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What It's Like to Dance All Night
That feeling when you have four shows between 7 pm and 7 am
What does it feel like to dance an all-night marathon of performances? Five dancers recently found out during Trisha Brown: In Plain Site, part of "A Night of Philosophy and Ideas" at the Brooklyn Public Library. The festival of screenings, debate and performances took place in over 30 cities around the globe, with the Brooklyn edition lasting from 7 pm on January 28 to 7 am the next day. The Trisha Brown dancers put on a series of four site-specific performances, and Mariah Maloney kept a diary of her experience:
4:45 pm: I'm heading to the Brooklyn Public Library. In my overnight bag, I've packed five six-inch balls, a blanket, pillow, yoga mat, headphones, toothbrush, toothpaste, makeup, lotion, deodorant and sparkling water.
7:45 pm: Our guide navigates us through the crowd to the Commons Room to listen to Trisha Brown's audio recording of Skymap (1969). I lay down with fellow Trisha Brown dancer Brandi Norton to absorb Trisha’s voice.
8:30 pm: Stage manager Jessie Ksanznak calls half hour until our first performance. I put on headphones to listen to Bob Dylan's “Early Morning Rain,” gently letting my feet find the rhythm, allowing my arms to enact Trisha’s 1973 Spanish Dance score, where a dancer slowly raises her arms like a magnificent Spanish dancer and travels forward in time.
Spanish Dance in 1977. Photo by Tristan Vales via trishabrowndancecompany.org
9 pm: I walk to my floor tape near the returns desk and take my place in the center of five women. Leah Morrison, at the far back, begins the piece; Vicky Schick is next; then me; then Amanda Kmett'Pendry and finally Brandi.
I hear people shifting as they try to get a view. Leah and Vicky’s soft pitter pat footsteps approach my body, a whisper of a knee visits the back of my right knee and then my left knee and I can feel the surface of Vicky’s body against mine as my body joins the passage of Spanish Dance. I see Amanda’s long braid with slight blue streaks and I allow my knee to visit the back surface of her knee. I am the center of the sandwich as we meet Brandi; I feel a wonderful squish and suspension within the line of swaying bodies.
Harmonica vibrations reverberate through the library. Suddenly we stop, pressed up against the wall. A wave of energy, clapping, laughter and conversation erupts from the audience. We have made our first foray into this evening.
Next, Vicky captivates the crowd with an except from Son of Gone Fishin’ (1981). Brandi and Leah locate opposite ends of the Grand Lobby for Trisha Brown’s iconic Accumulation (1971). And the performance concludes with the Groove and Countermove (2000) duet performed eloquently by Amanda and Leah.
Vicky and Brandi in the green room
9:45 pm: I rest in the green room, rolling on my balls.
11:45 pm: Group Primary Accumulation begins. I lay supine on the floor, watching the crowd overflowing the Grand Lobby’s vast architecture: Bodies are filling the ground level and peeking over the edge of the second- and third-floor balconies. First gesture: right finger tips rise toward the ceiling, elbow releases to the floor. Repeat first gesture, add second gesture. Repeat first gesture, add second and now third.
12 am: I ride the post-performance energy and engage in conversations with audience members.
1 am: Brandi and I find ourselves in the midst of a yoga session.
1:30 am: Seated at the calligraphy table, I find it hard to focus. I join a few strangers in the Commons Room where I rest on mats and pillows.
1:45 am: I feel like I am going to fall asleep and decide moving will help, so I join a dance party to Michael Jackson in the Grand Lobby with 100 other night owls. My body feels loose, warm and easy, but my eyes feel heavy.
Most of us are horizontal
2:15 am I lay down in the Commons Room with a group of people listening to rapper LA Latasha Alcindor. I realize I am fading fast. A cup of hot tea is essential.
3 am: Back in the green room, most of us are horizontal, some sleeping, and some resting yet awake.
4 am: Quiet conversations, costumes, fresh applications of makeup and movement begin. The stage manager calls half hour and we start to rally.
5 am: The once-crowded library gives way to an open floor. Small clusters of people gather around the periphery. We arrive into the space for another Spanish Dance; Bob Dylan’s music begins and so do we, joined by the inspiring Trisha Brown dancer and "Night of Philosophy and Ideas" curator Iréne Hultman.
Next, Vicky performs an excerpt from Son of Gone Fishin’ (1981). Amanda and I then dance part of For M.G.: The Movie (1991): We initiate layered gestures over one another, I dissolve into a slow motion solo transitioning from standing to floor level while Amanda rises to vertical, moving into the space with a feisty solo.
Wake up and dance: Vicky and Irene
5:15 am: It's fascinating to feel our exhausted bodies respond to the unique experience of dancing this choreography. The early morning becomes a sort of group meditation as thousands of people rally through the wee hours.
The performance concludes with Group Primary Accumulation, a work that requires a great deal of concentration. As we enact the final gestures, there is a sense of absolute solidarity with our audience. We stand up and find ourselves hugging each other. We have entered into a different state, one that feels unformed, flowing and dreamlike. The Grand Lobby feels relaxed—the space is our home, a home where thousands of people have gathered to exchange ideas and to witness.
6 am: Quick selfie with the group
6:30 am: Many slumber party library-goers witness our final performance of Spanish Dance. Some quietly try it on their own bodies, hips swaying in solidarity with us. A final Groove and Countermove by Amanda brings us to our finish line.
All done, and heading home
We make one last trip to the green room to change out of the white costumes, give hugs goodbye, gather our things and head home. As I get in the car, I fall into my seat, deeply content as I feel the experience of the life-changing night wash over me.
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.