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Will Dance for Food
It was 6 am on a Saturday, the sun was pulling up a warm summer morning, and the birds were singing just for me. I was “wrapped." I had finished filming “Flesh and Bone" and retired from American Ballet Theatre. I felt like a creature released into the wild, freed into the next phase of my life. Now I could take a breath. Now I could eat carbs.
We'd shot the gritty ballet-themed series over four months, from April to August of 2014. Until my final performance in July, I also danced with ABT. A typical week saw me working Monday and Tuesday on the TV show, Wednesday through Saturday with the ballet company. Sunday was for the gym, for massage, for writing a series of vogue.com columns about my last season as a professional dancer, for running lines and for preparing for Monday, which would kick off with a 4:45 am pickup (warm-up class commenced at 6) and stretch deep into the night. No man should wear a dance belt for as long as I did on those days.
Radetsky with Sarah Hay in a scene from the show. Courtesy Starz.
The “Flesh and Bone" set was a city within a city, a boomtown of trailers and trucks sprouting overnight on the streets of Manhattan or a soundstage in Queens. It drew a range of industry specialists, from sound engineers to gaffers to the Pomeranian wrangler (whose cloud of canine fluff played the role of Princess). Our job as dancer/actors was to put our best pointed foot forward every time the slate snapped shut and the cameras rolled. A given scene involved multiple takes per camera angle, and each angle required a new setup for lighting, sound and props, a fresh set of marks for everyone, continuity checks/touch-ups for wardrobe, hair and makeup, and rehearsals to sync our timing and movements with the crew's. If the scene called for dialogue, which it often did, we danced to the dull pulse of a metronome instead of music. Our show runners were consummate pros, and went to great lengths to capture the dance sequences with efficiency and concern for our physical well-being. But filming takes time. Given the number of moving parts involved, the pace was inevitably slow and repetitive—the reverse of the adrenaline blitz of a live performance. A quick montage of class exercises, for instance, took hours to shoot. We kicked a few weeks' worth of grands battements that day; the Rockettes had nothing on us, except maybe more convincing smiles.
My fellow dancers on the show hailed from a range of ballet companies, but under the guidance of our terrific choreographer, Ethan Stiefel, we coalesced into a single troupe. The strenuous conditions led to some frayed nerves (and teary eyes), but they also bonded us together. Most of us were thankful for this opportunity to bring dance to new audiences and to document what otherwise lasts only in memory after the curtain falls. We were jostled out of our comfort zones and into collaboration with other types of artists, swept into a heady mix not just of dancers, choreographers and musicians, but also of accomplished writers, photographers, actors and visual artists. Imagine Greenwich Village in the Sixties, or the Moulin Rouge of Belle Époque Paris, only with more nudity.
To shoulder my workloads at ABT and “Flesh and Bone," I had to trim away all distractions. I shut down my social life, and extra-curricular activities largely ceased. I streamlined in a literal sense, too: I hit the gym whenever possible, if only for a manic 20 minutes at the end of a day. Before filming began, I cut sugar, grains and starches from my diet, and eventually phased out cheese and juice, as well. My meals, of lean protein and veggies, were modest in portion, and snacks, of nuts and some fruit, were occasional. I often indulged in a glass of wine, but I didn't drink a beer for five months (that one was tough, but I've since made up for lost time). I was part caveman/part monk, and all nerd.
"Flesh and Bone" premieres on the Starz TV network November 8. Courtesy Starz.
I had danced on camera before, in the film Center Stage. I was 22 when we made that movie, still an ABT corps member, just a sweet-sweaty whippersnapper working on his double-double tours. Then, too, I remember the stuttering pace of shooting, the dancing at extreme hours. But such particulars don't faze you at that age; your body is wondrously resilient, and endless dances yet await you, like flavors arrayed in an ice cream shop. This time around, the stakes were different; the end of the arc was near. A sense of urgency animated my every plié.
There were a couple of late nights on the “Flesh and Bone" set when, numerous takes into shooting a dance scene, with my audience reduced to the stoic black eye of a Steadicam lens and the kinetic joy of moving through choreography long ebbed out of me, my inspiration faltered. But then it would surge back, from places of responsibility and gratitude. I've been fortunate to do what I love, among people I love, for many years, to bookend a rewarding career in ballet with a movie and now a TV show. I could certainly hustle up a few more sauts de basque and press lifts for the camera. Maybe I just needed a carrot to chase—or something heartier, to be precise. Get it together, dude. You can frolic in the sunshine and sleep like a bear and eat vast stacks of pancakes very soon, I'd assure myself, my mouth watering. n
Sascha Radetsky is currently writing fiction as a fellow at the NYU Center for Ballet and the Arts.
Sarah Haarmann stands out without trying to. There is a precision and lack of affectation in her dancing that is very Merce Cunningham. Her movement quality is sharp and clear; her stage presence utterly focused. It's no wonder she caught Mark Morris' eye. Even though she still considers herself "very much the new girl" at Mark Morris Dance Group (she became a full-time member in August 2017), in a recent performance of Layla and Majnun, Haarmann seemed completely in her element.
Company: Mark Morris Dance Group
Hometown: Macungie, Pennsylvania
Training: Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts and Marymount Manhattan College
In 2012, freelance contemporary dancer Adrianne Chu made a major career change: She decided to try out for A Chorus Line. "Even though I didn't get the job, I felt like I was meant to do this," says Chu. So she started going to at least one musical theater audition every weekday, treating each as a learning experience. After several years of building up her resumé, Chu's practice paid off: She booked a starring role as Wendy in the first national tour of Finding Neverland.
Approaching auditions as learning opportunities, especially when you're trying to break into a different style or are new to the profession, can sharpen your skills while helping you avoid burnout. It also builds confidence for the auditions that matter most.
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
It's easy to feel whiplashed thinking about everything Emma Portner has achieved in such a short amount of time. Last fall, the 23-year-old was the youngest woman ever to choreograph a West End production (it was based on Meat Loaf's greatest hits). This was, of course, after she already choreographed and starred in Justin Bieber's viral hit "Life is Worth Living," and before she charmed major media outlets when she secretly married actress Ellen Page. Now, she's L.A. Dance Project's first-ever artist in residence, and she's working on a commission for Toronto's Fall for Dance North Festival.
We caught up with her for our "Spotlight" series:
Last month, the International Association of Blacks in Dance's third annual ballet audition for women of color was expanded to include a separate audition for men.
The brainchild of Joan Myers Brown (founder of both Philadanco and IABD), the women's audition was created to specifically address the lack of black females in ballet. However, the success and attention that audition drew made the men feel left out, so IABD decided to give the men equal time this year.
Pina Bausch's unique form of German Tanztheater is known for raising questions. Amid water and soil, barstools and balloons, the late choreographer's work contains a distinct tinge of mystery and confrontation. Today, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch's dancers use questions as fuel for creativity. The company's most recent project introduced a new group of performers to the stage: local high school ninth-graders from the Gesamtschule Barmen in Wuppertal, Germany, in an original work-in-progress performance called Veränderung (Change).
Before she became the 20th century's most revered ballet pedagogue, Agrippina Vaganova was a frustrated ballerina. "I was not progressing and that was a terrible thing to realize," she wrote in a rough draft of her memoirs.
She retired from the Imperial Ballet stage in 1916, and for the next 30-plus years, devoted herself to creating a "science of ballet." Her new, dynamic teaching method produced stars like Rudolf Nureyev, Alla Osipenko, and Galina Ulanova and later Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. And her approach continues to influence how we think about ballet training to this day.
But is the ballet class due for an update? Demands and aesthetics have changed. So should the way dancers train change too?
I love being transgender. It's an important part of the story of why I choreograph. Although I loved dance from a very young age, I grew up never seeing a single person like me in dance. So how could I imagine a future for myself there?
The enormous barriers I had to overcome weren't internal: I didn't struggle with feelings of dysphoria, and I wasn't locked down by shame.
The dance community is heartbroken to learn that 14-year-olds Jaime Guttenberg and Cara Loughran were among the 17 people killed during the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
Guttenberg was a talented competition dancer at Dance Theatre in Coconut Creek, FL, according to a report from Sun Sentinel. Dance Theatre owner Michelle McGrath Gerlick shared the below message on her Facebook page, encouraging dancers across the country to wear orange ribbons this weekend in honor of Guttenberg, whose favorite color was orange.
A statement released yesterday by New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet reported that an independent investigation was unable to corroborate allegations of harassment and abuse against former ballet master in chief Peter Martins, according to The New York Times. This marks the end of a two-month inquiry jointly launched by the two organizations in December following an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment and violence.
The statement also included new policies for both the company and school to create safer, more respectful environments for the dancers, including hiring an independent vendor to handle employee complaints anonymously. These changes are being made despite the independent investigation, handled by outside counsel Barbara Hoey, purportedly finding no evidence of abuse.