Paradise in Positano
What do Christopher Wheeldon, Olga Smirnova, Steven McRae, PeiJu Chien-Pott and Xander Parish have in common? They were all honored with the Premio Positano Danza Léonide Massine on Saturday in Positano, Italy. As one of the judges, I was there to soak in the artistry of these and other dance artists, as well as the beauty of this town on the Amalfi Coast. For the first time, the Positano Prize formed a partnership with the Benois de la danse Prize, which went to the Royal Swedish Ballet’s Marika Kido.
Carla Fracci, Italy's beloved prima ballerina, was on hand, and so was Alberta Testa, founder of the Positano Prize. Here’s a quick rundown of the gala performance, which took place on an outdoors platform on the beach—after the rain:
• Opening the dance portion (after endless speeches) was the kinetically exciting Alvaro Dule of Wayne McGregor|Random Dance. In a solo made for the occasion by Matteo Levaggi, Dule leapt wth leonine strength, distended his ribs, and spiraled his fingers. The effect was sheer contemporary energy.
Alvaro Dule, all photos by Arkimedia Lab Communication - Vito Fusco
• The lifetime award went to Mats Ek and Ana Laguna (click here and scroll down to see our coverage of Mats Ek when he received the Dance Magazine Award last year) To the delight of everyone, Laguna, with her forthright lustiness, played the Nurse to Mariko Kida’s spritely Juliet in an excerpt from Ek’s Juliia & Romeo.
• Steven McRae of The Royal Ballet danced two fast and dense solos (Les Lutins by Johan Kobborg, and Czardas by himself). In Czardas, he whipped the ballet folk form into a tap-dancing frenzy, during which the mic tethered to his body flung outward as he spun around. He caught it in time to finish up with a roll and cool lounge pose.
• I can see why Laura Cappelle wrote that audiences are “awestruck” by Olga Smirnova in the June cover story. In both Balanchine’s Diamonds, with Bolshoi partner Semyon Chudin, and her Dying Swan, her dancing was supremely majestic.
Smirnova and Chudin in "Diamonds."
• PeiJu Chien-Pott, the latest powerhouse of the Martha Graham Dance Company, performed two solos from Cave of the Heart, animating the oppositional Graham shapes with an inner emotional force.
• A moving moment came when the blind dancer Giuseppe Comuniello performed Vergilio Sieni’s Picasso con Sedia. Stretching across the seat of a chair and pressing his face between the slats, he was clearly feeling his way.
* In tribute to Wheeldon, Dutch National Ballet dancers Anna Tsigankova and Jozef Varga performed the intriguingly complex partnering of his recent Duet expertly (with only one flub due to the still-wet floor).
Tsigankova and Varga in Duet by Christopher Wheeldon
• Two Mariinsky dancers, Xander Parish (read his “Why I Dance” here) and Oksana Skorik, performed the White Swan pas de deux. He was every inch the prince, and she was a real creature with a lovely sense of abandon.
• Rudolf Nureyev, who received a Positano Prize in 1982, was represented by Carlo ie Lanno’s sensitive interpretation of a fourth-act solo for Siegfried in the icon's version of Swan Lake. Nureyev loved this region so much that he bought the island Li Galli, just 20 minutes off the coast, and made it his home for the last two decades of his life. Some of us were fortunate to actually visit this fantastic island on Saturday morning, courtesy of the Positano Prize’s artistic director, Daniele Cipriani. Nureyev knew how to live in high style; every object inside the several buildings, now owned by a local hotelier, is exquisite. Massine, who had owned the island before Nureyev, had renovated an ancient lighthouse to create a dance studio. The island itself as well as everything in it and on it was so overwhelmingly beautiful that the word "paradise" was on everyone's lips.
Here’s the list of prizes awarded:
• Lifetime Achievement: Mats Ek and Ana Laguna
• Choreographer of the Year: Christopher Wheeldon
• Benois/Positano Award: Mariko Kida (Royal Swedish Ballet)
• Female Dancer of the Year, international scene: Olga Smirnova (Bolshoi, Moscow)
• Male Dancer of the Year, international: Steven McRae (The Royal Ballet, London)
• Female Emerging Dancer, international: Oksana Skorik (Mariinsky, St. Petersburg)
• Male Emerging Dancer, international: Xander Parish (Mariinsky, St. Petersburg)
• Female Dancer of the Year, contemporary, international: PeiJu Chien-Pott (Martha Graham Dance Company, New York)
• Male Dancer of the Year, contemporary, international: Alvaro Dule (Wayne McGregor|Random Dance, London)
• Classical Dancer of the Year, Italian scene: Carl di Lanno (formerly La Scala in Milan, today San Francisco Ballet)
• Contemporary Dancer of the Year, Italian: Giuseppe Comuniello (Virgilio Sieni Dance)
• Massine Prize Legacy: Elizabeth Souritz (noted dance historian and biographer of Léonide Massine, Moscow)
• For excellent dance training "Luca Vespoli": Larissa Anisimova (President Foundation National Academy of Dance, Rome)
The coming weeks see not one, but two companies that can best be described as French cultural mash-ups landing at New York City's Joyce Theater.
It was a Christmas Eve that The Lion King dancer India Bolds will never forget.
Exhausted from a long week of performances, Bolds was clueless when she saw her cast mates randomly dancing in Broadway's Minskoff Theater lobby, and even more confused when they morphed into a choreographed flash mob. But when her boyfriend of four years, Dale Browne, popped up in the mob wearing a beautiful blue suit, she realized what was coming.
Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.
"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.
After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.
Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org
In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."
She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."
Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.
Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.
Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."
Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.
But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.
Back in the 80s, Molissa Fenley introduced a luscious, almost Eastern-feeling torque in the body that made her work compelling to watch. Her sculptural shapes and fierce momentum showed a different kind of female strength than we had seen. Now, as part of The Kitchen's series on composer Julius Eastman, Fenley has remounted her 1986 Geologic Moments, the second half of which she had developed with Eastman. The result, which premiered at Brooklyn Academy of Music, is a richly textured piece in both music and dance. (The first half has music by Philip Glass.)
When Paul Taylor created Beloved Renegade on Laura Halzack in 2008, he gave unequivocal instructions. She was the figure, sometimes referred to as the angel of death, who circles dancer Michael Trusnovec in a compassionate, yet emphatic way.
"He choreographed every single step for me," she says. "He showed it to me—do this développé, reach here, turn here, a very specific idea," she says. His guidance was that she be cool and sweet. Then, she says, "he just let me become her. That's where I really earned Paul's trust."
From the minute my journey as a dancer began at age 4, there were no other options of what I might do with my life.
Sure, I tried other "after-school activities." I tried desperately to master The Phantom of the Opera with my squeaky violin rental—a headache for my parents who paid for private Suzuki method lessons at our house. Constantly attempting famous show tunes on my violin, the effort was completely futile. I actually remember thinking, 'Surely this sheet music is wrong, this sounds nothing like the Phantom of the Opera.'
I even tried my hand at gymnastics. But when my mom's brilliant bribery of $100 for my first mastery of a kip or a back handspring didn't produce any results, we quickly threw in the towel.
When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."
But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.
From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.
New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.
A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.
Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.
In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.
When London-based perfume company The Beautiful Mind Series was looking for a collaborator for their next scent, they skipped the usual celebrity set and brought in prima ballerina Polina Semionova instead. "I was fascinated by what goes on in the mind of a great dancer," perfumer Geza Schoen said in a press release. Semionova's ballet-inspired scent, Precision & Grace, celebrates the intelligence and beauty behind her craft.
Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series