Why I Dance

With his elegant line and unaffected stage presence, Sascha Radetsky long held his own among American Ballet Theatre’s cadre of male stars. A soloist in the company since 2003, he stood out even in the most bravura passages, as well as for his courteous partnering, particularly when he danced with his wife, the heart-stoppingly beautiful Stella Abrera. Radetsky shone in roles like Benno in Swan Lake, but also displayed an effortless mastery in high-powered work like Twyla Tharp’s new Rabbit and Rogue. And among teenage girls, he retained his crush status long after the 2000 release of the cult ballet movie Center Stage. When he joined Dutch National Ballet last September, he left behind a host of disappointed critics and fans. Now a principal, he will have the opportunity to dance leads in classics like Giselle, as well as carve his mark on new work.

 

I didn’t burst from the womb straight into a pirouette, twirling my baby blanket like Espada’s cape. I didn’t forgo diapers for dance belts, and for a long time I preferred OshKosh to Capezio. No, I wasn’t born to dance. But I’ve devoted much of my life to dance, and it’s become my beautiful—and capricious—companion. Like the blissful trysts and bitter quarrels of a tempestuous love affair, my relationship with this art form has flickered and flared throughout the years. At times my eye has wandered, and I admit I’ve considered breaking it off with ballet. But I can’t do it; it’s got what I need. I can’t resist its immeasurable charms.

 

Being a dancer is a pretty nice gig. I’ve been able to travel the world (with per diem). I’ve dodged bats on a stage in Austin and mingled with the ghosts of gladiators on a Roman stage in Athens. I’ve performed for presidents and princesses, geishas and gangsters, in venues as varied as casinos, stadiums, and centuries-old opera houses. I’ve Nutcracker-ed my way through the heartland of America, from sea to shining sea and beyond, a gypsy-cavalier for hire. Have costume, will travel—to all the gritty and glamorous corners of the globe. Along the way, I’ve met some brilliant artists and inspiring human beings, such as my wife, Stella Abrera.  We’ve been on a hundred honeymoons, Stella and I, and with luck dance will send us on a hundred more.

 

At its best, dance just feels good, for everyone involved. Granted, it’s no fun to sprain an ankle, bulge a disc, or pull a calf muscle—and it hurts still worse when career hopes collapse and dreams drift out of reach. But there are precious moments in the studio and onstage when the struggles prove worthwhile, and the frailties of body and spirit are forgiven, even forgotten. Because of the vicissitudes of this line of work, because of the injuries, arduous training, and vastly subjective aesthetics, even modest triumphs resonate deeply. And like other art forms, dance can potentially allay the anxieties, banalities, and sorrows that plague our daily lives, and can remap the frontiers of our abilities. It is a tonic administered in an exquisite challenge: How precisely can you execute those virtuosic steps, how deeply can you delve into that complex character, how tenderly can you attune to this breathtaking music—and to the needs of your partner? Are you wholly in the here and now, and willing to fuse your mind, muscles, and guts into a single leaping, turning, feeling, daring entity? Are you willing to strive for something special on that ephemeral stage, something magical and glorious, something possibly doomed to fail?  If so, you—and your audience—will feel better than good. You’ll feel ardently alive.

 

Missteps or misfortune have sometimes subdued those feelings, but my appreciation for this craft and my core values are only the stronger. I’ve sowed oats in other fields of life, and I look forward to cultivating those interests. But for the moment ballet is what nourishes me, and its beauty and richness, power and freedom make for hearty fare. I can’t say it’s my destiny to dance, but it is my true pleasure, and I’m grateful for what I’ve been given: cherished memories, lifelong friends, the perfect challenge. It’s a good gig.

 

 

Photo: Angela Sterling, Courtesy Dutch National Ballet

Matthew Neenan used images of silencing and control in let mortal tongues awake. Photo by Bill Herbert.

From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.

New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.

A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.

Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.

In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.

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Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series

When London-based perfume company The Beautiful Mind Series was looking for a collaborator for their next scent, they skipped the usual celebrity set and brought in prima ballerina Polina Semionova instead. "I was fascinated by what goes on in the mind of a great dancer," perfumer Geza Schoen said in a press release. Semionova's ballet-inspired scent, Precision & Grace, celebrates the intelligence and beauty behind her craft.

Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series

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Breaking Stereotypes
Ash in Rochester, NY. PC Thaler Photography by Arleen and Daryl Thaler for the Swan Dreams Project

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."

If you're interested in supporting the project, check out the online shop, or donate directly at swandreamsproject.org.

Training
Sylvie Guillem, via 1843magazine.com

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.

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Abraham.In.Motion performing "Drive." Photo by Ian Douglas.

The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!

We caught up with Abraham during a recent rehearsal where he revealed what he is tired of hearing in the dance community.

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News
Tero Saarinen's Morphed. Photo by Darya Popova, Courtesy Helene Davis Public Relations

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.


Rant & Rave
PC Break the Floor

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."

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Dance in Pop Culture
Roberto Bolle and Kenall Jenner on set. Photo via tods.com

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.

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Training
Anne Arundel Community College students, PC Kenneth Harriford

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:

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Dancers & Companies
Joan Marcus

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."

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