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
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."