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Vital Signs

The Trocks in Swan Lake. Photo by Sascha Vaughn, Courtesy Les Ballets Trockadero.

 

En Travesti, A Treat

Sometimes it’s hard to know whether to laugh or marvel at the Trocks. So why not do both? Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo bourrée into Philly’s Annenberg Center Dec. 13–15, then post up to NYC’s Joyce Theater Dec. 18–Jan. 6. Among the company’s various interpretations of the classical canon, Ida Nevasayneva’s Dying Swan still stands alone as the ultimate send-up of an aging diva.  www.trockadero.org.

 

 

Capital Tap

While the Kennedy Center has been overflowing with great dance for over 40 years, it has yet to host a full-length tap concert in its main theaters—until now. On Dec. 7, the Chicago Human Rhythm Project presents JUBA! Masters of Tap and Percussive Dance in the Eisenhower Theater. Stars include 2012 Dance Magazine Award recipient Dianne “Lady Di” Walker (see “Awards”), Derick K. Grant, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, and Michelle Dorrance, as well as CHRP’s BAM! Ensemble, D.C.’s Step Afrika!, and Rasta Thomas’ TAP STARS. Members of youth tap companies from across the country will also get their chance to sound off.  www.kennedy-center.org.

 

Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards. Photo by Eduardo Patino, Courtesy CHRP.

 

 

A Constant Flame

For 25 years, Prometheus Dance has been performing its theatrical, highly physical works that address hard-hitting issues—refugee displacement, oppressed women, and those afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome, among others. Co-directors Diane Arvanites and Tommy Neblett have made the company a resolute presence in Cambridge, MA, through its performances and educational programs—as well as its Elders Ensemble of dancers 60–85 years old. On Dec. 15, the company throws itself a birthday party/gala at the Multicultural Arts Center. Visit  www.prometheusdance.org to view the company’s virtual retrospective, with images, videos, and interviews commemorating its quarter-century milestone.

 

Jennifer Kelble in Arvanites and Neblett’s Desiderare. Photo by Donny Zaltzberg, Courtesy Prometheus.

 

 

About Comedy, By Camille

White Bird, celebrating its 15th anniversary as the Pacific Northwest’s leading dance-only presenter, has several big-name choreographers coming through Portland, OR, this season. But they’ve also saved room for smaller groups that pack a big punch, like Camille A. Brown & Dancers, which performs her latest work, Mr. TOL E. RAncE, Dec. 6–8. In its West Coast debut, the company tackles the history of African-American comedic performance—both the humor and underlying darkness—with Brown’s characteristic theatricality.  www.whitebird.org.

 

Camille A. Brown. Photo by Matthew Karas, Courtesy White Bird.

 

 

No Rest for Bourne

It’s been 25 years since Matthew Bourne made his first piece for his company, now known as New Adventures. His latest work, Sleeping Beauty, the pièce de résistance of NA’s 25th-anniversary season, runs Dec. 4–Jan. 26 at Sadler’s Wells, and will tour internationally next year. Like his most famous work, the homoerotic Swan Lake (also set to Tchaikovsky), this Beauty is a modern-day production, as Aurora awakes from her century-long slumber to the present.  www.sadlerswells.com.

 

Keith Brazil and Matthew Bourne in Bourne’s Spitfire, his first hit, in 1988. Photo by Chris Nash, Courtesy Sadler’s Wells.

 

 

A party scene gone awry in Texas Ballet Theatre’s Nutty Nutcracker. Photo by Ellen Appel, Courtesy TBT.

Going Nuts

You can’t turn right in December without running into a Nutcracker—also known as the bread and butter of companies around the country. After weeks of glittering snowflakes, some troupes switch it up with a “Nutty Nutcracker”—a one (or few)-night-only pop-culture parody that leaves some choreography intact and basically follows the story, but with unexpected cameos. On Dec. 21, the dancers of Texas Ballet Theater will take a break from Nutcracker as usual (which they will have been performing since Nov. 23), for their Nutty Nutcracker. Last year’s production (put together in a mere week) reportedly featured then-newlyweds Prince William and Kate Middleton, characters from The Wizard of Oz, and (obviously) Black Swan’s Black Swan. Expect more of the same this year.  www.texasballettheater.org.

 

Like individual snowflakes, every Nutcracker production is unique. Here are three more done with a twist:

The Jewish Nutcracker in San Francisco, which tells the story of Hanukkah and incorporates world dance styles into its production. Dec. 18–23.  www.jewishnutcracker.com.

Of Mice & Music: A Jazz Nutcracker in Austin, presented by the hard-hitting tappers of Tapestry Dance Company. Dec. 6–16.  www.tapestry.org.

Boston’s Urban Nutcracker adds Duke Ellington to the Tchaikovsky score, along with hip-hop, ballroom, and Bollywood. Dec. 8–23.  www.urbannutcrackerboston.com.

 

Photo by Theo Kossenas, courtesy The Washington Ballet

With her fearless demeanor onstage, it's easy to see how Washington Ballet apprentice Sarah Steele attracted the keen eye of former American Ballet Theatre stars Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. Promoted mid-season from the studio company by artistic director Kent, Steele was cast by Stiefel as the lead in Frontier, his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, this past spring. For the space-themed piece, Steele donned a black-and-white "space suit" onstage, exhibiting dual qualities of strength and grace. Most evocative about Steele's dancing might be her innate intelligence—she was accepted to Harvard on early admission, and plans to resume her studies there in the future. But first, she'll dance.

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Lots of college groups do stepping—a form of body percussion based on slapping, tapping and stomping—but Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to do it. They are currently at New York City's New Victory Theater, presenting The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, a show based on the painting series by Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence about The Great Migration of the 1900s, when millions of African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and traveled by train to the North for a better life. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of the country, and Jacob Lawrence's paintings became famous for their bold color and evocative power.

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Still from La Folía. Shot by Olivia Kimmel, Courtesy Adam Grannick

As we approach Thanksgiving, there's much to be grateful for. Perhaps one of the most important things on your list is dance. Whether you're a full-time company member, an aspiring professional, an audience member, or you simply delight in dancing in your daydreams, this art form is a creative escape.

That's not to say that being a dancer is easy: Pursuing such a competitive career can be heartbreaking, especially when you're faced with rejection.

La Folía, a short dance film by director Adam Grannick that was recently released online, echoes these sentiments in under 12 minutes.

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Pixabay

It took two years of intense nutrition counseling and psychotherapy to pull me out of being anorexic. My problem now is that I've gained too much weight from eating normally. Is there no middle ground? I can't fit into my clothes, but I don't want to go back to being sick.

—Former Anorexic, Weston, CT

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Health & Body
LINES dancer Courtney Henry. Photo by Quinn Wharton

We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.

But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.

A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.

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Training
Laurel Jenkins, Photo by Vincent Beaume

Efficient movement is easy to recognize—we all know when we see a dancer whose every action seems essential and unmannered. Understanding how to create this effect, however, is far more elusive. From a practical perspective, dancing with efficiency helps you to conserve your energy and minimize wear and tear on the body; from an artistic point of view, it allows you to make big impressions out of little moments, and lasting memories for those watching.

So much struggle and determination goes into your training that it can be difficult for early-career dancers to recalibrate their priorities toward simplicity and ease, says Laurel Jenkins, freelance performer and Trisha Brown Dance Company staging artist. "Your aesthetic might shift, and you might have to find new things beautiful." Mastering the art of effortless movement requires a new perspective and a smart strategy—on- and offstage.

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Dancers & Companies
Photo by Johan Persson, Courtesy ROH

Whatever your feelings about Wayne McGregor's heady, hyper-physical choreography, we can all probably agree on one thing: We'd really, really love to pick his brain. And tomorrow, Dance Umbrella, a UK-based dance festival, is giving everyone the chance to do exactly that.

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Dancers & Companies
Nisian Hughes

"Women are often presented as soft, fragile little creatures in ballet," says Léonore Baulac. "We're not." The Paris Opéra Ballet's newest female étoile is discussing her unease at some of the 19th-century narratives she portrays. "It was real acting," she says with a laugh of La Sylphide. "James kills her by taking away her wings, yet she tells him not to worry and goes to die elsewhere onstage!"

Sitting in the canteen of the Palais Garnier, Baulac embodies some of ballet's contradictions in the 21st century. With her fair curls and dainty features, she could easily pass for a little girl's fantasy princess. As Juliet, she exuded a girlish ardor that felt entirely natural; her reservations notwithstanding, her Sylphide was committed and carefully Romantic in style.

Yet the 27-year-old is no ingénue. At Garnier that day, her sweater reads "I can't believe I still have to protest this s**t," a feminist slogan; last winter, Baulac proudly wore it over a Kitri tutu on Instagram. And her repertoire is as thoroughly modern as she is offstage. A versatile performer even by Parisian standards, she is equally at home in Nutcracker as she is in the works of Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.

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Dancers & Companies

You know Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo as the men who parody your favorite ballet variations—and make it look good. But there's more to the iconic troupe than meets the eye.

A new documentary, Rebels on Pointe, goes behind the scenes of the company, and it's full of juicy tidbits about what it's like to be a Trock. These were some of our favorite moments:

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Breaking Stereotypes
AXIS's Lani Dickinson and James Bowen. Photo by Matt Evearitt, courtesy AXIS

After 30 years of pioneering work in physically integrated dance, AXIS Dance Company co-founder Judith Smith has announced plans to retire from the Oakland, California, company. Throughout her tenure, she strived to get equal recognition for integrated dance and disabled dancers, commissioning work from high-profile choreographers like Bill T. Jones. Her efforts generated huge momentum for expanded training, choreography, education and advocacy for dancers with disabilities.

By phone from her home in Oakland, Smith reflected on how far the field has evolved since the early days of AXIS, and what's yet to be done.

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