Janie Taylor's Second Chapter—In Sneakers
Janie Taylor didn't know if she'd ever return to the stage. But that's exactly where the former New York City Ballet principal has found herself: Nearly three years after retiring, she is performing again, as a member of L.A. Dance Project.
Taylor officially debuted with the company at its December 2016 gala in Los Angeles, then performed in Boston, via live stream from Marfa, Texas, and at New York's Joyce Theater before heading off on tour dates in France, Singapore, Dubai and beyond.
"She is wildly interesting to watch—and not conventional," says LADP artistic director Benjamin Millepied. "There are films of Suzanne Farrell dancing, where you feel like the music is coming out of her body," he says. "I think Janie has that same kind of quality."
But dancing is no longer enough for Taylor. At LADP, she has carved out a unique, multifaceted artistic life that ranges from costume design to répétiteur work. "I really love doing and learning all these different things," she says, "and I also still love to dance."
Millepied created some of his first works on Taylor when he was a dancer at NYCB, and he always hoped she would dance for him again. "Even at my retirement party, Benjamin was like, 'Can you come and dance with us?' I was like, 'What are you talking about?' "
Her new artistic life is another step on a journey that has always been unpredictable. In 2004, as she was reaching the peak of her NYCB career, she was sidelined by what turned out to be a rare autoimmune disorder that prevents blood from clotting. She was prescribed steroids and, in 2005, had surgery to remove her spleen.
She struggled with muscle strains as her body was healing slowly and injuring easily. But by 2008 she was dancing full-time again, reclaiming her leading presence in favorite ballets like La Valse, Stravinsky Violin Concerto and La Sonnambula.
And then, at 33, she retired. She and her husband, fellow NYCB principal Sébastien Marcovici, danced their farewell performance together in March 2014. "I loved everything I did, but it was starting to feel predictable," she says, reflecting on the roles she was cast in. "Before you're a principal, everything's new all the time, and it's exciting, and you feel pushed," she says. "That was something I wasn't feeling so much anymore."
At the time, Millepied could see that something was missing. "She didn't dance as much as she should have," he recalls. "Essentially, she grew a little bit uninspired."
Taylor was curious about what opportunities the wider world might offer. She was also adamant about not choosing a new profession right away. "I wanted to find out what I was inspired by," she says. "One thing was clear though: I have to spend most of my time in a theater. It's where I feel happiest."
Millepied invited Marcovici to become ballet master for him at LADP and then Paris Opéra Ballet, so in 2014 the couple began a 21-month adventure in Europe, during which Taylor was teaching and setting ballets but stopped taking regular classes. "I'm pretty particular about what class I want to take, I'm such a Balanchine person," she says of her limited options in Paris. "Plus they have those crazy rakes!"
Time off had unexpected benefits. "You let go of a lot of stresses," she says. "When you're dancing a lot, you're so afraid of getting an injury, or making it through this hard day."
Prior to her retirement Taylor had begun dabbling in costume design, and soon after stepping away from the stage she began receiving commissions from Millepied, Justin Peck, Christopher Wheeldon and Joshua Beamish. "Helping to create a world that exists only onstage in that one piece, through what the dancers wear, is a really fun way to collaborate," she says.
And while she was anchored in Paris, Taylor found herself all over the map when Millepied and Peck called on her to set their works on companies like Staatsballett Berlin, Dutch National Ballet and Miami City Ballet. "It was really cool to see how other companies worked, to see what the dancers were like," she says.
Teaching the ballets she loved, like Peck's Year of the Rabbit, also got her back into dancing in surprising new ways. "I was teaching a boy's solo in one of Justin's pieces, and I would do the whole thing, men's steps, for two hours," she recalls. "I was like, 'Whoa.' I was doing double tours, because there wasn't something I had to get to at the end of the day, or the next day. My mind just wasn't working in that way anymore, and it allowed me to not limit myself." She realized how much she missed the physicality and athleticism of dance.
Carla Körbes, a close friend since they were in the NYCB corps together, describes Taylor's transformation as mental and emotional, as well as physical. "When you are in a big company, you are stuck on this schedule, and also in pain," she says. "Now she gets to decide, 'I'm gonna feel who I am again. I'm gonna be creative.' And guess what? Her body feels better."
When Millepied was winding down at POB and preparing to return to the helm of LADP, Taylor and Marcovici began the process of relocating to Los Angeles—"I love the heat," says Taylor, a Houston native. While setting Millepied's ballets kept her busy, she also decided she was ready to join the company.
"I've always loved doing his movement," she says. So far, she has performed pieces by Millepied and Peck, and she may go back on pointe, as well. "I may also try one of the more contemporary pieces in our rep—I like that there are possibilities."
Taylor thrives on the varied challenges and constantly changing atmosphere of a small, ambitious company, and on Millepied's ever-expanding reach. "He can be really spontaneous," she says, "and that appeals to me, to suddenly have another thing to figure out and do."
Korbes and Taylor. Photo by Patrick Fraser, courtesy The Chinati Foundation
From one day to the next she might be setting dances, performing, or helping with rehearsals or costume fittings. Millepied says he may even have her work on the set of Carmen, a feature film he's directing next year, organizing extras in group movement. "I could totally trust her to help me do that," he says. "She has a really good eye."
He feels that Taylor is coming back into her own. "There is this electricity," he says, "a real passion. I feel like I'm seeing that again."
Körbes sees it too. "Janie is honoring that she's not totally done with it, that she has more to give," she says admiringly. "It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there again. That's the thing about Janie—it's not about what people are gonna say, it's about what she needs to do."
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.
Last week, we highlighted the deliberately, hysterically bad @biscuitballerina Instagram account, created by a then-mysterious dancer with a great sense of humor. This week, the artist behind @biscuitballerina—who turns out to be Royal Ballet of Flanders corps member Shelby Williams—got in touch with us to set the record straight about the intentions of those LOL-worthy posts.
Her photos and videos, with their exaggeratedly cringe-worthy technical flaws, are NOT meant to mock amateur dancers. Instead, Williams is actually hoping the account will help all dancers move past their shortcomings and accept themselves and their dancing.
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.
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.