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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.”
Camille A. Brown is on an impressive streak: In October, the Ford Foundation named her an Art of Change fellow. In November, she won an AUDELCO ("Viv") Award for her choreography in the musical Bella: An American Tall Tale. On December 1, her Camille A. Brown & Dancers made its debut at the Kennedy Center, and two days later she was back in New York City to see her choreography in the opening of Broadway's Once on This Island. Weeks later, it was announced that she was choreographing NBC's live television musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, to air on April 1.
An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.
"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."
The encounter with man-eating female creatures in Jerome Robbins' The Cage never fails to shock audiences. As this tribe of insects initiates the newly-born Novice into their community and prepares her for the attack of the male Intruders, the ballet draws us into a world of survival and instinct.
This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Jerome Robbins' birth, and a number of Robbins programs are celebrating his timeless repertoire. But it especially feels like a prime moment to experience The Cage again. Several companies are performing it: San Francisco Ballet begins performances on March 20, followed by the English National Ballet in April and New York City Ballet in May.
Why it matters: In this time of female empowerment—as women are supporting one another in vocalizing injustices, demanding fair treatment and pay, and advocating for future generations—The Cage's nest of dominant women have new significance.
Last week in a piece I wrote about the drama at English National Ballet, I pointed out that many of the accusations against artistic director Tamara Rojo—screaming at dancers, giving them the silent treatment, taking away roles without explanation—were, unfortunately, pretty standard practice in the ballet world:
If it's a conversation we're going to have, we can't only point the finger at ENB.
The line provoked a pretty strong response. Professional dancers, students and administrators reached out to me, making it clear that it's a conversation they want to have. Several shared their personal stories of experiencing abusive behavior.
Christopher Hampson, artistic director of the Scottish Ballet, wrote his thoughts about the issue on his company's website on Monday:
I always knew my ballet career would eventually end. It was implied from the very start that at some point I would be too old and decrepit to take morning ballet class, followed by six hours of intense rehearsals.
What I never imagined was that I would experience a time when I couldn't walk at all.
In rehearsal for Nutcracker in 2013, I slipped while pushing off for a fouetté sauté, instantly rupturing the ACL in my right knee. In that moment my dance life flashed before my eyes.
Stephen Petronio brings a bracing season to New York City's Joyce Theater, where he has performed almost every year for 24 years . His work is exciting to the subscription audience as well as to many dance artists. He delves into movement invention at the same time as creating complex postmodern forms. The new work, Hardness 10, is his third collaboration with composer Nico Muhly. The costumes are by Patricia Field ARTFASHION, hand-painted by Iris Bonner/These Pink Lips. Petronio's work still practically defines the word contemporary.
Stephen Petronio Company also continues with its Bloodlines series. That's where he pays homage to landmark works of the past that have influenced his own edgy aesthetics. This season he's chosen Merce Cunningham's playful trio Signals (1970), which will be performed with live music from Composers Inside Electronics.
Completing the program is an excerpt from Petronio's Underland (2003), with music by Nick Cave. Video footage courtesy of Stephen Petronio Company, filmed by Blake Martin.
Never did I think I'd see the day when I'd outgrow dance. Sure, I knew my life would have to evolve. In fact, my dance career had already taken me through seasons of being a performer, a choreographer, a business owner and even a dance professor. Evolution was a given. Evolving past dancing for a living, however, was not.
Transitioning from a dance career involved just as much of a process as building one did. But after I overcame the initial identity crisis, I realized that my dance career had helped me develop strengths that could be put to use in other careers. For instance, my work as a dance professor allowed me to discover my knack for connecting with students and helping them with their careers, skills that ultimately opened the door for a pivot into college career services.
Here's how five dance skills can land you a new job—and help you thrive in it:
When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.
"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."
We all know that companies too often take dancers for granted. When I wrote last week about a few common ways in which dancers are mistreated—routine screaming, humiliation, being pressured to perform injured and be stick-thin—I knew I was only scratching the surface.
So I put out a call to readers asking for your perspective on the most pressing issues that need to be addressed first, and what positive changes we might be able to make to achieve those goals.
The bottom line: Readers agree it's time to hold directors accountable, particularly to make sure that dancers are being paid fairly. But the good news is that change is already happening. Here are some of the most intriguing ideas you shared via comments, email and social media:
With dancer and choreographer credits that cover everything from touring with Beyoncé to music videos and even feature films, Tricia Miranda knows more than a thing or two about what it takes to make it. And aspiring dancers are well aware. We caught up with the commercial dance queen last weekend at the Brooklyn Funk convention, where she taught a ballroom full of dancers classes in hip-hop and dancing for film and video.
How To Land An Agency
"At times with the agencies, they already have someone that looks like you or you're just not ready to work. Look has to do with a lot of it, work ethic and also just the type of person you are. Do you have personality? Do people want to work with you? Because you can be the greatest dancer, but if you're not someone that gives off this energy of wanting to get to know you, then it doesn't matter how dope you are because people want to work with who they want to be around. I learned that by later transitioning into a choreographer because now that I'm hiring people, I want to hire the people that I want to be around for 12 or 14 hours a day.
You also have to understand that class dancers are different from working commercial dancers. A lot of class dancers and what you see in these YouTube videos are people who stand out because they're doing what they want and remixing choreography. They're kind of stars in their own right, which is great for class, but when it comes to a job, you have to do the choreography how it's taught."
Houston's METdance and the Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance have teamed up to commission a new work from Dallas native (and former Dallas Black Dance Theatre artistic director) Bridget L. Moore. The two contemporary companies will take the stage together in Dallas at Moody Performance Hall on March 16 and at Houston's Hobby Center for the Performing Arts on April 13–15. Visit brucewooddance.org and metdance.org for details on the respective engagements.