The Street Dance Style That's Tackling Today's Toughest Issues
FLEXN caused quite a stir when it premiered at Park Avenue Armory in 2015. Pairing opera director Peter Sellars with flex pioneer Reggie "Regg Roc" Gray and members of The D.R.E.A.M. Ring, the work took the Brooklyn-born street dance style to the concert dance stage, using it to create a series of vignettes that openly confronted the social justice issues brought to the fore by the Black Lives Matter movement. Since then, the piece has toured internationally, and the D.R.E.A.M. Ring has coalesced into a group focused on using dance to bring communities together and inspire change.
This week, Gray and The D.R.E.A.M. Ring return to the Armory, where they are artists in residence, with FLEXN Evolution. The updated take on their 2015 work will be performed May 18–21, with a special fundraiser event benefiting the D.R.E.A.M. Ring's community events following the Sunday matinee. (You can also catch a free preview of the work this Tuesday at the Brooklyn Public Library.) We talked to Gray about what's changed in the last two years.
How would you describe flex as a style?
Flexing has different characteristics: bone-breaking, pausing, gliding, get-low, hat tricks. The base is reggae, mixed with bruk-up [a Jamaican style that was popular in dance halls in the '90s].
Is the social justice/autobiographical aspect of the work built into the form, or is it something you consciously add to your work?
That's consciously added to the work. It's something that we've been doing for years, telling stories and describing things that are part of the environment. When we were working on FLEXN, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and all of these things were on people's minds. Those are the things we were talking about as dancers, those are things that we speak about with our bodies. So it was definitely a conscious effort.
FLEXN Evolution. Photo by Clementine Crochet, Courtesy Park Avenue Armory.
How has The D.R.E.A.M. Ring grown and developed since the last time you were at the Armory?
The dancers have learned to control themselves and their physicality. They've grown professionally; they're teaching now, they're doing work out in the field and the city, volunteering with programs and community organizations—schools, community centers.
How has FLEXN Evolution been updated for 2017?
Number one, the dance style itself has upgraded. It upgrades almost every day! In two years, wow, we've come so far. So not only that, but the world is not the same, politically. We chose to speak about some of the decisions being made—the wall, the Muslim bans, some of the decisions Trump is making. All of these things are part of the world now, so we're putting those in the show. The music has changed, the dancers have changed, the piece has changed. We've done all of that while also keeping some of the main parts that people have loved. We also have fewer dancers, and now we have a more focused situation where you'll be able to see faces and everyone in the show a lot better than two years ago when there was a big, long runway.
There's also a conversation series before every show, right?
We're inviting a lot of special guests within the community who are also involved in social justice. We'll be having an open discussion and conversation about what we can do. It's not about right or wrong, just real people coming from real places speaking about real situations.
What can audiences expect from the show? What do you hope they'll take away?
I really hope that they leave with the message. It's definitely the most powerful part of what we're doing. And an understanding of the dance vocabulary; opening their minds to a new style of dance and respecting it for what it is.
FLEXN Evolution. Photo by Clementine Crisp, Courtesy Park Avenue Armory.
And what is that message?
Come to the show and find out! The show resonates with different people in different ways, and we don't want everyone to see the show the same way. We've noticed that on tour: Everyone takes from it what they need to take from it. It's a real conversation through dance.
What does it mean to be back at Park Avenue Armory?
We're back at home. It feels great, and it's great to see the evolution of it take place right back where we started.
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.