Dancers & Companies

Meet A Very Different Faun, Tonight on PBS

The mythical faun, half human, half goat, has inspired many dance works. In Nijinsky's 1912 Afternoon of a Faun, he created a role for himself with the vulnerability of a human and the sensual power of an animal. His love object, a beautiful siren, was unattainable, so he pleasured himself with her scarf, causing a sensation in Paris.

Jerome Tisserand of Pacific Northwest Ballet in Robbins' Afternoon of a Faun, photo @Angela Sterling

Jerome Robbins created his faun in 1953 to the same Debussy music, but his character was part human, part dancer. The narcissism of looking in the mirror fostered a languid kind of self love. When he wakes up to the beautiful female dancer in the room, they are both so self-involved that the attraction doesn't go beyond one still-born kiss.

Mark Dendy portrayed a homoerotic duet with his "Afternoon of the Faunes" (part of his Dream Analysis) in 1996. He and Larry Keigwin sprinted faun-like, side by side, mostly in place. This new interpretation of the animal/human in love was quirky and touching.

Gregg Mozgala, with Lucie Baker (seated) in Rogoff's Diagnosis of a Faun, from the film Enter the Faun.

Tonight on "America Reframed" on PBS we will see yet another rendition of the faun. Choreographer/healer Tamar Rogoff's protagonist is sensual, virile, charming—and has cerebral palsy. In a way it's a perfect metaphor for the faun never fitting in. The lead performer is the charismatic, distinctive Gregg Mozgala, a professional actor. This amazing documentary, Enter the Faun, tracks Rogoff's approach to rehearsals with a differently-abled Faun, interspersed with clips of his performance in her 2009 Diagnosis of a Faun. Rogoff had an intuition that she could do what no doctor could—change the way he walks. In the film, she trains Mozgala in her "body scripting" technique, which involves hands-on manipulations and vigorous, sustained shaking. Mozgala is a changed man after their work together—but not without a sense of loss for his old, familiar, lop-sided walk.

When I previewed this film for Dance on Camera last year, I called Rogoff a miracle worker. If you watch the film on "America Reframed" tonight, you'll see why. You'll also see how humor can bubble up from a challenging situation.

Here's the trailer.

The 68-minute film airs tonight at 8pm EST. To check local listings in your area, click here.

For more info and for streaming after March 28, click here.

Johns' Map

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.

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Ashley Ellis, photo by Albert Ayzenberg, courtesy of Ashley Ellis

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.

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via Instagram, Company Cooperative

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.

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Dancers & Companies
A still from Duet, via CNN Style

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?

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Dancers & Companies
Neumeier's costume rendering for Orphée et Eurydice. Photo courtesy Lyrica Opera of Chicago.

As a student, Milwaukee native John Neumeier appeared in an opera at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. As Hamburg Ballet's artistic director and one of the world's leading choreographers, Neumeier now returns to the Midwest to direct and choreograph a new version of Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice, a co-production of the Lyric Opera, LA Opera and Hamburg State Opera. Set to open in Chicago September 23 with the Joffrey Ballet, the ambitious work will see additional engagements in Los Angeles and Hamburg over the next two years.

How did you come to be involved with this collaboration?

It was initiated by the director of the Lyric Opera, Anthony Freud, but I had already been in contact with Ashley Wheater about a separate project with the Joffrey Ballet. The two things came together—and this was really interesting to me because Chicago was important at the start of my career. I was born in Milwaukee, but most of my training was in or near Chicago.

You've previously created version of Orpheus for Hamburg Ballet. What about this particular production caught your interest?

When I got this offer from Anthony, I just went back to the piece and tried to sense what it meant to me now. Gluck's Orphée was part of a push to reform opera and to make a complete work of art involving music, text and dance. What interests me—particularly in this French version we are doing—is that dance plays such an essential role. When Agnes de Mille choreographed Oklahoma!, it was considered a revolution in musical theater, because dance moved the plot along. In Orphée, we can see that the same idea had been realized several centuries ago: that dance would not be just a divertissement, but a theatrical element, literally "moving" the plot along and expressing in another form the emotion of each situation.

Another idea in Orphée which fascinates me is its directness in projecting profound human emotions—emotions not used as an excuse for vocal virtuosity, but expressed in simple and direct musical terms. In Orphée, we have a mythical subject which is related in an extremely relevant, familiar, human way.

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Brendan Barthel and Chinchin Hsu of MJDC, Photo by RJ Muna

What happens when drones become part of the dance? For Margaret Jenkins Dance Company's latest work, Skies Calling Skies Falling, video artists David and Hi-Jin Hudge used a drone hovering 200 to 400 feet above the ground to film the dancers performing in an industrial granary. The resulting footage will be projected onto the floor and walls of the Taube Atrium Theater, creating a dystopian backdrop to the live performance.

Alex Carrington of MJDC, Photo by RJ Muna

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Dancers & Companies
Connor Walsh rehearses the role of Rudolf in Kenneth MacMillan's Mayerling. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

It's been 34 years since Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Mayerling touched down on American soil, when The Royal Ballet first performed the great English master's tour de force ballet stateside. On September 22–24, Houston Ballet becomes the first North American company to perform MacMillan's epic chronicle of the murder-suicide of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Crown Prince Rudolf, and his 17-year-old mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera. Chronicling the last chapter of the Hapsburg Empire, the ballet is known for its true-to-life realism, and for the role of Rudolf, which transformed the way male ballet dancers drive a story. It's considered a dream role for a male dancer. And with seven pas de deux with five different women, a deadly difficult one at that.

Driving Houston Ballet's Mayerling train is principal Connor Walsh, who nearly missed this opportunity to dance the part when Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston Ballet's theatrical home, Wortham Center. Now moved to the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts and back in rehearsal, Walsh took a break from his busy schedule to talk about the role of a lifetime.

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Health & Body
Quinn Wharton

Have you ever felt like your relationship to dance is something of an addiction? Not to worry, that's completely normal—it's simply the way our brains are wired.

This week, The Washington Post published an intriguing feature that looks at the science of what actually goes on upstairs when we're watching a live performance. The insight comes from the emerging field of neuroaesthetics, which uses tools like brain imaging to study the relationship between art and the brain.

Here are some of the most fascinating takeaways:

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