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How Dutch National Ballet is Cultivating the Next Generation of Choreographers

Juanjo Arques rehearses his "Homo Ludens" with Dutch National Ballet dancers. Photo by Altin Kaftira, Courtesy DNB.

"Choreographers don't just pop up fully formed," says Ted Brandsen, artistic director of Dutch National Ballet. "It's a responsibility for us, as company directors, to create room for the new generations of dancemakers."

Knowing the challenges, both artistic and practical, of setting out on a choreographic career, Brandsen has announced a four-pronged strategy for nurturing new talent at DNB. Alongside the long-running choreographic workshop for company dancers, which Brandsen helped launch back in 1985, there is now a choreographer and composer exchange with the British contemporary company Rambert. Brandsen is also mentoring DNB's recently appointed Young Creative Associates, Juanjo Arques and Peter Leung. And there will be a new annual Choreographic Academy, beginning in May, inviting young dancemakers to spend three weeks in research and creation with Dutch National's junior arm, focusing on process rather than product. One of the first four choreographers to take part is San Francisco Ballet's Myles Thatcher.

While there are other companies worldwide taking a proactive approach in this area—New York City Ballet, The Royal Ballet and Stuttgart Ballet all have initiatives Brandsen admires—it is not a universal practice.


Brandsen's eyes are on the bigger picture. The Rambert collaboration was originally envisaged as a Europe-wide project, but to begin, the two companies are experimenting with a pilot. "Very often there is only one major ballet company per country, so the danger of navel gazing is always there," says Brandsen. "It's important for developing talent to be able to cross borders and see how other choreographers and companies work."

To actively open up a broader international exchange, DNB hosted the Positioning Ballet conference in February, looking at key issues facing ballet in the 21st century. "We need to be reflective of our times. We need to be part of the present generation," says Brandsen, otherwise you risk "becoming a museum." So are companies losing out on talent because there isn't support for young artists? "I think so," he says. "Choreographic talent is rare. Making choreography is a difficult thing. Talent needs to be nurtured."

Image via Stock Snap

We've been saying for years that dance training has benefits that reach far beyond preparation for a professional dance career: The discipline and attention to detail fostered in technique class, the critical thinking skills acquired in composition, and the awareness and rapid reaction times required for improvisation can all carry over into other fields.

But what if a choreographic tool kit could have a more direct application outside the studio? Say, to city planning?

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Training
Video still by Nel Shelby Productions, Courtesy Dancio.

"What if you could learn from the world's best dance teachers in your living room?" This is the question that Dancio poses on their website. Dancio is a new startup that offers full length videos of ballet classes taught by master teachers. As founder Caitlin Trainor puts it, "these superstar teachers can be available to students everywhere for the cost of a cup of coffee."

For Trainor, a choreographer and the artistic director of Trainor Dance, the idea for Dancio came from a sense of frustration relatable to many dancers; feeling like they need to warm up properly before rehearsals, but not always having the time, energy or funds to get to dance class. One day while searching the internet for a quick online class, Trainor was shocked to not be able to find anything that, as she puts it, "hit the mark in terms of relevance and quality. I thought to myself, how does this not exist?" she says. "We have the Daily Burn for Fitness, YogaGlo for yogis, Netflix for entertainment and nothing for dancers! But then I thought, I can make this!" And thus, Dancio (the name is a combination of dance and video), was born.

Keep reading at pointemagazine.com.

Breaking Stereotypes
Melina and Regina Willoughby, photo by Ashley Concannon

There's a surprising twist to Regina Willoughby's last season with Columbia City Ballet: It's also her 18-year-old daughter Melina's first season with the company. Regina, 40, will retire from the stage in March, just as her daughter starts her own career as a trainee. But for this one season, they're sharing the stage together.

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Dancers & Companies
PC Getty Images

Last night, the New York City Ballet board of directors approved ballet master in chief Peter Martins' request for a temporary leave of absence amidst an ongoing investigation into sexual harassment.

The investigation came to light on Monday, when the New York Times reported that NYCB and the School of American Ballet had hired a law firm to investigate their leader after receiving an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment.

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Training
PC Kyle Rowling

You dance like a knockout—but can you take a punch? Intense stage combat is a crucial element in many shows, from the sword fighting in Romeo & Juliet to the left hooks of the Broadway musical Rocky. But performing it well requires careful body awareness, trust and a full commitment to safety. Whether you're dancing a pivotal battle in a story ballet or intense partnering in a contemporary piece, these expert tips can help you make your fight scenes convincing, compelling and safe.

1. Master the Basics

When Luke Ingham was cast as Tybalt in San Francisco Ballet's Romeo & Juliet, he spent a full month practicing the basic body positions, footwork and momentum of fencing. "You need to be really grounded, you need to know where your feet are," Ingham says.

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Dancers & Companies
Photo by Mark Perry Shelby, Courtesy High10 Media.

Brooklyn-based burlesque troupe Company XIV isn't afraid to take risks. Nutcracker Rouge, their take on the holiday classic, features a cast of jack-of-all-trades dancers who double as greeters, ushers, singers, actors and aerialists, while baring a good amount of skin but even more confidence. (Disclaimer: The show is for mature audiences only.) What's most impressive about these artists is how captivating they are. Regardless of what style of dance you do, if you want to become a better performer, consider taking a page out of their playbook.

You've got to be "on" the moment the audience walks in the front door.

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Dancer Voices
Wilhelmina Frankfurt

Former New York City Ballet dancer Wilhelmina Frankfurt first spoke out about sexual misconduct at NYCB in Psychology Tomorrow in 2012. Since October, she's been working with The Washington Post reporter Sarah Kaufman for a story about Peter Martins, and when the School of American Ballet began investigating Martins for an anonymous accusation, she was called in to discuss her experiences. But Frankfurt feels there's more to the larger picture, and shares that here with Dance Magazine, as edited by Maggie Levin.


In 1994, I began to write a book of essays about my life in dance—mostly as an exercise. When the #MeToo movement began this year, I knew it was time to brush the dust off and take another look. Although incomplete, these essays addressed the roots that have long run between sexual abuse, alcoholism and ballet. They involve George Balanchine, Peter Martins and numerous stars of the New York City Ballet. It's painfully clear that my story is the same story that has occurred thousands of times, all over the world.

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Advice for Dancers
Photo by Bob Jagendorf, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

I'm heartbroken that I might have to drop out of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. My back has been spasming since I did an extra-high kick to the back. My X-ray and MRI are normal, but my doctor thinks I hurt my sacroiliac joint. Physical therapy hasn't helped yet. How can I know for sure that this is the real problem?

—Injured Rockette, New York, NY

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Breaking Stereotypes
Freddie Kimmel

Freddie Kimmel's musical theater career was just taking off when he woke up one morning with a pain in his groin. A trip to the doctor assured him it was nothing of concern, even though the sensation returned a few months later. As a dancer, Kimmel was used to pushing through discomfort, so he kept going to dance class to "work it out."

But the pain persisted. During a run of The Full Monty at Westchester Broadway Theatre, Kimmel was diagnosed with advanced metastasized cancer. Ten tumors had infiltrated his body.

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What Wendy's Watching
Kota Yamazaki, Mina Nishimura, Raja Feather Kelly and Julian Barnett, Photo by Janelle Jones

Japanese-born, New York–based choreographer Kota Yamazaki returns to his roots as a butoh dancer in Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination. He explores butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata's idea of the extreme fragility of the body. Yamazaki is joined by contemporary luminaries Julian Barnett, Raja Feather Kelly, Joanna Kotze and Mina Nishimura, each of whom engages in drastically eccentric pathways, making the body appear to disintegrate before your eyes. Music is by Kenta Nagai and visual environment by lighting wizard Thomas Dunn. Dec. 13–15, Baryshnikov Arts Center. bacnyc.org.

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