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.
Troy Schumacher is on a roll. The 31-year-old was recently promoted to soloist after almost 12 years with New York City Ballet, but that's nothing compared to what he has going on this month. Over the course of a few weeks he will premiere three ballets of his own creation: his third work for NYCB (Sept. 28), his first commission for Fall for Dance (Oct. 2–3), using dancers from Miami City Ballet, and another for the ensemble he founded back in 2010, BalletCollective (Oct. 25), using colleagues from NYCB, including his wife, Ashley Laracey. We spoke with him just as he was gearing up for this choreographic marathon.
What is it like having these two commissions in a row, plus planning for your own company's season?
I'm loving being so busy, working on multiple projects, all extremely different from each other. It's like when you're dancing a lot of ballets at once, and you're warm, both physically and mentally. You can get back into rehearsals and performances much more easily.
Tell me about your Fall for Dance* commission.
I've been wanting to work with dancers besides my colleagues from City Ballet for a while. I was always kind of secretly hoping Miami City Ballet would be the first, because they exemplify a lot of things that I like: musicality, athleticism and personality.
Who wants to go shoe shopping with
Carrie Bradshaw Sarah Jessica Parker before a night at New York City Ballet?
That's exactly what four people will be doing on October 6 as part of a brand-new Airbnb experience. The spots, which went on sale this morning, quickly sold out. Presumably, they were swiped by mega-fans of ballet (or "Sex and the City"), but that doesn't really matter—all proceeds from the $400-a-pop experience will go directly to NYCB, where SJP is on the company's board of directors.
The dancers file into an audition room. They are given a number and asked to wait for registration to finish before the audition starts. At the end of the room, behind a table and a computer (and probably a number of mobile devices), there I sit, doing audio tests and updating the audition schedule as the room fills up with candidates. The dancers, more nervous than they need to be, see me, typing, perhaps teasing my colleagues, almost certainly with a coffee cup at my side.
Back in July, the Bolshoi Ballet grabbed international headlines after canceling the scheduled premiere of a new full-length ballet just three days before opening night. The ballet was Nureyev, and, as it was centered on the life of an openly gay male dancer who defected from the Soviet Union, it was widely speculated that the decision was an act of censorship.
Further theories of political motivations arose as Kirill Serebrennikov, the project's already-controversial director, was being questioned in connection with an embezzlement investigation. But according to the Bolshoi, the ballet was pulled due to it simply not being ready, and was not canceled but postponed; a tentative premiere was set for May 2018.
But it looks like Russian audiences will be getting to see the new ballet far sooner than they might have hoped.
By itself, a competition trophy won't really prepare you for professional life. Sometimes it is not even a plus. "Some directors are afraid that a kid who wins a lot of medals will come to their company with too many expectations," says Youth America Grand Prix artistic director Larissa Saveliev. "Directors want to mold young dancers to fit their company."
More valuable than taking home a title from a competition is the exposure you can get and the connections you can make while you're there. But how can you take advantage of the opportunity?
New York Live Arts opens its 2017-18 season with A Love Supreme, a revised work by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and collaborator Salva Sanchis. Known as a choreographer of pure form, pattern and musicality, De Keersmaeker can bring a visceral power to the stage without the use of narrative. She has taken this 2005 work to John Coltrane's famous jazz score of the same title and recast it for four young men of her company Rosas, giving it an infusion of new energy.
Photo by Anne Van Aerschot
Before too long, dancers and choreographers will get to create on the luxurious 170-acre property in rural Connecticut that is currently home to legendary visual artist Jasper Johns.
If you think that sounds far more glamorous than your average choreographic retreat, you're right. Though there are some seriously generous opportunities out there, this one seems particularly lavish.