The More Things Change...
Five years after Liz Lerman's departure, Dance Exchange continues to forge new initiatives.
Who gets to dance? Where is the dance happening? What is the dancing about? Why does it matter? In the 40 years since then-fledgling dancemaker Liz Lerman founded Dance Exchange, these four simple but profound questions have become not just the multigenerational company's mission, but its raison d'être. “The four questions," Cassie Meador, Dance Exchange's current executive artistic director, says, “are at the core of everything we do." Today, five years after Lerman left the company to work independently, the legacy she created is being reinvented by a new cohort of artists under Meador's direction.
Lerman started the group in 1976 by drawing together a loose collective of artists: “That word 'exchange' grew out of my sensibility that mixing it up would be better. I was interested in getting African dance into the studio, and other forms. The idea was that even in dance we should be in each other's genres."
What has remained a constant at Dance Exchange, even after Lerman's departure in 2011, is the ongoing nature of change in the organization, as well as those four questions. The company is continually evolving, adding and subtracting new programs or communities that it serves. “Those changes are in response to the curiosity of the artists at the core of the organization, but also in response to what we're hearing from outsiders, what the need might be," says Meador. Dance Exchange remains driven by the ideas and processes its resident and associate artists develop. During Lerman's leadership her projects included long-range explorations of topical works—the human genome; genocide and reconciliation; the physics and morality of the first atomic bomb; what is praiseworthy in our lives, to name a few. Today Meador and associate artistic director Matthew Cumbie are delving into their own choreographic interests and evolving new processes that remain true to Dance Exchange's core ethos.
Organizing Artists for Change, a new initiative Meador launched, offers opportunities for dance artists to explore the Dance Exchange methodology through workshops, institutes, residencies and process-oriented collaborative works. Dance Exchange will also begin work on a new multiyear project helmed by Cumbie called Growing Our Own Gardens, a look at queer world-making through dance, spoken word and drag. Off-Site/Insight: Stories from the Great Smoky Mountains, directed by Meador, will bring together artists from Asheville, North Carolina, along with the National Park Service, to dance on and about some of the oldest mountains in the world.
These days Lerman calls herself an alum—the works she now makes and the teaching and consulting positions she takes are independent of the company she founded, but she returns for visits on occasion for special events, like the recent 40th-anniversary celebrations. Lerman began work this fall as institute professor at Arizona State University's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, the largest public arts school in the U.S. She intends to use her teaching to bring together students across departments and break down what she calls “silos" of learning and practice, creating pathways for cross-disciplinary work. Lerman and others will also work on disseminating her popular Critical Response Process, a systematic approach to addressing the development of art works with a critical eye focused on the artist's needs, not the viewer's desires. Though developed from art making, the system now serves dialogue in many fields.
She also has a few choreographic projects in the works; fans can expect deeply researched, compelling topics to emerge. For Lerman, “the idea of exchange means you can spend time in other people's worlds—scientists, historians, painters—and you can maintain and enhance your personal discipline by making sure other people can come in."
You know Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo as the men who parody your favorite ballet variations—and make it look good. But there's more to the iconic troupe than meets the eye.
A new documentary, Rebels on Pointe, goes behind the scenes of the company, and it's full of juicy tidbits about what it's like to be a Trock. These were some of our favorite moments:
After 30 years of pioneering work in physically integrated dance, AXIS Dance Company co-founder Judith Smith has announced plans to retire from the Oakland, California, company. Throughout her tenure, she strived to get equal recognition for integrated dance and disabled dancers, commissioning work from high-profile choreographers like Bill T. Jones. Her efforts generated huge momentum for expanded training, choreography, education and advocacy for dancers with disabilities.
By phone from her home in Oakland, Smith reflected on how far the field has evolved since the early days of AXIS, and what's yet to be done.
You know that how you care for your body before curtain can impact your performance. But with so many factors to consider, it can be difficult to nail down an exact routine. How much rest is enough? How close to showtime should you eat? We asked the experts.
How do you make your athleisure collection stand out from the pack? Get the ultimate studio-to-street seal of approval by having dancers star in your campaign, of course.
For his second collaboration with activewear brand Carbon38, ready-to-wear designer Jonathan Simkhai traded in his usual top models like Gigi Hadid and Karlie Kloss for the original Hiplet dancers—and the resulting video is as cool as we'd expect from such a fierce collaboration.
To be honest, we never tire of watching non-dancers tackle a day in the life of the pros. From athletes to average Joes, these videos always give us a good laugh, and they remind the rest of the world that a whole lot of work goes into every dance performance you see. But often times, these dancer-for-a-day videos don't fully understand the importance of training (i.e., you can't just throw on a pair of pointe shoes and give it a go).
That's why we're especially loving this video by Refinery29 that actually gets it. Lucie Fink, host of the R29 YouTube series Lucie For Hire , got a private lesson from American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, and it was endlessly entertaining.
Who are you when you no longer do what you've been doing for years?
It is the big question facing anyone who retires. For top ballet dancers, however, the situation is more extreme. They start young, grow up in a rarified atmosphere, mostly see only each other, and become more and more removed from ordinary life. So what is it like to give this all up?
I asked seven former principal dancers from different generations at San Francisco Ballet, including myself, about this challenge.
Again and again, dance teaches me that when the filters fall away between people—when the boundaries of geography, religion and politics soften—the beginning and end of our relationships is always human.
In March, I traveled with Keigwin + Company to Cote D'Ivoire, Ethiopia and Tunisia, on a tour sponsored by the US State Department and facilitated by DanceMotion USA/Brooklyn Academy of Music. Our mission was cultural diplomacy: Simply, to share ourselves with diverse communities, to promote common understanding and friendships.
Our last stop was Tunisia. Until that point, we had mostly been learning varieties of traditional African dance, and sharing American modern dance. But Tunisia was different. The dancers already had a solid grasp of contemporary movement invention. Though we didn't speak the same language, we could make movement vocabulary with surprising ease. Everything about our backgrounds was different, but there was this special intersection through dance that seemed to present an open door to collaboration.
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet.
Christopher Wheeldon's new Nutcracker for the Joffrey Ballet was huge news when it premiered last winter. The choreographer shifted the setting from the home of a well-off German family to the Chicago world's fair, making the hero the young daughter of a working-class, Polish immigrant sculptress. This month, WTTW Chicago, the city's public broadcasting station, will premiere Making a New American Nutcracker, a new documentary showing how Wheeldon and his high-profile collaborators made the magic happen. Premieres on WTTW11 and wttw.com/watch on Nov. 16 before appearing on public television stations across the country. Check your local listings.
For most dancers, walking into the theater elicits a familiar emotion that's somewhere between the reverence of stepping into a chapel and the comfort of coming home. But each venue has its own aura, and can offer that something special that takes your performance to a new level. Six dancers share which theaters have transported them the most.
GLENN ALLEN SIMS
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Glenn Allen Sims in Alvin Ailey's Masekela Langage. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy AAADT
Favorite theater: Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain
Royal details: "The theater is gorgeous and ornate, with deep red upholstery and gold trim. There is a huge royal box in the center, which takes you back to when kings and queens were watching performances there."
Impressive facilities: Even the dressing rooms are a sight to see: Amenities for the dancers include large, carpeted rooms, and towel service.
The business side of dance can often fall second to the art. Contracts, which usually appear after you've done the hard work of securing a job, can seem like an inconsequential afterthought. You might decide to simply sign without reading the terms—or be understandably confused by all the legalese.
Ultimately, though, contracts can play an important part in setting the expectations for your job. A basic understanding of the legal terms you might see can go a long way in making sure that signing is a positive step toward growing your career.