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The Latest: Redefining Ballet in Belgium

Aïko Tanaka and Ion Aguirretxe in Ricardo Amarante's A Soulful Touch. Photo by Alain Honorez, Courtesy Royal Ballet of Flanders.

Can a contemporary choreographer save the Royal Ballet of Flanders? That's what many questioned when the company announced that Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui would take over in September as the new artistic director. The organization's future has seemed increasingly bleak since Kathryn Bennetts resigned in 2012 over the merger of Antwerp's ballet and opera companies. The tenure of her successor, Assis Carreiro, brought an eclectic mix of classical and contemporary works, but lasted only two seasons before she was let go last fall.

Royal Ballet of Flanders' board approached Cherkaoui, who directs his own contemporary troupe, Eastman. To help balance styles, he suggested that ballet master Tamas Moricz, who danced with Frankfurt Ballet under William Forsythe, join him as associate artistic director.

Cherkaoui, who was born in Antwerp, hopes that his local ties may help him handle the treacherous politics his predecessors faced. “I can raise my voice in Flemish, the language of the community," he says. Plus, his experience with Eastman's flexible structure may prove useful in running a company facing budget constraints. “I'm used to working on a shoestring," he says. “We have to find alternative solutions, collaborations and co-productions."

Still, the local dance community has speculated that Cherkaoui's appointment signals the death of classical ballet in Belgium. Though Cherkaoui won't speak specifically of the company's future repertoire, he says he is looking to bring ballet and contemporary dance together. “Either we go for reconciliation or separation. I'm trying to reconcile," he says. He also wants to explore the Royal Ballet of Flanders' history, including the little-known work of Jeanne Brabants, who founded the company in 1969. And he plans to reintroduce Belgian talent like Jeroen Verbruggen, who choreographs for Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo.

Though Carreiro programmed the upcoming season, Cherkaoui has made small adjustments, including his creation of a new work in October. No layoffs have been planned. “We're starting homoeopathically, which is a good thing," he says. “I want to take my time to connect with the dancers, the staff."

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Irina Dvorovenko's latest role: Playing Elizaveta Grushinskaya in Grand Hotel at New York City Center. Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy New York City Center.

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."

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Breaking Stereotypes
Photos via Instagram

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.

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Health & Body
Via Instagram

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."

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Rant & Rave
Is this the turning point when we'll finally see an end to dancer mistreatment? Photo by Gez Xavier Mansfield/Unsplash

Last week in a piece I wrote about the drama at English National Ballet, I pointed out that many of the accusations against artistic director Tamara Rojo—screaming at dancers, giving them the silent treatment, taking away roles without explanation—were, unfortunately, pretty standard practice in the ballet world:

If it's a conversation we're going to have, we can't only point the finger at ENB.

The line provoked a pretty strong response. Professional dancers, students and administrators reached out to me, making it clear that it's a conversation they want to have. Several shared their personal stories of experiencing abusive behavior.

Christopher Hampson, artistic director of the Scottish Ballet, wrote his thoughts about the issue on his company's website on Monday:

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Cover Story
Jayme Thornton

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."

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Breaking Stereotypes
Ballez class staples include no mirrors and barres arranged in a circle. Photo by Elyssa Goodman, Courtesy Pyle

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.

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Health & Body
Take your self-massage to the next level. Photo of TheraGun G2PRO via Amazon

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.

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Advice for Dancers
Losing a dance company can be like losing part of your family. Photo by Thinkstock.

My life is in complete chaos since my dance company disbanded. I have a day job, so money isn't the issue. It's the loss of my world that stings the most. What can I do?

—Lost Career, Washington, DC

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In The Studio
Dance Theatre of Harlem performing Dougla. Photo by Matha Swope, courtesy DTH.

Dance Theatre of Harlem is busy preparing for the company's Vision Gala on April 4. The works on the program, which takes place on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., reflect on the legacy of Dr. King and his impact on company founder Arthur Mitchell. Among them is the much-anticipated revival of legendary choreographer Geoffrey Holder's Dougla, which will include live music and dancers from Collage Dance Collective.

We stepped into the studio with Holder's wife Carmen de Lavallade and son Leo Holder to hear what it feels like to keep Holder's legacy alive and what de Lavallade thinks of the recent rise in kids standing up against the government—as she did not too long ago.

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Dance As Activism
Nathalia Arja as the Novice in Jerome Robbins' The Cage. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy Miami City Ballet

The encounter with man-eating female creatures in Jerome Robbins' The Cage never fails to shock audiences. As this tribe of insects initiates the newly-born Novice into their community and prepares her for the attack of the male Intruders, the ballet draws us into a world of survival and instinct.

This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Jerome Robbins' birth, and a number of Robbins programs are celebrating his timeless repertoire. But it especially feels like a prime moment to experience The Cage again. Several companies are performing it: San Francisco Ballet begins performances on March 20, followed by the English National Ballet in April and New York City Ballet in May.

Why it matters: In this time of female empowerment—as women are supporting one another in vocalizing injustices, demanding fair treatment and pay, and advocating for future generations—The Cage's nest of dominant women have new significance.

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