On the Rise: Warren Craft
Adding emotional dimension to musicality and skill
On Wednesday evenings in Smalls Jazz Club, you'll find eager New York tap dancers waiting to take a turn improvising with the house band. If you're lucky, Warren Craft will be among them. An uncanny performer who uses every inch of his rangy body, Craft can create tempestuous flurries of sound, his upper body twisting like a child throwing a tantrum. But he's just as likely to resist the urge to move, holding his weight suspended on his heels, elbows pulled up like a marionette, until he collapses in a rhythmic stutter.
Though only 20, Craft performs like a veteran. Long recognized for his impeccable skill and sophisticated musicality, lately Craft has transformed. His virtuosic technique is now informed by emotional vulnerability and artistic experimentation. “His personal style has grown leaps and bounds in the past two years," says Michelle Dorrance, the artistic director of Dorrance Dance, which has been showcasing Craft's talents. “There's no one on the planet who dances like him."
As a young child in Poughkeepsie, New York, Craft began taking ballet at 8 and added tap classes soon after with David Rider, who helped him build a strong foundation of classic tap technique. When Rider went on tour, Craft's parents began shuttling him to New York City to study privately with Ayodele Casel, a star of the rhythm tap scene. “She taught more about music and improvisation," says Craft. “Some days we'd just listen to music the whole time."
Then he began studying at the American Tap Dance Foundation—a New York City tap hub directed by Tony Waag—and joined their student repertory ensemble. ATDF offered Craft invaluable experience working with top tap dancers such as Barbara Duffy, Brenda Bufalino and Dorrance. It also provided a host of performance opportunities. In 2006, Craft performed at the foundation's annual summer festival, Tap City. Tony Waag and tap dancer Tony Mayes sang Neil Young's “Old Man," while Craft—then 12 years old—danced. It was a pivotal experience. “They led me in an interesting direction with such a mature song," he says. “I saw how much greater a reaction I could get if I understate my ability and think of myself as an artist rather than an entertainer."
As he was making strides in tap, Craft continued to study ballet, training at the School of American Ballet and then American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. But as the demands on his time became unmanageable, he had to choose a path. “I felt like ballet school was really stifling to my creative energy," he says. Today, he seems to have shed any remnants of the form. “A lot of ballet dancers can't let go," says Duffy. “To me, Warren looks like a tap dancer, and that's not always easy to accomplish."
Once he refocused his training, Craft sought out new ways of moving—and found inspiration in butoh, a Japanese dance-theater form. In 2009 and 2010 he took butoh workshops at CAVE, in Brooklyn. Butoh also inspired a new look. “I felt I had broken free of something," Craft says. “I trained my body to move not like anything I had seen before, but just to express. I really want to continue to where my body can do whatever I'm feeling in my head." And he wanted the outside to match the inside. He shaved his head and accumulated a collection of piercings, including a small bullring in his nose.
Craft's metamorphosis has recently been on display with Dorrance Dance. When the company debuted its first full-length piece, SOUNDspace, he was featured in a memorable solo. Wearing leather-soled shoes, Craft articulated quiet rhythms made all the more resonant by his dynamic body. He'll perform with the company this year at the Spoleto Festival and at Jacob's Pillow.
Duffy and Dorrance say they'd be curious to see what Craft's choreography would look like. For the moment, Craft simply wants to keep growing as a performer. In addition to his dancing, he hopes to forge a music career (he plays drums and also sings). Whatever he does, it will undoubtedly be distinctive. “He's not trying to be like anyone else," says Duffy. “He's finding his voice."
Photos of Craft performing at the Tap City 2013 gala by Amanda Gentile.
Showing choreography at a major venue in New York City is a goal and milestone for many dance artists. Yet when such an opportunity comes their way, choreographers frequently find themselves scrambling for time and technical resources to give their work that professional shine. What they end up performing may not have the polish they intended. "Far too often artists are arriving at their presenting house and the piece isn't ready," says Adrienne Willis, the executive and artistic director of Lumberyard Contemporary Performing Arts, an organization that helps dance artists develop new work.
Back when Lumberyard was known as the American Dance Institute and operated out of a strip mall in Rockville, Maryland, it pioneered its Incubator program to whip new pieces into shape, kind of like the "out-of-town" tryout model for theater. Several of the artists it supported ultimately brought their shows to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, one of New York City's most prestigious venues, which quickly recognized the positive influence of the Incubator on performances.
Since Thanksgiving is finally here, it's officially time to talk Nutcracker. With countless productions taking place between now and Christmas (and even some through the new year), we've been keeping tabs on Instagram to check in on rehearsals. Whether you're obsessed with all things Sugar Plum Fairy or the snow scene is more your speed, we've got your first look at the holiday classic.
We have a feeling even the Boston Ballet dancing bear couldn't keep up with second soloist Lawrence Rines' tricks in Russian.
For the past 3 years, choreographer Stephen Petronio has been reviving groundbreaking works of postmodern dance through his BLOODLINES project. This season, although his company will be performing a work by Merce Cunningham, his own choreography moves in a more luxurious direction. We stepped into the studio with Petronio and his dancers where they were busy creating a new work, Hardness 10, named for the categorization of diamonds.
'Tis the season to have some fun in the kitchen. If you want to get more creative than simply baking another pumpkin pie, try these Nutcracker-themed treats—created by and for dancers. These recipes from former Boston Ballet and Joffrey Ballet dancers were first published in Dance Magazine's December 1990 issue. Today, they're still guaranteed to turn any holiday party or dressing room into a true Land of the Sweets.
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
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.
It's no secret that affording college is a challenge for many students. And for dancers, there are added complications, like the relative lack of merit scholarships that take artistic talent into consideration and the improbability of a stable salary to pay off loans post-graduation. But no matter your budget, a smart approach to the application process can help you focus less on money and more on your training.
According to Drexel University performing arts department head Miriam Giguere, figuring out the kind of financial assistance a school offers is just as important as navigating what kind of dance program you want. Here's how to incorporate finances into your decision-making process:
When dancers get injured, they often think they should eat less. The thought process goes something like, Since I'm not able to move as much as I usually do, I'm not burning enough calories to justify the portions I'm used to.
But the truth is, scaling back your meals could actually be detrimental to your healing process.
With her fearless demeanor onstage, it's easy to see how Washington Ballet apprentice Sarah Steele attracted the keen eye of former American Ballet Theatre stars Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. Promoted mid-season from the studio company by artistic director Kent, Steele was cast by Stiefel as the lead in Frontier, his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, this past spring. For the space-themed piece, Steele donned a black-and-white "space suit" onstage, exhibiting dual qualities of strength and grace. Most evocative about Steele's dancing might be her innate intelligence—she was accepted to Harvard on early admission, and plans to resume her studies there in the future. But first, she'll dance.
Lots of college groups do stepping—a form of body percussion based on slapping, tapping and stomping—but Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to do it. They are currently at New York City's New Victory Theater, presenting The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, a show based on the painting series by Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence about The Great Migration of the 1900s, when millions of African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and traveled by train to the North for a better life. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of the country, and Jacob Lawrence's paintings became famous for their bold color and evocative power.