The Best Moments from Last Week's YAGP Gala
To hear the screaming throngs of teenagers, you might think this was a Beatles concert in 1964. But no, it's dance students from all over the world joining together for the Youth America Grand Prix's gala at Lincoln Center, excited to see some of the greatest stars in dance today. Their rafter-shaking enthusiasm was heartening to hear, as they will no doubt become the performers, teachers, donors and audiences of tomorrow.
Actually, every single dance was a "best moment." In the first half of the YAGP gala, dubbed the "Stars of Tomorrow," 11 young dancers from the United States, Argentina, Portugal, Czech Republic, Japan and China displayed their outsized talents in solo variations. The young audience responded to the astounding turns and jumps that kept coming and coming.
Tiler Peck and Zachary Catazaro in Wheeldon's "Carousel," all photos Siggul/VAM
But the audience also yelled for Act II: "Stars of Today," with fewer spectacular turns and jumps. When Tiler Peck (a 2016 Dance Magazine Award recipient) appeared onstage in Carousel, one knew instantly that we were in the presence of an artist. As she wound toward and away from her partner, YAGP alum Zachary Catazaro, every corpuscle of her body was expressive. Her head and upper body drifted and swayed beautifully with the Gershwin music, making Christopher Wheeldon's choreography look like it was spun from her heart. Catazaro was the perfect partner for the Carousel narrative—charismatic, a bit dangerous, a bit too close.
Brittany O'Connor and Paul Barris in their "Besame Mucho"
For a complete change of pace, ballroom champions Brittany O'Connor and Paul Barris (both of whom I have co-judged with at YAGP) dazzled with their tango-cum-ballet routine Besame Mucho. To accentuate her leggy versatility, O'Connor wore one ballroom shoe and one pointe shoe. To music played live by Delaney Harter on violin and William Healy on piano, Barris threw O'Connor into some breathtaking corkscrewing spirals.
Marcelo Gomes choreographed a fun solo with bursting leaps called Tous Les Jours II. Xander Parish, the noble Brit at the Mariinsky Ballet, had visa problems, so American Ballet Theatre's James Whiteside stepped in for Parish, learning it in one day. He gave the solo precision, energy, and a goofy sense of humor.
Skylar Brandt and Gabe Stone Shayer in Messerer's "Spring Waters"
Two YAGP alums who are now on the rise at ABT—Skylar Brandt and Gabe Stone Shayer—almost carried off the tricky Spring Waters perfectly. This is a Soviet-era warhorse choreographed by Asaf Messerer with heroic hurling and lifting—including that famous one-handed lift where the guy's arm looks like the stem of a statue. Brandt's reckless hurl was worthy of Plisetskaya, but the one-armed lift got off to a bad start. Brandt seemed to collapse as they prepared for it—but Shayer made a quick save and raised her high up anyway, just in time to rush triumphantly off stage left.
Evan McKie and Svetlana Lunkina in Dawson's "Swan Lake" pas de deux
Evan McKie, the National Ballet of Canada star (and member of Dance Magazine's Advisory Board) blew in backwards in David Dawson's tutu-less remake of the White Swan pas de deux. McKie (last seen in NYC in Wheeldon's Winter's Tale) and Svetlana Lunkina are relatively new stars of National Ballet of Canada, he hailing from the Stuttgart Ballet and she from the Bolshoi. This striking couple brought the complex choreography alive: McKie's open chest, poetic demeanor and breathing arms made this Siegfried as sensitive as his Odette.
David Parson's Caught, with its selective strobe light, is always mindblowing. Ian Spring of Parsons Dance sprang up over and over, creating the illusion he was running or walking on air.
Lucia Lacarra and Marlon Dino in Arpino's "Light Rain"
I always welcome seeing Light Rain (1981), by Gerald Arpino, because it reminds me of the Joffrey Ballet's heyday here in New York. The ballet limns the edges of tastefulness with its hippy-trippy seductive duet, emphasis on the pelvis. I love the tabla-like rhythmic music by Douglas Adamz and Russ Gauthier. Lucia Lacarra has the right kind of exquisite body for this exercise in eroticism-charged flexibility.
For a rousing finale, Tamara Rojo and Cesar Corrales (another YAGP alum) dazzled with gyroscopic turns and leaps in Le Corsaire. (Rojo returned the following night at the Julio Bocca tribute, to show her super-human balances in Don Quixote.)
The Grand Défilé, choreographed by Carlos dos Santos, Jr.
The Grand Défilé, that amazing annual parade of 300 dancers ages 9 to 19, filled the stage with clever patterns and bursts of virtuosity as arranged by the ingenious Carlos dos Santos, Jr.
Completing the first half was a tribute to director/choreographer/mentor Bruce Marks, who was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Nina Ananiashvili, with her usual charm and verve, introduced him, enumerating a few of his many accomplishments. She expressed personal gratitude for his uniting the Boston Ballet and Russian ballet stars in 1990, which gave her a rare opportunity to perform in the United States. Marks spoke about the artistry of dance. Then he raised his voice in defense of the National Endowment for the Arts, which is currently on the chopping block in the latest national budget proposal. He asked us all to stand with him in the effort to keep the NEA up and running and helping the arts. Long live the NEA and YAGP!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Efficient movement is easy to recognize—we all know when we see a dancer whose every action seems essential and unmannered. Understanding how to create this effect, however, is far more elusive. From a practical perspective, dancing with efficiency helps you to conserve your energy and minimize wear and tear on the body; from an artistic point of view, it allows you to make big impressions out of little moments, and lasting memories for those watching.
So much struggle and determination goes into your training that it can be difficult for early-career dancers to recalibrate their priorities toward simplicity and ease, says Laurel Jenkins, freelance performer and Trisha Brown Dance Company staging artist. "Your aesthetic might shift, and you might have to find new things beautiful." Mastering the art of effortless movement requires a new perspective and a smart strategy—on- and offstage.
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.
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
Whatever your feelings about Wayne McGregor's heady, hyper-physical choreography, we can all probably agree on one thing: We'd really, really love to pick his brain. And tomorrow, Dance Umbrella, a UK-based dance festival, is giving everyone the chance to do exactly that.
"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.