Inside DM

The Ballerina and the Clown

Kyle Froman

New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck is working through a tap combination—in pointe shoes and a gray bowler hat. Nearby in the same New York City Center studio, the comedian and actor Bill Irwin goes over a note with Damian Woetzel, then rejoins Peck to practice a phrase together. They count aloud as they play around with a sequence of salsa steps, but quickly break into laughter.

The unlikely pair have come together for Time It Was/116, a work they co-choreographed with Woetzel (who originally commissioned it for the Vail International Dance Festival, which he directs), and performed for New York and DC audiences at last year's Fall for Dance festival and at the Kennedy Center. Much of the work is set to the beat of a metronome, and the idea of time is present in everything from its title to the age difference between Peck and Irwin.

The initial spark came when Irwin—known for his vaudeville-style clowning and acclaimed theater and film performances—saw Peck dance at the Kennedy Center Honors, and approached Woetzel with the idea of a collaboration. “I was trying to draw inspiration from what it would be to hybridize my movement and Tiler's," Irwin says. “There's an implied story of, 'A character does what he does. A different figure does what she does. They see each other and have an influence on each other.' "

And that influence has delightful results—as when Peck breaks into a rollicking Charleston step, or when Irwin strolls in his jaunty, disjointed way across the space, his entire body lifting in surprise when his character sees Peck's balletic movement for the first time.

“Laughter is all about context," Irwin says. “You juxtapose a corkscrew movement from vaudeville with a perfect développé, and one or the other is possibly going to be funny—and it might be the développé." Peck adds that, often when they were first creating the piece, she wasn't actively trying to be funny. “Just the fact that I was trying to look like Bill was funny," she says, “and we didn't really know that until we had the audience."

Much of their rehearsal time involves bouncing ideas off each other and seeing what sticks. “I have sort of an order, like a storyboard in my head, but it's not my first nature to set choreography exactly," Irwin says. Each time they run through a section, it's as though they are experiencing the “pure mash-up of movement," as Irwin calls it, for the first time. And when their characters meet in the middle to dance a combination in unison, it's a joyful discovery of common ground. As Irwin says: “Unison has a power that's like singing in harmony."

Photo by Julie Lemberger of Stephen Petronio's Untitled Touch (2017) at The Joyce Theater

For the past 3 years, choreographer Stephen Petronio has been reviving groundbreaking works of postmodern dance through his BLOODLINES project. This season, although his company will be performing a work by Merce Cunningham, his own choreography moves in a more luxurious direction. We stepped into the studio with Petronio and his dancers where they were busy creating a new work, Hardness 10, named for the categorization of diamonds.

Keep reading... Show less

'Tis the season to have some fun in the kitchen. If you want to get more creative than simply baking another pumpkin pie, try these Nutcracker-themed treats—created by and for dancers. These recipes from former Boston Ballet and Joffrey Ballet dancers were first published in Dance Magazine's December 1990 issue. Today, they're still guaranteed to turn any holiday party or dressing room into a true Land of the Sweets.

Keep reading... Show less

It's no secret that affording college is a challenge for many students. And for dancers, there are added complications, like the relative lack of merit scholarships that take artistic talent into consideration and the improbability of a stable salary to pay off loans post-graduation. But no matter your budget, a smart approach to the application process can help you focus less on money and more on your training.

According to Drexel University performing arts department head Miriam Giguere, figuring out the kind of financial assistance a school offers is just as important as navigating what kind of dance program you want. Here's how to incorporate finances into your decision-making process:

Keep reading... Show less
Thinkstock

When dancers get injured, they often think they should eat less. The thought process goes something like, Since I'm not able to move as much as I usually do, I'm not burning enough calories to justify the portions I'm used to.

But the truth is, scaling back your meals could actually be detrimental to your healing process.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
LINES dancer Courtney Henry. Photo by Quinn Wharton

We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.

But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.

A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers & Companies
Nisian Hughes

"Women are often presented as soft, fragile little creatures in ballet," says Léonore Baulac. "We're not." The Paris Opéra Ballet's newest female étoile is discussing her unease at some of the 19th-century narratives she portrays. "It was real acting," she says with a laugh of La Sylphide. "James kills her by taking away her wings, yet she tells him not to worry and goes to die elsewhere onstage!"

Sitting in the canteen of the Palais Garnier, Baulac embodies some of ballet's contradictions in the 21st century. With her fair curls and dainty features, she could easily pass for a little girl's fantasy princess. As Juliet, she exuded a girlish ardor that felt entirely natural; her reservations notwithstanding, her Sylphide was committed and carefully Romantic in style.

Yet the 27-year-old is no ingénue. At Garnier that day, her sweater reads "I can't believe I still have to protest this s**t," a feminist slogan; last winter, Baulac proudly wore it over a Kitri tutu on Instagram. And her repertoire is as thoroughly modern as she is offstage. A versatile performer even by Parisian standards, she is equally at home in Nutcracker as she is in the works of Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers & Companies
Photo by Theo Kossenas, courtesy The Washington Ballet

With her fearless demeanor onstage, it's easy to see how Washington Ballet apprentice Sarah Steele attracted the keen eye of former American Ballet Theatre stars Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. Promoted mid-season from the studio company by artistic director Kent, Steele was cast by Stiefel as the lead in Frontier, his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, this past spring. For the space-themed piece, Steele donned a black-and-white "space suit" onstage, exhibiting dual qualities of strength and grace. Most evocative about Steele's dancing might be her innate intelligence—she was accepted to Harvard on early admission, and plans to resume her studies there in the future. But first, she'll dance.

Keep reading... Show less
What Wendy's Watching

Lots of college groups do stepping—a form of body percussion based on slapping, tapping and stomping—but Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to do it. They are currently at New York City's New Victory Theater, presenting The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, a show based on the painting series by Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence about The Great Migration of the 1900s, when millions of African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and traveled by train to the North for a better life. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of the country, and Jacob Lawrence's paintings became famous for their bold color and evocative power.

Keep reading... Show less
Breaking Stereotypes
Still from La Folía. Shot by Olivia Kimmel, Courtesy Adam Grannick

As we approach Thanksgiving, there's much to be grateful for. Perhaps one of the most important things on your list is dance. Whether you're a full-time company member, an aspiring professional, an audience member, or you simply delight in dancing in your daydreams, this art form is a creative escape.

That's not to say that being a dancer is easy: Pursuing such a competitive career can be heartbreaking, especially when you're faced with rejection.

La Folía, a short dance film by director Adam Grannick that was recently released online, echoes these sentiments in under 12 minutes.

Keep reading... Show less
Advice for Dancers
Pixabay

It took two years of intense nutrition counseling and psychotherapy to pull me out of being anorexic. My problem now is that I've gained too much weight from eating normally. Is there no middle ground? I can't fit into my clothes, but I don't want to go back to being sick.

—Former Anorexic, Weston, CT

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!