Countertechnique and catharsis rule at BODYTRAFFIC's summer intensive.
Guest teacher Chris Evans has danced with Hofesh Shechter. Photo by Guzman Rosado, courtesy BODYTRAFFIC.
As choreographer Rosie Herrera shepherds 25 students through her own brand of warm-up, the campus dance studio at Loyola Marymount University is charged with emotion. Sitting in a circle, the dancers must share three things about themselves: “Where you’re from, if you’ve been in love and if you believe in God.” Things get real quickly, and when the tears start flowing, an animated Herrera quickly puts the dancer at ease: “We love the first person who cries,” she says, prompting a round of applause. “Dance is the language we speak, but I’m most interested in people having experiences. Things are gonna get deep.”
That might well be the mantra for the BODYTRAFFIC intensive. Run by the Los Angeles company’s co-directors Lillian Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett, the program spans three weeks and boasts an impressive lineup of guest choreographers like Herrera. The goal? Not merely achieving technical improvement or expanding a dancer’s repertoire, but sparking artistic transformation.
“In my early training, I was a bunhead, so I did a lot of ballet intensives,” says Barbeito. “I wanted to veer in the opposite direction. We want to cause breakthroughs for the participants—mental, physical and emotional.”
A Different Dynamic
The approach appears to be working. The number of applicants tripled last year (the program’s third) to 250. About 10 percent are accepted. The increased interest can be traced to BODYTRAFFIC’s mounting success as a repertory company since its founding in 2007 by Barbeito and Berkett. The intensive attracts dance majors and professionals who range in age from 18 to mid-50s, though the majority are 20 to 25.
Countertechnique teaches mindfulness and body awareness. Photo by Guzman Rosado, courtesy BODYTRAFFIC.
Barbeito has made Countertechnique a major component of the intensive. She studied the approach, which uses counter-directions in all movements, at choreographer Anouk Van Dijk’s intensive in Amsterdam and came away enthralled by its focus on shifting dynamics, mindfulness and body awareness. “I started the intensive partly because I really wanted to introduce Countertechnique to the Los Angeles community,” says Barbeito, one of only 20 certified Countertechnique instructors in the world. “That also carries over into how I curate the guest artists—we want to bring in artists who are at the forefront of what’s happening now in dance.” To date, those guest artists have included Peter Chu and Adam Barruch, as well as choreographers who’ve created work for BODYTRAFFIC, like Kyle Abraham and Sidra Bell. Last year’s slate included Herrera, of Miami-based Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre; Ayman Harper, a Berlin-based choreographer and former Forsythe Company member; and Chris Evans, who’s danced with Hofesh Shechter Company and is his assistant choreographer for Fiddler on the Roof.
Building, Exploring, Creating
The intensive is broken down into three separate weeks—last summer, the first was led by Evans, the second by Barbeito and Berkett, and the third by Harper and Herrera. Though each week has a different schedule, common threads include technique and improvisation (about one and a half hours per day), repertory sessions (anywhere from two to four and a half hours per day) and time for exploration and creation (up to four hours per day). “We want to give them space to create their own solos, duos and trios,” says Herrera. “It’s all about helping the dancers have a profound experience in a short amount of time.”
Participants get a chance to learn not only pieces of BODYTRAFFIC repertory, but also repertory from the guest artists’ companies. For instance, Harper taught William Forsythe repertory with a focus on structured improvisation, while Herrera workshopped excerpts from Make Believe, a soon-to-premiere work.
“I was really attracted to the variety,” says 22-year-old Alexandra Lockhart, a recent SUNY Purchase graduate and repeat participant. “These aren’t opportunities you get on a daily basis.” Adds fellow student Amanda Sachs, “It feels like three mini-intensives inside the bigger BODYTRAFFIC bubble.”
There’s also a fair share of interpersonal activities, such as a “Lunch on the Lawn” question-and-answer session with BODYTRAFFIC members and a sit-down dinner with the guest artists. At the end of each week, dancers get to share what they’ve learned with an intimate studio showing. For many participants, the opportunities to interact with the visiting choreographers provide a great foundation for building relationships that last far beyond the intensive.
And for those who excel, their efforts can pay off with a job. Last summer, Barbeito and Berkett invited two participants to come back for extended auditions. “We look for people who are fearless and open-minded, superb technicians with an engaging presence,” says Barbeito. “It’s also about personality—who do we want to be in the room with for six days a week from 9:30 to 5:30?”
For Sachs, who currently dances with New York City–based Francesca Harper Project, the professional connections have been as important as the opportunity to expand her range as a dancer. “These are the people,” she says, “who are leading us where we’re going next in the dance world.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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: