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Why Paul Taylor Treasures Dancer Laura Halzack
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."
It's easy to see why Taylor treasures Halzack and why he has created 16 works on her since she joined Paul Taylor Dance Company in 2006. Her commanding lyricism in Taylor's Airs or Martha Graham's Diversion of Angels contrasts with her daredevil attack in works like Scudorama or Mercuric Tidings. That chameleonesque versatility allows her to easily convey wise sophistication or the giddy energy of a child on the playground. You ask her to do it, she can do it. With grace.
Laura Halzack in costume for Cloven Kingdom. Photo by Jayme Thornton
"Laura is an extraordinary dancer," says Taylor. "She is a leader within the company and she is a dynamic performer."
With her elegant torso and back, her majestic neck always stays elongated and the shoulders released, whether standing still or charging through a phrase of consecutive jumps. And her intuitive musicality permeates everything she dances. New York Times critic Alastair Macaulay calls her "the company's most utterly beautiful woman" and says "her statuesque, suave, quiet inscrutability becomes captivating."
Nevertheless, Halzack's path to PTDC wasn't a straight shot. She began dance lessons at age 4, studying jazz, lyrical, tap and ballet at a competition studio in Southwick, Massachusetts. "I was such a little type-A kid and would always be in my basement rehearsing my solos," she says with a giggle. "I took it very seriously."
Recognizing her talent, her teachers advised her to intensify her ballet training at the School of the Hartford Ballet. As a pre-professional student, she studied Cecchetti ballet technique with Raymond Lukens and Franco de Vita (who later directed American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School), and the Vaganova syllabus with Alla Osipenko, a former ballerina with the Mariinsky Ballet. She continued her studies as a dance major at SUNY Purchase, where she first encountered Taylor's work.
And then she quit dancing.
"I had studied dance so intensively that, without even knowing, I was slowly burning myself out," she says. Halzack transferred from SUNY Purchase to the University of New Hampshire, eventually graduating with a degree in history in 2003. She didn't dance for two and a half years. "Every dancer's path is different, but for me, I don't think I'd be where I am today if I hadn't given myself a chance to dream and be a kid a little bit. It gave me the faith to miss dance and to learn other things."
After graduation, she did miss dance—a lot. She began studying at former Graham dancer Peggy Lyman's program at the University of Hartford's Hartt School. Her stronger grasp on modern dance training led her to perform with choreographer Amy Marshall, who had danced with Taylor 2 and David Parsons.
Then Halzack saw PTDC perform at Fall for Dance at New York City Center in 2004. She spent the next two years training at The Taylor School during the day, while working at restaurants and a night shift at the UBS bank headquarters.
"I fell in love with the range and depth of Taylor's work, the athleticism, the subtle nuances, the humanness," says Halzack. "It was my dream company." Taylor welcomed her to the troupe after her second audition in 2006.
An admitted adrenaline junkie, Halzack craves the oscillating range of the repertory: the effervescent pieces she calls "joy in motion that require technique, strength and stamina," such as Brandenburgs, Airs and Aureole; the dramatic works like Speaking in Tongues, which she describes as "theatrical, haunting, disturbing to be inside of and disturbing to watch"; and fluffy, humorous dances like Offenbach Overtures.
Halzack loves Taylor's range of repertory. Photo by Jayme Thornton
A true Gemini at heart, Halzack, now 36, juxtaposes her pensive, introverted side against her wild, free spirit. Intuitively, Halzack has always drawn from her bold imagination. The little girl who built a village out of popsicle sticks for her troll dolls isn't so different from the adult, hardwired to be a dancer and an artist.
Surprisingly, Halzack, who craves the rush of pushing herself, claims she had to learn how to move more slowly. Frequent partner Michael Trusnovec says he thinks the fullness of her dancing tricks people into tagging her as an adagio dancer, but he points out that her commanding speed and attack reveal the multifaceted dynamism of her artistry.
"Laura brings a rare combination of elegance and fire to Mr. Taylor's works," says Trusnovec. "She dances from a deep level of passion, and her personal expectation of excellence inspires the dancers around her, including myself, to be worthy of sharing a stage with her."
Halzack's loves relaxing by hiking or watching Game of Thrones. Photo by Jayme Thornton
Taylor has recognized similarities in Halzack's physicality and style to the legendary dancer, now company rehearsal director, Bettie de Jong. He chose her early on for one of de Jong's signature roles, the woman in pants in Esplanade, a casting decision that Halzack still mentions as a highlight of her career. "It made me really feel like I was part of the Taylor family," she says.
It was also the first time de Jong coached her in a role. "She's a woman with a tremendous imagination who loves to get back inside the part, stand up and demonstrate," says Halzack. "Just the way she talks about holding a room with your eyes, the way you stand and the subtlety of gesture is incredibly powerful."
Halzack says her rapport with Taylor has been natural: "He always has a way of making me feel at ease in the studio working with him." And, she adds, "he's really funny."
She recalls one rehearsal where Taylor stretched out on the floor to demonstrate a partnering move for Trusnovec. "He lowered me all the way down and had this hilarious, devilish little look in his eye, and says, 'Well, now what are we going to do?' We both started cracking up and then he pushed me right back up. It was this very easy, fun way of being. That's how he's always been with me."
PTDC possesses the rare blessing of working constantly, often on the road, so Halzack and her husband, Eric Naison-Phillips, an insurance executive, coordinate their schedules, and occasionally he joins her on tour. They both enjoy hiking and the outdoors, but Halzack also binges on "Game of Thrones" and photographs anything that sparks her imagination. "I love capturing the places that I go to and the people I'm with," she says. "The process of photo editing gives my head a break."
During the company's spring season at Lincoln Center, Halzack will appear in at least 12 dances, including new pieces by Doug Varone and Bryan Arias. "I do hope to continue dancing for a while," she says. In the future, she would love to be involved with The Taylor School and wouldn't miss an opportunity to direct or curate dance.
"I don't think I could ever be away from dance," she says. "There's not exactly a map, but there are things I know I want to do. But I have a few more good years in there."
Sarah Haarmann stands out without trying to. There is a precision and lack of affectation in her dancing that is very Merce Cunningham. Her movement quality is sharp and clear; her stage presence utterly focused. It's no wonder she caught Mark Morris' eye. Even though she still considers herself "very much the new girl" at Mark Morris Dance Group (she became a full-time member in August 2017), in a recent performance of Layla and Majnun, Haarmann seemed completely in her element.
Company: Mark Morris Dance Group
Hometown: Macungie, Pennsylvania
Training: Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts and Marymount Manhattan College
In 2012, freelance contemporary dancer Adrianne Chu made a major career change: She decided to try out for A Chorus Line. "Even though I didn't get the job, I felt like I was meant to do this," says Chu. So she started going to at least one musical theater audition every weekday, treating each as a learning experience. After several years of building up her resumé, Chu's practice paid off: She booked a starring role as Wendy in the first national tour of Finding Neverland.
Approaching auditions as learning opportunities, especially when you're trying to break into a different style or are new to the profession, can sharpen your skills while helping you avoid burnout. It also builds confidence for the auditions that matter most.
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:
Last month, the International Association of Blacks in Dance's third annual ballet audition for women of color was expanded to include a separate audition for men.
The brainchild of Joan Myers Brown (founder of both Philadanco and IABD), the women's audition was created to specifically address the lack of black females in ballet. However, the success and attention that audition drew made the men feel left out, so IABD decided to give the men equal time this year.
Pina Bausch's unique form of German Tanztheater is known for raising questions. Amid water and soil, barstools and balloons, the late choreographer's work contains a distinct tinge of mystery and confrontation. Today, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch's dancers use questions as fuel for creativity. The company's most recent project introduced a new group of performers to the stage: local high school ninth-graders from the Gesamtschule Barmen in Wuppertal, Germany, in an original work-in-progress performance called Veränderung (Change).
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.
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.