The Wild One
It was the kind of honest, exhilarated audience response that is palpable and undeniable. For two nights in September, the most vocal reaction during a Fall for Dance opening program that included works by Twyla Tharp and Merce Cunningham went to Andrea Miller's Gallim Dance, performing excerpts from her 2008 work I Can See Myself in Your Pupil. Amid this A-list program, Miller's piece clearly electrified the packed City Center crowd, many of whom had been unaware of her work before.
Andrea Miller. Photo by Matthew Karas.
Chances are they haven't forgotten Miller's name since witnessing her dancers tear into her juicy, eccentric, impassioned movement with demonic abandon, accompanied by an infectious international music compilation. Women in pouffy party dresses of hot pink and chartreuse, and men looking like they'd started out dapper but had long left elegance behind, erupted into spasmodic fits. They flung their limbs, twisting and wrapping their bodies in unexpected, almost dangerous ways, suggesting a desperate need to connect.
The Fall for Dance performances brought Miller's work to its largest New York audience yet. A month before, she had graduated from the intimate 75-seat Joyce SoHo, where both Pupil (2008) and Blush (2009) had premiered, to a shared evening at the Joyce, where she unveiled Wonderland, her most complex and powerful work yet. A dozen feral, androgynous dancers in sleek gray costumes flirted with danger and distortion in this exploration of the animalistic instinct to follow the pack—and the price of breaking out from the crowd. The 45-minute dance exemplified Miller's gift for mining her dancers' individual abilities and extending their potential, as well as her underlying structural savvy and sensational instinct for raw yet sophisticated ensemble movement.
“It's like investigating places you didn't think your body could go," says Francesca Romo, the dancer who has been with Miller the longest and is Gallim's associate director. “We always try to work in a safe environment, but not putting limits on your body, and not restricting yourself in your mind. Taking that lock off your mind really releases a lot of things in your body. It's been interesting to find what the body can do, and how far it can go."
At just 29, Miller has an authoritative choreographic voice, one that draws on influences as diverse as Ohad Naharin, contemporary visual art, and current political developments. Her manner may be demure, but that shouldn't fool anyone; she is a focused, disciplined, and prolific choreographer. The Salt Lake City native, daughter of a Spanish mother and a Jewish-American father, trained in Humphrey-Weidman technique with Ernestine Stodelle and Gail Corbin after the family moved to Connecticut when she was 9. She graduated from The Juilliard School in 2004, having begun choreographing there and making artistic connections that would resonate further down the line.
“Juilliard was the perfect place for me. It opened my world up to so many other dancers—seeing that what they valued was so different from the things that were important in my dance school," Miller said last January following a rehearsal at Manhattan's sleek and spacious Jewish Community Center, where her company is in residence three days a week. She arrived with her strong modern background, which included some Graham and Limón, but had not studied much ballet. “I had to catch up to everybody else, who had been doing ballet for most of their lives. I really wanted it, but I got bad grades. It was a big struggle."
Gallim dancer Caroline Fermin was a Juilliard freshman when Miller was a senior, and recalls her as being very focused on choreography even then. “I remember her work being very dramatically loaded, but well crafted. She already had a strong voice," Fermin says, adding that her freshman classmates who were cast in Miller's works “were a little scared of Andrea. They'd come back from rehearsal and say, 'She's so intense, so wild.' "
Miller's future direction was sealed when Ohad Naharin staged his Minus 7 for Juilliard during her sophomore year. “I knew from the first rehearsal that I wanted to work with him," she recalled. “When he comes forward with his ideas, it can really resonate. For a lot of people—and for myself, for sure—they change your brain. It made me feel like the things I wanted to believe about dance could actually exist, and were truths for him too." She delved deeper into his process when he selected her and others from Juilliard to participate in presentations at the Guggenheim Museum and Kaye Playhouse. Upon graduation, she headed for Tel Aviv to join his Batsheva Ensemble, Batsheva's junior company.
During two years with the group, she originated a role in George and Zalman, a work for five women; performed in Kamuyot; and was one of the Ensemble members who joined the main company for Telophaza during the 2006 Lincoln Center Festival. “When I was there, the two companies were mixing quite a bit," Miller said. She observed company dynamics closely, storing away information for future use. “There's a certain level of authority that doesn't exist there. You're all on the same team. At Batsheva, everyone was available to teach and to learn from each other. And I try to do that here."
When Miller arrived at Batsheva, classes in Gaga, the movement technique Naharin has developed, were already a daily regimen for both companies. “I think what most impacted me while I was there was Gaga—the way of accessing movement and physicality, of using your intelligence to access sensations and different textures. Gaga demands/invites people to teach themselves how to investigate their imaginations. It has the end appearance of looking like you're moving from your instincts, but truthfully it's becoming like a sophisticated animal—who knows where your bones are, what's around them and behind them—and looking completely aware and focused."
A few opportunities to choreograph were available through annual workshops. “I made horrible pieces while I was there," she laughingly acknowledges. By 2006, it became clear to her that she wanted to play more with choreography, and by mutual agreement she left. She considered checking out the Brussels dance scene. But while taking a Doug Varone workshop that fall in New York, she met Romo, who had recently arrived from England after performing with Richard Alston's company, and they immediately gravitated towards each other. “I watched her for a week; I was too afraid to talk to her, I was so blown away by her dancing," Miller said. “When I met Fran, it was like a direct translation of my ideas into physical existence—a perfect match. So I didn't want to go anywhere after meeting her; I just wanted to start dancing with her."
Romo, trained at the Royal Ballet School and attuned to Alston's cool, Cunningham-influenced style, was immediately fascinated by Miller's movement explorations. “It was such a switch from what I was doing before. I think my mind and body just eased into it. At the beginning with Andrea, I was like a sponge—absorbing. I had never done any of this stuff—pushing my body to different places. And it was exciting."
They co-founded Gallim (Hebrew for “waves"), gathered a few more dancers, and soon Miller's work was getting seen around town. It started small—a choreographic workshop here, a showcase there. Snow, a female quartet, was presented as part of a Joyce SoHo program of works by a dozen choreographers, and led to the 2008 engagement there where Pupil had its premiere. New pieces poured forth at an intense pace during 2009 and 2010—Miller was commissioned by Ballet Hispanico, Juilliard's dance division, Ballet Bern—and Gallim performed at Jacob's Pillow and Spoleto Festival USA. Late last year brought performances at White Bird Uncaged in Portland, Oregon, and Gallim's first overseas tour, to Spain. Romo, reflecting on all that has been happening, likens it to “an avalanche, running quicker down the mountain, gathering momentum."
This year began with Miller creating a new half-hour work, For Glenn Gould, commissioned by Dance Theater Workshop. Splitting her early January days between rehearsals for that and preparing Blush and Wonderland excerpts for APAP showings, Miller clearly felt time pressure as the premiere neared. The touring schedule late last year had left her less time than she ideally wanted. “This is the first time that I feel like my creative process has been sacrificed because of our performance schedule," she remarked.
In the new dance, inspired by the artistic distance Gould traveled between his two vastly different recordings of Bach's Goldberg Variations, she was aiming for “a piece about self-awareness, and not necessarily as much about my fingerprint as a choreographer; more about the dancers I'm working with—who are they, and what kind of choices they make." Fermin called it “a vehicle through which we're investigating different aspects of ourselves. It's unlike anything we've ever done before."
This spring finds Gallim in residence at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, where Miller will develop a new work that involves very contemporary and high-tech music. “Every new piece Andrea embarks on is a new adventure," Romo observes.
For Miller, who stopped dancing a few years ago, the choreographic process is as intense as the resulting works tend to be. “I always feel like every piece I make kills part of me, destroys something—and then it also invigorates something else. It feels like a reincarnation—like a very visceral, violent experience for my body, to create."
All photos by Matthew Karas.
When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."
But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.
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.
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.
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
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: