Meet the Dancer Who's Redefining What it Means to be Disabled
In Rachid Ouramdane's Tenir le temps, Annie Hanauer articulates the choreography with unforced precision, her natural demeanor and smooth transitions the perfect fit for Ouramdane's undulating, abstract patterns. Few seem to notice that there is something slightly different about her: Hanauer was born missing part of her left arm, and now has a prosthetic one.
Hanauer, 30, has achieved what many thought impossible for a performer with a disability: a thriving career in the mainstream dance world. After performing with the UK's Candoco Dance Company from 2008 to 2014, she is now an in-demand freelancer, and a tall, striking presence in the works of contemporary choreographers Emanuel Gat and Ouramdane.
Born in Minnesota, Hanauer started taking a range of classes at a local studio when she was 10. Both her family and dance teachers were supportive: "I was never excluded," she says. "It was recreational, but when I got to the age of 16, I was taking class every night."
Still, pursuing a college degree in dance was far from an easy decision. "I remember having a crisis when I was accepted, saying, 'Am I ever going to get a job, because I've got one arm, you know?" she remembers dryly. The dance department at the University of Minnesota welcomed and nurtured her, and the curriculum helped widen her horizons. "I was the first person like this that they'd ever taught," she says. "It was probably a challenge for them, but we got a lot of individual attention."
In Rachid Ouramdane's TORDRE. PC Patrick Imbert.
In college, she also learned to work around issues linked to her disability. Partnering proved especially complex, although improvisation helped in the long term. "My strategy was to just do it to the best of my abilities, like every other dancer," she says.
The faculty prepared her for the challenges she would likely face in the industry: "I was ready to struggle through and have seven day-jobs," she says. During her senior year, she spotted an audition notice for Candoco, which bills itself as a "company of disabled and nondisabled dancers." They offered her a permanent contract, and the day after her graduation, Hanauer found herself moving to London.
The diverse repertoire of Candoco introduced Hanauer to European contemporary dance with creations by the likes of Hofesh Shechter, Rafael Bonachela and Nigel Charnock. The company was also invited to perform at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and at the Paralympic Games in London in 2012.
In Rachid Ouramdane's TORDRE. PC Patrick Imbert.
In 2014, Hanauer decided to "stretch her legs" and go freelance. "I wanted to keep growing as a dancer and to see how I would be received as a performer in a different context," she says. Gat and Ouramdane, who had set works on Candoco, soon called, and she now regularly commutes between London, where she lives, and France, where both choreographers are based. Hanauer has been part of three creations with Ouramdane, including TORDRE, a "double portrait" tailor-made for her and another woman. In 2016, she appeared in Gat's SUNNY, where her serene confidence and movement quality were highlights in the fluid group sections.
Prejudice is still part of Hanauer's experience, however. Partners sometimes offer to change choreography before she's had a chance to try it. "You have to be really in touch with your own body, and clear about what you need," she says. Reactions to disabled performers have also frustrated her in the past. "People are surprised that I'm not clunky or awkward. The level of discourse about disability is not super-complex. Either it's shocking, or a novelty, or else it's 'They're so noble.' "
Hanauer knows her success story is fairly unusual, and believes inclusive companies are still relevant and necessary: "The dance world is still very restrictive. In the UK, there is more of a historical conversation about this because of Candoco and others, but there's a lack of opportunities for dancers with disabilities." She now teaches regularly, and is exploring work of her own with three dancers and support from Candoco and London's The Place. "I still wonder if the industry is ready for me," she says with a laugh. "You just have to keep going and try to change people's minds by doing it."
Troy Schumacher is on a roll. The 31-year-old was recently promoted to soloist after almost 12 years with New York City Ballet, but that's nothing compared to what he has going on this month. Over the course of a few weeks he will premiere three ballets of his own creation: his third work for NYCB (Sept. 28), his first commission for Fall for Dance (Oct. 2–3), using dancers from Miami City Ballet, and another for the ensemble he founded back in 2010, BalletCollective (Oct. 25), using colleagues from NYCB, including his wife, Ashley Laracey. We spoke with him just as he was gearing up for this choreographic marathon.
What is it like having these two commissions in a row, plus planning for your own company's season?
I'm loving being so busy, working on multiple projects, all extremely different from each other. It's like when you're dancing a lot of ballets at once, and you're warm, both physically and mentally. You can get back into rehearsals and performances much more easily.
Tell me about your Fall for Dance* commission.
I've been wanting to work with dancers besides my colleagues from City Ballet for a while. I was always kind of secretly hoping Miami City Ballet would be the first, because they exemplify a lot of things that I like: musicality, athleticism and personality.
Who wants to go shoe shopping with
Carrie Bradshaw Sarah Jessica Parker before a night at New York City Ballet?
That's exactly what four people will be doing on October 6 as part of a brand-new Airbnb experience. The spots, which went on sale this morning, quickly sold out. Presumably, they were swiped by mega-fans of ballet (or "Sex and the City"), but that doesn't really matter—all proceeds from the $400-a-pop experience will go directly to NYCB, where SJP is on the company's board of directors.
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.
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.
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.