The 2017 Princess Grace Award winners have just been announced! Over the years, the Princess Grace Foundation-USA has demonstrated a knack for picking out future stars in the dance world, so it should be no surprise that several of the honorees are familiar names.
Choreographer and Gallim Dance artistic director Andrea Miller is known for visceral, imaginative work, where dancers can seem to do the impossible. She sat down with Dance Magazine editor at large Wendy Perron as part of our "Choreography in Focus" series to discuss rule-breaking, how Batsheva changed her and more:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has been seriously getting into dance lately. But now it's taking its love affair one step further: Gallim Dance director/choreographer Andrea Miller was just named the museum's artist in residence for the 2017-18 season—the first dance artist ever chosen for that distinction!
We caught up with Miller to find out exactly what this means.
Gallim Dance at the Temple of Dendur. Photo by Ani Coller, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
I didn't know what I was getting into when, at the ripe age of 11, I naively resolved to be the next Doris Humphrey. Even today I can't truly grasp where choreography will take me. It probably all began with dancing, loving music, feeling ownership of a little something in a world owned and ruled by adults.
Early on in my dance training, I was aware that I was observing the structure and components of dances as much as the task of dancing them. Around 15, I started making my own dances, performing them at my high school assemblies—much to my initial enthusiasm and ultimate mortification. When I began studying at Juilliard I abandoned the idea of making dance, influenced by the highly competitive environment and an unspoken cultural prejudice that suggested “those who can't dance, choreograph." So I decided just to focus on my training. But even as I was taking our daily classes, I found myself pretending that I choreographed the phrases to enhance my experience of executing them. Contrary to my own prejudice, choreography was moving me to find more satisfaction from dancing, and better technical understanding of it.
After graduating I moved to Israel to dance with Batsheva Ensemble. Training as a professional dancer and being immersed in the creative process, I realized that not only did I want to choreograph, I wanted to build a dance company. I found myself observing the elements of the art, as well as the structure that supported it. The transition into founding Gallim Dance felt very natural, yet there's been so much to learn, so many failures to surpass and milestones to celebrate.
Some of my brightest rewards have come from confronting entrepreneurial challenges to support my commitment to artistic creation. These challenges include the professionalization of the company, the provision of salaries and contracts for the dancers, balancing my work with my family life, and developing a language which allows me to explore the infinite possibilities of curiosity.
Being a choreographer keeps changing me, moving me, pushing me to expand myself—whether this means being an entrepreneur, a leader, a collaborator or a working mom. It's taught me about risk, patience, love, exhaustion, perseverance, joy…there's no end.
Many nights I have dance parties at home with my partner and two children. It's not unusual that I'll throw in “Hey, why don't you guys hold hands and try that in a circle?" It's a force. It can't be helped.
Ballet BC dancer Darren Devaney. Photo by Michael Slobodian, Courtesy Ballet BC.
Inspiration can come from anywhere, but for choreographers, the body itself is a rich source. Some dancemakers may be drawn to specific physical traits: lanky limbs, an articulate spine, a muscular build. But those features can’t move on their own. There’s always a heart, a mind, a spirit, a psyche—some form of inner life propelling what we see externally, animating what the body can do. Dance Magazine asked four choreographers: What body inspires you?
Bill T. Jones
Artistic director, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company
We’re a company that started out with very eccentric bodies: Larry Goldhuber, Arthur Aviles, people like that. Some of the repertory has such a strong imprint from those dancers that you’re always looking for some version of it, though you don’t want to be shameless about trying to reproduce it. Of course, there aren’t many Larry Goldhubers with 300 pounds, but my company must always have a very large man, somebody with stature. Larry always made me feel small when I danced with him.
For the kind of movement we do, it’s good to have long arms, a supple back, to be able to find stillness in a way that’s hopefully not dead. We talk about the skeleton as rock-and-roll: the bones of the skeleton, the way you let your backbone slip. It’s first got to be strong, like a marionette, so you can articulate from some central point.
Shayla-Vie Jenkins is one example of that. I love her beauty. When Arnie and I started out, we never had a regal black woman with training. They were going to Mr. Ailey or somewhere else. But Shayla was attracted to my movement. Because of the length of her limbs, the way there’s something aloof about her, she can deliver abstract movement convincingly. That’s more about the quality of interpretation than the body, but the two work together in my mind.
Photo of Bill T. Jones, Courtesy NYLA.
Artistic director, Ballet BC
There’s not one body type that interests me. What interests me is a dancer who is fully engaged inside of their body. There’s no blockage, no insecurity. They’re confident in who they are, and you can sense it in the way they dance. That usually leads, for me, to a body that is strong, agile, vulnerable, expressive and can really move through three-dimensional space.
Ballet BC is reflective of that. Every one of the dancers looks very different. They’re not the same height; some are more muscular. What’s interesting to me is how a group of individuals works as a collective. I think that when everybody is a carbon copy it misses the point of what artistic expression is.
There’s a dancer in Ballet BC, Darren Devaney, who is very slight. One would think on first observation that he wouldn’t be able to partner, but he’s one of the strongest and most supple dancers I’ve seen. Some of the greatest artists I’ve seen are the dancers with more difficult bodies: Maybe they don’t have the greatest arched feet, or the most flexibility, or an enormous amount of rotation or that fabulous arabesque. But it can be more interesting to watch, because they’ve had to create a real understanding of how their body works and what they’re saying with it.
Photo of Emily Molnar courtesy Ballet BC.
Artistic director, Dorrance Dance
I like working with a diverse range of individuals. A great example is Ryan Casey, who’s 6' 8" and really lanky. He stands out the second he’s onstage. That’s not just another body to me. It’s a body that inspires character work specifically. I centered a lot of scenes around him. I liked playing with the idea that he could look totally gangly, almost absurd, and still execute every sound with utmost precision and clarity and tone and nuance. You’d never think that someone with feet that big and a body that long could wield it with the same efficiency as a smaller, more compact dancer. I love that paradox and the character that comes from it.
I don’t mind if a dancer has some extra weight, some extra meat, a lot of muscle or barely any, as long as they have control. I want dancers who are strong and sharp but also capable of great subtlety. Of course, they have to have incredibly intelligent feet. The music and the integrity of our technique comes first. I want that clarity. But I do ask for more.
Dorrance (left) rehearsing a Petite Suite, with Ryan Casey (right). Photo by Joni Lohr, Courtesy Dorrance.
Artistic director, Gallim Dance
I could tell you everything that’s physically beautiful about any of my dancers. But if someone didn’t have the soul or the imagination or the depth to try something new and be bold, I don’t think those physical features would matter.
I see the body in its most inspiring state when a dancer lets their imagination change the makeup of their structure from one moment to the next, like the softness or thickness of their skin. One of my dancers, Dan Walczak, has really transformed in that way. He came from an approach that was more release-based, I think. There was something hesitant in his movement. We really had to get him to engage: engage his fire, his muscles, his focus, his jump. And he completely changed. He has a huge range of expressivity. You can feel his soul, his compassion, his sadness or his silliness. His heart is all over his body.
Miller watching Gallim’s Gwyneth Mackenzie and Matthew Perez. Photo by Carey Kirkella.
Siobhan Burke, a former Dance Magazine associate editor, is a dance critic for The New York Times.
Physical expression, humor, intensity—Gallim Dance takes these facets of performance way past the bounds of what’s comfortable or expected, with engrossing results. The company brings director Andrea Miller’s hilarious Pupil Suite and Mama Call, which draws inspiration from Miller’s Sephardic-American roots, to Wesleyan University Center for the Arts Feb. 8–9 and Temecula, CA, March 22–23. Sit, Kneel, Stand, with its star turn for “25 to Watch” Jonathan Royse Windham, will be performed at Georgia State University on Feb. 16. www.gallimdance.com.
Miller’s Pupil Suite. Photo by Franziska Strauss, Courtesy Wesleyan.
Set Design Swagger
Crashing waves, starry skies, and laser shows will hit the REDCAT stage on Feb. 14–16 as Japanese dancer/ choreographer Hiroaki Umeda aims to dazzle viewers with both technological effects and his choreography, a mix of hip-hop, ballet, and butoh. Umeda, who plans these effects on his laptop, will also take the two works, Haptic and Holistic Strata, to the Wexner Center in Columbus, OH, Canadian Stage in Toronto, and New York Live Arts. www.hiroakiumeda.com.
Umeda’s Holistic Strata. Photo courtesy Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media.
Bursting with energy, the New Zealand–based Black Grace embarks on a two-month North American tour. Making its Portland debut at White Bird on Feb. 19, the company performs a smattering of works including the full-length Waka. Packing power into skilled manipulations of the body, these dancers, led by artistic director Neil Ieremia, can be seen in Seattle; Pittsburgh; Saint Paul; Victoria, Canada; and Northridge, CA. www.blackgrace.co.nz.
Carl Tolentino and Thomas Fonua. Photo by Duncan Cole, Courtesy White Bird.
Rhythm and Soul
Performances, master classes, and other special events abound in San Francisco and Oakland this month as the 2013 Black Choreographers Festival marks its ninth year. Bay Area–based dancemakers Gregory Dawson, Raissa Simpson, and Colette Eloi, among others, will present work along with notable out-of-towners such as Camille A. Brown. A celebration of the 40th anniversary of Oakland’s Dimensions Dance Theater stands out among the two weeks of festival activities. www.bcfhereandnow.com.
Co-director of the Black Choreographers Festival Laura E. Ellis. Photo by Andy Mogg, Courtesy BCF.
Hamburg on Tour
The Hamburg Ballet brings John Neumeier’s sweeping dramatics to Orange County, Chicago, and San Francisco this month with two programs. The Little Mermaid swims into the Segerstrom Center of the Arts Feb. 8–10, while Nijinsky, which reimagines the ballet superstar’s career with the Ballets Russes, will be danced at the Harris Theater Feb. 1–2 and the War Memorial Opera House Feb. 13–19. www.hamburgballett.de.
Alexandre Riabko in The Little Mermaid. Photo by Holger Badekow, Courtesy HB.
Whether you think of Anna Halprin’s Parades and Changes as revolutionary, ritualistic, or raunchy, most viewers are riveted by the slow-motion undressing and dressing section—as well as the wanton ripping-huge-reams-of-paper scene. For Halprin’s “final” setting of this iconic 1960s work, dancers from around the world are coming to Berkeley to participate. Leading this parade of dancer/(re)searchers will be the original collaborators: Halprin herself (see “Nine Who Dared,” Nov.) and composer Morton Subotnick. Feb. 15–17, UC Berkeley Art Museum, with an exhibit of related artifacts on view in Gallery 1. www.bampfa.berkeley.edu.
A performance of Parades and Changes in 1970 in Stockholm. Photo by Ohlstrom, Courtesy BAMPFA.
Song and Dance
As the capital of country music, Nashville is bursting with tuneful talent—a situation just begging for collaboration. Nashville Ballet has put singer/songwriter Matthew Perryman Jones, known for his heartfelt pop-country lyricism, with choreographer Gina Patterson to work on a premiere. Also appearing on the program are Dominic Walsh’s lively The Whistling and Sarah Slipper’s passionate Ploughing the Dark, inspired by the love letters of Anton Chekhov and his wife, Olga Knipper. Feb. 15–17. www.nashvilleballet.com.
Jon Upleger and Sadie Bo Harris in Slipper’s Ploughing the Dark. Photo by Marianne Leach, Courtesy NB.
Contributors: Kathleen Dalton, Wendy Perron, Kina Poon