The Latest: News of Note
A new documentary captures Mark Morris’ wildly successful Dance for PD program.
David Leventhal leading a Dance for PD class. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, Courtesy Leventhal.
Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2003, Joy Esterberg struggles daily with several neurological and motor-related symptoms: “mushy arms” that don’t move properly, a slower gait and, if her medications aren’t working, fatigue. Though these issues will probably never disappear, she has found some relief through dancing. “It has made me feel different about my body,” says Esterberg, a participant of Mark Morris Dance Group’s Dance for PD program. “And it’s helped me mentally. I feel I’m on top of my Parkinson’s because I can dance.”
This month, “Capturing Grace,” a documentary by David Iverson that spotlights Dance for PD, will air on PBS (check local listings for dates). The film follows 17 men and women, ages 50 to 83, during one year of classes that culminate in a performance.
With about a million individuals living with Parkinson’s disease in the U.S. and an estimated 7 to 10 million worldwide, movement programs to treat PD are growing. Dance for PD at Mark Morris, founded in 2001, was one of the first of its kind. It began as a once-a-month class for about six people, led by then-MMDG dancers David Leventhal and John Heginbotham. Today, the curriculum is taught in 36 states, plus countries abroad, at institutions like Canada’s National Ballet School, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and English National Ballet.
Dance for PD’s one-hour class begins with a seated warm-up. Gradually, elements of ballet, modern, jazz, tap, folk and improvisation are integrated. Students progress to the barre and move across the floor if it’s feasible. Classes focus on storytelling, gesture and brain-stimulating exercises like mirroring and experimenting with ways to use the feet. “Participants move with increased grace, confidence and musicality, and we notice a change of attitude,” says Leventhal.
Outside of the studio, many are able to more easily accomplish everyday activities that had become laborious because of the disease. “The film not only conveys the physical grace our dancers have gained, but also illustrates the grace they have in life—turning challenges into transformations,” says Leventhal.
At the Dance for PD performance caught on film, participants danced a duet choreographed by Heginbotham and excerpts from Morris’ Mozart Dances and Four Saints in Three Acts. “The most beautiful part was seeing these people revealed as themselves,” says Leventhal. “Projects like this happen because of people’s need to connect to humanity.”—Karen Carlo Ruhren
ADI Shifts Focus
American Dance Institute in Rockville, Maryland, will close its school—founded in 2000 by former American Ballet Theatre dancer Pamela Booth Bjerknes and former Joffrey Ballet dancer Michael Bjerknes—at the end of the summer to focus on presenting contemporary dance. Executive director Adrienne Willis plans to expand ADI’s Incubator residency program, presenting artists in partnership with New York City theater The Kitchen. The 2015–16 season will include premieres by Yvonne Rainer, Jane Comfort, Brian Brooks, Jack Ferver and Susan Marshall. To help displaced students, an ADI Future Artists Scholarship Fund will cover select dancers’ tuition at the school of their choosing. —Kristin Schwab
In the Works
In Your Arms
Singing is nice; so is acting. But let’s face it: We mostly see musicals to take in all the glorious dancing. In Your Arms, with direction and choreography by Christopher Gattelli, will center around 10 love story dance vignettes that span many styles, from ballet to tango. The musical will premiere at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, September 16–October 25. Will another dancey production make it to Broadway? Let’s hope the trend continues. —KS
Jess LeProtto and Samantha Sturm of In Your Arms. Photo by Buck Lewis, Courtesy Shameless Promotions.
News of Note
Comings & Goings
Hofesh Shechter has launched an apprentice company, Shechter Junior. ■ Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, founded by Nancy Laurie, will close this month. ■ BalletX is starting a fellowship program. In its first year, one choreographer will work with the company under mentor Trey McIntyre. Applications are due July 15: balletx.org/fellowship. ■ Cayetano Soto is now resident choreographer at Ballet BC. ■ Sarasota Ballet’s Juan Gil has been promoted to junior principal.
Awards & Honors
American Ballet Theatre’s Joseph Gorak has won a Leonore Annenberg Fellowship. ■ National Ballet of Canada’s
Hannah Fischer and San Francisco Ballet’s Carlo Di Lanno have won the Erik Bruhn Prize. ■ Dance/USA will honor Trisha Brown, Raven Wilkinson, Miami City Ballet founder Toby Lerner Ansin and Joyce Theater Foundation executive director Linda Shelton at its conference this month. ■ 2015 honorary degrees include: PHILADANCO artistic director Joan Myers Brown and Rita Moreno (University of Pennsylvania), Urban Bush Women artistic director Jawole Willa Jo Zollar (Tufts University) and Jacob’s Pillow artistic director Ella Baff (College of the Holy Cross). ■ Garth Fagan has won Wayne State University’s Apple Award for theater work. ■ Hubbard Street Dance Chicago will honor William Forsythe at its Spotlight Ball this month.
From top: BalletX, Photo by William Hebert, Courtesy BalletX; Joseph Gorak, Photo by Renata Pavam, Courtesy ABT
We knew that New York downtown dance darling Okwui Okpokwasili was a big deal. Critics and audiences have been raving about her dance-theater works for years, and the new documentary about her, Bronx Gothic, has attracted the attention of the larger arts community.
But never in our wildest dreams did we imagine she'd show up in a Jay Z video, along with flex dancer Storyboard P. Though we're slightly less surprised to see Storyboard in Jay Z's "4:44" video than we were to see Okpokwasili, we're jazzed that two of our favorites are featured on such a huge platform. (We're also feeling #blessed that we didn't have to subscribe to Tidal to watch this.)
Throughout the years, choreographer Seán Curran has worked with a diverse array of talented collaborators—from Kyrgyz music ensemble Ustatshakirt Plus to the the Grammy Award–winning King's Singers. But perhaps none are as meaningful as his most recent group of co-choreographers: At-risk teens from the after school program and nonprofit The Wooden Floor.
Curran has been in residence with The Wooden Floor since June, where he's worked with students to build choreography based on their lives and communities:
Their creation will be shown July 20-22 at The Wooden Floor Studio Theatre in Santa Ana, California.
"Besides the stage, baking is my other happy place," says New York City Ballet corps member Jenelle Manzi.
Four years ago, she thought her baking days were over when she was diagnosed with gluten intolerance. Manzi had been dealing with pain, frequent illness and joint inflammation for nearly 10 years. Once she cut out gluten, Manzi gradually started to feel better, noticing a transformation in how her body felt and functioned. She found her joints were less inflamed, and she got sick less often.
New York City Ballet soloist Unity Phelan and American Ballet Theatre soloist Cassandra Trenary spend every day making their hard work look effortless and graceful both in the studio and onstage. That's exactly what makes them the perfect spokesmodels for the dance-inspired activewear line, Belle Force.
To celebrate our 90th anniversary, we excavated some of our favorite hidden gems from the DM Archives—images that capture a few of the moments in time we've documented over the decades.
This image was captured during a 1978 New York City Ballet tour that took the company to Copenhagen—home turf for Adam Luders (right), who trained at the Royal Danish Ballet School and briefly danced with the company before joining NYCB as a principal dancer in 1975. Next to Luders is (of course) George Balanchine, in conversation with ballerina Suzanne Farrell. And looking on with a smile? NYCB's current ballet master in chief Peter Martins.
On March 8, 2016, Rami Shafi found himself inspired to film an impromptu dance video of his best friend, Aaron Moses Robin, improvising on Gay St. in New York City's Greenwich Village. Thus was born Pedestrian Wanderlust, a collection of dance videos that has grown to include a monthly improv jam.
Shafi works with anyone who wants to take part in the project, filming videos in locations chosen by the dancers and later adding music. The videos are shot on Shafi's iPhone in one take and, other than the starting and ending points, are entirely improvised. The editing afterwards—including the music choice—is minimal. "I don't like to edit too much. It's just what it is," says Shafi. "I usually can do the editing on the train ride home."
Many people see dance and choreography as separate pursuits, or view choreography as a dance career's second act. For some dancers, however, performing and choreographing inform one another. "That's just the kind of choreographer I am. I feel things so deeply in my physicality. I have to do it to know it," says Jodi Melnick, who is a prolific performer of her own work. She also maintains an active practice as a performer for other choreographers: Throughout her career, she's worked with Trisha Brown, Twyla Tharp, Tere O'Connor and Donna Uchizono, to name a few.
Though a dual career can be fulfilling, simultaneously inhabiting the roles of dancer and choreographer requires focus, organization and a great deal of energy.