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Words of Wisdom and Curiosity from Doug Elkins
After a program of Doug Elkins' works last Saturday, I moderated a post-performance talk with him. This was part of the high-powered Peak Performances series at Montclair State University in New Jersey, in which Doug premiered a film and a new dance and reprised his popular Mo(or)town/Redux. Students from MSU as well as Rutgers, where Doug teaches, were in the new piece, O, round desire.
Doug is a wild one to interview because his mind races all over the place. But he's also terrifically entertaining, so I had the feeling the audience was hanging on his every word—and every impromptu sound effect. Here are a few of his scintillating remarks, lacking exactness due to the fallibility of my memory:
• "Abstract and narrative are not opposites for me. They are on a continuum. It's like a Venn diagram, where you can see the overlap."
• "I swim in many oceans, and I sample from each one."
• "I don't have one train of thought; I have a whole squadron of planes of thought."
Kyle Marshall, Donnell Oakley, Elias Rosa and Cori Marquis in "Mo(or)town/Redux," all dance photos by Marina Levitskaya
• "I am in conversation with every dancer in the room. I work with their corporeal history."
• "When a child steps out of the bathtub and hears a party going on downstairs and he goes there naked to grab a potato chip, he's not being provocative. He's just doing what his senses tell him to do."
Elkins, photo by Christopher Duggan
After the talk, Doug emailed me with two more bits of explanation:
• "I often find myself oscillating or vibrating between causal logic and emotional association. For me, the place where they meet is in movement, in dance. It's why I've always loved Trisha Brown's description of herself as 'a bricklayer with a sense of humor.' "
• "Stories are irrevocably affected by the fallibility of the human mind, its limited perspective, distorted perceptions and the decaying of remembering. I can only offer glimpses of moments of things and let you, the viewer, connect it, causally or otherwise, as you see fit."
Doug also made a sort of confession about his new piece, O, round desire: "That's me as a B-boy having a crush on Trisha Brown."
For more Dougisms, watch his "Choreography in Focus":
My dance coach wants my word that I'll keep competing under his school's name for the next year and not audition. I'm 18 years old and already doing lead roles and winning medals. I love his teaching, but shouldn't I be ready to go out and get a job?
—Gil, Las Vegas, NV
How do we make ballet, a traditionally homogeneous art form, relevant to and reflective of an increasingly diverse and globalized era? While established companies are shifting slowly, Richard Siegal/Ballet of Difference, though less than 2 years old, has something of a head start. The guiding force of the company, which is based in Germany, is bringing differences together in the same room and, ultimately, on the same stage.
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?
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."
Claude Debussy's only completed opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, emphasizes clarity and subtlety over high-flung drama as a deadly love triangle unfolds. Opera Vlaanderen and Royal Ballet of Flanders are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the composer's death with a new production of the landmark opera that is sure to be anything but traditional: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet are choreographing and directing, while boundary-pushing performance artist Marina Abramović collaborates on the design. Antwerp, Feb. 2–13. Ghent, Feb. 23–March 4. operaballet.be/en.
Black History Month offers a time to reflect on the artists who have shaped the dance field as we know it today. But equally important is celebrating the black artists who represent the next generation. These seven up-and-comers are making waves across all kinds of styles and across the country:
When a new director began transforming Atlanta Ballet a couple of years ago, longtime dancer Alessa Rogers decided to finally explore her dream of dancing in Europe. "I always had this wanderlust," she says. She wasn't set on a particular city or company, but thought learning French would be fun. She began her research that September, making note of repertoire and the number of dancers as well as which companies employed foreign, non–European Union dancers. "I saw that Ballet du Rhin was looking for dancers," says Rogers. "They also had a new director coming in, so I thought it could be an opportunity." After sending a video, Rogers traveled during her layoff week to take company class. She was offered a job on the spot.
Uprooting and moving out of the country, far away from your support system, language and customs, is not something to take lightly. While it can push you as an artist and be an exciting opportunity for personal growth, working as a dancer in a foreign country comes with its challenges. Lots of research and an adventurous spirit are required.
Justin Lynch is surprisingly nonchalant about the struggles of being a full-time lawyer and a professional dancer. "All dancers in New York City are experts at juggling multiple endeavors," he says. "What I'm doing is no different from what any other dancer does—it's just that what I'm juggling is different."
While we agree that freelance dancers are pro multitaskers, we don't really buy Lynch's claim that what he does isn't extraordinary. In fact, we're pretty mind-boggled by the career he's built for himself.
At the annual Gala de Danza in Los Cabos, Mexico, the lineup of performers is usually pretty typical gala fare: You can expect celebrity performers like Lil Buck, reality stars like Ballet West's Beckanne Sisk and "So You Think You Can Dance" finalist Tate McRae, plus principals from top companies like New York City Ballet's Tiler Peck and Daniel Ulbricht.
What's absolutely not typical? The venue.
At 5'10" I felt like an ant in the studio with Alonzo King LINES Ballet. The San Francisco-based company is full of statuesque dancers whose passion is infectious. Every story was told not only through their movement, but through the expression on their faces and their connection to one another.
We talked to artistic director Alonzo King about his love of collaborations and why he thinks politicians need to dance more.