From USA IBCâ€“Jackson: Washington Balletâ€™s Andile Ndlovu
For the past two weeks, over 90 dancers from around the world have taken over the city of Jackson, Mississippi, for the USA International Ballet Competition. Since Tuesday, the remaining 31 finalists have been strutting their stuff to packed audiences at Thalia Mara Hall. While there’s been plenty of thrilling pyrotechnics in the classical department, many of the contemporary pieces have felt like an afterthought. That is, until Washington Ballet’s Andile Ndlovu, 26, stunned the crowd in an electrifying, self-choreographed solo. Expertly blending traditional African dance and hip hop, his dynamic, rippling performance was a welcome shot in the arm.
Originally from South Africa, Ndlovu started out as a ballroom dancer, eventually switching to ballet at age 15. After spotting him in a South African ballet competition, artistic director Septime Webre offered him a full scholarship to the Washington Ballet School in 2008. Two years later, Ndlovu competed in the 2010 USA IBC, only to be cut after the first round. I sat down with him yesterday at the dancer’s dormitory to talk about how it’s going the second time around.
Was it hard to leave South Africa?
No, not really. When you get an invitation to come to America, you go. It was always a dream of mine. Opportunities are limited in South Africa if you’re as ambitious as I am.
Tell me about the first time you competed at USA IBC in 2010.
It was a nightmare. I came here young and full of energy, wanting to do everything, but not really understanding what it was really that I was coming here to do. We all come here to go for that gold or silver medal, but without understanding how much you can grow here as an artist, how much it helps you to understand other artists and how other people react to disappointment and how others react to excitement. I worked hard, but not enough—not enough on the important things, which I realized after I got knocked out after the first round. And so ever since then, I’ve been doing competitions to just better myself, to nurture my talent and to get the world to see it.
Now that you’re back, how have you applied what you learned the first time?
When I got knocked out the last time, I thought, the next time I come here, I’ll be in the final. That goal has been imprinted in my mind since then. How I got to where I am now is by working on my artistry—to be able to switch from a prince to a happy peasant to a slave in Corsaire or a hunter from Diane and Acteon. I had to work really hard on that, refining all those professional aspects, what I wanted from myself.
Do you feel like you’re representing yourself, South Africa or Washington Ballet?
Representing myself is a good thing, but for me, it’s much bigger than that. You always represent where you come from, no matter how much you’ve been disappointed or not appreciated for where you’re from. You still represent it—you just should have that integrity as a professional.
Your contemporary solo, Wondering Thoughts, really brought down the house on Tuesday night. I noticed it was your own choreography—did that add another level of stress to the competition?
Yes, because I had to edit my solo five times—I was still editing backstage! It’s really hard to choreograph on yourself. You need other eyes to tell you what looks good and what doesn’t. My coach Charla Genn Croitoroo worked really hard with me before I got here. She wasn’t able to come to Jackson, so once I got here we started Skyping during my rehearsals. It was hard, but it helped a lot.
Wondering Thoughts is about two lives, two backgrounds: my life in South Africa, and my life here. I used a lot of traditional movements from home with classical music, to show the two contrasts. The thought is to understand that at the end, they both complement each other. And it’s not separate: Coming from raw, earthy tribal movements and mixing it with hip hop and breakdancing and classical—that’s me confronting the new world, asking myself, “How do I fit in?” And then at the end I realize there’s no fitting in. It’s the same.
What do you hope to come away with from IBC-Jackson?
A gold, silver or bronze medal would be great. But if that doesn’t happen, I’m still happy to be in the final, because that’s the goal I set for myself and I achieved it. If I get an award then that would just put the cherry on top.
You know Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo as the men who parody your favorite ballet variations—and make it look good. But there's more to the iconic troupe than meets the eye.
A new documentary, Rebels on Pointe, goes behind the scenes of the company, and it's full of juicy tidbits about what it's like to be a Trock. These were some of our favorite moments:
After 30 years of pioneering work in physically integrated dance, AXIS Dance Company co-founder Judith Smith has announced plans to retire from the Oakland, California, company. Throughout her tenure, she strived to get equal recognition for integrated dance and disabled dancers, commissioning work from high-profile choreographers like Bill T. Jones. Her efforts generated huge momentum for expanded training, choreography, education and advocacy for dancers with disabilities.
By phone from her home in Oakland, Smith reflected on how far the field has evolved since the early days of AXIS, and what's yet to be done.
You know that how you care for your body before curtain can impact your performance. But with so many factors to consider, it can be difficult to nail down an exact routine. How much rest is enough? How close to showtime should you eat? We asked the experts.
How do you make your athleisure collection stand out from the pack? Get the ultimate studio-to-street seal of approval by having dancers star in your campaign, of course.
For his second collaboration with activewear brand Carbon38, ready-to-wear designer Jonathan Simkhai traded in his usual top models like Gigi Hadid and Karlie Kloss for the original Hiplet dancers—and the resulting video is as cool as we'd expect from such a fierce collaboration.
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.
I first started pulling out my eyelashes when I was 9, after removing fake ones at a dance competition. A few of my own eyelashes came out and I felt a new sensation. It hurt, but the prick also felt so good.
Eventually, I was pulling even when I was not wearing stage makeup, sometimes unaware of what I was even doing. It happened while I was reading or doing homework, or when I was sad or angry.
For the next five years, I secretly pulled my eyelashes, then moved to my eyebrows and eventually the back of my scalp. Finally, at 14, I told my mom what I had been doing and she took me to see a child psychologist. It turned out I had trichotillomania (a.k.a. "trich"), which is one of a group of behaviors known as Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors in which people repeatedly pull, pick, scrape or bite their hair, skin or nails.
Again and again, dance teaches me that when the filters fall away between people—when the boundaries of geography, religion and politics soften—the beginning and end of our relationships is always human.
In March, I traveled with Keigwin + Company to Cote D'Ivoire, Ethiopia and Tunisia, on a tour sponsored by the US State Department and facilitated by DanceMotion USA/Brooklyn Academy of Music. Our mission was cultural diplomacy: Simply, to share ourselves with diverse communities, to promote common understanding and friendships.
Our last stop was Tunisia. Until that point, we had mostly been learning varieties of traditional African dance, and sharing American modern dance. But Tunisia was different. The dancers already had a solid grasp of contemporary movement invention. Though we didn't speak the same language, we could make movement vocabulary with surprising ease. Everything about our backgrounds was different, but there was this special intersection through dance that seemed to present an open door to collaboration.
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet.
Christopher Wheeldon's new Nutcracker for the Joffrey Ballet was huge news when it premiered last winter. The choreographer shifted the setting from the home of a well-off German family to the Chicago world's fair, making the hero the young daughter of a working-class, Polish immigrant sculptress. This month, WTTW Chicago, the city's public broadcasting station, will premiere Making a New American Nutcracker, a new documentary showing how Wheeldon and his high-profile collaborators made the magic happen. Premieres on WTTW11 and wttw.com/watch on Nov. 16 before appearing on public television stations across the country. Check your local listings.
For most dancers, walking into the theater elicits a familiar emotion that's somewhere between the reverence of stepping into a chapel and the comfort of coming home. But each venue has its own aura, and can offer that something special that takes your performance to a new level. Six dancers share which theaters have transported them the most.
GLENN ALLEN SIMS
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Glenn Allen Sims in Alvin Ailey's Masekela Langage. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy AAADT
Favorite theater: Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain
Royal details: "The theater is gorgeous and ornate, with deep red upholstery and gold trim. There is a huge royal box in the center, which takes you back to when kings and queens were watching performances there."
Impressive facilities: Even the dressing rooms are a sight to see: Amenities for the dancers include large, carpeted rooms, and towel service.
The business side of dance can often fall second to the art. Contracts, which usually appear after you've done the hard work of securing a job, can seem like an inconsequential afterthought. You might decide to simply sign without reading the terms—or be understandably confused by all the legalese.
Ultimately, though, contracts can play an important part in setting the expectations for your job. A basic understanding of the legal terms you might see can go a long way in making sure that signing is a positive step toward growing your career.