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.
Restaurants have always been a great source of survival gigs for dancers. But today's top chefs aren't just looking for waiters to carry dishes to the table. They're hiring choreographers to give the staff dance-like skills and compose a sort of choreography for the dining room.
Leslie Scott, artistic director of dance theater company BODYART, is one of those choreographers. After working in more typical food industry jobs for 10 years, she's been tapped by top restaurants in both New York City and Los Angeles to lead workshops that finesse servers' non-verbal communication and navigation of tight spaces.
Back in 2002, dancer and choreographer Jonah Bokaer founded an art space in Brooklyn called Chez Bushwick. As Manhattan and Brooklyn were quickly becoming unaffordable, and many studio spaces were closing, Bokaer seized upon "creative placemaking"—the idea that the arts can play an integral role in community-building—before it became a buzzword. "We have been sustaining and maintaining one of the most affordable dance studios in New York State since the very beginning of my career," he says.
Fifteen years later, the challenges for choreographers in expensive urban centers continue unabated, and Bokaer has found his original mission magnified. While Chez Bushwick remains a haven for the next generation, there is also a growing number of young dancemakers who have been inspired to create their own residencies, communities and, ultimately, opportunities.
The New York City premiere of Alexei Ratmansky's sugary sweet story ballet, Whipped Cream, made for one of the most exciting spring galas at American Ballet Theatre yet. While we're usually in awe of the gowns the dancers sport on the red carpet beforehand, this time around, it was all about Whipped Cream's colorful and over-the-top costumes by Mark Ryden—and, okay, a few major dress moments, too. Ahead, check out what went on behind-the-scenes.
Isabella LaFreniere dances like a beam of light. A member of New York City Ballet's corps since 2014, LaFreniere, 5' 8", is a technical powerhouse who exudes a sweet radiance: It's no surprise to learn that while she hasn't danced many principal roles yet, she is being primed for them in the studio. One is Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2. As ballet master Jonathan Stafford puts it, "That's a ballerina role big time."
Yahoo got it all wrong when they watched ballerina Maki Onuki toss out the ceremonial first pitch on May 1 before the game between the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets. The news organization crowed, "Ballerina's First Pitch May Prove Baseball and Tutus Don't Mix."
But the Washington Ballet principal's grand jetés dashing toward home plate were magnificent. They came as a surprise because she wound up as though she were actually going to pitch the ball from the pitcher's mound. And then, surprise—she broke into those crazy leaps. It didn't matter to me, and I'll bet to a lot of people, that her pitch, when she finally threw it, was high.
It doesn't look like your great-grandfather's jitterbug. Yes, the year is 1945, and yes, the setting is a jazz club. But these swing dancers are in the new musical Bandstand, directed and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler. The number, "Nobody," is a paean to determination—"You know who tells me, 'Stop'? Nobody."
The choreography begins as metaphor and then becomes literal as the band members, revved up by the song, perform it for the dancers at the club. It's complicated and entirely fresh, avoiding familiar jitterbug tropes without ever abandoning the period feel.
Little wonder: Blankenbuehler, whose first director/choreographer outing was Bring It On: The Musical, says his influences included Judy Garland's "Get Happy" and Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal." ("I'm imitating Michael Jackson imitating Fred Astaire.")
Photo by Rachel Papo
While still in the corps of New York City Ballet, Jason Fowler was drawn to the role of répétiteur. "Ballet mistress Rosemary Dunleavy was my rock in the company," he says. Fowler loved the process: learning steps quickly and absorbing the choreographer's intentions. He knew early on he wanted to nurture dancers through the rehearsal period one day. So it comes as little surprise that 20 years later, Fowler is a primary stager of Christopher Wheeldon's ballets around the globe.
Fowler first met Wheeldon as a student at the School of American Ballet in 1993, where he danced in the workshop performance of Wheeldon's Danses Bohemiennes. He was promoted to NYCB soloist in 2006, and performed with Wheeldon's company, Morphoses, on the side. Wheeldon first asked him to teach and rehearse one of his ballets, There Where She Loved, on a Morphoses tour to Vail International Dance Festival in 2008.