There Is No One Like Christopher Williams
His imagination is staggering. He pulls you into an ancient world, a mythic world, a dream world, where a woman might have a dragon clinging to her, or a man might have a small solar system above his head.
With other dance artists who have developed a unique sensibility, you can often detect a strain of influence. But Christopher is, and always has been, completely his own artist. Even though he’s worked with Tere O’Connor, Douglas Dunn, Risa Jaroslow, and Basil Twist, his own work is nothing like any of theirs. The images seem to grow full-blown out of his brain. (By the way, I lay no claim to objectivity. I danced in his Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins in 2005 and served as advising mentor on a later work.)
Last year Christopher's concert at DNA Dance had an unfinished feel. The costumes, always gloriously outlandish, overshadowed the thin choreography. (However, the music for Hen’s Teeth, by Gregory Spears, was on my Best of 2010 list.) In this year’s performance at the 92nd Street Y’s Harkness Dance Festival, which was a series of excerpts of mostly past work, each section was fully formed. The scene from Hen’s Teeth ended at the perfect point: The six women-birds bare their chests by tearing at their costumes with their teeth, and then start mewing, squeaking, or squealing. When a man (dressed like Peter Pan) enters, their squealing mounts to a cacophony—caused by desire or fear we’ll never know. Blackout.
Christopher is as extraordinary as a dancer as he is as a choreographer. In the duet he dances with Paul Singh from The Portuguese Suite (2006), he hasn’t lost any of that amazing elasticity or captivating stage presence that he had when I first saw him dance about 10 years ago.
It’s refreshing to see a choreographer who escapes today’s trends. He has no interest in super fast movement or very released movement or clever improvisation or tangled cables all over the floor. When you enter his space, you forget about texting and video and tweeting. The music, usually by Hildegarde Von Bingen or other pre-15th-century religious composer, helps transport you to another zone. It’s really a trip, as ornate and supernatural as a novel by Isabel Allende or a film by Fellini. You have to give yourself over to it.
There is zero sentimentality or cuteness in his dances. But when one figure nudges his head against another’s feet, or when three artificially nubile women (strange nearly-nude costumes with breast and buttock padding) hang their heads in grief or regret, it’s suddenly poignant. Or when a woman in a filmy red dress with six fake breasts speaks as though she cannot open her mouth, or when a gorgeous topless woman curls her bear-fingernails behind her back, these images stay with you.
In the new Mumbo-Jumbo, Williams takes on the tradition of minstrelsy, using two dancers of color to illustrate the ridiculousness of it. Other pieces of his give off a vague whiff literature, but in this duet the story of “Little Black Sambo” is actually narrated. Raja Kelly and Paul Singh are the brave/foolish figures who shuffle, fight, kiss, and jive to Bollywood music. It is a mumbo jumbo of cultural clichés. And it's new territory for Williams in that it touches on political commentary rather than being sheer fantasy. You’re caught in that limbo of not knowing whether to laugh or be indignant.
Hen's Teeth with Kira Blazek in foreground, photo by Julie Lemberger for 92Y
Booking a gig on a cruise ship can feel like you're diving into the unknown—dropping everything to live in the middle of the ocean without family, friends or cell service. But cruise jobs can also offer incredible rewards, like traveling the world for free and delving into a new style.
Is ship life the right fit for you? Here are some elements to consider.
We knew that New York downtown dance darling Okwui Okpokwasili was a big deal. Critics and audiences have been raving about her dance-theater works for years, and the new documentary about her, Bronx Gothic, has attracted the attention of the larger arts community.
But never in our wildest dreams did we imagine she'd show up in a Jay Z video, along with flex dancer Storyboard P. Though we're slightly less surprised to see Storyboard in Jay Z's "4:44" video than we were to see Okpokwasili, we're jazzed that two of our favorites are featured on such a huge platform. (We're also feeling #blessed that we didn't have to subscribe to Tidal to watch this.)
Throughout the years, choreographer Seán Curran has worked with a diverse array of talented collaborators—from Kyrgyz music ensemble Ustatshakirt Plus to the the Grammy Award–winning King's Singers. But perhaps none are as meaningful as his most recent group of co-choreographers: At-risk teens from the after school program and nonprofit The Wooden Floor.
Curran has been in residence with The Wooden Floor since June, where he's worked with students to build choreography based on their lives and communities:
Their creation will be shown July 20-22 at The Wooden Floor Studio Theatre in Santa Ana, California.
"Besides the stage, baking is my other happy place," says New York City Ballet corps member Jenelle Manzi.
Four years ago, she thought her baking days were over when she was diagnosed with gluten intolerance. Manzi had been dealing with pain, frequent illness and joint inflammation for nearly 10 years. Once she cut out gluten, Manzi gradually started to feel better, noticing a transformation in how her body felt and functioned. She found her joints were less inflamed, and she got sick less often.
New York City Ballet soloist Unity Phelan and American Ballet Theatre soloist Cassandra Trenary spend every day making their hard work look effortless and graceful both in the studio and onstage. That's exactly what makes them the perfect spokesmodels for the dance-inspired activewear line, Belle Force.
To celebrate our 90th anniversary, we excavated some of our favorite hidden gems from the DM Archives—images that capture a few of the moments in time we've documented over the decades.
This image was captured during a 1978 New York City Ballet tour that took the company to Copenhagen—home turf for Adam Luders (right), who trained at the Royal Danish Ballet School and briefly danced with the company before joining NYCB as a principal dancer in 1975. Next to Luders is (of course) George Balanchine, in conversation with ballerina Suzanne Farrell. And looking on with a smile? NYCB's current ballet master in chief Peter Martins.
On March 8, 2016, Rami Shafi found himself inspired to film an impromptu dance video of his best friend, Aaron Moses Robin, improvising on Gay St. in New York City's Greenwich Village. Thus was born Pedestrian Wanderlust, a collection of dance videos that has grown to include a monthly improv jam.
Shafi works with anyone who wants to take part in the project, filming videos in locations chosen by the dancers and later adding music. The videos are shot on Shafi's iPhone in one take and, other than the starting and ending points, are entirely improvised. The editing afterwards—including the music choice—is minimal. "I don't like to edit too much. It's just what it is," says Shafi. "I usually can do the editing on the train ride home."