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The Latest: Pressing On
El-Funoun in performance. Photo by Mouhammad Turokman, Courtesy El-Funoun.
Against all odds, one dance company has survived and thrived in the occupied Palestinian Territories for 35 years. Despite being located in the Ramallah district in the West Bank, El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe recently celebrated the anniversary by inviting 25 alumni to join its 30 dancers and 45 youth group members for a performance. This month the company premieres a new production for their youth troupe at the Ramallah Cultural Palace.
El-Funoun’s years of success have not come without incessant struggle. The company performs in Palestine and neighboring Arab countries, nurturing dance groups that have sprouted up in villages, refugee camps and youth clubs. Under the Israeli occupation, however, mobility is increasingly limited. Checkpoints and bypass roads make what should be a 30-minute drive to Bethlehem take at least three hours. Access to water and electricity is also unpredictable. “Life under occupation is difficult,” admits Noora Baker, a former El-Funoun dancer who now heads the troupe’s training and production. “Yet with that difficulty comes challenge and resistance for us. El-Funoun is a collective, believing in humanity and justice, striving to set a good role model in its society.”
Many of the dancers have traumatic stories of living under occupation. As a child, Baker witnessed her parents and sister being arrested, dragged out of the theater and kicked by soldiers. They were there during a peaceful demonstration performance—according to Baker, protest against the occupation is forbidden. Then, the theater was tear gassed, blotting out the rest of her memory of the incident.
Such stories only strengthen dancers’ resolve to spread their art and make an impact on their community. When El-Funoun was founded it was an all-male troupe, but in 1981 women joined, breaking the cultural taboo of both genders performing together in public. The company’s choreography was originally based on the dabke, the stomping, skipping folk dance that is a cherished part of Palestinian identity. “They chose dabke as a means for resistance to the occupation,” says Baker. While still inspired by dabke, it has since evolved to include contemporary choreography, work by guest artists and experiments in new media. The company also helped establish Popular Art Centre in 1987, which offers classes in dabke, modern, ballet, salsa and jazz and hosts the Palestine International Festival for Dance and Music. And in a gesture of solidarity with its brothers under siege, proceeds from one of this season’s performances will go toward supporting a youth group in Gaza.
New York choreographer Yoshiko Chuma, who has collaborated with the company, said, “Eighty percent of their lives is tragedy and 20 percent is happiness. Their work is based on the happiness. When people from El-Funoun told me their family’s history, I had so much emotion to cry, but they do not cry. That is their strength.”
I love being transgender. It's an important part of the story of why I choreograph. Although I loved dance from a very young age, I grew up never seeing a single person like me in dance. So how could I imagine a future for myself there?
The enormous barriers I had to overcome weren't internal: I didn't struggle with feelings of dysphoria, and I wasn't locked down by shame.
The dance community is heartbroken to learn that 14-year-olds Jaime Guttenberg and Cara Loughran were among the 17 people killed during the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
Guttenberg was a talented competition dancer at Dance Theatre in Coconut Creek, FL, according to a report from Sun Sentinel. Dance Theatre owner Michelle McGrath Gerlick shared the below message on her Facebook page, encouraging dancers across the country to wear orange ribbons this weekend in honor of Guttenberg, whose favorite color was orange.
In today's dance world, it seems to go without saying: The more varied the training, the better. But is that always the case? Rhonda Malkin, a New York City–based dance coach who performed with the Radio City Rockettes, thinks trendy contemporary techniques that emphasize improvisation and organic movement quality are detrimental to the precision and strength needed to be a Rockette, in a traditional Broadway show or on a professional dance team. Her view is controversial: "If you really want to work, making $40,000 in three months for the Rockettes or $25,000 in one day filming a commercial, you need ballet, Broadway jazz, tap, hip hop—not contemporary," she says.
On the flip side, techniques that allow dancers more freedom may help them connect more deeply with their body and artistry, while providing release for overused muscles. We broke down the argument for both sides:
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
A statement released yesterday by New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet reported that an independent investigation was unable to corroborate allegations of harassment and abuse against former ballet master in chief Peter Martins, according to The New York Times. This marks the end of a two-month inquiry jointly launched by the two organizations in December following an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment and violence.
The statement also included new policies for both the company and school to create safer, more respectful environments for the dancers, including hiring an independent vendor to handle employee complaints anonymously. These changes are being made despite the independent investigation, handled by outside counsel Barbara Hoey, purportedly finding no evidence of abuse.
Not all ballet dancers cling to their youth. At 26, Lauren Lovette, the New York City Ballet principal, has surpassed the quarter-century mark. And she's relieved.
"I've never felt young," she says. "I can't wait until I'm 30. Every woman I've ever talked to says that at 30 you just don't care. You're free. Maybe I'll start early?"
When Beatlemania swept through the U.S. in the 1960s, Mark Morris was one of millions of young Americans who fell head over heels for the revolutionary group. "I was not immune," the choreographer says. "My sisters were mad about The Beatles and so was I. At age 12 I had a crush on Paul, of course."
Flash forward 50 years and he is still rocking to the British band, but this time with a new Beatles-inspired dance work his company is touring across North America, starting this month with scheduled stops in Seattle, Toronto, Portland, Oregon, and another 25 cities before the end of 2019.
You could call it island-hopping, but it's not exactly a vacation. After choreographing last season's Come From Away, and winning a Tony nomination, Kelly Devine zipped from frosty Newfoundland to the Caribbean beach resort that is the setting for Escape to Margaritaville.
In the fall, she was shuttling between them, before they start this month: flying to Toronto to prepare a new Canadian production of Come From Away, then jetting back to Chicago for the final stop of Margaritaville's four-city pre-Broadway tryout.
"These two shows could not be more different from each other," Devine says with a dash of understatement. Come From Away is about the small Newfoundland town where airliners grounded by the 9/11 attacks dumped thousands of unexpected visitors; Escape to Margaritaville, at the Marquis Theatre, is a comic island romance concocted from the beachcomber songbook of Jimmy Buffett.
How does someone go from being a New York City Ballet corps member to training Hollywood A-listers like Natalie Portman, Rooney Mara and Jennifer Lawrence? By getting injured, says Kurt Froman.
When an ankle sprain left him sidelined a few years back, Froman was "sitting at home, depressed" when he sent his friend Benjamin Millepied an email asking what he was up to. It turned out that Millepied had just been hired to choreograph some scenes for a movie, but had to be in Paris during pre-production. "He needed someone to teach two actors choreography and get them in shape," says Froman. With nothing else on his plate, he said yes, and started prepping Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis for Black Swan.