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.
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.
Last week, we highlighted the deliberately, hysterically bad @biscuitballerina Instagram account, created by a then-mysterious dancer with a great sense of humor. This week, the artist behind @biscuitballerina—who turns out to be Royal Ballet of Flanders corps member Shelby Williams—got in touch with us to set the record straight about the intentions of those LOL-worthy posts.
Her photos and videos, with their exaggeratedly cringe-worthy technical flaws, are NOT meant to mock amateur dancers. Instead, Williams is actually hoping the account will help all dancers move past their shortcomings and accept themselves and their dancing.
Everyone knows that training is the cornerstone of a successful career in dance. But as a dance educator, I also take comfort in the fact that high-quality dance training helps shape students into genuinely good people (in addition to creating future artists, which is a wonderful goal in itself.) These are the lessons dance teaches that help make students into better humans:
Improvement Takes Commitment Over Time
In my tap courses at Cal State University, sometimes students are shocked when they can't learn something quickly. In today's world, we're used to getting fast results. You need an answer—Google it. You need to talk to someone—text them. The cooking channel wants your dinner to be easy, the physical trainer wants your workout to be five minutes, Rosetta Stone can have you speaking Mandarin in an hour.
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.