While directing and choreographing the Paper Mill Playhouse production of the musical Bandstand, Andy Blankenbuehler found himself tied into knots. After the wild success of the juggernaut Broadway musical Hamilton, for which he would win the 2016 Tony Award for Best Choreography, he began comparing his unsatisfactory rehearsal rut to what he called "the best work of my career."
"I was really struggling," he says. "I knew I wasn't reaching the same bar as I had with Hamilton." Seeing his frustration, his wife reminded him that there would never be another Hamilton—but that didn't mean his other work couldn't be great, too. "She saw how I was beating myself up trying to accomplish a similar thing." Happy ending detour: Blankenbuehler regained his footing and won his third Tony Award for choreography for the Broadway production of Bandstand.
On the cusp of a new performance season, our calendars are chock full with shows we're dying to see. But it can be hard to know where to start with a season filled to bursting with promising premieres, tours and revivals. We've picked 12 shows that should definitely be on your radar.
When we heard rumors earlier this summer that World Ballet Day LIVE might get cancelled this year, we thought our hearts might break.
But we needn't have worried! The happy news came out yesterday that our favorite day of the year is back: World Ballet Day LIVE 2017 is officially scheduled for October 5. Clear your calendar for a serious bunhead binge of live behind-the-scenes footage from the Australian Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet, Royal Ballet, National Ballet of Canada and San Francisco Ballet—plus special video broadcasts from other top companies.
The news got the Dance Magazine staff all nostalgic. We started reminiscing about our favorite highlights from past World Ballet Day LIVE events. Our top picks?
Here comes your next web obsession, courtesy of Scottish Ballet: Under the Skin is a monthlong "digital season" in which the company will premiere new works created specifically for a digital audience.
The first of these, David Eustace's What Dreams We Have, was just released today. Starring Scottish Ballet principal Sophie Martin, to say that the short dance film is gorgeous is something of an understatement.
But there's a lot more than just short dance films in store.
NEW YORK CITY
Over 150 years ago, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation; 20 years ago, Nelson Mandela helped end apartheid in South Africa. New York Live Arts resident artist Kyle Abraham will premiere three works—a feat that would exhaust even the most seasoned choreographers—inspired by both momentous events. The Watershed, an evening-length piece, explores today’s freedoms, and the mixed-rep program, When the Wolves Came In, takes inspiration from jazz musician Max Roach’s 1960 protest album We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite. We’re in for a treat, as the performances promise plenty of dancing by Abraham himself. Not even the skilled movers of Abraham.In.Motion can quite grasp his fleeting, run-on sentences of movement like he can. Sept. 23–Oct. 4. newyorklivearts.org.
Above: Jordan Morley and Tamisha Guy in When the Wolves Came In. Photo by Carrie Schneider, Courtesy New York Live Arts.
With a Twist
Twisted: a Trio of Excellence will gather more than 200 artists from BalletMet, Opera Columbus and Columbus Symphony and Chorus. The resulting revue samples opera’s greatest works, from La Bohème to The Magic Flute to Carmen. Some of the performance’s intrigue is its sheer spectacle, but it also has the choreographic chops to back it up: contemporaries Val Caniparoli, Ma Cong, Edwaard Liang, James Kudelka and BalletMet dancer Jimmy Orrante will choreograph to the opera excerpts. Ohio Theatre, Sept. 25–28. balletmet.org.
Right: Adrienne Benz and David Ward in rehearsal. Photo by Jennifer Zmuda, Courtesy BalletMet.
The House That Ralph Built
The next stage for interdisciplinary performance artist Ralph Lemon’s work isn’t a stage at all, but a two-story structure in a gallery at the Walker Arts Center. Scaffold Room, which Lemon describes as a “lecture-performance-musical,” questions what qualifies as contemporary performance. Performers Okwui Okpokwasili and April Matthis will enact female historical and pop culture figures, from standup comedian Moms Mabley to singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse. Also on display is Lemon’s sound and image installation Meditation, which was the final piece to his multi-year exploration How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere? After the work premieres in his hometown of Minneapolis, Sept. 25–28, it will tour the U.S. walkerart.org.
Above: Scaffold Room. Photo by Ralph Lemon, Courtesy Walker.
After years of choreographing plotless works, Helen Pickett has begun experimenting with narrative. Her latest: The Crucible, commissioned by Scottish Ballet, is based on Arthur Miller’s emotionally riveting 1953 play about the 17th-century Salem witch trials. Pickett has applied her Forsythe-flavored physical explorations to character portrayal by asking questions like, “How does it feel in the spine when this character is accused?” Also on the bill is Ten Poems, Christopher Bruce’s tribute to poet Dylan Thomas. Quite a literary evening! Theatre Royal, Sept. 25–27, and touring. scottishballet.co.uk.
Above: Victor Zarallo in a Pickett rehearsal. Photo by Andy Ross, Courtesy Scottish Ballet.
This month, Hope Mohr Dance’s Bridge Project will celebrate Anna Halprin and Simone Forti. It’s a rare opportunity to see these foremothers of postmodern dance perform live: In her 1999 solo The Courtesan and the Crone, Halprin shuttles from youth to old age. And Forti, prompted by nothing but the whims of her mind in motion, will dance one of her uncanny word-and-movement improvisations. Also on the program is Mohr in Lucinda Childs’ absurdist solo Carnation (1964) and Peiling Kao in a new work by Mohr. Joe Goode Annex, Sept. 26–27. hopemohr.org.
Above: Simone Forti. Photo by Carol Peterson, Courtesy Hope Mohr Dance.
After an international career as a choreographer, Christopher Hampson has been welcomed back by the UK dance world as artistic director of Scottish Ballet. The Manchester-born former English National Ballet dancer, a 2003 “25 to Watch,” has set his fluent, neoclassical pieces on companies ranging from the Royal New Zealand Ballet to Atlanta Ballet. He took over from Ashley Page at Scottish Ballet in 2012, and this month, the 36-strong company showcases its new director’s ambitious vision at the Edinburgh International Festival. From Aug. 16 to 19, the program of nonstop dance includes 20 works by 14 choreographers, including Kylián, Tharp, Édouard Lock, and Hampson (his own Rite of Spring). Writer Laura Cappelle spoke with Hampson in May, as Scottish Ballet prepared for the challenge.
You spent most of your career as a freelance choreographer. Yes, I was freelance for 14 years, and I loved it. I’ve always been a touring dancer, and I think it prepared me for the next stage in my career. I’ve seen situations flare up from nowhere. I learnt what to do and not to do.
How do you approach directing? I’m very hands-on, and I really enjoy this job, even the difficult parts. I like the strategy, the small planning, working with the dancers, and I love commissioning.
How would you define Scottish Ballet’s identity? Every company in the British Isles has a place in the cultural landscape, and our remit is to always do something innovative. We don’t have to look too far back: Our heritage only goes back 45 years or so. I do want to show more of founder Peter Darrell’s work, but Scottish Ballet will always look to engage with artists of today, even in presenting the classics. We are the first ballet company to do a full-length ballet by Matthew Bourne, Highland Fling, his reworking of La Sylphide.
Where do you want to take the company’s repertoire? My first priority is to expand it exponentially, to increase the number of choreographers presented. Scottish Ballet also has a focus on strong narrative ballet, and I want to further it. Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s A Streetcar Named Desire won a South Bank Award this year, and I’ll contribute next season with a new Hansel and Gretel.
Hampson and members of Scottish Ballet in rehearsal. Photo here and of Hampson at top by Andy Ross, Courtesy SB.
Scottish Ballet hasn’t always been in the spotlight at the Edinburgh International Festival, but this year is different: You’re presenting 20 works by 14 choreographers over four days. How did the project, Dance Odysseys, come about? I feel like I’m showing my colors in Edinburgh. It was my goal to present as many different voices as possible, and the director of the festival was keen to show more chamber dance works, which aren’t always easy to program in triple bills. In Edinburgh we will start at midday and finish at 9 pm every day at the Festival Theatre. People can come and watch for an hour or spend the whole day. There will be dance in alternative spaces, films, discussions. It is all-consuming, a real jigsaw puzzle to plan, but the dancers are really enjoying the challenge.
You’re presenting five works by women choreographers in Edinburgh. Do you feel they’re not represented enough? Yes. There is an imbalance between female and male choreographers, and I don’t know why, but I speak about the issue a lot. I read in the press that perhaps ballet doesn’t lend itself to producing strong female leaders, but I’m not sure I stand by that. British ballet was made by many women, including Monica Mason at The Royal Ballet. It’s not even risky to commission a woman choreographer; I programmed all five in Edinburgh not because they’re female, but because they’re good. The gender discussion can sometimes be a wall-building exercise, and it doesn’t help. We need to keep moving forward.
Who should the audience look out for in Edinburgh? I’m very excited to bring someone like Helen Pickett to the UK. She has that wonderful heritage from working with Forsythe, and her work is very honest. Royal Ballet soloist Kristen McNally is also coming to do something very specific, a bit unusual. I’ve had my eye on her for a long time. She’s never predictable, and her progression has been consistent. The Royal Ballet has yet to commission her, but maybe they can’t offer her the platform she needs right now—she is out of the box.