet Theatre stars Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. Promoted mid-season from the studio company by artistic director Kent, Steele was cast by Stiefel as the lead in Frontier, his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, this past spring. For the space-themed piece, Steele donned a black-and-white "space suit" onstage, exhibiting dual qualities of strength and grace. Most evocative about Steele's dancing might be her innate intelligence—she was accepted to Harvard on early admission, and plans to resume her studies there in the future. But first, she'll dance.
Lots of college groups do stepping—a form of body percussion based on slapping, tapping and stomping—but Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to do it. They are currently at New York City's New Victory Theater, presenting The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, a show based on the painting series by Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence about The Great Migration of the 1900s, when millions of African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and traveled by train to the North for a better life. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of the country, and Jacob Lawrence's paintings became famous for their bold color and evocative power.