The Radical Bodies evening broke all attendance records at Hunter College's Kaye Playhouse on May 31. People were lining up in the courtyard almost two hours before curtain, and the mood was festive. All 650 seats were filled, more than 100 people were turned away and about 60 went across the street to watch the live stream.
Why such a hubbub? The admission was free and the event was historic: It had been 50 years since Anna Halprin caused a scandal when she brought her Parades and Changes to Hunter. The "Paper Dance," which involves disrobing calmly, methodically and completely, was labeled "indecent exposure" in 1967 and led to a warrant for Halprin's arrest.
Fewer choreographers are hiring from auditions. So what’s the best way to secure work?
Casey Loomis (fourth from right) took three intensives and auditioned twice before Doug Varone hired her. Photo by Jim Coleman, courtesy Varone.
The idea of networking can send dancers into a panic. You’re not sure how to do it, what to say or when to say it. And when you do approach your favorite choreographer and shake their hand, your palms are sweaty and your words of admiration stutter out of your mouth. (That is, unless you are the rare dancer who actually communicates verbally as well as you do through movement.)
Yet as the dance landscape changes, and troupes shrink and shift toward project-based models, choreographers have become less dependent on cattle calls to hire dancers. Instead, many prefer to work with people they know and trust—people with whom they already have a relationship. “Ninety-nine percent of the time I hire dancers I already know,” admits choreographer Doug Varone. “I’ll always hold an audition out of fairness to the dance community, but I usually have my eye on dancers that I’m already familiar with.”
Put Yourself Out There
The first way many dancers think to get in touch with choreographers is over e-mail, with a resumé, head shot and performance reel. But if you haven’t yet established a relationship, your letter will most likely be tossed aside. At best, you’ll get a reply from an assistant about taking an open class.
So take one—or 20. Having your name remembered means showing your face months before audition day, and becoming a loyal presence. Get into a choreographer’s classes, as well as any classes his or her dancers may teach, because their opinions often come into play during the hiring process. Even better, take the company summer intensive.
But once you’re in class, relax, and don’t treat it as an opportunity to impress whoever is at the head of the studio. “If I approached classes as auditions it would deplete me so quickly. It disempowers the dancer,” says Casey Loomis, who joined Doug Varone and Dancers in 2014. “The class has to be for you, too. There’s gotta be a balance.”
Joe Goode suggests interested dancers ask to help out with a project. Photo by Kinsburg Hall Staff, courtesy Goode.
San Francisco choreographer Joe Goode agrees: “Focusing all your attention on me is a bit of a turnoff.” Often, when dancers put networking faces on, they aren’t showing their truest selves. Part of the reason choreographers take their time before hiring a dancer has nothing to do with technique, but with personality and work ethic: how you apply corrections, learn material and work with others.
Make Your Intentions Known
Once you’ve become a regular, go up to the choreographer after class and introduce yourself. Most welcome it—or at least they don’t mind if it’s done appropriately. “In the moment I always think it’s a bit of an annoyance,” admits Goode. “ ‘Oh no, not another person telling me they love my work.’ But in reality, you have to put it in the back of my mind. The one that has spoken to me is the one I remember.” Make sure the conversation is genuine and informed. “Keep up with the work that I’m doing,” says Dwight Rhoden, co-artistic director of Complexions Contemporary Ballet. “Know what my old work looked like and where I’m going now.”
As time goes on, stay in touch. But there’s no need to remind them of your presence each week. “I’m a private person, so I usually run away from people who hunt me. And, oh, I’ve been hunted,” says Varone. “There are people who always want to talk to you after class and constantly want feedback.” Asking for special treatment, like taking company class, can be touchy and will depend on the choreographer’s personality. Northwest Dance Project artistic director Sarah Slipper says she generally doesn’t have the time to open up her company class; Rhoden says go ahead and try: “The worst I say is no.”
Show your interest outside of the studio, too. Go see their shows, and if it feels natural, approach them after to tell them you enjoyed the work. “ ‘I particularly
Sarah Slipper: "Don't email me 'To whom it may concern.'" Photo by Blaine Covert, courtesy NWDP.
liked this aspect’ or ‘I was really drawn to the moment when this happened.’ Make some kind of intelligent insight,” says Goode. And “let me know when you’re performing,” says Varone. “Or if you’re a young choreographer, tell me when your work is being shown. That tells me a great deal about your dancing.”
Another way to stay in the loop: “Ask to help with a project. It could be as simple as volunteering to run an errand or help out backstage,” says Goode. “But do it because you’re interested in being near the project, not because it’s your moment to shine.”
Keep Your Options Open
If you feel like you’ve been following a choreographer for a long time without any results, it might be time to move on. “I’m pretty honest with how I feel about a dancer,” says Rhoden. “Maybe their pointe work isn’t strong enough or they’re at a certain age and just haven’t developed to a certain technical level.”
Very few dancers’ paths to their dream companies are short. It took Loomis three Doug Varone and Dancers summer intensives and two auditions with Varone, one for the company and one for the Metropolitan Opera, before he hired her for the Met gig. He asked her to join his company two years later. In the meantime, she says, “have an interest in a lot of different things, or rejection will destroy you.” Keep pursuing your goal, but continue to learn about new artists and expand your net. For a lucky few, longtime dreams come true. But more often, they shift as you grow. Chances are you’ll end up right where you belong.
NEW YORK CITY
Endless repetition can drive audiences out of the theater, but a gifted choreographer can make watching the same phrase over and over with subtle changes fascinating. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker is one of those rare ones. Four of her early works from the 1980s are coming to Lincoln Center Festival for a De Keersmaeker marathon that will make her fans deliriously happy: Fase, Elena’s Aria and Rosas danst Rosas—the work that Beyoncé borrowed from for her “Countdown” music video—and Bartók/Mikrokosmos. As a bonus, the Belgian choreographer herself will perform in the first three of these evening-length works. She dances with a poetic inner focus as though immersed in a rhythmic dream. July 8–16, John Jay College. lincolncenterfestival.org.
Above: De Keersmaeker’s Bartók/Mikrokosmos. Photo by Herman Sorgeloos, Courtesy Lincoln Center Festival.
A Change for Sascha
NEW YORK CITY
He is dashing on the Metropolitan Opera House stage, has written eloquently for Dance Magazine and was charismatic on the silver screen in Center Stage. On July 3, when beloved soloist Sascha Radetsky performs the role of Franz in Coppélia, it will be his last dance as a member of American Ballet Theatre. But the innately likeable dancer will keep busy: He’s currently in production as a main character in the TV show “Flesh and Bone,” to air on Starz in 2015. He and his wife, ABT soloist Stella Abrera, will also serve as répétiteurs for the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust. abt.org.
At right: Radetsky in Fancy Free. Photo by Marty Sohl, Courtesy ABT.
Straight From the Horse’s Mouth
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA
When choreographers perform their own work, we’re getting an undiluted product—from mind to body to stage. That’s the reward of the On Their Bodies program, July 22–23, at American Dance Festival. Ronald K. Brown, Stephen Petronio, Doug Varone and Shen Wei, who have each carved out their own unique movement languages, will perform self-choreographed solos. (If only there was a woman in the mix, too!) americandancefestival.org.
At left: Ronald K. Brown. Photo by Kurt H. Leggard, Courtesy Evidence.
It’s a simple but compelling experiment: Commission a piece of music, have two choreographers create their own works to it and present them on the same bill. Audiences will be hearing double during the SKETCH 4 | Music Mirror program at ODC Theater, in which Amy Seiwert and Adam Hougland will offer separate interpretations of Kevin Keller’s score. Seiwert, known for her quirky, angular movement, and Hougland, for his innovative narratives, have been housed at ODC for five weeks to prepare. July 24–27. odcdance.org.
At right: Weston Krukow and Sarah Griffin of Amy Seiwert Imagery. Photo by David DeSilva, Courtesy Amy Seiwert Imagery.
See the Music
Mark Morris is a master of translating a musical score into lush dancing. This summer’s Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival will offer a full week of events that dive into his obsession with melody. Morris himself will lead music seminars, discussions and open company classes. And there will be plenty of performances, too: The Mark Morris Dance Group Music Ensemble will have its own concert and will accompany MMDG in seven programs of newer Morris works—Festival Dance, A Wooden Tree, Crosswalk and Jenn and Spencer. July 21–27. jacobspillow.org.
At left: Domingo Estrada and Michelle Yard in Festival Dance. Photo by Stephanie Berger, Courtesy MMDG.
Julia Burrer (center) in Doug Varone’s Carrugi (2012). Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann, Courtesy Doug Varone and Dancers.
Julia Burrer flows like water onstage. In Doug Varone’s Lux, her limbs slice and caress the space, her lanky 6' 1" frame reaching the corners of the stage even as she drops to a roll in one breathtaking movement. Burrer makes one wonder how arms could seem so supple, graceful, and powerful all at once. The 29-year-old Austin, Texas, native often talks about dancing like writing in cursive—an image which resonates after watching her fluid script of movement. Dance Magazine spoke to Burrer, a member of Doug Varone and Dancers since 2007, about warming up, eating right, and listening to your body.
Taking It One Day at a Time
With eight hours of sleep and a solid breakfast under her belt, Burrer heads to the 92nd Street Y studios for rehearsal with Varone, typically four days a week from 10 to 4. She likes to arrive at least 45 minutes early to warm up. “I check in with myself and see if I’m focused and present,” she says. While she might start with yoga, gentle improvisation, or floor work, her routine consistently includes a mix of what she describes as “adapted Pilates, physical therapy exercises, and things that I’ve learned from other teachers and changed the recipe to make my own.” She articulates her pelvis, engages her core, and uses spirals to wake up her spine. “Our rehearsals sometimes start with a full run of a piece,” she says, “so you have to get your heart rate up and get a little sweaty beforehand.”
In a city filled with constant movement, Burrer has learned to think ahead about nourishment. Rehearsals don’t often leave time for a leisurely lunch, so she packs smaller, protein-filled snacks, like nuts, Greek yogurt, and fruit. Dinners fill in the food-groups that are often missed during the day, like greens and meat, and sushi is often Burrer’s go-to meal before performances. It’s light, so “you don’t feel overfull,” she says.
Learning Through Pain
Having dealt with a bulging disc in her lower back for the past few years, Burrer recognizes that with age comes wisdom. “As a younger dancer, all you want to do is dance your heart out. You put your body through crazy things. You ask a lot of it but don’t give much back,” she says. “As you get older, your body isn’t able to keep up.”
When Burrer first felt the signs of her injury, she thought she had simply pulled a muscle. But when mere sneezes started to bring on a sharp, stabbing pain, she realized the problem was more serious. She visited a host of doctors and bodywork specialists, each of whom attributed her pain to something different. So Burrer took control of the situation, choosing elements from each consultant and finding ways to incorporate them into her warm-up. Particularly helpful have been a spine-spiraling PT exercise she uses both before and after dancing (see sidebar), and rolling out with balls. She also thinks constantly about her posture, especially in non-dance moments.
Yoga practice has become integral to Burrer’s total mind-body maintenance, whereas she tends to save trips to the gym and other dance classes for lighter rehearsal periods or breaks. “It’s all about balance,” she says. “Being focused on my body during rehearsal is great, but there’s also the whole rest of my life that I want to participate in.”
Elena Hecht is a dancer and writer based in NYC.
To help find a sense of freedom and expansiveness in the upper body, Burrer recommends the following exercise:
• Lie on your left side, legs bent at 90-degree angles at your hips and knees. Rest your arms on the floor, parallel to your upper legs. Your right arm is on top of your left.
• Reach forward with your right fingertips, sliding your right arm out along the floor as far as it will go.
• Pull your right shoulder blade back towards the floor, letting your right palm slide up your left arm. Feel a slight sense of opposition through your torso—your upper back twists away from your left side.
• Repeat that twisting sequence four times, reaching your right hand forward and pulling back from your shoulder.
• Reach forward to begin a fifth set, but this time let your fingertips arc overhead, drawing a semicircle on the floor. Let your chest open, and as the right arm finds its place open and across from the left, turn your head to the right side, away from your knees. You should feel a deeper sense of opposition and spiral.
• Take a few breaths. Enjoy the stretch.
• Reverse the semicircle with your right fingertips, closing your body back to the left side.
• Repeat this sequence four times, then start from the beginning on your right side.
Varone’s Carrugi. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann, Courtesy Varone.
Whether in older or new work, for one or all eight of his dancers, the emotional potency of Doug Varone’s choreography is a constant. Doug Varone and Dancers is celebrating its 25th anniversary in a season that includes two programs at the Joyce Theater Oct. 9–14 and engagements planned in Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, and upstate New York.
The company, known for its fluid and complex movement, has performed in more than 100 cities on four continents, and has been a fixture at dance festivals including Bates, Jacob’s Pillow, and American Dance Festival. As the resident company of 92nd Steet Y Harkness Dance Center, the troupe will present another intimate “Stripped” performance in January.
For the Joyce, Varone is creating two new works, both about a half-hour long but divergent in music and emotional tone. The company will also perform selected repertoire, including Boats Leaving, Ballet Mécanique, and the solo Nocturne. In the new work to a fraught and unsettling score by composer Julia Wolfe, Varone says, “there’s something driving underneath it…The trick is to figure out how to share that so that it has a universal feel.”
Mozart’s oratorio La Betulia Liberata accompanies the second premiere, which centers around love and camaraderie. The music’s grandeur is paralleled in strong, frenetic dynamics, contrasting with charged intimate exchanges. Liberata has two modalities: that of “smaller work that has meaning to it, and larger work that deals with how space can change,” says Varone.
For those who can’t see the company live, a video retrospective is ongoing at www.dougvaroneanddancers.org.
Varone, a riveting performer (“I feel like I have one more dance in me,” he says) has had many unforgettable dancers in his company. “I look for people who understand how not to perform,” he remarks, when asked what he seeks in auditions. A keen sentiment from a choreographer who has quietly made his presence indelible for a quarter century.