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On the Rise: Amanda Assucena
Assucena in Stanton Welch's Maninyas. "It's challenging, because I'm not a natural jumper," she says. Photo by Cheryl Mann, courtesy Joffrey Ballet.
Her easy musicality and subtle mischief capture your attention first. Then comes Amanda Assucena’s effortless but impressive technique—the gyroscopic pirouettes and sustained balances. It’s no wonder the Joffrey Ballet dancer has quickly advanced into major roles. Since joining the company in 2013, she’s danced the lead in Krzysztof Pastor’s Romeo & Juliet and the Sugar Plum Fairy in Robert Joffrey’s Nutcracker. Now, she’s poised for stardom in the Windy City.
Company: Joffrey Ballet
Hometown: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Training: Centro de Danca Rio, Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro’s School of Dance, The Harid Conservatory, Joffrey Academy of Dance trainee
Accolades: First prize at Brazil’s Joinville dance competition
An independent spirit: “My teacher in Rio encouraged me to leave Brazil if I wanted a career in ballet, so I left home at 14 to study in Florida,” says Assucena. “I’m a pretty independent person. I knew ballet was not an easy world to be in, but I couldn’t stay away from it.”
Breakout moment: Shortly after getting her Joffrey contract, she danced the third variation in the Shades section of La Bayadère. “I thought I would just be doing one performance during the run, but then I was on the list for opening night.”
Branching out: “Classical ballet is my first love, but I’ve been learning to connect much more with contemporary work, especially since doing Romeo and Juliet. In many ways the modern works are so much more human."
What Wheater is saying: “Amanda is remarkably mature as a person and an artist, and that was clear from the moment she entered our trainee program,” says Joffrey Ballet artistic director Ashley Wheater. “She was knowing, unafraid and very focused on her work, and in certain ways she reminded me of Alessandra Ferri.”
Dancemakers take note: “Choreographers like Christopher Wheeldon and Stanton Welch have very quickly spotted her,” Wheater says. Assucena danced the first-act pas de trois and cygnets pas de quatre in Wheeldon’s Swan Lake.
Dream roles: “Giselle is my favorite classical ballet ever. Meanwhile, I hope to have a chance to do Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella,” which the Joffrey will remount in spring 2016.
Before she became the 20th century's most revered ballet pedagogue, Agrippina Vaganova was a frustrated ballerina. "I was not progressing and that was a terrible thing to realize," she wrote in a rough draft of her memoirs.
She retired from the Imperial Ballet stage in 1916, and for the next 30-plus years, devoted herself to creating a "science of ballet." Her new, dynamic teaching method produced stars like Rudolf Nureyev, Alla Osipenko, and Galina Ulanova and later Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. And her approach continues to influence how we think about ballet training to this day.
But is the ballet class due for an update? Demands and aesthetics have changed. So should the way dancers train change too?
I love being transgender. It's an important part of the story of why I choreograph. Although I loved dance from a very young age, I grew up never seeing a single person like me in dance. So how could I imagine a future for myself there?
The enormous barriers I had to overcome weren't internal: I didn't struggle with feelings of dysphoria, and I wasn't locked down by shame.
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
It's easy to feel whiplashed thinking about everything Emma Portner has achieved in such a short amount of time. Last fall, the 23-year-old was the youngest woman ever to choreograph a West End production (it was based on Meat Loaf's greatest hits). This was, of course, after she already choreographed and starred in Justin Bieber's viral hit "Life is Worth Living," and before she charmed major media outlets when she secretly married actress Ellen Page. Now, she's L.A. Dance Project's first-ever artist in residence, and she's working on a commission for Toronto's Fall for Dance North Festival.
We caught up with her for our "Spotlight" series:
The dance community is heartbroken to learn that 14-year-olds Jaime Guttenberg and Cara Loughran were among the 17 people killed during the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
Guttenberg was a talented competition dancer at Dance Theatre in Coconut Creek, FL, according to a report from Sun Sentinel. Dance Theatre owner Michelle McGrath Gerlick shared the below message on her Facebook page, encouraging dancers across the country to wear orange ribbons this weekend in honor of Guttenberg, whose favorite color was orange.
A statement released yesterday by New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet reported that an independent investigation was unable to corroborate allegations of harassment and abuse against former ballet master in chief Peter Martins, according to The New York Times. This marks the end of a two-month inquiry jointly launched by the two organizations in December following an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment and violence.
The statement also included new policies for both the company and school to create safer, more respectful environments for the dancers, including hiring an independent vendor to handle employee complaints anonymously. These changes are being made despite the independent investigation, handled by outside counsel Barbara Hoey, purportedly finding no evidence of abuse.
Not all ballet dancers cling to their youth. At 26, Lauren Lovette, the New York City Ballet principal, has surpassed the quarter-century mark. And she's relieved.
"I've never felt young," she says. "I can't wait until I'm 30. Every woman I've ever talked to says that at 30 you just don't care. You're free. Maybe I'll start early?"
When Beatlemania swept through the U.S. in the 1960s, Mark Morris was one of millions of young Americans who fell head over heels for the revolutionary group. "I was not immune," the choreographer says. "My sisters were mad about The Beatles and so was I. At age 12 I had a crush on Paul, of course."
Flash forward 50 years and he is still rocking to the British band, but this time with a new Beatles-inspired dance work his company is touring across North America, starting this month with scheduled stops in Seattle, Toronto, Portland, Oregon, and another 25 cities before the end of 2019.
You could call it island-hopping, but it's not exactly a vacation. After choreographing last season's Come From Away, and winning a Tony nomination, Kelly Devine zipped from frosty Newfoundland to the Caribbean beach resort that is the setting for Escape to Margaritaville.
In the fall, she was shuttling between them, before they start this month: flying to Toronto to prepare a new Canadian production of Come From Away, then jetting back to Chicago for the final stop of Margaritaville's four-city pre-Broadway tryout.
"These two shows could not be more different from each other," Devine says with a dash of understatement. Come From Away is about the small Newfoundland town where airliners grounded by the 9/11 attacks dumped thousands of unexpected visitors; Escape to Margaritaville, at the Marquis Theatre, is a comic island romance concocted from the beachcomber songbook of Jimmy Buffett.