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The Road to Residency
GMU dancers perform Stephen Petronio’s Lareigne during a residency. Photo by Evan Cantwell, Courtesy GMU.
Choreographer Monica Bill Barnes has been an artist in residence at more than 10 universities over the last decade. These gigs have given her the chance to hone her teaching skills and develop and present her work. “I feel so lucky my residencies have always gone well,” she says. “I choreograph not because I know how but because I’m trying to figure it out, quite actively, and to invite people into that conversation.”
College residencies can be a boon to working artists. Funding! Dancers! Space! Audiences! Institutional validation! And artists in turn benefit college dance programs through performing, teaching and perhaps even hiring students they have worked with. There’s rarely an application process, but there are a few steps you can take to work your way toward coveted artist-in-residence status.
Starting the Conversation
Getting considered for a residency starts with researching what college programs might be a fit for you and your work. Sending out press kits (whether in print or by e-mail) to a wide swath of possible presenters is unlikely to get you anywhere. A college administrator is usually overtasked and may not have time to review them, especially if it seems like they were mailed out en masse.
Learn as much as you can about university programs before approaching them—research the aesthetic of institutions that interest you, says Susan Shields, director of dance at George Mason University. Then show the director you’ve done your homework through an e-mail, phone call or letter describing your work and how you think it fits with their program. “What’s helpful is when someone can say, I’ve got this piece—click here. And this is why I think your school might be interested in it,” she says.
Networking is key. Try watching a college company perform at a festival and approaching a faculty member afterward with your card and a reflection on what you saw and why it interested you. Barnes notes that when performing on tour, she used to reach out to nearby universities (if they had dance programs) and offer to teach a master class, sometimes even for free. Faculty who have seen you teach will remember your name when opportunities arise at their institution.
What to Offer
When you approach a director, be clear and articulate about your aesthetic, teaching interests and experience. What parts of the curriculum intrigue you and why? And how might you fit in? Can you teach modern classes? Composition or choreography? Does your work emphasize community engagement? Are you interested in advising or mentoring students? The answers to these questions should be apparent on your resumé or website, or in your conversations with faculty or directors. Some schools may want you to teach, set work or perform; others might be interested in offering lecture demonstrations or master classes in their community. Be clear about what you will and will not be available to do, and how much is included in your artist fee.
In general, your offerings should reflect an interest in college dance. “You have to have a love of students, and no snobbery toward dance in higher education,” says Shields.
Keys to Successful—and Future—Residencies
Once you’ve made it in the door, do your work well and make good on what you offered. “The only thing that has ever gotten me the next job was, whatever job I had, doing it really well,” says Barnes. “I’ve always tried to represent myself accurately. So that when I came somewhere, they didn’t feel disappointed that I didn’t teach Cunningham. It is a small network and people know what they want. And everybody is honest about it. There’s an integrity to the way the system works.”
Timing is critical. Sending out queries in May looking for work that fall is unlikely to yield fruit, beyond maybe a master class or two. For a substantial residency or presenting engagement, most universities work at least one year in advance, and often more if they rely on outside funding for presenting projects. You should also take note of the academic calendar, which will govern the structure and timeline of residencies for any university. Know when the fall and spring semesters begin and end, and when the mid-semester breaks are (usually a couple of days in October and a week in March).
How much should you charge? Ask around to get a sense of the fees other artists ask for. University budgets are tight, and you want to make sure your fee is reasonable. A single master class might vary between $75 and $300. For a teaching residency, anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 per week (excluding travel and lodging) may be suitable, depending on the number of classes taught and what stage you are at in your career. These numbers might be higher if you are setting a work.
Whether playing a saucy soubrette or an imperious swan, Irina Dvorovenko was always a formidable presence on the American Ballet Theatre stage. Since her 2013 retirement at 39, after 16 seasons, she's been bringing that intensity to an acting career in roles ranging from, well, Russian ballerinas to the Soviet-era newcomer she plays in the FX spy series "The Americans."
We caught up with her after tech rehearsal for the Encores! presentation of the musical Grand Hotel, directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes and running March 21–25 at New York City Center. It's another tempestuous ballerina role for Dvorovenko—Elizaveta Grushinskaya, on her seventh farewell tour, resentfully checks into the Berlin hostelry of the title with her entourage, only to fall for a handsome young baron and sing "Bonjour, Amour."
When Andrew Montgomery first saw the Las Vegas hit Le Rêve - The Dream 10 years ago, he knew he had to be a part of the show one day. Eight years later, he auditioned, and made it to the last round of cuts. On his way home, still waiting to hear whether he'd been cast, he was in a motorcycle accident that ended up costing him half his leg.
But Montgomery's story doesn't end the way you might think. Today, he's a cast member of Le Rêve, where he does acrobatics and aerial work, swims (yes, the show takes places in and around a large pool) and dances, all with his prosthetic leg.
Last week in a piece I wrote about the drama at English National Ballet, I pointed out that many of the accusations against artistic director Tamara Rojo—screaming at dancers, giving them the silent treatment, taking away roles without explanation—were, unfortunately, pretty standard practice in the ballet world:
If it's a conversation we're going to have, we can't only point the finger at ENB.
The line provoked a pretty strong response. Professional dancers, students and administrators reached out to me, making it clear that it's a conversation they want to have. Several shared their personal stories of experiencing abusive behavior.
Christopher Hampson, artistic director of the Scottish Ballet, wrote his thoughts about the issue on his company's website on Monday:
When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.
"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."
Camille A. Brown is on an impressive streak: In October, the Ford Foundation named her an Art of Change fellow. In November, she won an AUDELCO ("Viv") Award for her choreography in the musical Bella: An American Tall Tale. On December 1, her Camille A. Brown & Dancers made its debut at the Kennedy Center, and two days later she was back in New York City to see her choreography in the opening of Broadway's Once on This Island. Weeks later, it was announced that she was choreographing NBC's live television musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, to air on April 1.
An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.
"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."
A flock of polyamorous princes, a chorus of queer dying swans, a dominatrix witch: These are a few of the characters that populate the works of Katy Pyle, who, with her Brooklyn-based company Ballez, has been uprooting ballet's gender conventions since 2011.
Historically, ballet has not allowed for the expression of lesbian, transgender or gender-nonconforming identities. With Ballez, Pyle is reinventing the classical canon on more inclusive terms. Her work stems from a deep love of ballet and, at the same time, a frustration with its limits on acceptable body types and on the stories it traditionally tells.
The latest fitness fad has us literally buzzing. Vibrating tools—and exercise classes—promise added benefits to your typical workout and recovery routine, and they're only growing more popular.
Warning: These good vibrations don't come cheap.
My life is in complete chaos since my dance company disbanded. I have a day job, so money isn't the issue. It's the loss of my world that stings the most. What can I do?
—Lost Career, Washington, DC
Dance Theatre of Harlem is busy preparing for the company's Vision Gala on April 4. The works on the program, which takes place on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., reflect on the legacy of Dr. King and his impact on company founder Arthur Mitchell. Among them is the much-anticipated revival of legendary choreographer Geoffrey Holder's Dougla, which will include live music and dancers from Collage Dance Collective.
We stepped into the studio with Holder's wife Carmen de Lavallade and son Leo Holder to hear what it feels like to keep Holder's legacy alive and what de Lavallade thinks of the recent rise in kids standing up against the government—as she did not too long ago.
The encounter with man-eating female creatures in Jerome Robbins' The Cage never fails to shock audiences. As this tribe of insects initiates the newly-born Novice into their community and prepares her for the attack of the male Intruders, the ballet draws us into a world of survival and instinct.
This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Jerome Robbins' birth, and a number of Robbins programs are celebrating his timeless repertoire. But it especially feels like a prime moment to experience The Cage again. Several companies are performing it: San Francisco Ballet begins performances on March 20, followed by the English National Ballet in April and New York City Ballet in May.
Why it matters: In this time of female empowerment—as women are supporting one another in vocalizing injustices, demanding fair treatment and pay, and advocating for future generations—The Cage's nest of dominant women have new significance.