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Temple of Modern Dance
A 75-year history whispers through the photo-lined walls and worn wooden floors of the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center. Alvin Ailey premiered Revelations here; Anna Sokolow’s Rooms and José Limón’s The Moor’s Pavane debuted here as well. Lincoln Kirstein’s Ballet Caravan, a precursor to New York City Ballet, had its first performances at the Y; Katherine Dunham and Carmelita Maracci made their New York debuts here. And La Argentinita, Carmen Amaya, La Meri, and Jean-León Destiné all brought their international dance to the Y.
This month, the dance center’s anniversary kicks off with a gala on November 5 that exemplifies the breadth and depth of its history. Among the works to be performed are Frontier (1935), by the Martha Graham Dance Company; Doris Humphrey’s Two Ecstatic Themes (1931), by Lauren Naslund; excerpts from Revelations (1960), by Ailey II; David Parsons’ Caught (1982); plus a piece by Doug Varone and Dancers. The Y’s own Harkness Repertory Ensemble will perform Jerome Robbins’ NY Export: Opus Jazz. And a plethora of events throughout the year will highlight the Y’s mark on dance history.
It all began in 1934, when William Kolodney, the newly appointed educational director of the Y, had a vision: He wanted dance to be part of his humanistic center for education. Perhaps it was fateful that his first choice for adviser, renowned ballet choreographer Michel Fokine, said he wasn’t interested. When Kolodney next went to John Martin, chief dance critic of The New York Times, he was pointed in a more modern direction. Martin suggested Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman—who had worked together that summer to form the Bennington School of the Dance—be at the core of the Y’s dance center as teachers and performers. The rest, as they say, is history.
In addition to the gala event, the Y’s Sundays at Three and Fridays at Noon series will honor the Y’s history as well. These two series were started more than 20 years ago by dancer-turned-Alexander-practitioner Jane Kosminsky and Ilona Copen (who also founded the New York International Ballet Competition). “They recognized the need for artists to have a space where they could try out their ideas and stay in dialogue with their peers,” says Renata Celichowska, director of the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center. During the anniversary year, Sundays at Three presents re-creations and reconstructions, including performances of the de Mille legacy by the New York Theatre Ballet, the Erick Hawkins Centennial Celebration, an Anna Sokolow Birthday Tribute, and performances of Jean Erdman’s work. The Fridays at Noon programs will represent more contemporary artists like David Parker, Doug Elkins, and Keely Garfield.
This spring’s Harkness Dance Festival will span five weekends and will take place at the Y for the first time in its 15-year history. The festival was the brainchild of then-director Joan Finkelstein, with the support of the Harkness Foundation. (In 1994, the dance center was renamed in honor of the Foundation, and it is now known as the Harkness Dance Center.) In the beginning, the festival was meant to be an intimate event, so the Y’s 900-seat Kaufmann Concert Hall wasn’t the right venue. Finkelstein searched for off-site venues and found the 91st Street Playhouse. The festival later moved to the Duke Theater, and recently to the Ailey Citigroup Theater. In this anniversary year, the organization is bringing the festival home to their upstairs studio theater, Buttenwieser Hall.
As part of this year’s festival, From the Horse’s Mouth, an exuberant traveling show designed by Jamie Cunningham and Tina Croll, will bring more than 30 dance artists onstage to improvise and tell stories. The Limón Dance Company, Doug Varone, Yoshiko Chuma, and Molissa Fenley will perform during the festival as well.
As the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Hebrew Association, the Y’s Jewish roots are reflected in the dancers who have chosen to perform and work here, like Anna Sokolow, Pearl Lang, and Sophie Maslow. Naomi Jackson wrote in her book, Converging Movements: Modern Dance and Jewish Culture at the 92nd Street Y, about Kolodney’s “desire to bring together the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds. He fervently believed that within the American context, with its potentially pluralistic society, this difficult act of integration could be achieved with joy and mutual benefit.”
In the 1960s a new movement was brewing downtown, influenced by Merce Cunningham and John Cage. When budding dancemakers Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, and Steve Paxton auditioned their minimalist pieces at the Y, they were turned down. And thus began a new style, which evolved into postmodern dance, based in Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village during the ’60s. The dance center at the Y was no longer the place to be.
But eventually downtown dancers found their way back up to the Y. For David Dorfman, the first time he visited the Y was to take a class with David Parsons in the 1980s. “I used to joke about needing a visa to go uptown,” he says. “The moment I set foot in the Y, it reminded me of a Jewish community center in my hometown of Chicago,” says Dorfman. “But this was so much more cosmopolitan. It’s a grand building with all this history.” He has continued to give workshops and performances at the Y. The historical significance of the Y is not lost on him. “Like at ADF and Connecticut College, these pioneers and master teachers and thinkers and innovators taught at the Y. So any time I get to rub my feet and do a little rhythm on the same floors they did, I feel honored.”
The Y also welcomed black dance artists. Katherine Dunham gave her first New York performance there in 1937 with Asadata Dafora, an immigrant from Sierra Leone who first brought African dance to the concert stage. When the Y hosted Dunham’s 90th birthday celebration decades later and she was asked how it felt to be back, she replied, “I’m home.” Alvin Ailey, too, found his first New York home at the Y when he debuted his company in 1958. Carmen de Lavallade, who was an original member in his company, says, “The 92nd Street Y was the hub. It was the the place to be seen in the ’50s. If you performed on the Y stage it was like you’d arrived.”
Sharon Gersten Luckman, executive director of Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, ran the Y dance center from 1978–86. Her personal history with the Y began when she took classes as a child in the ’50s. “My mother wanted me to have the best training, so she brought me to the Y.” She went on to teach at the Y and eventually took over as the director. “The Y had very good teachers who really cared about the individual. Modern dance was at the core, but we started doing ballet, and the adult program became very popular as well—like the Ailey Extension is now.”
Celichowska says the Y has sustained Kolodney’s mission to support dance through the years. It now offers almost 100 dance classes a week in not only modern dance but also Afro-Caribbean, Israeli folk dance, flamenco, swing, tango, and salsa classes to more than 1,000 students of all ages. The center does ballet outreach to public schools and offers the Dance Education Laboratory, a series of workshops for educators to develop dance in their curriculum.
The 92nd Street Y dance center has a great history, and Celichowska wants people to know: “We’re still here.”
Emily Macel, former associate editor of DM, is a writer based in Washington, DC.
Pictured: Martha Graham in Frontier (1935). Photo by Barbara Morgan.
There must be something in the water: Last week, we announced that Madonna is directing Michaela DePrince's upcoming biopic. And yesterday, we got wind of another major dance film: According to The Hollywood Reporter, Fox Searchlight has sealed the deal to make Ailey Ailey's life and work into a movie. Yes, please.
While some movies falter along their way to the big screen, we think this one's got legs (and hopefully a whole lot of lateral T's and hinges and coccyx balances, too). Why?
Back in 2012, after 14 years dancing with Mark Morris Dance Group, choreographer John Heginbotham ventured out on his own. Don't think of it as going solo, though.
Almost from the outset, Heginbotham has embarked on a series of fruitful collaborations with other artists, via his namesake company, Dance Heginbotham, and through a stream of independent projects. His creative partners have covered a range of talents and genres: illustrator Maira Kalman (in 2017's The Principles of Uncertainty), opera director Peter Sellars (for Girls of the Golden West, which debuted at San Francisco Opera in November), and contemporary-music luminaries such as Tyondai Braxton and Alarm Will Sound.
Here's What He Has To Say: About starting his company, his rehearsal process and why he's drawn to creative mash-ups.
Raise your hand if you've ever walked out of the studio with just one thought on your mind: a big, juicy cheeseburger. But raise your other hand if instead of getting that burger, you opted for a hearty salad or stir-fry.
While dancers need to fuel their bodies with nutrient-dense meals and snacks, plenty of foods get an unfair bad rap. "The diet culture in this country vilifies various food groups as being bad while championing others as good," says Kelly Hogan, MS, RD, CDN, clinical nutrition and wellness manager at the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "But black-and-white thinking like that has no place when it comes to food."
Some foods have less nutrition than others, admits Hogan, but if you're eating what you crave and honoring your hunger and fullness cues, she says you'll probably get the variety of nutrients your body needs. Here are seven foods that can have a place on your plate—guilt-free.
When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.
"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."
Ten years is a long time for a dance production to run, but Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Sutra, an athletic, meditative spectacle featuring 19 Shaolin monks and a malleable set of 21 wooden boxes (designed by Antony Gormley) is still striking a chord with audiences worldwide. To celebrate the milestone, Sutra is returning to Sadler's Wells, where it all began. March 26–28. sadlerswells.com.
Whether playing a saucy soubrette or an imperious swan, Irina Dvorovenko was always a formidable presence on the American Ballet Theatre stage. Since her 2013 retirement at 39, after 16 seasons, she's been bringing that intensity to an acting career in roles ranging from, well, Russian ballerinas to the Soviet-era newcomer she plays in the FX spy series "The Americans."
We caught up with her after tech rehearsal for the Encores! presentation of the musical Grand Hotel, directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes and running March 21–25 at New York City Center. It's another tempestuous ballerina role for Dvorovenko—Elizaveta Grushinskaya, on her seventh farewell tour, resentfully checks into the Berlin hostelry of the title with her entourage, only to fall for a handsome young baron and sing "Bonjour, Amour."
When Andrew Montgomery first saw the Las Vegas hit Le Rêve - The Dream 10 years ago, he knew he had to be a part of the show one day. Eight years later, he auditioned, and made it to the last round of cuts. On his way home, still waiting to hear whether he'd been cast, he was in a motorcycle accident that ended up costing him half his leg.
But Montgomery's story doesn't end the way you might think. Today, he's a cast member of Le Rêve, where he does acrobatics and aerial work, swims (yes, the show takes places in and around a large pool) and dances, all with his prosthetic leg.
Camille A. Brown is on an impressive streak: In October, the Ford Foundation named her an Art of Change fellow. In November, she won an AUDELCO ("Viv") Award for her choreography in the musical Bella: An American Tall Tale. On December 1, her Camille A. Brown & Dancers made its debut at the Kennedy Center, and two days later she was back in New York City to see her choreography in the opening of Broadway's Once on This Island. Weeks later, it was announced that she was choreographing NBC's live television musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, to air on April 1.
An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.
"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."
A flock of polyamorous princes, a chorus of queer dying swans, a dominatrix witch: These are a few of the characters that populate the works of Katy Pyle, who, with her Brooklyn-based company Ballez, has been uprooting ballet's gender conventions since 2011.
Historically, ballet has not allowed for the expression of lesbian, transgender or gender-nonconforming identities. With Ballez, Pyle is reinventing the classical canon on more inclusive terms. Her work stems from a deep love of ballet and, at the same time, a frustration with its limits on acceptable body types and on the stories it traditionally tells.
The latest fitness fad has us literally buzzing. Vibrating tools—and exercise classes—promise added benefits to your typical workout and recovery routine, and they're only growing more popular.
Warning: These good vibrations don't come cheap.