What a Russian Dancer Really Thinks About Performing in the U.S.
Backstage at Pippin
Growing up in Moscow, the American dance world was my American dream. I was a competitive ballroom-turned-jazz dancer, and I wanted nothing more than to perform jazz dance at its place of origin: the United States. But in Russia, we had certain stereotypes and misconceptions about the way the dance world works in the U.S. Since moving here and joining cast of the national tour of Pippin, I've realized the reality of dancing here doesn't always match up with my expectations.
Expectation: The American dance community is super competitive and hardcore.
Reality: Coming from a world of Russian discipline, I was surprised to find out how joyful American dancers, choreographers and teachers are about what they do. I think that it is part of the American mentality—trying to find the positive side in everything. I think “have fun” and “enjoy every moment” are the most common things I hear dancers say to each other before a performance. To my mind, it’s a beautiful way of thinking. Not to say I didn’t feel joy while dancing before, but now I am more aware of it.
Khoruzhina (center) in Pippin, photo courtesy Khoruzhina
Expectation: I'd have to be less "Russian" onstage.
Reality: My accent and attitude are an advantage. (Americans love accents!) Here in the U.S., several choreographers have told me, "Just be Russian," by which they mean they want me to be proud and confident. Referring to my cultural background actually helps me build a strong stage presence. I like to make fun of some stereotypes about Russians. For example, that we are so strong and mysterious—which, yes, to a certain extent is true. But what could be more helpful to feel while performing?
Expectation: I would be expected to have a strong ballet technique.
Reality: This one was true! Because of the reputation of Russian ballet, all Russian dancers are expected to be proficient in the technique. That is not about me at all. I didn't start ballet training until I was 20. My strong suit is jazz dance. (When I first tried Luigi technique, it was so smooth and joyous, I actually felt “at home”—like I’d been dancing it my whole life.) Russia is not just about ballet; we have very strong schools for modern and contemporary dance, and also ballroom dance.
Expectation: It’s hard for newcomers to get established as a choreographer here.
Reality: I was surprised that many big dance festivals were happy to present my work even though they'd never heard of me. Searching for a job in the U.S. is very rewarding—I feel like Americans don't have any prejudice and judge only your abilities. If anything, my nationality is an advantage.
Onstage in Pippin, photo courtesy Khoruzhina
Expectation: All Americans care about is “So You Think You Can Dance.”
Reality: To my surprise, American dance masters are as connected to the history and traditions of their craft as Russians are. I was lucky to study at the musical theater dance program at Jacob’s Pillow. The archives there are full of recordings of the masterpieces of the past. Everything there was so connected to the roots of American dance that I almost felt Ted Shawn and Jack Cole dancing alongside me.
Expectation: The audition process in the U.S. is intense.
Reality: Well, it is pretty stressful! Here, the level of competition is so much higher. And your brain has to work faster to learn the combo. Often, my being the only Russian in the room has helped me to stay away from the “holding room gossip” so I could focus on my strengths and feel a little bit separated but at the same time very engaged.
Before too long, dancers and choreographers will get to create on the luxurious 170-acre property in rural Connecticut that is currently home to legendary visual artist Jasper Johns.
If you think that sounds far more glamorous than your average choreographic retreat, you're right. Though there are some seriously generous opportunities out there, this one seems particularly lavish.
Every dancer has learned—probably the hard way—that healthy feet are the foundation of a productive and happy day in the studio. As dancers, our most important asset has to carry the weight (literally) of everything we do. So it's not surprising that most professional dancers have foot care down to an art.
Three dancers shared their foot-care products they can't live without.
Dancers trying their hand at designing is nothing new. But they do tend to stick with studio or performance-wear (think Miami City Ballet's Ella Titus and her line of knit warm-ups or former NYCB dancer Janie Taylor and her ballet costumes). But several dancers at American Ballet Theatre—corps members Jamie Kopit, Erica Lall, Katie Boren, Katie Williams, Lauren Post, Zhong-Jing Fang and soloist Cassandra Trenary—are about to launch a fashion line that's built around designs that can be worn outside of the studio. Titled Company Cooperative, the luxe line of women's wear is handmade in New York City's garment district and designed by the dancers themselves.
Royal Ballet dancers Yasmine Naghdi and Beatriz Stix-Brunell recently got together for a different kind of performance: no decadent costumes, sets, stage makeup or lighting. Instead, the principal and first soloist danced choreography by principal character artist Kristen McNally in a stark studio.
The movement is crystal clear, and at the beginning, Naghdi and Stix-Brunell duck and weave around each other with near vacant stares. Do they even know they have a partner? And how should they interact? The situation raises a much larger question: How often do we see a female duet in ballet?
As a student, Milwaukee native John Neumeier appeared in an opera at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. As Hamburg Ballet's artistic director and one of the world's leading choreographers, Neumeier now returns to the Midwest to direct and choreograph a new version of Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice, a co-production of the Lyric Opera, LA Opera and Hamburg State Opera. Set to open in Chicago September 23 with the Joffrey Ballet, the ambitious work will see additional engagements in Los Angeles and Hamburg over the next two years.
How did you come to be involved with this collaboration?
It was initiated by the director of the Lyric Opera, Anthony Freud, but I had already been in contact with Ashley Wheater about a separate project with the Joffrey Ballet. The two things came together—and this was really interesting to me because Chicago was important at the start of my career. I was born in Milwaukee, but most of my training was in or near Chicago.
You've previously created version of Orpheus for Hamburg Ballet. What about this particular production caught your interest?
When I got this offer from Anthony, I just went back to the piece and tried to sense what it meant to me now. Gluck's Orphée was part of a push to reform opera and to make a complete work of art involving music, text and dance. What interests me—particularly in this French version we are doing—is that dance plays such an essential role. When Agnes de Mille choreographed Oklahoma!, it was considered a revolution in musical theater, because dance moved the plot along. In Orphée, we can see that the same idea had been realized several centuries ago: that dance would not be just a divertissement, but a theatrical element, literally "moving" the plot along and expressing in another form the emotion of each situation.
Another idea in Orphée which fascinates me is its directness in projecting profound human emotions—emotions not used as an excuse for vocal virtuosity, but expressed in simple and direct musical terms. In Orphée, we have a mythical subject which is related in an extremely relevant, familiar, human way.
What happens when drones become part of the dance? For Margaret Jenkins Dance Company's latest work, Skies Calling Skies Falling, video artists David and Hi-Jin Hudge used a drone hovering 200 to 400 feet above the ground to film the dancers performing in an industrial granary. The resulting footage will be projected onto the floor and walls of the Taube Atrium Theater, creating a dystopian backdrop to the live performance.
Alex Carrington of MJDC, Photo by RJ Muna
It's been 34 years since Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Mayerling touched down on American soil, when The Royal Ballet first performed the great English master's tour de force ballet stateside. On September 22–24, Houston Ballet becomes the first North American company to perform MacMillan's epic chronicle of the murder-suicide of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Crown Prince Rudolf, and his 17-year-old mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera. Chronicling the last chapter of the Hapsburg Empire, the ballet is known for its true-to-life realism, and for the role of Rudolf, which transformed the way male ballet dancers drive a story. It's considered a dream role for a male dancer. And with seven pas de deux with five different women, a deadly difficult one at that.
Driving Houston Ballet's Mayerling train is principal Connor Walsh, who nearly missed this opportunity to dance the part when Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston Ballet's theatrical home, Wortham Center. Now moved to the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts and back in rehearsal, Walsh took a break from his busy schedule to talk about the role of a lifetime.
Have you ever felt like your relationship to dance is something of an addiction? Not to worry, that's completely normal—it's simply the way our brains are wired.
This week, The Washington Post published an intriguing feature that looks at the science of what actually goes on upstairs when we're watching a live performance. The insight comes from the emerging field of neuroaesthetics, which uses tools like brain imaging to study the relationship between art and the brain.
Here are some of the most fascinating takeaways: