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Inside DM

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Inside DM

How to keep your career on track when your company is suffering

Rumors are flying that my ballet company is having serious money problems. I couldn’t believe it because we have a loyal audience and the house is packed on tour. Then our director began casting mediocre dancers with rich sponsors in the best parts, while ignoring those of us who depend on the company’s paycheck. Please help before my career goes down the drain!

—Anonymous

There could be any number of reasons for a fiscal deficit. Possibilities include overspending on new productions, alienating some donors who don’t like the repertoire or failing to get an endowment that provides the company with financial security. Regardless of the reason, I can see why you’re alarmed since casting does affect your career aspirations. What to do? Aside from socializing at company parties with sponsors who may be willing to take you on, you might consider booking outside dance gigs that could give you more visibility. Don’t forget that you also have the option of auditioning for other companies. Meanwhile, enjoy the positive aspects of being in a professional company—like a consistent paycheck, access to company physical therapists and a large audience to perform for—while developing your artistry and technique.

Why do I drive myself crazy worrying if I can pull off a big performance? I’m an experienced dancer, love being onstage and rehearse till I’m thoroughly prepared. It’s so stupid that I spend weeks worrying.

—Terry, Los Angeles, CA

It’s not stupid to care about the quality of your dancing. However, self doubt can cause excessive worrying, creating more problems than it solves. To keep from becoming overwhelmed, it’s important to break down your ultimate goal, like being prepared for a role, into a couple of smaller ones. That way, you don’t feel like you’re climbing Mount Everest. For example, you could choose a long-term performance goal, such as building your stamina over a certain period of time. Try to be specific (“I’ll run through the piece twice without stopping during the last week of my private rehearsals”) rather than general (“I’ll do my best to be strong”). A nonperformance goal regarding time can also be useful (“I’ll practice by myself after every class for 20 minutes over the next month”). The next step is to create distinct rehearsal goals for yourself, like separating the choreography into two sections and running straight through each one individually over the fi rst two weeks, together the third week, and end with two complete run-throughs the last week. Keep track of your daily progress in a notebook or on your smartphone and consider sharing the results with a supportive friend. Be flexible if you’re lagging behind or are ahead of schedule for a certain benchmark. The point is to focus your attention on something challenging but attainable. As you achieve smaller goals, you’ll improve your overall performance and boost your confidence, while reducing your anxiety. I don’t trust doctors! Several years ago I hurt my foot in class, but none of the orthopedists in my hometown could fi nd anything wrong. It’s like they’d never seen a dancer. My foot still hurts on and off, but I’m reluctant to seek medical help. What should I do?

—Lisa, Atlanta, GA

Dancers have unique orthopedic needs since even minor physical problems can affect your ability to perform without pain. Unfortunately, orthopedists who are unfamiliar with dance injuries often don’t understand what’s required to be a dancer. They may fail to order the appropriate diagnostic tests. Even if you work with a dance medicine specialist, you may run into issues if they do not have specific expertise in foot problems. My advice is to contact nearby professional dance companies for referrals to their orthopedists. Be sure to ask these doctors if they’ve done a foot fellowship and belong to the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (aofas.org), where members receive continuing education on the latest medical advances and procedures in this area. While many dancers are reluctant to seek medical help for fear of getting the wrong advice, a correct diagnosis speeds up the healing process.

Inside DM

Broadway Dance Lab gives choreographers freedom to experiment.

Dancers perform at a Broadway Dance Lab fundraising gala. PC Daniel Robinson, Courtesy BDL

He calls it the Broadway Dance Lab, but Josh Prince doesn’t think parochially. The not-for-profit “dance incubator” he founded in the fall of 2012 has welcomed choreographers from the ballet world (American Ballet Theatre star Marcelo Gomes) and from contemporary concert dance (Bessie winner Larry Keigwin) as well as, of course, the working theater folk you might expect, like two-time Tony winner Andy Blankenbuehler. To Prince, they’re all “theater-dance makers,” and enabling them to do their best work is his mission, and that of BDL.

A performer whose choreography sideline turned into a full-fledged Broadway career with Shrek and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Prince learned firsthand that dance can sometimes be a last-minute, seat-of-the-pants addition to Broadway musicals. And the fact that theater choreographers and would-be choreographers must sometimes beg, borrow or steal to line up the dancers, rehearsal space and time required to practice their craft struck him as not just unfair, but detrimental to the art of musical theater itself. Prince thinks of choreographers as writers, “authors of dance,” despite the fact that unlike the authors of poems and books, they can’t just hole up somewhere with a laptop to do their work. He started Broadway Dance Lab to give others what he craved: “The artistic freedom to create from the ground up.” Choreographers get 20 hours, a company of 12 professional dancers, one of several large borrowed studios and no boundaries or performance deadlines.

Prince likes to say that BDL is the only nonprofit that exists solely to support theater choreographers, but in pursuing that goal, it has ended up supporting dancers, as well. Because BDL pays competitive salaries, provides workers’ comp and enables dancers to work in multiple styles with many different choreographers, it’s become a highly desirable gig. Over 100 dancers tried out for the 12 nine-week contracts in the 2015–16 season, and Prince expects equally large numbers at BDL’s next audition this spring.

When we spoke, Prince was off to Spain to start work on the Disney Cruise Line’s shipboard version of the animated film Frozen. He acknowledges that being both the artistic director of BDL and a working choreographer can be “daunting.” But he feels lucky that he started BDL after getting some Broadway experience. “Working in the commercial world prepared me to start a nonprofit that can run like a business,” he says. There’s an “invaluable staff” of 10, plus interns, to handle day-to-day managerial chores. “If I was doing it all by myself,” he adds, “it would be impossible.It takes so much structural support.” But, he says, it all feels worthwhile when choreographers reach out to tell him how invaluable their BDL residencies have been.

Blankenbuehler is one of those, singing the praises of the “great tool Josh created” and singling out “the safety of the room, the quality of the dancers, and the concentration and passion from all present.” Prince invited him to BDL when he was between projects, “in that tricky phase of being creatively tired and not quite ready to fully focus on the next assignment,” Blankenbuehler recalls. “I went into the room of wonderful dancers with really no idea of what I wanted to accomplish. I decided to throw myself off the cliff and just experiment. And they followed!” 

A Ballet Is Born

For Josh Prince, inviting Marcelo Gomes to Broadway Dance Lab was something of a no-brainer—“Ballet has always had a large influence on musical theater,” Prince says. “It’s important to foster connections with our current ballet choreographers, and give them a safe space to explore ideas that could transfer to Broadway stages.” For Gomes, accepting was a no-brainer as well—“I had written a children’s story,” he says, “but I just didn’t know where to begin with it.” He’d just created AfterEffect for ABT, and, he recalls, it had been really stressful. “There’s never enough rehearsal time, there’s never enough tech time, and you’re juggling all the dancers when people get injured.” Prince’s offer “was a calm thing to jump on.” He knew that the dancers Prince hires have ballet training, but that “ballet is not the primary thing they do.” Gomes wasn’t worried: “It’s your job as the choreographer to work with the dancers that are in front of you,” he says. Working on his story, centered on “a young girl named Sofie who has this little adventure” and set to Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Gomes found that the dancers’ theater orientation put extra tools in his choreographic arsenal: “They really want to collaborate. They like to act, they’re not afraid of getting it wrong. It’s very beneficial to have dancers who can fill up the music with just their acting.” Another difference: “They like to talk,” he notes. “We did character studies—who was Sofie, who were the other kids? Such a different kind of work than at a professional ballet company.” In the end, Gomes was pleased enough with the results to have a small showing of Sofie MayBelle at Judson Memorial Church. But that was never the point. “The thing that attracted me the most,” he says, “was that I didn’t have the pressure of showing anything—no final performance.”

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Inside DM

The beloved ballerina talks about her new life in Los Angeles.

Körbes performs with Jared Angle at the 2016 Vail International Dance Festival. PC Erin Baiano, Courtesy Vail International Dance Festival

It’s been a year and a half since Carla Körbes retired from Pacific Northwest Ballet. In that time, Körbes has marked several life passages: a move to Los Angeles, a sumptuous wedding to photographer Patrick Fraser and the birth of their son, Rafael. She also became the associate artistic director of Los Angeles Dance Project at the invitation of Benjamin Millepied, who tasked her with helping to execute his artistic vision at LADP while he was also director of dance at the Paris Opéra Ballet. She returned to dancing last year as a guest artist in Vail, Washington, DC, and New York City, and marked her first appearance onstage with LADP in December, performing Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain with company member Morgan Lugo.

How has your experience of leaving the super-structured life of a PNB principal treated you? Have you enjoyed that uncertainty, or do you find yourself gravitating toward more-structured projects? 

The certainty at PNB was attractive: You have very specific schedules, you know what you’re getting paid. But I needed a change from the regularity of so many different programs in a performing season. I was stuck in a schedule that was hard on my body. Now, I teach, coach and perform. I am making my own structure, and the flexibility allows me to juggle much better being a working mom.

What attracted you to LADP?

The year I was retiring, I saw longtime friend and dance partner James Fayette after a performance in Los Angeles. I told him that I was trying to figure out what to do, and I soon got a call from Ben. It felt like a perfect opportunity. My husband lives in L.A.—and now it’s my home.

Your role as associate artistic director has involved teaching at LADP and its affiliated school, The Colburn Dance Academy, coaching and dancing. What do you enjoy most about your work?

Most appealing to me is the group of dancers. They are young, and have a vocabulary different than what I am used to. Dancing for me is about awareness and involvement, and it’s what I work on with the dancers. They’re responsive—and hungry to grow as artists. Plus, I like being in an environment that’s small enough so as not to be overwhelming. Directing a large company would be a huge commitment! I’m fortunate that I can still dance. I do some guesting, but I also am excited about dancing here in L.A.—my situation feels like a little piece of heaven.

What are some of the memorable guest performances you’ve done recently?

At the Kennedy Center in DC, I shared the stage with so many different artists, like Damian Woetzel and Heather Watts—it was thrilling. For Vail Dance Festival’s New York City performances, I got another chance to take two masterpieces, Martha Graham’s Lamentation and Balanchine’s Élégie, and develop new interpretations.

What’s next for you?

We shall see. I love being a mama, and since the baby was born, I have chosen to stay home rather than go on tour with the dancers. Still, being onstage for me is magical. I’ve traveled to Vail and NYC to perform, but those are shorter trips than going on a three-month tour of France! I thought I couldn’t retire from a big company if I didn’t know what the next thing would be, but I’m okay with the uncertainty. The dances I do now are really like a meditation for me.

Inside DM

Rural arts venues are continuing to grow.

Gallim Dance performs Practicing Awe at Grace Farms. PC Vanessa Van Ryzin, Courtesy Grace Farms.

While not a new idea, the development of rural sites dedicated to arts creation is trending with renewed intensity, particularly in the Northeast. “Getting out of the city and going where the company lives together, shares meals together, it creates a family,” says Andrea Miller, artistic director of Gallim Dance. Gallim participates in residencies across the country, including several with Jacob’s Pillow and, more recently, Grace Farms. “We can dive into creation more vulnerable and open, leading to new ways of thinking that we bring back to our work in the city.” Here are three organizations growing in new directions.

Jacob’s Pillow Expansion

The pioneer for rural dance retreats and performance, Jacob’s Pillow celebrates its 85th anniversary this summer with the opening of the $4.5 million Perles Family Studio. The studio will not only provide a high-caliber setting for intensive students and festival companies, but will also increase year-round residency space for the Creative Development Residency Program. Invited artists—this season there are 10 residencies, with plans to grow—are provided with free housing for one to three weeks, 24-hour studio access, full access to Pillow archives, and a showing with audience feedback and dialogue. They also receive a stipend for the residency and additional funds for a dramaturg or other outside eye. “The Pillow feels like hallowed ground, and any visiting artist joins the history of those that came before them,” explains director Pamela Tatge. “Many artists feel it renews their commitment to the art form.”

Lumberyard Under Construction

American Dance Institute is rebuilding and rebranding the organization as Lumberyard, named after its new home in a Hudson riverfront lumberyard in Catskill, New York, two hours north of New York City. Due for completion in May 2018, plans include $5 million renovations of the 30,000-square-foot lumberyard building, transforming it into a theater, artist housing, offices and kitchen, followed by renovations of three barns, one including a large dance studio, to be completed at a later date.

Lumberyard distinguishes itself by supporting creation of contemporary multidisciplinary work through Incubator, a curated residency program. “Our goal is to strengthen the artists’ work and put their needs first, to get their city premiere as ready as possible,” says executive and artistic director Adrienne Willis. “We wanted to be far enough from New York City that artists feel like they are getting away, to minimize distractions that pull from creative work.”

 

Grace Farms’ Extraordinary First Year

This past October the impressive Grace Farms in New Canaan, Connecticut, held its one-year anniversary benefit featuring performances by Wendy Whelan and Gallim Dance alongside other visual, literary and performing artists. Kenyon Adams, the Grace Farms Foundation’s Arts Initiative director, describes the unique site as a place for collaboration and dialogue. The $67 million River building sits on an 80-acre property of meadows, woods, wetlands and ponds, and houses a 700-seat indoor amphitheater/sanctuary. The site is open to the general public and artists alike to encourage exploration of five initiatives: nature, arts, justice, community and faith. Admission is free.

“Everyone is invited to come here on their own at any time for peace and solitude, to enjoy the sheer beauty of nature and our building,” says Adams. While this generosity does not equate to free studio time, the site does offer space grants. Grace Farms also engages in thought-provoking discussions, such as hosting artists from a variety of disciplines for arts + mars, a workshop with NASA scientists to learn about NASA’s Journey to Mars mission. “Here you can clarify the priorities that drive your work,” Adams says, “and see the possibilities that arise when you take time to pause.” 

Inside DM

The appointment of Sasha Waltz and Johannes Öhman has already proved controversial.

Iana Salenko and Marian Walter. PC Yan Revazov, Courtesy Staatsballett Berlin

Unrest is brewing in Berlin. In September, local government officials announced that the current director of the Staatsballett Berlin, Nacho Duato, would be replaced in 2019 by a duo of co-directors: choreographer Sasha Waltz and Sweden’s Johannes Öhman. In response, the company’s dancers, worried about the future of ballet in Berlin, have fought back through an online petition and official protests.

Home to a handful of international stars, including Iana Salenko and formerly Polina Semionova, the 89-strong Staatsballett is one of Germany’s biggest classical companies. Born in 2004 from the fusion of Berlin’s three ballet ensembles, previously employed by different opera houses, it became a noteworthy classical company under the direction of Ukrainian-born star Vladimir Malakhov. Duato has proved divisive since his arrival in 2014, but his recent choreography has relied on the classical technique.

The selection of Waltz and Öhman, on the other hand, has sparked anxiety about the potential fate of the Staatsballett’s classical tradition. While Waltz is a world-renowned choreographer with her own Berlin-based company, she works in the Tanztheater tradition of Pina Bausch, with a contemporary vocabulary. “She comes from a completely different genre,” says Elinor Jagodnik, a member of the corps de ballet and union representative. “The dancers will know more about ballet than she does, and the company will no longer attract classical talent.”

The inclusion of Öhman, who has been the director of the Royal Swedish Ballet since 2011, was widely seen as an attempt to balance Waltz’s avant-garde approach, but the dancers are unconvinced. Waltz stated in an open letter that her planned repertoire would be 50 percent classical, yet included Angelin Preljocaj’s modern Snow White among those classical productions. (Waltz and Öhman declined to comment for this article.)

In addition to around 20,000 signatures, the Change.org petition attracted statements of support from the likes of John Neumeier and Lucia Lacarra. The dancers contend the appointment was political in nature. The mayor and cultural senator of Berlin, Michael Müller, appoints the Staatsballett’s director, and he made the announcement three years in advance, shortly before standing for reelection. In October, his political party weakened, and it is likely that he’ll be ousted as cultural senator, along with culture secretary Tim Renner. Jagodnik says the dancers hope the new directors’ appointment will be reversed. “We’re open-minded, but audiences in Berlin deserve to see classical ballet.” 

Meanwhile in Milan…

In October, La Scala announced that artistic director Mauro Bigonzetti was stepping down effective immediately, citing his need to recuperate from a severe back problem. Bigonzetti took over early in 2016 after Makhar Vaziev left to direct the Bolshoi. Echoing the current situation in Berlin, there has been speculation that ongoing tensions between the classically trained company members and the more contemporary director/choreographer were a contributing factor to Bigonzetti’s departure after only eight months at the helm. A new director is expected to be announced by March, and will take over from Fréderic Olivieri, who is filling the post in the interim. —Courtney Escoyne

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Inside DM

Principal Lorena Feijoo and members of San Francisco Ballet rehearse Possokhov’s new work. PC Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

Gravitas, Russian-Style

SAN FRANCISCO During last fall’s World Ballet Day LIVE, San Francisco Ballet’s choreographer in residence, Yuri Possokhov, talked to the dancers about his new work, Optimistic Tragedy. It’s inspired by what the Russian raised expat describes as the “monumental hope” of the 1917 Russian Revolution, saying, “We still hope of the best future.” In the choreography, masses of men surge around the heroic lead women, reminiscent of Massine’s controversial symphonic ballets of the 1930s. This new work, with music by Russian composer Ilya Demutsky, shares SFB’s Modern Masters program with Alexei Ratmansky’s beguiling Seven Sonatas and William Forsythe’s pure-dance excursion, Pas/Parts 2016. Jan. 26–Feb. 5. sfballet.org.

 

Decidedly Jazz Danceworks. PC Trudie Lee, Courtesy DJD.

Jazzy Juliet

CALGARY Two of the most famous lovers in English literature are getting a new treatment this month with Decidedly Jazz Danceworks’ premiere of Juliet & Romeo. Artistic director and choreographer Kimberley Cooper has promised unexpected twists in this reimagining of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, with fresh narration and original music performed by a live jazz ensemble. Jan. 18–28. decidedlyjazz.com.

 

Something for Everyone

Company | E, PC Paul Gordon Emerson, Courtesy Richard Kornberg & Associates.

NEW YORK CITY The American Dance Platform gives New Yorkers a chance to catch up on dance in the rest of the country. Coming to The Joyce are the witty Lucky Plush Productions from Chicago; Dallas Black Dance Theatre; Minneapolis Indian troupe Ragamala Dance Company; the globally minded Company | E from Washington, DC; San Francisco’s provocative RAWdance; and the Los Angeles–based Latin company CONTRA-TIEMPO. But the local dance scene is represented, too: There’s the fearless Davalois Fearon with her group, and the dramatic Dušan Týnek Dance Theatre. This small festival offers big diversity. Jan. 3–8. joyce.org.

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, PC Jay Brooks, Courtesy ROH.

We’re All Mad Here

LONDON It’s not the first choreography inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but it might be the funkiest. The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party uses hip hop to bring Lewis Carroll’s beloved characters to life, recasting them as inmates in an insane asylum who kidnap their new psychotherapist to Wonderland. ZooNation, a British dance company dedicated to using hip hop to tell family-friendly, humorous stories, has reconfigured its witty, madcap show for the Roundhouse’s protean space after its successful premiere at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre. Dec. 30–Jan. 22. zoonation.co.uk.

Bunny Masks and a Ballet Barre

Lidberg’s Rabbit, PC Tristram Kenton, Courtesy BalletBoyz

U.S. & CANADA Life is an ambitious title for a program—but that’s just the sort of cheeky daring that makes the all-male company BalletBoyz so irresistible. The production, which debuted in London at Sadler’s Wells last spring, comprises a pair of commissioned works: Pontus Lidberg’s Rabbit and Javier de Frutos’ Fiction. The former is a subtly nonsensical investigation of loneliness as a man interacts with figures clothed in waistcoats and bunny masks. The latter deals with the aftermath of loss—here, the fictional demise of the choreographer, whose imagined obituary forms part of the score as the dancers react to the news. Its North American tour takes BalletBoyz along the West Coast and through Canada. Jan. 20–Feb. 25. balletboyz.com.

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