Making It Happen: Now and Next
Ashley Thorndike (far left) with both college and middle school students.
Photo by Katherine Anderson, Courtesy NNDMP.
When Hannah Fischer graduated two years ago from Saint Mary’s College in Indiana, she was nervous about her next step. She had a teaching and performing job with Leverage Dance Theater in St. Louis, but was unsure about what her day-to-day work would actually entail.
She was lucky; help came in an unusual form.
Before she took off for Missouri, Fischer spent a week at Appalachian State University to take part in the Now & Next Dance Mentoring Project. Founded in 2010 by Ashley Thorndike, Now & Next unites female college-aged dancers, middle school girls (ages 10 to 14), and working choreographers. For a week, the tweens are led by college students, who in turn experience real-world teaching scenarios—backed by the professionals. Fischer was able to hone some teaching, programming, and leadership skills while also getting the chance to ask the pros on staff about practical issues, like health insurance and fundraising.
“I call it a nested model,” says Thorndike, Now & Next’s executive director, who also has a private yoga and Pilates practice in Washington, DC. In the mornings, the 15 to 20 college students—mentored by dance professors and arts administrators—take somatics, dance, and choreography classes with the professional artists. They also share ideas to improve their own teaching and prepare lessons for the middle schoolers. When the kids arrive each day after lunch, the undergrads are ready to take the lead in movement classes, improvisation workshops, and arts-and-craft sessions.
Thorndike, who holds a Ph.D. in dance studies from Ohio State University, developed Now & Next’s curriculum while overseeing an educational program at the University of Virginia that paired college women with at-risk adolescents—without the dance component. But from her own experiences working with modern choreographers (in New York City, Chicago, and Charlottesville), Thorndike knew that dance could be the key to providing adolescent girls with healthy and creative choices.
Each day at Now & Next is framed by one of five themes: action, support, curiosity, challenge, or resilience. During the day that focuses on curiosity, for instance, college students lead a movement class and a body-mapping exercise. The middle-schoolers create self-portraits, tracing their body surfaces on oversized paper. “They’re learning all the ways they can move, talking about joint actions and articulations,” Thorndike says.
Now & Next doesn’t have a single location; universities like Appalachian State offer to host the program. Marianne Adams, chair of Appalachian’s theater and dance division, finds Now & Next a good fit for her department. “I see it as mentoring that comes full circle,” she says. “The students are at various places in their development, and so are the faculty members.” Adams also says it helps build her students’ confidence for life after college. “They get an opportunity to realize that they do know a lot, because of their role as mentor/teacher with the middle-school girls,” she says.
Thorndike hopes to expand Now & Next a little each year. Appalachian State will host the program again this June, and in 2014, and Thorndike has plans for additional locations. Her challenge, however, is to keep the student-to-mentor ratio as close to one-to-one as possible. “Because the program is so intense, the students are really receptive to feedback,” she says. “They are so engaged in wanting to make deeper connections for the middle-schoolers each day.”
Fischer, now 25, has taken her Now & Next experience and run with it. Today, she’s the assistant director of Leverage Dance Theater, where she recently helped launch an outreach program for underserved youth, incarcerated teens, and victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. She is now developing more of the program’s curriculum on her own. How did Now & Next help? “The building blocks that it put in place for me are invaluable.”
Lisa Traiger writes on the performing arts from Rockville, MD.
Back in July, the Bolshoi Ballet grabbed international headlines after canceling the scheduled premiere of a new full-length ballet just three days before opening night. The ballet was Nureyev, and, as it was centered on the life of an openly gay male dancer who defected from the Soviet Union, it was widely speculated that the decision was an act of censorship.
Further theories of political motivations arose as Kirill Serebrennikov, the project's already-controversial director, was being questioned in connection with an embezzlement investigation. But according to the Bolshoi, the ballet was pulled due to it simply not being ready, and was not canceled but postponed; a tentative premiere was set for May 2018.
But it looks like Russian audiences will be getting to see the new ballet far sooner than they might have hoped.
The dancers file into an audition room. They are given a number and asked to wait for registration to finish before the audition starts. At the end of the room, behind a table and a computer (and probably a number of mobile devices), there I sit, doing audio tests and updating the audition schedule as the room fills up with candidates. The dancers, more nervous than they need to be, see me, typing, perhaps teasing my colleagues, almost certainly with a coffee cup at my side.
By itself, a competition trophy won't really prepare you for professional life. Sometimes it is not even a plus. "Some directors are afraid that a kid who wins a lot of medals will come to their company with too many expectations," says Youth America Grand Prix artistic director Larissa Saveliev. "Directors want to mold young dancers to fit their company."
More valuable than taking home a title from a competition is the exposure you can get and the connections you can make while you're there. But how can you take advantage of the opportunity?
New York Live Arts opens its 2017-18 season with A Love Supreme, a revised work by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and collaborator Salva Sanchis. Known as a choreographer of pure form, pattern and musicality, De Keersmaeker can bring a visceral power to the stage without the use of narrative. She has taken this 2005 work to John Coltrane's famous jazz score of the same title and recast it for four young men of her company Rosas, giving it an infusion of new energy.
Photo by Anne Van Aerschot
Before too long, dancers and choreographers will get to create on the luxurious 170-acre property in rural Connecticut that is currently home to legendary visual artist Jasper Johns.
If you think that sounds far more glamorous than your average choreographic retreat, you're right. Though there are some seriously generous opportunities out there, this one seems particularly lavish.
Every dancer has learned—probably the hard way—that healthy feet are the foundation of a productive and happy day in the studio. As dancers, our most important asset has to carry the weight (literally) of everything we do. So it's not surprising that most professional dancers have foot care down to an art.
Three dancers shared their foot-care products they can't live without.
Dancers trying their hand at designing is nothing new. But they do tend to stick with studio or performance-wear (think Miami City Ballet's Ella Titus and her line of knit warm-ups or former NYCB dancer Janie Taylor and her ballet costumes). But several dancers at American Ballet Theatre—corps members Jamie Kopit, Erica Lall, Katie Boren, Katie Williams, Lauren Post, Zhong-Jing Fang and soloist Cassandra Trenary—are about to launch a fashion line that's built around designs that can be worn outside of the studio. Titled Company Cooperative, the luxe line of women's wear is handmade in New York City's garment district and designed by the dancers themselves.
Royal Ballet dancers Yasmine Naghdi and Beatriz Stix-Brunell recently got together for a different kind of performance: no decadent costumes, sets, stage makeup or lighting. Instead, the principal and first soloist danced choreography by principal character artist Kristen McNally in a stark studio.
The movement is crystal clear, and at the beginning, Naghdi and Stix-Brunell duck and weave around each other with near vacant stares. Do they even know they have a partner? And how should they interact? The situation raises a much larger question: How often do we see a female duet in ballet?