Frances Alenikoff (1920–2012)
Photos courtesy Francesca Rheannon.
Dancer/choreographer, writer/painter, philosopher/nurturer, generous provider of space to Movement Research, Frances Alenikoff died on June 23.
She created over 90 dance theater works and participated in projects with poets, musicians, filmmakers, and visual artists. She performed widely in New York, toured nationally and internationally, and taught workshops at universities. In 1964 she choreographed The Josephine Baker Show on Broadway.
Alenikoff had a distinctive way of moving—slippery, impulsive, erratic—that came from years of improvisation and vocal experimentation. She could be brazen while dancing: She would lick her own fingers, then break up into a friendly cackle. She was a sorceress onstage.
During the 1940s, Alenikoff studied at the Katherine Dunham School in midtown Manhattan. She also knew Doris Humphrey and Anna Sokolow during that period. In 1965 she was a founding member of Dance Theater Workshop and performed her mixed-media works in the little loft on 20th Street. Starting in the mid-90s she paired up with postmodern dancer/choreographer/philosopher Kenneth King. They collaborated on an richly fertile duet that projected a unique relationship between a man and woman: not lovers, not mother and son, not artist and muse, but something else entirely. It was a kind of Dionysian/Apollonian pairing of opposites that threw off sparks of wit, poetry, and belly laughs.
Kenneth King’s wonderful essay about his partner can be accessed by going to the Movement Research Performance Journal site and clicking on "View pdfs of the following articles: What Frances Alenikoff Isn't Telling, Part 1" and "What Frances Alenikoff Isn't Telling, Part 2."
For years Alenikoff wrote for Dance News and Craft Horizons—from a dance artist’s point of view. Her writings were also published in Dance Scope, Ear Magazine, and Movement Research Performance Journal. Her art works comprise various media, including paintings on stones and drawings on shower curtains. Her drawings, which are funny and earthy, illustrate the book Reflections on Loving and Relationships by Richard Kostelanetz, which was published last month by Archae Editions. She also designed stage sets and choreographed for independent films.
Alenikoff was deeply involved in honing her improvisational skills. Here is what she wrote in Craft Horizons in 1972: “In improvisation the moment is the crucible. A risky business. Noâ€¨time for second thoughts or rearrangements. You do it or it dies. Tools are an agile imagination, finely tuned senses geared to synthesize inspiration, and the skills of your craft, plus the capacity to be totally absorbed in the instant—alert to its possibilities—while maintaining a honed awareness of the shape of the whole.”
As a dancer she projected amazing youth and suppleness into her 80s. “I love stretching combined with undulations,” she said when interviewed in The New York Times at the age of 79. “I do a movement and vocal meditation that goes into the cells, heightening inner awareness. I reach a point where the deliciousness of it makes up for the agony of preparing pieces to present in public.”
Alenikoff, who danced in public into her 80s, performing her solo Re-Membering in 1998. Photo by Beryl Bernay, Courtesy Francesca Rheannon.
Personally I can say that Frances was a joy to work with, as her imagination kept tumbling out, and she praised her dancers lavishly. Even better, she would tell her wild adventures and discuss life’s big issues with words of wisdom and hearty laughter. She knew how to take pleasure in the absurdities of life.
No challenge was too great for her. When slowed down by a temporary physical setback, she would say, “Someday I will be able to do it. It’s a matter of paying attention.”
She will be remembered for her flowing creativity, her larger-than-life gusto, and her generosity.
Click here for a clip from a documentary that shows both her drawings and her choreographic process.
A memorial service is planned for the fall. The family has asked those who have memories and reflections of Ms. Alenikoff to share them by mail at 68 Hog Creek Road, East Hampton 11937, or by email to email@example.com. —Wendy Perron
When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."
But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.
From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.
New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.
A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.
Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.
In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.
Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.
"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.
After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.
Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org
In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."
She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."
Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.
Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.
Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."
Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.
But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.
When London-based perfume company The Beautiful Mind Series was looking for a collaborator for their next scent, they skipped the usual celebrity set and brought in prima ballerina Polina Semionova instead. "I was fascinated by what goes on in the mind of a great dancer," perfumer Geza Schoen said in a press release. Semionova's ballet-inspired scent, Precision & Grace, celebrates the intelligence and beauty behind her craft.
Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series
The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!
We caught up with Abraham during a recent rehearsal where he revealed what he is tired of hearing in the dance community.
Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.
Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?
If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.
"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."
I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."
It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.
Everyone knows that community college is an affordable option if a four-year school isn't in the cards. But it can also be a solid foundation for a career in the dance field. Whether students want an associate in arts degree as a precursor to obtaining a bachelor's, or to go straight into the performing world, the right two-year dance program can be a uniquely supportive place to train. Don't let negative stereotypes prevent you from attending a program that could be right for you: