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Inside "Cats": Georgina Pazcoguin Becomes the White Cat
New York City Ballet soloist Georgina Pazcoguin is taking a leave from the company to dance a lead role in the revival of Cats on Broadway. She's no stranger to musical theater, as she's played a sizzling Anita in West Side Story Suite with NYCB, completed a short stint on Broadway as the irresistible Miss Turnstiles in On the Town, and performed with American Dance Machine in its collection of classic musical theater dance numbers. Her flair for the dramatic was captured in our cover story of June 2013. But for Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats, which is now in previews and opens July 31, she faces new challenges. I caught up with Pazcoguin by phone the week before previews started.
Your role is Victoria, the White Cat. Who is she?
She's the balletic cat, the super graceful cat. She represents innocence and purity, a symbol of what Grizabella, who is our heroine, longs for, a memory of her lost innocence. Victoria possesses this purity; she has her whole cat life ahead of her.
Pazcoguin as Victoria, photo by Ellenore Scott
What is the most fun about this production?
I'm having a blast not being a human! I love playing a feline. I've had my share of animals roles at NYCB. I usually play a very strong woman or an evil character like Carabosse, so it's nice for once to have a slow variation—no grand allegro. It's helping me explore a softer facet of my artistry and I'm loving it.
Gillian Lynne choreographed the original Cats in 1980. How does that work with the additional choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler?
Gillian Lynne's choreography is very much still there. Andy is incredible at drawing attention to new parts that you may not have seen before.
Is there some kind of audience involvement for people who sit up close?
We're all over the theater. No matter where you are sitting, there are cats that leave the stage.
What's the most challenging things about being in this show?
First, singing. It didn't hit me until we got to the theater how much I have bitten off. For me to sing practically a whole two-and-a-half-hour score, it's challenging and I'm hoping I'm rising to the occasion. Second, Andy's movement is very different. For the balletic sections, I'm a quick study; that's what NYCB has trained me do, to pick up choreography quickly. But it's been an adjustment to learn how to be more of a hip hop dancer and syncopate my movement.
Are you taking singing lessons?
I've been steadily working on my voice since about 2004, and this past year and a half I picked it up a notch; I have a great coach I see every other week. I do not know how to read a score; I learned to play the piano by ear. Now I feel like I'm playing catch-up a little bit.
How are you dealing with the raked stage?
Any weaknesses you have on flat ground, the rake only makes them more apparent. I've been focusing in on my core strength. The major elements of dance I'm okay with, but if I roll my head a certain way, I'll lose my balance.
What advice do you have for dancers trained in ballet who would like to do Broadway?
My advice to any dancer is to expose yourself to as many styles as you can. Don't just focus on one thing. And when you can, crosstrain and find different ways to move. I used to go to jazz or African class. If you're aiming for Broadway, you're going to have to sing. Don't limit yourself.
What's the role of dance on Broadway these days?
I think dance is coming back in a big way into musical theater. You can tell stories through dance. As a ballet dancer, I want to expose my art form to new eyes. Broadway is so accessible, but sometimes there's a feeling that, Oh the ballet is only for certain people.
What do you want the Cats audience to come away with?
We're playing cats but we're also going through emotions as people. If you think about what's happening in the world….This show is about acceptance; we hate Grizabella and turn away from her because she's different. But in the end, we all grow as cats and as people. We can all get along. We just need to open our eyes and see how we all fit together.
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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."
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.
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:
I always knew my ballet career would eventually end. It was implied from the very start that at some point I would be too old and decrepit to take morning ballet class, followed by six hours of intense rehearsals.
What I never imagined was that I would experience a time when I couldn't walk at all.
In rehearsal for Nutcracker in 2013, I slipped while pushing off for a fouetté sauté, instantly rupturing the ACL in my right knee. In that moment my dance life flashed before my eyes.
Stephen Petronio brings a bracing season to New York City's Joyce Theater, where he has performed almost every year for 24 years . His work is exciting to the subscription audience as well as to many dance artists. He delves into movement invention at the same time as creating complex postmodern forms. The new work, Hardness 10, is his third collaboration with composer Nico Muhly. The costumes are by Patricia Field ARTFASHION, hand-painted by Iris Bonner/These Pink Lips. Petronio's work still practically defines the word contemporary.
Stephen Petronio Company also continues with its Bloodlines series. That's where he pays homage to landmark works of the past that have influenced his own edgy aesthetics. This season he's chosen Merce Cunningham's playful trio Signals (1970), which will be performed with live music from Composers Inside Electronics.
Completing the program is an excerpt from Petronio's Underland (2003), with music by Nick Cave. Video footage courtesy of Stephen Petronio Company, filmed by Blake Martin.
Never did I think I'd see the day when I'd outgrow dance. Sure, I knew my life would have to evolve. In fact, my dance career had already taken me through seasons of being a performer, a choreographer, a business owner and even a dance professor. Evolution was a given. Evolving past dancing for a living, however, was not.
Transitioning from a dance career involved just as much of a process as building one did. But after I overcame the initial identity crisis, I realized that my dance career had helped me develop strengths that could be put to use in other careers. For instance, my work as a dance professor allowed me to discover my knack for connecting with students and helping them with their careers, skills that ultimately opened the door for a pivot into college career services.
Here's how five dance skills can land you a new job—and help you thrive in it:
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."
We all know that companies too often take dancers for granted. When I wrote last week about a few common ways in which dancers are mistreated—routine screaming, humiliation, being pressured to perform injured and be stick-thin—I knew I was only scratching the surface.
So I put out a call to readers asking for your perspective on the most pressing issues that need to be addressed first, and what positive changes we might be able to make to achieve those goals.
The bottom line: Readers agree it's time to hold directors accountable, particularly to make sure that dancers are being paid fairly. But the good news is that change is already happening. Here are some of the most intriguing ideas you shared via comments, email and social media:
With dancer and choreographer credits that cover everything from touring with Beyoncé to music videos and even feature films, Tricia Miranda knows more than a thing or two about what it takes to make it. And aspiring dancers are well aware. We caught up with the commercial dance queen last weekend at the Brooklyn Funk convention, where she taught a ballroom full of dancers classes in hip-hop and dancing for film and video.
How To Land An Agency
"At times with the agencies, they already have someone that looks like you or you're just not ready to work. Look has to do with a lot of it, work ethic and also just the type of person you are. Do you have personality? Do people want to work with you? Because you can be the greatest dancer, but if you're not someone that gives off this energy of wanting to get to know you, then it doesn't matter how dope you are because people want to work with who they want to be around. I learned that by later transitioning into a choreographer because now that I'm hiring people, I want to hire the people that I want to be around for 12 or 14 hours a day.
You also have to understand that class dancers are different from working commercial dancers. A lot of class dancers and what you see in these YouTube videos are people who stand out because they're doing what they want and remixing choreography. They're kind of stars in their own right, which is great for class, but when it comes to a job, you have to do the choreography how it's taught."
Houston's METdance and the Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance have teamed up to commission a new work from Dallas native (and former Dallas Black Dance Theatre artistic director) Bridget L. Moore. The two contemporary companies will take the stage together in Dallas at Moody Performance Hall on March 16 and at Houston's Hobby Center for the Performing Arts on April 13–15. Visit brucewooddance.org and metdance.org for details on the respective engagements.