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Double-sided Gem in the Suburbs of DC
Aszure Barton's Awáa. Photo by Kim Williams, courtesy of the Banff Centre.
On a busy, tree-lined street in suburban Rockville, Maryland, an unlikely double-barreled dance organization is making waves. American Dance Institute is both a ballet school and a savvy theater for the coolest contemporary work. By day, its four studios are filled with young people learning ballet, modern, jazz, tap, hip hop; by night its theater presents work by choreographers like Aszure Barton, Crystal Pite, Neil Greenberg and Vicky Shick.
I know this because I just performed there with Vicky Shick over the weekend. Not only was the intimate space perfect for our piece, Everything You See, but we were treated royally by the crew and staff. They gave us tasty, healthy food; exercise mats and rollers; and fluffy towels for showers. A wardrobe person washed and dried our costumes between dress rehearsal and performance.
Although the school’s Nutcracker is performed in the same theater, the parents of the students rarely come to these “postmodern” performances. Which is why, as executive director Adrienne Willis told me, they’ve had to build an audience from scratch.
Hired in 2010, Willis renovated the building, expanded the offerings, and asked Erin and Runqiao Du, former Washington Ballet principals, to direct the school. In that first year, enrollment tripled from 100 to 300. Then she decided to program the theater with dance artists she found engaging. She had studied at Sarah Lawrence College, where the dance department is headed by Sara Rudner (a 2009 Dance Magazine Award recipient). She also asked Dan Hurlin, the director/puppeteer who is on the dance and theater faculty at Sarah Lawrence, to serve as artistic advisor, and Sarah Lawrence theater producer Ruth Moe to be director of the performance series. Between the three of them, their tastes veer away from the mainstream toward the very contemporary.
Above: Students of ADI. Photo by Brianne Bland, courtesy ADI.
As Lisa Traiger pointed out in our April issue, ADI’s National Incubator program gives dance artists a valuable residency with resources of space, technology, and technical crew. Last year the artists included Jane Comfort, Brian Brooks, Doug Elkins and John Jasperse. This year the incubator artists include Ivy Baldwin, Susan Marshall and David Neumann. Other artists being shown include Dorrance Dance, Urban Bush Women, and DC artist Christopher K. Morgan. At the post-performance reception, I asked Traiger, who lives nearby, who the audiences tend to be. “They are a smart, educated audience,” she said, “the same people who go see foreign films.”
ADI has changed the dance landscape in the Capitol district. Last year dance critic Sarah Kaufman wrote in The Washington Post, “For adventurous dance lovers, ADI has become the region’s leading edge of edge.”
A big step in developing audiences was to institute pre-performance talks. Willis wanted her audience to “understand that they didn’t have to understand.” And after the show, the champagne receptions allow audience members to get to know the dance artists. Melanie George, the head of dance at American University, often gives the pre-performance talks. In this case, she did a great job of telling the audience how Shick brings the dancer down from superhero to human scale, preferring intimate details to the grand sweep—and how each audience member sees Everything You See differently.
At the reception for Shick, George enthused about the affiliation AU has with ADI. “ADI brings in artists you won’t see anywhere else in the city,” she told me. She’s especially pleased because many of the artists work directly with her students. They had already taken a class with Shick (and one with me too, as it happens). A couple weeks ago they got to watch rehearsal and have one-on-one time with Jodi Melnick. Coming up are Aszure Barton, Susan Marshall, or Vertigo Dance Company from Israel. (The discount is open to students not only at AU, but also George Washington, University, George Mason, U of MD at College Park, and Georgetown.)
Luckily ADI had, from the start a generous supporter in Solange MacArthur, a former dancer with American Ballet Theatre who passed away in 2012. But that’s only part of it. It’s Willis’ and Moe’s commitment and discerning taste that have made the difference. Their audiences have grown along with them, from only 40 at the beginning to full houses of 120 or 140 these days. And, did I mention, it is a pleasure to perform there.
To check out the schedule this season click here.
Whether playing a saucy soubrette or an imperious swan, Irina Dvorovenko was always a formidable presence on the American Ballet Theatre stage. Since her 2013 retirement at 39, after 16 seasons, she's been bringing that intensity to an acting career in roles ranging from, well, Russian ballerinas to the Soviet-era newcomer she plays in the FX spy series "The Americans."
We caught up with her after tech rehearsal for the Encores! presentation of the musical Grand Hotel, directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes and running March 21–25 at New York City Center. It's another tempestuous ballerina role for Dvorovenko—Elizaveta Grushinskaya, on her seventh farewell tour, resentfully checks into the Berlin hostelry of the title with her entourage, only to fall for a handsome young baron and sing "Bonjour, Amour."
When Andrew Montgomery first saw the Las Vegas hit Le Rêve - The Dream 10 years ago, he knew he had to be a part of the show one day. Eight years later, he auditioned, and made it to the last round of cuts. On his way home, still waiting to hear whether he'd been cast, he was in a motorcycle accident that ended up costing him half his leg.
But Montgomery's story doesn't end the way you might think. Today, he's a cast member of Le Rêve, where he does acrobatics and aerial work, swims (yes, the show takes places in and around a large pool) and dances, all with his prosthetic leg.
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:
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."
Camille A. Brown is on an impressive streak: In October, the Ford Foundation named her an Art of Change fellow. In November, she won an AUDELCO ("Viv") Award for her choreography in the musical Bella: An American Tall Tale. On December 1, her Camille A. Brown & Dancers made its debut at the Kennedy Center, and two days later she was back in New York City to see her choreography in the opening of Broadway's Once on This Island. Weeks later, it was announced that she was choreographing NBC's live television musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, to air on April 1.
An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.
"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."
A flock of polyamorous princes, a chorus of queer dying swans, a dominatrix witch: These are a few of the characters that populate the works of Katy Pyle, who, with her Brooklyn-based company Ballez, has been uprooting ballet's gender conventions since 2011.
Historically, ballet has not allowed for the expression of lesbian, transgender or gender-nonconforming identities. With Ballez, Pyle is reinventing the classical canon on more inclusive terms. Her work stems from a deep love of ballet and, at the same time, a frustration with its limits on acceptable body types and on the stories it traditionally tells.
The latest fitness fad has us literally buzzing. Vibrating tools—and exercise classes—promise added benefits to your typical workout and recovery routine, and they're only growing more popular.
Warning: These good vibrations don't come cheap.
My life is in complete chaos since my dance company disbanded. I have a day job, so money isn't the issue. It's the loss of my world that stings the most. What can I do?
—Lost Career, Washington, DC
Dance Theatre of Harlem is busy preparing for the company's Vision Gala on April 4. The works on the program, which takes place on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., reflect on the legacy of Dr. King and his impact on company founder Arthur Mitchell. Among them is the much-anticipated revival of legendary choreographer Geoffrey Holder's Dougla, which will include live music and dancers from Collage Dance Collective.
We stepped into the studio with Holder's wife Carmen de Lavallade and son Leo Holder to hear what it feels like to keep Holder's legacy alive and what de Lavallade thinks of the recent rise in kids standing up against the government—as she did not too long ago.
The encounter with man-eating female creatures in Jerome Robbins' The Cage never fails to shock audiences. As this tribe of insects initiates the newly-born Novice into their community and prepares her for the attack of the male Intruders, the ballet draws us into a world of survival and instinct.
This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Jerome Robbins' birth, and a number of Robbins programs are celebrating his timeless repertoire. But it especially feels like a prime moment to experience The Cage again. Several companies are performing it: San Francisco Ballet begins performances on March 20, followed by the English National Ballet in April and New York City Ballet in May.
Why it matters: In this time of female empowerment—as women are supporting one another in vocalizing injustices, demanding fair treatment and pay, and advocating for future generations—The Cage's nest of dominant women have new significance.