Wendy Perron's First Blog
Why Is Naharin's Work So Mesmerizing?
After seeing Ohad Naharin’s Decadance performed by Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, you don’t come out of it saying This part was good and that part wasn’t. You come out of it having experienced humanity in a raw state. When Ebony Williams in bizarre feathery get-up on stilts, lip synchs to a song of grunts, sighs, and yells, there is something both artificial and ruthless about the way she uses her whole body and face. The recorded sounds seems to come from her gut, spiced up by a touch of Eartha Kitt and Harpo Marx too. The scene is almost funny, but it’s too mesmerizing to laugh.
Cedar Lake invited Naharin to spend three months with them setting Decadance, which is a compilation of excerpts of previous works. The dancers (all of them technically fantastic) have journeyed deep into themselves to get to a place of rawness. His demands go beyond pretty or beautiful, an aesthetic that is shared with Graham. But the movement sometimes looks like krumping or butoh. I think the hypnotic effect has to do with the vulnerability he encourages in his dancers. It gets to something essential about being human—or even animal. In the beginning, when they line up downstage for an excerpt from Naharin’s Virus, their gloved hands look like paws—until each dancer explodes, one at a time, into their personal version of condensed fury.
Another aspect of Naharin’s work that draws you in is the inventive ways he pulls audience members onto the stage. This time, I was one of those led by the hand to the performing space. I don’t have to tell you that it is quite a mental and physical switch from sitting and watching to being under the lights. My personal guide looked at me with fierce eyes that told me what to do. And yet there was room to play; you felt an instant camaraderie with the other dazed souls onstage. My guide turned out to be Shani Garfinkel, who is actually from Naharin’s Israeli company, Batsheva, and had joined Cedar Lake temporarily as both dancer and his assistant.
The program continues until July 1.
The Mothers Made Me Cry
After seeing various casts of Peter Martins’ Romeo + Juliet and American Ballet Theatre’s Sleeping Beauty—and reading lots of reviews—I feel like the mothers have been overlooked. Everyone talks about the different Juliets and Auroras, but Darci Kistler as Lady Capulet really brought the tragedy home, and Susan Jaffe as the queen was the emotional center of the new Sleeping Beauty.
Kistler gave extravagant weight to her every gesture. She had to practically rond-de-jambe around her huge dress, and she did so with generous sweeping arms. Maybe because of her grandeur, when she reacted to the deaths—first of Tybalt, then of Juliet—you felt the tension between her position in life and her immediate grief.
Susan Jaffe was a noble and radiant Queen. When the King, in a fit of rage, ordered Catalabutte (his chief minister) killed, Jaffe went into slow-motion action to calm him. She took his hand and placed her check tenderly in his palm. That did it. The feeling of her cheek in his hand appeased him, and he could now forgive. It seemed like all is OK in a land where a wife’s touch can bring down a king’s ire. It’s like a little shadowing of the Lilac Fairy mitigating Carabosse’s vengeful death sentence.
Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.
Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?
If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.
"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."
Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.
"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.
After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.
Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org
In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."
She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."
Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.
Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.
Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."
Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.
But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.
I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."
It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.
Everyone knows that community college is an affordable option if a four-year school isn't in the cards. But it can also be a solid foundation for a career in the dance field. Whether students want an associate in arts degree as a precursor to obtaining a bachelor's, or to go straight into the performing world, the right two-year dance program can be a uniquely supportive place to train. Don't let negative stereotypes prevent you from attending a program that could be right for you:
Conscientious theatergoers may be familiar with The School for Scandal, The School for Wives and School of Rock. But how many are also aware of the school of Fosse?
The 1999 musical, a posthumous exploration of the choreographic career of Bob Fosse, ran for 1,093 performances, winning four Tonys and 10 nominations; employing 32 dancers; and, completely unintentionally, nurturing a generation of Broadway choreographers. You may have heard of them: Andy Blankenbuehler and Sergio Trujillo danced in the original cast, Josh Rhodes was a swing, and Christopher Gattelli replaced Trujillo when he landed choreography jobs in Massachusetts and Canada. Blankenbuehler remembers that when Trujillo left, "It was as if he was graduating."
January 16 might as well be a Broadway holiday. Three gigantic names were born on this day, in 1908, 1950 and 1980, and they represent three distinct eras of powerhouse musicals. Without them, there'd be no belting Reno Sweeney, no "Fame"-ous Lydia Grant and no rapping Alexander Hamilton. Happy birthday to these indelible superstars.
In the midst of its 20th-anniversary season, BodyVox is taking a moment to look back. The Portland, Oregon–based company presents Urban Meadow, an amalgamation of some of its most popular works, at Philadelphia's Prince Theater, Jan. 18–21. Expect whimsy, and the unexpected. bodyvox.com.
I never believe that I deserve to be happy. This reaction kicked in big time since I got a steady job. My emotions are a roller coaster: joy at the chance to perform, terror that the people in charge don't like me and resentment at not getting solo roles. I'm driving myself crazy.
—Terry, Philadelphia, PA