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The Best Moments from Last Week's YAGP Gala

Cesar Corrales and Tamara Rojo in Corsaire

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!

Johns' Map

Before too long, dancers and choreographers will get to create on the luxurious 170-acre property in rural Connecticut that is currently home to legendary visual artist Jasper Johns.

If you think that sounds far more glamorous than your average choreographic retreat, you're right. Though there are some seriously generous opportunities out there, this one seems particularly lavish.

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Ashley Ellis, photo by Albert Ayzenberg, courtesy of Ashley Ellis

Every dancer has learned—probably the hard way—that healthy feet are the foundation of a productive and happy day in the studio. As dancers, our most important asset has to carry the weight (literally) of everything we do. So it's not surprising that most professional dancers have foot care down to an art.

Three dancers shared their foot-care products they can't live without.

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via Instagram, Company Cooperative

Dancers trying their hand at designing is nothing new. But they do tend to stick with studio or performance-wear (think Miami City Ballet's Ella Titus and her line of knit warm-ups or former NYCB dancer Janie Taylor and her ballet costumes). But several dancers at American Ballet Theatre—corps members Jamie Kopit, Erica Lall, Katie Boren, Katie Williams, Lauren Post, Zhong-Jing Fang and soloist Cassandra Trenary—are about to launch a fashion line that's built around designs that can be worn outside of the studio. Titled Company Cooperative, the luxe line of women's wear is handmade in New York City's garment district and designed by the dancers themselves.

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Dancers & Companies
A still from Duet, via CNN Style

Royal Ballet dancers Yasmine Naghdi and Beatriz Stix-Brunell recently got together for a different kind of performance: no decadent costumes, sets, stage makeup or lighting. Instead, the principal and first soloist danced choreography by principal character artist Kristen McNally in a stark studio.

The movement is crystal clear, and at the beginning, Naghdi and Stix-Brunell duck and weave around each other with near vacant stares. Do they even know they have a partner? And how should they interact? The situation raises a much larger question: How often do we see a female duet in ballet?

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Dancers & Companies
Neumeier's costume rendering for Orphée et Eurydice. Photo courtesy Lyrica Opera of Chicago.

As a student, Milwaukee native John Neumeier appeared in an opera at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. As Hamburg Ballet's artistic director and one of the world's leading choreographers, Neumeier now returns to the Midwest to direct and choreograph a new version of Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice, a co-production of the Lyric Opera, LA Opera and Hamburg State Opera. Set to open in Chicago September 23 with the Joffrey Ballet, the ambitious work will see additional engagements in Los Angeles and Hamburg over the next two years.

How did you come to be involved with this collaboration?

It was initiated by the director of the Lyric Opera, Anthony Freud, but I had already been in contact with Ashley Wheater about a separate project with the Joffrey Ballet. The two things came together—and this was really interesting to me because Chicago was important at the start of my career. I was born in Milwaukee, but most of my training was in or near Chicago.

You've previously created version of Orpheus for Hamburg Ballet. What about this particular production caught your interest?

When I got this offer from Anthony, I just went back to the piece and tried to sense what it meant to me now. Gluck's Orphée was part of a push to reform opera and to make a complete work of art involving music, text and dance. What interests me—particularly in this French version we are doing—is that dance plays such an essential role. When Agnes de Mille choreographed Oklahoma!, it was considered a revolution in musical theater, because dance moved the plot along. In Orphée, we can see that the same idea had been realized several centuries ago: that dance would not be just a divertissement, but a theatrical element, literally "moving" the plot along and expressing in another form the emotion of each situation.

Another idea in Orphée which fascinates me is its directness in projecting profound human emotions—emotions not used as an excuse for vocal virtuosity, but expressed in simple and direct musical terms. In Orphée, we have a mythical subject which is related in an extremely relevant, familiar, human way.

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Brendan Barthel and Chinchin Hsu of MJDC, Photo by RJ Muna

What happens when drones become part of the dance? For Margaret Jenkins Dance Company's latest work, Skies Calling Skies Falling, video artists David and Hi-Jin Hudge used a drone hovering 200 to 400 feet above the ground to film the dancers performing in an industrial granary. The resulting footage will be projected onto the floor and walls of the Taube Atrium Theater, creating a dystopian backdrop to the live performance.

Alex Carrington of MJDC, Photo by RJ Muna

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Dancers & Companies
Connor Walsh rehearses the role of Rudolf in Kenneth MacMillan's Mayerling. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

It's been 34 years since Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Mayerling touched down on American soil, when The Royal Ballet first performed the great English master's tour de force ballet stateside. On September 22–24, Houston Ballet becomes the first North American company to perform MacMillan's epic chronicle of the murder-suicide of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Crown Prince Rudolf, and his 17-year-old mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera. Chronicling the last chapter of the Hapsburg Empire, the ballet is known for its true-to-life realism, and for the role of Rudolf, which transformed the way male ballet dancers drive a story. It's considered a dream role for a male dancer. And with seven pas de deux with five different women, a deadly difficult one at that.

Driving Houston Ballet's Mayerling train is principal Connor Walsh, who nearly missed this opportunity to dance the part when Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston Ballet's theatrical home, Wortham Center. Now moved to the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts and back in rehearsal, Walsh took a break from his busy schedule to talk about the role of a lifetime.

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Health & Body
Quinn Wharton

Have you ever felt like your relationship to dance is something of an addiction? Not to worry, that's completely normal—it's simply the way our brains are wired.

This week, The Washington Post published an intriguing feature that looks at the science of what actually goes on upstairs when we're watching a live performance. The insight comes from the emerging field of neuroaesthetics, which uses tools like brain imaging to study the relationship between art and the brain.

Here are some of the most fascinating takeaways:

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