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At Dance Theatre of Harlem's Summer Intensive, Pink Tights Aren't Mandatory
Toasted almond, caramel, nutmeg and mocha aren't craft ice creams or flavored coffees. They're among the choices in colored tights at the boutique in Dance Theatre of Harlem's headquarters in upper Manhattan.
And for Tru Annafi, an 11-year-old first-timer at the DTH summer intensive, those brown hues matter. At her former summer program, in Chicago, "I was the only African American, and they made us wear pink tights," she says. Chloe Edwards understands. A 13-year-old from suburban New York, she points out that the skin-toned tights "help you keep your line. In ballet, line is so important."
Working on line at DTH's summer intensive. Photo by Joseph Rodman, courtesy DTH
The impromptu discussion, which includes two other 2017 summer intensive students, Patrick Jefferson, 18, and Sherwayne Carter, 16, is convened by DTH's resident choreographer, Robert Garland, who also heads the company's school. The students are among the 118 dancers in the four-week intermediate-advanced session. Their day began with a 9 am technique class, and Garland has pulled them out of their afternoon stretch-and-strength class for the benefit of a reporter.
Elsewhere, students are doing West African and hip hop, part of a typical day's schedule along with pointe, contemporary, men's classes and others. At lunchtime, they'd listened to former DTH dancer Anjali Austin discuss the company's historic 1988 Russia tour at one of the intensive's "Lemonade on the Terrace" talks with professionals.
Garland and DTH's artistic director, Virginia Johnson, both underscore the importance of the curriculum's historical elements. Students take classes that cover the history of ballet and, in particular, the history of black dancers in ballet. They watch videos of DTH's groundbreaking prima ballerinas as well as Margot Fonteyn.
Photo by Joseph Rodman, courtesy DTH
"History is just so important for children from the African-American community," says Garland, and Annafi's on board with that. "We talked about all the African-American Firebirds that came before Misty," she says, "and I was really surprised. Nobody ever talked about them."
Everybody does talk about Misty Copeland, and the visibility she has given ballet in the black community and elsewhere (especially in light of DTH's absence from the stage between 2004 and 2012, which left a generation of young dancers without role models). Garland, who's choreographed on Copeland, credits her celebrity for inspiring increased summer enrollment, which includes students from 31 states and three countries.
"What's different," he believes, "is that it's a much more well-defined idea in the African-American community that this art form called ballet is open to them."
Johnson also recognizes the "genuine interest" in ballet among young dancers of color, and credits Copeland with helping to dispel the "antique" stereotype of ballerinas as remote and untouchable. But the sea change she sees beginning is "only partly the Misty effect," she points out. "Boards of directors are saying, 'We need to reflect our audiences, and our audiences need to reflect our country.' " That puts pressure on artistic directors to seek out African-American dancers.
DTH students train in a variety of techniques. Photo by Joseph Rodman, courtesy DTH.
But, she adds, economics exert pressure in the other direction: "We're still a very specialized art form in a crazy world. Are there going to be companies for them to go to after they spend so much time preparing?" Offsetting that, she says DTH's summer programs are designed to make participants "better, stronger individuals" as well as better artists. "We have a distinctive program—the nurturing quality is part of its value."
The students appear to recognize it. Edwards, who's been training at DTH since she was 4, says, "DTH is like my second home." It's by design, says Garland. "We really want the kids to feel that once they've come to a Dance Theatre of Harlem summer intensive, this will always be a home."
The theme pops up again when Bethania Gomes, a former DTH dancer who's been teaching at the summer sessions since 2014, talks about her methods. "I don't just go to the studio to teach steps and technique. I also see the students as children who might be having a bad day, or a bad month. We take care of them as a whole, not just as ballet students." But in her intermediate-level class, there's no coddling. "That's diving, not penché," she tells one. "Show your face," she orders another.
The students welcome the rigor: Carter has attended the intensive twice, and he's back because "they're really specific on details, and that's what I need."
DTH students. Photo by Joseph Rodman, courtesy DTH
But the seriousness is accompanied by a light mood, apparent when Gomes corrects a girl's hip placement by saying, "Squeeze the boum-boum." The Brazilian-born teacher, having used her native slang for rear end, adds, "You're learning a little Portuguese!"
After Nya Bowman's modern class, Sam Ogunde, 16, thanks her effusively for introducing him to Graham technique. Away from home for the first time, he chose DTH because he hopes to go to college in New York, then get into a company there. "I wanted to get the feel of the city," he explains. Later, back home near Philadelphia, he credits his DTH summer not just with improving his technique but with teaching him all about the subways on weekend excursions with his dorm mates.
Jefferson, Edwards, Carter and Annafi all see professional careers ahead as well, with dream destinations that include DTH and "a big, city ballet company." Their classes are sprinkled with white, Asian and Hispanic students, but Garland says there's no special push for diversity. "We take it as it comes," he notes.
Diversity was a goal for Jefferson, from Baton Rouge: "I wanted to be around more people of color. My studio has people of color, but not that many." He also wanted instruction from more men. "At my studio, we don't have any male teachers," he says. Edwards, Annafi and Carter agree with Jefferson that it helps being in an environment where so many people look like them. And it's more than just the tights. "Everyone," Edwards observes, "embraces everybody else's culture."
Sarah Haarmann stands out without trying to. There is a precision and lack of affectation in her dancing that is very Merce Cunningham. Her movement quality is sharp and clear; her stage presence utterly focused. It's no wonder she caught Mark Morris' eye. Even though she still considers herself "very much the new girl" at Mark Morris Dance Group (she became a full-time member in August 2017), in a recent performance of Layla and Majnun, Haarmann seemed completely in her element.
Company: Mark Morris Dance Group
Hometown: Macungie, Pennsylvania
Training: Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts and Marymount Manhattan College
In 2012, freelance contemporary dancer Adrianne Chu made a major career change: She decided to try out for A Chorus Line. "Even though I didn't get the job, I felt like I was meant to do this," says Chu. So she started going to at least one musical theater audition every weekday, treating each as a learning experience. After several years of building up her resumé, Chu's practice paid off: She booked a starring role as Wendy in the first national tour of Finding Neverland.
Approaching auditions as learning opportunities, especially when you're trying to break into a different style or are new to the profession, can sharpen your skills while helping you avoid burnout. It also builds confidence for the auditions that matter most.
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
It's easy to feel whiplashed thinking about everything Emma Portner has achieved in such a short amount of time. Last fall, the 23-year-old was the youngest woman ever to choreograph a West End production (it was based on Meat Loaf's greatest hits). This was, of course, after she already choreographed and starred in Justin Bieber's viral hit "Life is Worth Living," and before she charmed major media outlets when she secretly married actress Ellen Page. Now, she's L.A. Dance Project's first-ever artist in residence, and she's working on a commission for Toronto's Fall for Dance North Festival.
We caught up with her for our "Spotlight" series:
Last month, the International Association of Blacks in Dance's third annual ballet audition for women of color was expanded to include a separate audition for men.
The brainchild of Joan Myers Brown (founder of both Philadanco and IABD), the women's audition was created to specifically address the lack of black females in ballet. However, the success and attention that audition drew made the men feel left out, so IABD decided to give the men equal time this year.
Pina Bausch's unique form of German Tanztheater is known for raising questions. Amid water and soil, barstools and balloons, the late choreographer's work contains a distinct tinge of mystery and confrontation. Today, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch's dancers use questions as fuel for creativity. The company's most recent project introduced a new group of performers to the stage: local high school ninth-graders from the Gesamtschule Barmen in Wuppertal, Germany, in an original work-in-progress performance called Veränderung (Change).
Before she became the 20th century's most revered ballet pedagogue, Agrippina Vaganova was a frustrated ballerina. "I was not progressing and that was a terrible thing to realize," she wrote in a rough draft of her memoirs.
She retired from the Imperial Ballet stage in 1916, and for the next 30-plus years, devoted herself to creating a "science of ballet." Her new, dynamic teaching method produced stars like Rudolf Nureyev, Alla Osipenko, and Galina Ulanova and later Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. And her approach continues to influence how we think about ballet training to this day.
But is the ballet class due for an update? Demands and aesthetics have changed. So should the way dancers train change too?
I love being transgender. It's an important part of the story of why I choreograph. Although I loved dance from a very young age, I grew up never seeing a single person like me in dance. So how could I imagine a future for myself there?
The enormous barriers I had to overcome weren't internal: I didn't struggle with feelings of dysphoria, and I wasn't locked down by shame.
The dance community is heartbroken to learn that 14-year-olds Jaime Guttenberg and Cara Loughran were among the 17 people killed during the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
Guttenberg was a talented competition dancer at Dance Theatre in Coconut Creek, FL, according to a report from Sun Sentinel. Dance Theatre owner Michelle McGrath Gerlick shared the below message on her Facebook page, encouraging dancers across the country to wear orange ribbons this weekend in honor of Guttenberg, whose favorite color was orange.
A statement released yesterday by New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet reported that an independent investigation was unable to corroborate allegations of harassment and abuse against former ballet master in chief Peter Martins, according to The New York Times. This marks the end of a two-month inquiry jointly launched by the two organizations in December following an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment and violence.
The statement also included new policies for both the company and school to create safer, more respectful environments for the dancers, including hiring an independent vendor to handle employee complaints anonymously. These changes are being made despite the independent investigation, handled by outside counsel Barbara Hoey, purportedly finding no evidence of abuse.