Technique My Way: Meredith Webster
Meredith Webster with David Harvey in King's Meyer; Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy LINES
Blessed with musicality, fluid grace and a limber 5’ 10” frame, Meredith Webster seems born to dance with Alonzo King LINES Ballet. Whether she’s performing a hypnotic solo in King’s reinterpretation of Scheherazade or is merged into the ensemble of Azimuth, Webster stands out for her technical command and captivating presence. The company’s 44-week contract entails two home seasons as well as extensive international touring, a blistering schedule that demands exceptional stamina. The 32-year-old Webster has learned to tune into what her body needs in order to stay injury-free.
Warming Up to the Day
After a full night’s rest (“I try to sleep as much as possible,” she confesses), Webster lets her body dictate the pace of the morning. Tea, hot oatmeal and fruit, and a quick scan of the news get her going before heading downtown to the LINES studios. She loosens up gently before the 11 a.m. company class. “It’s mostly simple stretches: spinal twists, downward dog, maybe some lunges,” she says. “I massage my IT bands and roll out my feet. I also roll my shoulders around, trying to find spots of tension so I can let them go.”
Getting Through Rehearsal
Nearly every LINES piece uses all 11 company members, so Webster dances frequently during the daily five-hour rehearsal. While the long days help build the stamina King’s choreography requires, Webster finds it essential to pace herself while also staying warm. “After sitting down, for even a little while, I can’t just jump up and be ready to go,” she says. “I am constantly maintaining little things—abdominal exercises, rolling out my feet, stretching—depending what we’re working on.” She’s become a devotee of Gyrotonic, practicing with Jenna Wozer at San Francisco Gyrotonic, conveniently located in the LINES building. “Gyrotonic helps me find a really internal generation for movement, really from a deep place,” she says. “Alonzo’s work requires a lot of complexity: An arm is going one way and a leg is going the other way, and then you are supposed to be on pointe, turning around and jumping at the same time. The more connected you can be, the better.”
Exploring Outside the Studio
As fiercely athletic as it is, King’s choreography calls on each dancer’s personality and artistry. “I have to stay strong enough to pull off the steps that he is asking for, but also stay sensitive enough to be exploring in the process,” she says. Webster, who has a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, makes a point to spend time in nature, listen to music and take in all kinds of art, from sculpture to performance installations. She scored a trifecta last summer when she saw Philip Glass perform in a redwood grove at the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur, California, about three hours south of San Francisco. “I was 10 feet from him. It was amazing.”
Webster fuels her body with small meals throughout the day. “Our longest break is 20 minutes, so I can’t eat a plate of pasta,” she says. Instead, she nibbles on easy-to-digest fare like fruit, nuts and whole grains; her favorites are farro and brown rice. She loves to cook and favors organic, seasonal produce from the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market, held just a few blocks from the studio. “I feel like my body functions in more efficient ways when I eat better foods,” she says. On performance days she has a light snack three hours before curtain, then cooks a healthy dinner afterward. Well, most of the time: “Sometimes I come home and just eat Pop-Tarts!”
On the Road (Again)
This season’s tour started in November and runs until mid-May, stopping in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Marseille and Paris, Des Moines and Dallas along the way. Even for an adventurous person like Webster, time changes and disrupted routines take their toll. “The hardest thing is finding food,” she says. Whenever she comes across go-to snacks like raw cashews, she buys them in large quantities. And when fruits and vegetables are in short supply, she gets her greens from Vitamineral Green powder mixed with juice.
Sometimes, though, “you feel exhausted, your body hurts, and you just want to go home.” At those moments, she refocuses on the big picture. “I think, Hold on a second. Look at these amazing places you get to go to. I really appreciate all the good parts of it.”
Claudia Bauer is a Bay Area dance writer.
Meredith’s Carrot Cilantro Soup
This simple soup has the tangy sweetness of cilantro, plus loads of vitamin A, C and K, which can help muscles recover after a long rehearsal day.
3 tbs. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 1/2 lbs. carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
6–8 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper
Heat the oil over medium heat in a large pot. Sauté onion until soft. Add carrots and a couple pinches of salt; stir to combine. Cover, and turn down the heat a little for five minutes. Add the broth and most of the cilantro, simmer until the carrots soften. Remove from heat. In a blender, puree the soup to your desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top with more cilantro and a swirl of olive oil.
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.
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
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.
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:
Conscientious theatergoers may be familiar with The School for Scandal, The School for Wives and School of Rock. But how many are also aware of the school of Fosse?
The 1999 musical, a posthumous exploration of the choreographic career of Bob Fosse, ran for 1,093 performances, winning four Tonys and 10 nominations; employing 32 dancers; and, completely unintentionally, nurturing a generation of Broadway choreographers. You may have heard of them: Andy Blankenbuehler and Sergio Trujillo danced in the original cast, Josh Rhodes was a swing, and Christopher Gattelli replaced Trujillo when he landed choreography jobs in Massachusetts and Canada. Blankenbuehler remembers that when Trujillo left, "It was as if he was graduating."