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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.”
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.