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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.
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.
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.
In today's dance world, it seems to go without saying: The more varied the training, the better. But is that always the case? Rhonda Malkin, a New York City–based dance coach who performed with the Radio City Rockettes, thinks trendy contemporary techniques that emphasize improvisation and organic movement quality are detrimental to the precision and strength needed to be a Rockette, in a traditional Broadway show or on a professional dance team. Her view is controversial: "If you really want to work, making $40,000 in three months for the Rockettes or $25,000 in one day filming a commercial, you need ballet, Broadway jazz, tap, hip hop—not contemporary," she says.
On the flip side, techniques that allow dancers more freedom may help them connect more deeply with their body and artistry, while providing release for overused muscles. We broke down the argument for both sides:
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."
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.
How does someone go from being a New York City Ballet corps member to training Hollywood A-listers like Natalie Portman, Rooney Mara and Jennifer Lawrence? By getting injured, says Kurt Froman.
When an ankle sprain left him sidelined a few years back, Froman was "sitting at home, depressed" when he sent his friend Benjamin Millepied an email asking what he was up to. It turned out that Millepied had just been hired to choreograph some scenes for a movie, but had to be in Paris during pre-production. "He needed someone to teach two actors choreography and get them in shape," says Froman. With nothing else on his plate, he said yes, and started prepping Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis for Black Swan.