Technique My Way: Laurel Tentindo
Tentindo in Trisha Brown’s Raft Piece. Photo by Carrie J. Brown, Courtesy Trisha Brown Company.
Trisha Brown Dance Company’s Laurel Tentindo is a study in fluid energy. In a recent rehearsal for Brown’s Set and Reset, the lean redhead sliced across space with blade hands rebounding against the air, the aftershock reverberating up her pliable spine. Even standing still, she appears to move in minuscule vibrations. Turns out, this is no mistake. “I don’t think of the body as bones and blood,” she says. “I think we’re strange water, fluid, fascia balloons moving in space. If we can always find spaciousness in our tissues, from the top of our spine to our heels, we have more freedom to move.” DM chatted with Tentindo, who has been with TBDC since 2007, to find out how she maintains the healthy mind-body balance that informs her dancing and well-being.
Spiraling Into Motion
Growing up in Essex Junction, Vermont, Tentindo studied ballet and non-traditional theater. Instructors from Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal who taught at a local studio, The Movement Center, gave her the unadorned classicism that, along with improvisational skills learned in drama classes, serves as the basis for her technique.
While Tentindo appreciated this early ballet training, the expectations it created were extreme. “The box was too narrow,” she says, “so much so that I developed an eating disorder. I felt sad, spiritually.” When she found contemporary dance, late in high school and then at Sarah Lawrence College, “I felt free. My aesthetic changed. I realized I love the practice, the ritual, the spiritual component of dance more than formal rules. I got to heal.”
Then Tentindo encountered what became a cornerstone of her training and health maintenance, Skinner Releasing Technique. During college, she took Skinner classes each summer in Seattle; she later studied for five years to become an instructor. “Skinner Releasing integrates technical practice with the imagination,” she says. “Hands-on work and imagery of the spine and skull allow you to free the limbs. The tone of the class is safe and supportive and the word ‘allow’ is primary.”
Every morning, Tentindo applies these principles as she takes time to “check in with my energy and spirals,” she says, referring to spiraling the muscles around the spine in opposite directions. “Perhaps I’ll stretch in my bed or on the floor, completing the simple spiral of shifting my bent knees to one side and looking to the other side. I might also put my legs up on the wall, letting the femur drop back, and feel the weight in my body as I breathe. Then, if I’m heading to the studio, I tailor my warm-up to what I’ve found in that initial investigation. I begin by slowly breathing and softening in different areas to practice releasing.” From there, Tentindo might do a modified version of the “spiral series” that she learned from anatomy and kinesiology expert Irene Dowd. “The basis is flexing and extending the major muscles while spiraling.” Then, either standing or lying down, she works in “continuous, multi-directional alignment, traveling through space,” which might manifest in arm swings, tendus, or dégagés.
Dancing for Trisha Brown isn’t all about letting go. “Even though we do so much release work, you can’t flop around. You’ll hurt yourself,” Tentindo says. “You need to engage and draw in the abdomen, back, and sides to protect your body.”
Throughout rehearsal, Tentindo often checks in with her feet because “that’s where the weight should be.” At times, she concentrates on switching “into a tai chi state,” she says. “When I’m first seeing a phrase, I’ve learned to mark, using initiation points but not ripping into it immediately. Knowing how to modulate the volume on your output as you go through rehearsal, softening sometimes and popping at others, is so important for longevity.” She completes her routine on rehearsal days by icing andelevating her legs.
On days without dance, Tentindo keeps her body awake by simply “moving through space,” she says, whether biking, swimming, or walking in the park. “Dancing in Trisha Brown gives you the gift that you’re always in your body, always aware, even if not onstage.”
Of her teenage eating disorder, Tentindo says, “I was eating, but in a way that I was always losing weight. It was destructive as it happened when I was still growing. I reached a point when I couldn’t sustain those eating patterns.” Recognizing her problem, she consulted a college advisor, who directed her to a support group. “The group allowed me to realize the emotions that were creating the disorder, and I learned how to taste and enjoy eating.”
Now, Tentindo approaches nutrition in the same holistic way she dances. “I choose delicious, nourishing foods so that when I eat it’s fully satiating,” she says. “I also find that the food you cook, or that someone you love cooks for you, is best.” While Tentindo doesn’t rule out many options (“Sometimes you need dessert and sometimes you don’t!”), she steers clear of hydrogenated oil and high-fructose corn syrup. Breakfast is a must. “You have to eat in the morning,” she says, “to stabilize your blood sugar for the entire day.”
Get a Life
Having a full life outside the studio is crucial for Tentindo. She enjoys doing film and puppetry projects with her husband, former dancer and puppeteer Luis Tentindo. “The more fun I’m having being creative in my whole life, the more I’m able to feel in the studio. And being creative in your overall life allows you to drop the idea that there is something perfect. You need to gain nourishment from outside of the studio to give dance what it deserves.”
Lauren Kay, a Dance Spirit contributing editor, is a dancer and writer in NYC.
When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."
But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.
From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.
New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.
A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.
Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.
In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.
Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.
"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.
After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.
Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org
In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."
She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."
Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.
Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.
Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."
Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.
But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.
When London-based perfume company The Beautiful Mind Series was looking for a collaborator for their next scent, they skipped the usual celebrity set and brought in prima ballerina Polina Semionova instead. "I was fascinated by what goes on in the mind of a great dancer," perfumer Geza Schoen said in a press release. Semionova's ballet-inspired scent, Precision & Grace, celebrates the intelligence and beauty behind her craft.
Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series
The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!
We caught up with Abraham during a recent rehearsal where he revealed what he is tired of hearing in the dance community.
Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.
Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?
If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.
"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."
I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."
It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.
Everyone knows that community college is an affordable option if a four-year school isn't in the cards. But it can also be a solid foundation for a career in the dance field. Whether students want an associate in arts degree as a precursor to obtaining a bachelor's, or to go straight into the performing world, the right two-year dance program can be a uniquely supportive place to train. Don't let negative stereotypes prevent you from attending a program that could be right for you: