2012 25 to Watch
Who's caught our eye for 2012
Photo of Rachel Van Buskirk by Matthew Karas.
The beauty of Ana Lopez’s dancing is that there is nothing extraneous or decorative about it, yet she invariably becomes a mesmerizing presence onstage. She draws you into her orbit with her scrubbed-clean technique and her supremely quiet, intensely focused attack. A member of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago since 2008, the dark-eyed, catlike 30-year-old dancer always seems to have some slightly mysterious interior weather permeating her interpretations. And she manages to adapt her restrained yet wholly concentrated way of moving to the playfully sensual work of resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, the lyrical flow of Nacho Duato’s dances, or the eerie angularity of a work like Jirí Kylián’s 27’52’’. Born in A Coruña, Spain, Lopez performed with Joven Ballet Carmen Roche, Compañía Nacional de Danza 2, and Ballet Theater Munich before coming to Chicago. She will be dancing in Sharon Eyal’s Too Beaucoup and Alonzo King’s Subtle Current Upstream (March 15–18), as well as in Cerrudo’s Malditos and Ohad Naharin’s Three to Max (May 17–20), during Hubbard Street’s engagements at Chicago’s Harris Theater. —Hedy Weiss
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy HSDC.
Watching Caleb Teicher’s fluidity, precision, and insouciant charisma, it’s difficult to fathom that he might not have pursued dance if not for an all-boys’ tap class offered by Jennifer Dell. “I was too terrified at 10 to go into a class with all girls,” he says. But tap dance he does, with a gyroscopic ease and panache that belie his 18 years, evoking his inspiration Gene Kelly, whom he cites along with teacher/mentor David Rider. The Mahopac, NY–born Teicher has taken the stage with Michelle Dorrance at Danspace Project in New York, where he garnered new fans, and has performed choreography by Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards and Jason Samuels Smith among others. While a complete natural at tap, he’s not limited to it; he also studies ballet, Horton, jazz/theater, and more in NYC. A 2011 Bessie Award winner for outstanding individual performance, see him do just that in Michelle Dorrance and Adam Metzger’s Stampede at Symphony Space in NYC this month. —Susan Yung
Photo by Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Jacob’s Pillow.
Keenan Kampa is a stunning paradox of star quality. At 5’ 8”, the lithe beauty moves with the efficiency of a ballerina far shorter. And within her delicate, angelic presence lies an edginess and attack—an intrigue worthy of Mona Lisa—that makes her irresistible to watch.
A second-year corps member at Boston Ballet, Kampa first gained public attention four years ago when she left her hometown of Oak Hill, VA, to become one of the first Americans to attend the Vaganova Ballet Academy in Russia. Through her intense three years of classical ballet training there (see “Temple of Technique,” p. 76), Kampa gained the respect of its strict teachers, winning lead roles in the school’s productions of The Nutcracker and Gayane in her final year. Now back in the U.S., 22-year-old Kampa is expanding her classical repertoire with Boston Ballet’s contemporary works and is moving into featured roles. This spring, see her as Queen of the Dryads in Boston Ballet’s Don Quixote at the Boston Opera House. —Ashley Rivers
Photo by Gene Schiavone.
Bloodlines count in the dance world. This should serve Yonah Acosta in good stead given that the gifted 21-year-old is the nephew of Cuban superstar Carlos Acosta.
Even as a boy, cast as a younger version of Carlos in his autobiographical production Tocororo, Yonah stood out alongside—rather than in the shadow of—his famous uncle. He is blessed with Carlos’ long, lean lines, lush technique, and athletic fire. And, in a path similar to the elder Acosta’s, after winning top prizes at international competitions he made the leap from Ballet Nacional de Cuba to English National Ballet.
Joining the company as a first artist in 2011, already Acosta has been promoted to junior soloist with several roles under his belt. These include Ashton’s pas de quatre in Derek Deane’s Swan Lake and, significantly, the titular doomed youth of Le Jeune Homme et la Mort on the first night of ENB’s tribute to the late Roland Petit at the London Coliseum. Acosta is said to have set his sights on Albrecht in Giselle. Talent will out. —Donald Hutera
Photo by Amber Hunt, Courtesy ENB.
August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble
The August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble flexes its supple muscles and claims the spotlight with quicksilver agility, fierce athleticism, finely honed Horton technique, and innate theatricality. “It’s time for Pittsburgh to have a company rooted in black dance traditions,” says artistic director Greer Reed. With her artistic vision, a fellowship grant, and the moxie to persevere, the Ailey II and Dayton Contemporary Dance Company alumna hand-selected “hungry, committed, passionate” dancers and tapped her artistic network for quality works. At its 2010 premiere, the vibrant ensemble impressed in Christopher Huggins’ poignant Mothers of War while powerful James Washington wowed audiences in Antonio Brown’s masterful Solo. The seven-member multiethnic troupe leaped into the professional arena in Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Regality at Manhattan’s SummerStage 2011. This season Sidra Bell, Camille A. Brown, and Kiesha Lalama-White contribute to the expanding repertoire. AWCDE performs at home in January and March and in Cincinnati this June. —Karen Dacko
AWCDE’s Kendra Dennard. Photo by Cassie Kay Rusnak, Courtesy AWCDE.
Kleber Rebello can rock an audience with multiple pirouettes and steps that ricochet into a grand jeté. The 21-year-old Miami City Ballet soloist hit his irrepressible stride as the Harlequin in Balanchine’s La Sonnambula and the scene-igniting Mercutio in Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet. “Everyone says I’m a jumper, and it’s true—I love fast action onstage,” admits this Rio de Janeiro native, an apprentice just two years ago. “But I also get into deep emotion.” For Rebello, who trained at Escola de Dança Spinelli and Companhia Brasileira de Ballet before coming to the Miami City Ballet School, perfecting neoclassical technique has involved an artistic growth spurt he calls radical. This let him reach into his soul for a haunting Melancholic in The Four Temperaments when MCB took Paris by storm last summer. The dancer will keep aiming for both heart and humor when Giselle’s peasant pas de deux and Franz in Coppélia come up for him this season, along with a Liam Scarlett world premiere, at Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami-Dade, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, and the Kravis Center in Palm Beach. —Guillermo Perez
Photo by Kyle Froman, Courtesy MCB.
Courtney D. Jones
Courtney D. Jones carries the party inside her, so much so that one just wants to follow her offstage. Wiry and muscular, yet feminine, her body has a story to tell. “There’s something rough around the edges to my dancing,” admits Jones. “When I am approaching movement, I want to be honest. I try not to dance the part, but to be the part.” After four seasons with Jennifer Muller/The Works and a national tour in the ensemble of Wicked, Jones relocated to her hometown, Houston, where she dances with Jane Weiner’s Hope Stone Dance. Her musical theater background makes a good fit for Weiner’s humanistic dances. With the dynamic edge of an Ailey dancer, Jones pushes beyond the dimensions of the shape and invites the viewer to go on the journey with her. Her face stays engaged as if she’s talking directly to the audience, not with words but a narrative conviction. When she’s not teaching at Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, you can catch Jones in Weiner’s la vie a pleines dents, which runs this month. —Nancy Wozny
Photo by Simon Gentry, Courtesy Hope Stone.
In a canary-yellow tutu, Anna Tikhomirova springs across the stage, devouring the space with fully stretched jetés in the first variation of Act III of Don Quixote. The newly named soloist with the Bolshoi Ballet seems to hover in space, landing momentarily only to bounce right up again. Her balances are impressive too, as are her pristine technique and fleet footwork. But it is Tikhomirova’s natural joie de vivre that reaches right out into the audience and makes them sit up and take note.
The daughter of a dancer, Tikhomirova studied at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. There, her natural talent was quickly spotted, and she was given leading roles in school productions. When she joined the company in 2004, it was initially a shock to find that she had to start from the beginning again. But her hard work won recognition. After performing soloist parts as a corps member, like her high-flying Folly in the Sergei Vikharev re-creation of Petipa’s Coppélia and her effervescent nymph in Asaf Messerer’s Spring Waters, she was promoted last September. Look for her when the Bolshoi comes to the Kennedy Center in DC, the Sony Centre in Toronto, and the Music Center in L.A. in May and June. —Margaret Willis
Photo by E. Fetisova, Courtesy Bolshoi.
While watching Lula Washington Dance Theatre’s killer dancers on their May–June China tour, my eye repeatedly strayed to Micah Moch. In Rennie Harris’ weighty Reign, Moch spread hot-buttered soul ‘round the stage. His kung-fu leaps froze in midair; his duck walks scrambled impossibly low to the ground. In Christopher Huggins’ acrobatic Love is …, even the Chinese audience’s nonstop chatter failed to interrupt his attention on his partner, Lynet’ Shigg. But what elevates Moch from good to great is his way of assembling steps while rendering transitions invisible.
Born in Hollywood, the 24-year-old is the product of Washington’s dance academy, as well as The Ailey School. He’s clocked Russia, China, Mexico, and Brazil mileage on the LWDT tour bus. Assisting Washington on Avatar, he helped create and capture movement to animate the Na’vi tribesmen. A ballet buff, Moch swings easily between concert and commercial worlds. He’s also a burgeoning filmmaker. Moch appears with choreographer Tiffany Billings at North Hollywood’s El Portal Theatre this spring. —Debra Levine
Photo by Djeneba Aduayom, Courtesy Moch.
Whether they’re hacking a stage to pieces with an axe, frolicking in a trough of green slime, or grappling their way, nude, through the complexities of relationships, the Portland, OR–based contemporary dance collective tEEth is one to watch. Founded in 2006 by choreographer Angelle Hebert and composer Phillip Kraft, tEEth employs a rotating cast of skilled dancers to perform pieces with visual and emotional punch. Hebert and Kraft layer well-constructed, deftly performed choreography with wildly imaginative sets and costumes, live and recorded original music, and real-time video. The dances integrate pedestrian movement into solos, duets, and ensemble pieces that articulate concepts ranging from intimacy to alienation. For this, tEEth nabbed a $10,000 prize at the 2011 A.W.A.R.D. Show! at On the Boards in Seattle. This month the company debuts at Portland’s White Bird series, along with such long-established troupes as Pilobolus and Lar Lubovitch Dance Company. —Heather Wisner
Photo by Aaron Rogosin, Courtesy tEEth.
Sammy Davis Jr. crooned “Bye, Bye Blackbird” as BalletMet Columbus dancer Courtney Muscroft sauntered alluringly toward center stage. With runway model looks and Balanchine-style facility, she commanded attention. Just as quickly as that image took hold, she replaced it with that of a crazed woman lashing out at the world. Muscroft’s schizophrenic character in Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Simply Sammy in 2010 showed her to be a performer blessed with much more than physical attributes.
“A lot of people have natural gifts,” says BalletMet artistic director Gerard Charles. “She can actually make those gifts speak for her in different ways.”
This past season in 7 Deadly Sins, Muscroft showed she can be vulnerable as well, brilliantly portraying a woman trapped in an unhappy marriage in Amy Seiwert’s “Envy.”
The versatile Muscroft, schooled at Columbus Youth Ballet and the School of American Ballet, spent three years with New York City Ballet before returning to her native Columbus to join BalletMet. In her third season, the 24-year-old can be seen in Jazz Moves Columbus, Feb. 2–12, at the Capital Theatre in Columbus, OH. —Steve Sucato
Photo by Catherine Proctor.
Houston Ballet’s newest principal, Danielle Rowe, is a modern version of an old-fashioned ballerina. Queenly without added pretension, Rowe possesses an understated regal quality without the heavy dust of nostalgia. In Ben Stevenson’s Sleeping Beauty, her Lilac Fairy oozed fresh sparkle. In Wheeldon’s Rush, her true colors came forth. Rowe understands Wheeldon’s potent use of geometrical shape as a pause, charged with purpose, never stagnant. “Rush allowed me to cultivate my ability to highlight shapes amidst movement,” says Rowe, who joined HB last February after 10 years with The Australian Ballet. “I discovered the significance of stillness and its ability to give greater depth to my dancing.” There’s always a sense of proportion in her movement, a just-enough-ness that locks our eyes onto her. She exudes such a sense of clarity that there appears to be more space around her. Her crisp attack and immaculate technique are added pluses. Expect to see her in Stanton Welch’s new ballet, his Cinderella, and Stevenson’s Romeo & Juliet at the Wortham Theater Center this season. —Nancy Wozny
Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy HB.
A tornado of ecstatic momentum sweeping across the stage; mile-long limbs both spastic and metered; a mess of dark curls the last to hit the ground as her body turns ragdoll-like. Tzveta Kassabova’s movement quality is surreal, as if Salvador Dali himself painted her into existence. The Bulgarian-born gymnast-turned-meteorologist-turned dancer/choreographer/designer is a prolific maker and mover. She spent several years in NYC performing with David Dorfman and others before settling back in DC, where she currently teaches, dances with Pearson Widrig Dance Theater, and creates her own work. She often builds non-conventional sets—like the circular stage where dancers and audience members can interact in her Where Colors Blend into Sound. Her scientific background shines through in her choreography—in The Opposite of Killing, her dancers test various velocities, momentums, and trajectories. This month, Kassabova will premiere a collaboration with theater director Naoko Maeshiba at Dance Place. And as a 2011–12 resident artist at American Dance Institute, she’ll premiere a new work in May. —Emily Macel Theys
Photo by Don Atreides, Courtesy Kassabova.
He yanks his partner, drops into a split, strides across the floor, and then, all soft and sensual, grazes his face on her bare midriff. In his third season with Armitage Gone! Dance, Marlon Taylor-Wiles has all the defiance and technical chops that are required of a Karole Armitage ballet like Three Theories. He also has an intriguingly plush way of moving through what Armitage calls (drawing from Einstein) “the warping and twisting of the space-time fabric.” There’s softness in his power.
Taylor-Wiles trained at the Margo Marshall School of Ballet in Houston and graduated from that city’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. He attended Boston Conservatory on full scholarship, while also dancing in BalletRox’s Urban Nutcracker, which mixes ballet with tap, hip hop, and jazz. Other extracurricular notches on his belt: dancing in a Beyoncé music video and modeling for Elle Italia and i-D Magazine.
After spending the fall touring Europe, the company goes to the Byham Theater in Pittsburgh March 3, MCA in Chicago April 26–28, and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco May 18–19. —Wendy Perron
Photo by Hannah Newbery, Courtesy Taylor-Wiles.
Brooklyn Mack soars onto the Kennedy Center stage, gliding aloft for countable seconds. As the slave Ali in The Washington Ballet’s Le Corsaire, he flew through his manège before whipping out an applause-reaping, 540-degree spinning rivoltade. While physically gifted, Mack packs more than a dance bag of virtuosic tricks. His pure Vaganova technique and developing sense of character shine no matter what the role.
Raised in Elgin, SC, Mack saw a gala put on by Radenko Pavlovich, the director of the Columbia Classical Ballet, on a field trip and asked his mom for ballet lessons—initially to improve his football game. Speed and agility on the field made him a powerhouse in the studio. Invited to Washington, DC, to study on scholarship at the Kirov Academy of Ballet, Mack fell hard for the classics. This February he dances in TWB’s all-Tharp program at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater.
A holdover from his football days, competitions still ignite the dancer. He’s medaled at Jackson and Helsinki, and was invited to dance at a gala in Moscow through last year’s Boston International Ballet Competition. One day, Mack dreams of performing at The Royal Ballet. In the meantime, “My goal is to inspire someone, especially underprivileged young people, every time I go out onstage—much like I was inspired.” —Lisa Traiger
Photo by Steve Vaccariello, Courtesy TWB.
When Coppélia’s friends pirouetted behind her during American Ballet Theatre’s production last summer, one face among them glowed with unforced sweetness. No matter how familiar the ballet, corps member Katherine Williams approaches each role as though the steps were new and the moment real.
Williams joined the company in 2008, after a brief stint in ABT II. Her initial training was at the Ballet Royale Institute in Columbia, MD. She gained discipline and technical strength from the strict, Russian-heavy program, and competing at Youth America Grand Prix eventually brought her a scholarship to ABT’s JKO School. Williams’ classical foundation has given her the stamina to handle the company’s most traditional ballets with aplomb. Her favorite role to date has been as one of the tall girls in La Bayadère’s pas d’action—“It’s 15 minutes straight of jumping; you’re completely exposed”—though she also loves Ratmansky’s The Bright Stream. “His movement opens you up,” she says. “You think more about how steps meld together.”
Watch her be dragged into the mysterious workshop of Dr. Coppelius, her limbs trembling with fear. Or melt into the lilting strains of Delibes’ charming score, a pretty girl in a village square, somewhere in a Bohemian never-neverland. It’s wholehearted dancing that makes Williams stand out. See her in La Bayadère at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, Feb. 2–5. —Hanna Rubin
Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, Courtesy ABT.
Suspended momentarily on the toe of a fresh pair of kicks, Charles “Lil Buck” Riley plunges into a deep plié. He then pirouettes from his knee all the way up onto the tips of his toes, right on a stirring high note of Saint-Saëns’ The Swan. He rolls through his feet with liquid smoothness, his arms rippling, skating across the stage’s surface.
The Memphis-born dancer, 23, is blazing a path to make jookin’, the Memphis-born style of street dance, a worldwide phenomenon (see “Balletic Breakin’,” p. 90). While his flowing moves are entirely his own, he studied ballet for two years at Memphis’ New Ballet Ensemble and School. In 2010, he appeared with Janelle Monáe in her funky Tightrope music video, and last year he was the lead hamster in the hilarious “Party Rock Anthem” Kia Soul commercial.
The video that launched him into the dance stratosphere was a fluke. Director Spike Jonze happened to be at a benefit for arts in schools, and captured Lil Buck doing his Dying Swan (which was developed at NBE) to Yo-Yo Ma’s beautiful cello rendition. “Three days after he posted it on YouTube, 500,000 hits. It was like, Yo!” Lil Buck says, laughing. “I’m my own worst critic, and I actually wasn’t comfortable with the shoes I was wearing. It was a shock.”
Damian Woetzel, who introduced Lil Buck and Ma (the pair now perform together regularly), invited Lil Buck, with two members of his New Styles Krew, to the Vail International Dance Festival as an artist in residence last summer. See Lil Buck back at Vail this August. —Kina Poon
Photo ©Erin Baiano, Courtesy VIDF.
Chicago choreographer Carrie Hanson has it all: a probing mind, a social conscience, and a gift for pared-down, abstract dancemaking that nevertheless tells a story. “Infusing meaning into movement—that’s one of my core values,” she says. No navel-gazer, she increasingly sees choreography as “a means to explore and research and think about other topics, relevant to what’s going on around us.” Her 2011 Stupormarket movingly examined our ailing economy. In fall 2012, she’ll collaborate with artist Anna Kunz on a piece about collective will and vision.
Hanson, a Midwestern native, is also drawn to site-specific work. In February, she’ll open the 10th season of her company, The Seldoms, with This Is Not a Dance Concert at Chicago’s multi-tiered Harris Theater. Each audience will be limited to 200 people and be sent in smaller groups to four different stations, including one backstage. “I’m surprised that nothing like this has happened at the Harris before,” Hanson says. “It’s a striking modern building.” To animate the structure, she adds, “I feel we need to be kind of rowdy.” —Laura Molzahn
Photo by Kristie Kahns, Courtesy Hanson.
Price Suddarth doesn’t have to reach across the footlights; his clarity and affable confidence pull the audience right to him. “People find him in a line of eight—in the back row,” says Peter Boal, artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet. At 21, the new corps member is already the complete package: technique, clean lines, musicality, stage presence, partnering…He knows how to create drama by differentiating between movement and stillness. He knows that nailing four or five pirouettes onstage is fine, but that teasing out the ending or finishing fast with a grin is better. A soft-footed, elastic jumper, he delivers unrushed beats and buoyant leaps. Whether dancing a grand Oberon for a school matinee or premiering a Marco Goecke piece packed with fast isolations, Suddarth is the prince of smooth control. He dances as if to say, “Of course.” This intelligent, versatile young man, Boal says, is ready for anything—including Alexei Ratmansky’s Don Quixote, which PNB performs in February at McCaw Hall. Bring it on! —Rosie Gaynor
Photo ©Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.
As an audience member at Beth Gill’s Electric Midwife last summer, you felt like one of a privileged few. Only 12 seats lined the end of the long, narrow space at The Chocolate Factory Theater, the better for 12 pairs of eyes to feast, sightlines unobstructed, on this spare, crystalline study in symmetry. Six dancers, three on each side of a central aisle, mirrored each other’s geometric poses and pathways, creating patterns that blossomed outward and coiled back in, like a natural wonder or self-propelling machine. Their precision, along with the intimate setup, reflected the exquisite care that Brooklyn-based Gill brings to her craft, a sense of control that doesn’t stifle but rather beckons our curiosity.
With her eye-catching formalism, Gill has been gently teasing the viewer’s perception since 2003, when she graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and began presenting work in New York. Electric Midwife reaffirmed her commitment to the raw materials of contemporary dancemaking—the body, space, time—while showing that she’s not afraid to let her dancers move. At the Bessies in October, she took home the award for “outstanding emerging choreographer” and the new Juried Bessie, chosen by a panel of eminent artists to recognize “the most interesting and exciting ideas happening in dance in New York City today.” So what’s next? “There were doors that were opened in this process, just creaked open, that can stand to be investigated more,” Gill says. In that case—more, please. —Siobhan Burke
Photo by Steven Schreiber, Courtesy Gill.
Zack Tang moves with a feline grace, slippery and spring-loaded. Equally at home in ballet, jazz, and contemporary mode, the recent Juilliard graduate can slink fluidly through an adagio—then stop short, coil, and pounce on a staccato phrase. He fits right in with the big cats of Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, which he joined last fall.
But for Tang, who began his studies at a local studio in Houston before getting serious at the city’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, dance is philosophical as well as physical. “I’m actually most inspired by words and writings about dance,” he says. “My teachers at Juilliard opened new worlds to me with the way they talked about movement.” That intellectual curiosity drew him to the famously eloquent King. “Alonzo has an elegant, particular way of describing things,” Tang says. “Every word is considered, but he still leaves the dancer room to interpret.” Catch Tang on tour with LINES, and at the company’s San Francisco season at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in April. —Margaret Fuhrer
Photo by RJ Muna, Courtesy LINES.
Rachel Van Buskirk
The glimmer in her eyes and flash in her footwork ignite passion in Rachel Van Buskirk’s audiences, whether she’s dazzling them as a coquettish can-can starlet, or stirring them to their feet through Helen Pickett’s sensual, tactile choreography. No matter the role, Van Buskirk imbues it with musical and emotional spontaneity.
“She has a spiritual dimension, an aura of exuberance that’s compelling,” says Atlanta Ballet artistic director John McFall. “Her whole soul sparkles through her eyes.” The Vancouver native’s soft, fiery, almond eyes recall Margot Fonteyn’s.
With jumps that lick upward like flames and descend like feathers, Van Buskirk, at 26, is poised to burst into the limelight. As a fifth-year company member, she’ll have opportunities to shine this spring in an array of challenging works by James Kudelka, Jorma Elo, and Christopher Wheeldon. Catch her at Atlanta’s Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre Feb. 10–19, when she’ll dance in the new ballet Twyla Tharp’s The Princess and the Goblin. —Cynthia Bond Perry
Photo by Matthew Karas.
There’s something inherently noble about New York City Ballet corps member Taylor Stanley. The elegant expansiveness of his carriage, the crystalline precision of his placement, the easy gallantry of his partnering: He seems born a prince. A native of West Chester, PA, Stanley trained at The Rock School before coming to the School of American Ballet as a teenager. He’s one of the newest members of NYCB, but he had a banner of a debut year, impressing critics with his elegantly understated performance of the lead in Balanchine’s Square Dance (in which he successfully partnered the not-to-be-messed-with Ashley Bouder). During the quiet solo that grounds the otherwise peppy ballet, he danced with the sort of thoughtful, honest expressiveness that usually eludes all but the most experienced performers—and showed off his luxuriously pliant back. The NYCB repertoire may be prince-poor, but in a way it’s more thrilling to watch Stanley glide regally through Balanchine’s leotard ballets, wearing his invisible crown. See him onstage in Wheeldon’s Polyphonia during NYCB’s winter season, which opens this month at the David H. Koch Theater. —Margaret Fuhrer
Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB, ©Balanchine Trust.
Eun Jung Choi
Eun Jung Choi’s restless appetite to learn more and experience the new has kept her moving around the globe. Diving into evolving dance forms and media, she makes work that’s conceptually smart, physically exploratory, and virtuosically performed. Fresh out of the North Carolina School of the Arts, with a background in traditional dance from her native Korea, Choi’s lithe elegance and gutsiness landed her a spot in the Limón Dance Company. But visa troubles intervened and she wound up immersed in downtown New York dance and earned a master’s in interactive telecommunications.
Now based in Philadelphia, Choi integrates technology with dance in organic ways. She goes for the visceral, the animalistic. With her Mexican husband, Guillermo Ortega Tanus, she performs goofy and ever-so-human duets, strong on intricate partnering and playful visual surrounds. We’ll see how these interests collide in her newest work for five of Philly’s most intriguing dancers, which she’ll show in progress in March at the Second Thursdays series of the Live Arts Brewery, where she’s a Fellow for the 2011–12 season. —Lisa Kraus
Photo by Johanna Austin, Courtesy Choi.
Gustavo Ramírez Sansano
It has been two years since Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, now 33, was named artistic director of Luna Negra Dance Theater, one of Chicago’s preeminent Latin-infused ensembles. It can be tricky to replace a founding director (Eduardo Vilaro now heads Ballet Hispanico), but Sansano knew exactly how he wanted to reshape the company, and arrived with many of his initiatives already approved. Born in San Fulgencio, Spain, this former dancer sees Luna Negra in international terms, with Latin culture as a multifaceted global phenomenon. Before coming to Chicago, he performed with several Spanish companies and Nederlands Dans Theater II; co-founded TITOYA Dance Project in Valencia, Spain; and worked as a freelance choreographer in Europe. He has brought outstanding new dancers from Spain, Chile, Italy, the United States and elsewhere into the company. And in addition to his own work (particularly Toda Una Vida, a ferocious duet inspired by his parents’ marriage), he quickly impressed with his gift for crafting mixed-rep programs of works by dancemakers with Latin roots and a sophisticated sense of design. The man has a vision—one that will be on view March 24 at Chicago’s Harris Theater, when CARMEN.maquia, his Picasso-inspired contemporary take on the Spanish gypsy, has its world premiere. —Hedy Weiss
Photo by Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Luna Negra.
For the past few months, the dance world has been holding its collective breath, waiting for New York City Ballet to announce who will take over the helm as artistic director.
Though former ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired over a year ago after accusations of sexual harassment and abuse (an internal investigation did not corroborate the accusations), the search for a new leader didn't begin until last May.
Nine months later, the new director's name could be released any day now. And we have some theories about who it might be:
Some people take this profession as just a chapter of their life. They feel like dance is a job—a fun job, but a job. Other people live their life through dance. I never considered being a ballerina a profession. It's a lifestyle.
If I don't have a performance, I feel like a tiger trapped in a cage. I have so many emotions, I feel I need to give them to somebody, to exhaust myself—I need to cry or laugh, or else it's suffocating. Other people might scream or throw bottles into the wall. We dancers scream onstage through our movement. For me, it's like sweeping off the dust in my soul.
Back in 2011, Yale University's dean of science was thinking about refreshing the program's offerings for non-majors when he happened upon a Pilobolus performance. A light bulb went off: Dance is full of physics.
That realization led to what has become an eight-year collaboration between particle physicist Sarah Demers and former New York City Ballet dancer Emily Coates, both professors at Yale who were brought together to co-teach a course called The Physics of Dance. Their partnership has involved everything from directing a short film to presenting a TedX Talk and performing a piece that Coates created, commissioned by Danspace Project. This month, they're publishing a book about what they've discovered by dialoging across two seemingly disparate disciplines.
Sebastian Abarbanell remembers being asked as an undergrad at Trinity Laban in London to perform wearing only a dance belt. "I said no," he says, "because I felt uncomfortable." Now a performer with Sidra Bell Dance New York, he's performed partially nude several times, without reservation. The difference? "It comes with more experience and maturing as a dancer," he says. "When you see a dancer living in their skin, you don't need to put anything else on them. When I said no in college, I wasn't in my skin yet."
Getting in your skin—and getting comfortable wearing only your skin onstage—requires a particular alchemy of vulnerability, agency, preparation and practice.
Get Dance Magazine in your inbox
Birmingham Royal Ballet announced today that international star Carlos Acosta will be taking over as director in January of 2020. Current BRB director David Bintley will be stepping down this summer, at the end of the company's 2019 season, after a 24-year tenure. "It is a tremendous honor and privilege to have been appointed to lead Birmingham Royal Ballet," Acosta said in a statement.
Since retiring from The Royal Ballet in 2015, Acosta has focused much of his attention on his native Cuba, where he's proven his directorial abilities at the helm of Acosta Danza, the contemporary company that he founded in 2016. In 2017 Acosta also opened his first Dance Academy through his foundation, which provides free training to students. We don't yet know how Acosta will balance his time between his projects in Cuba and his new role at BRB.
My personal life has taken a nosedive since I broke up with my boyfriend. He's in the same show and is now dating one of my colleagues. It's heartbreaking to see them together, and I'm determined never to date a fellow dancer again. But it's challenging to find someone outside, as I practically live in the theater. Do you have any advice?
—Loveless, New York, NY
The inimitable Carol Channing, best known for her role as the titular Hello, Dolly!, passed away today at 97.
Though she became a three-time Tony winner, Channing was born in Seattle, far from the Great White Way, in 1921. After growing up in San Francisco, she attended the famed Bennington College, studying dance and drama. She later told the university, "What Bennington allows you to do is develop the thing you're going to do anyway, over everybody's dead body." For Channing, that meant decades of fiery, comical performances, bursting with energy.
Something's coming, I don't know when
But it's soon...maybe tonight?
Those iconic lyrics have basically been our #mood ever since we first heard a remake of the West Side Story film, directed by Steven Spielberg and choreographed by Justin Peck, was in the works. THE CASTING. THE CASTING WAS COMING.
Well, last night—after an extensive search process that focused on finding the best actors within the Puerto Rican/Latinx community—the WSS team finally revealed who'll be playing Maria, Anita, Bernardo, and Chino (joining Ansel Elgort, who was cast as Tony last fall). And you guys: It is a truly epic group.
Rehearsal is in full swing, and Leta Biasucci, Pacific Northwest Ballet's newest principal dancer, finds herself in unfamiliar territory. Biasucci is always game for a challenge, but choreographer Kyle Davis wants her to lift fellow dancer Clara Ruf Maldonado. Repeatedly. While she's known for her technical prowess, lifting another dancer off the floor is a bit daunting for Biasucci, who stands all of 5' 3". She eyes Maldonado skeptically, then breaks into a grin.
"It's absolutely given me a new appreciation for the partner standing behind me!" Biasucci says with a laugh.
Looking at Biasucci, 29, with her wide smile and eager curiosity, you think you see the quintessential extrovert. In reality, she's anything but. "I was an introverted kid," Biasucci says. "That's part of the reason I fell in love with dance—I didn't have to be talkative."
It's only one of the seeming contradictions in Biasucci's life: She's a short, muscular ballerina in a company known for its fleet of tall, long-legged women; she's also most comfortable with classical ballet, while taking on a growing repertoire of contemporary work.
Sergei Polunin, whose recent homophobic and sexist Instagram posts have sparked international outrage, will not be appearing with the Paris Opéra Ballet as previously announced.
POB artistic director Aurélie Dupont sent an internal email to company staff and dancers on Sunday, explaining that she did not share Polunin's values and that the Russian-based dancer would not be guesting with the company during the upcoming run of Rudolf Nureyev's Swan Lake in February.
Before spending a summer at Los Angeles Ballet School, Lillian Glasscock had never learned a Balanchine variation. "The stylistic differences, like preparing for a pirouette with a straight back leg, were at first very challenging," says Glasscock, 17. "But it soon got easier."
Los Angeles Ballet company members were in class daily, motivating and inspiring her. Trying out a new style and expanding her repertoire gave Glasscock more strength, and a better understanding of the varied demands of ballet companies today. Months later, the Balanchine variations she learned are now personal favorites.
While the early years of training are typically spent diligently working through the syllabus of a single ballet technique, when you start to prepare for a professional career, versatility is key. There isn't just one correct version of each step. And as ballet companies continue to diversify their repertoires, directors need dancers who can move fluidly between an array of styles.
Throughout your dancing life, you've heard the same corrections over and over. The reason for the repetition? Dancers tend to make the same errors, sometimes with catastrophic results. Dance Magazine spoke to eight teachers about what they perceive to be the worst habits—the ones that will destroy a dancer's technique—and what can be done to reverse the damage.
To get a 180-degree first position, dancers will sometimes let their arches roll forward. But turnout is not about forcing your feet open; it's about opening up in the hips. “Turning out is an activity, not a position," says Irene Dowd, who teaches anatomy at the Juilliard School. “If we stop sustaining that movement, our feet will passively roll in." Rolling in places stress on the tendons of the feet and leads to injury because the rest of the body compensates for the imbalance when your knees can't line up over your toes.
Dowd warns against using only the arch to combat rolling in. “Dancers will try to lift up their arches and pull up on the inside of the ankle," she says. This can result in the inflammation of the tendons in the ankle and lead to tendinitis, a painful overuse injury that's common in dancers. What she feels are “Victorian furniture feet—feet that aren't fully in contact with the ground" should be solid in three areas: the heel, the ball of the big toe, and the ball of the little toe. Imagine how your weight is being transferred from above, through the body and down the legs, rather than gripping the foot and lifting from the arch.
Misaligning the Spine
Distorting the back, either by crunching the lumbar vertebrae and splaying the rib cage open or by hunching the shoulders forward and tucking the pelvis under, affects every other part of the body. Since the proper placement of the torso is the foundation of any movement, a dancer with a misaligned spine will develop other deadly technique sins. Problems can ripple all the way down to the extremities and upward to the neck and head. The core will be loose, unable to provide essential support. A pelvis that either tips back or tucks under will limit the range of motion in the hips.
Christine Spizzo's students at the North Carolina School of the Arts constantly work on their placement. “The one directive I give in class more than any other," she says, “is tailbone down, navel muscles lifted." She emphasizes that the tailbone lengthens downward without tucking under, and the navel muscles lift upward, not inward. This opposition allows the external rotator muscles to be actively engaged at the top of the thigh. Spizzo uses the expression the Four Ts—“no tucking, tipping, tilting, or twisting of the pelvis"—as a reminder for students.
Clenching the Toes
Clenching, curling, knuckling—no matter what it's called, this condition hampers a dancer's ability to articulate the feet. Clenched toes also make the feet an unstable platform to stand on, creating problems for the rest of the body. The muscles and tendons of the foot, knee, and ankle must work together to perform a relevé or jump, says Edward Ellison, director of Ellison Ballet Professional Training Program in New York. Clenched toes will place unwanted stress on the joints of the legs, leading to imbalance and overuse injuries. On pointe, knuckling over can damage the bones and tendons of the feet.
Master ballet teacher Sara Neece of Ballet Arts in New York says that when the first joint of the toe presses down into the floor too hard, the second joint of the toe jams into the metatarsal. For Neece, the key to remedying clenched toes lies in “bringing sensation to those unused tendons" beneath the second joint, and teaching the toes how to work in a careful and deliberate manner. While seated, a dancer should prick the back of each clenched toe with a fingernail about 20 times. Sitting on a chair with the foot on the ground, she should drag it back toward the body, slowly raising it to demi-pointe with a forced arch. Teachers must pay attention to the response of the feet to this localized work, since overstressing the tendons can damage them. Another way to teach the toes to stretch out is to weave a strip of cloth over the second toe and alternate below and above successive toes, leaving it there during barrework and nondance activities.
Giving In to Extreme Hyperextension
Hyperextended legs, in which the straightened knee naturally curves behind the thigh and calf muscles, are prized in the world of extreme ballet bodies. Christine Spizzo sings the praise of a moderately hyperextended leg line, as the leg fits snugly in fifth position, and the arabesque looks gorgeous, with that slight curve offsetting the arch of the foot. However, dancers with extreme hyperextension must take special care. “The hyperextended dancer tends to have weak external rotator muscles," she says, so the legs are more prone to collapse in on themselves when landing from a jump, letting the body weight fall on the knees. This can result in damage to the joints that maintain the alignment of the leg, including twisted knees and sprained ankles. Even if the dancer understands how to avoid giving in to her hyperextension, she has to learn how to express herself fully while restraining her legs.
But Spizzo points to dancers such as international star Sylvie Guillem, who has used her extreme hyperextension to her advantage. The dancer must think of lengthening rather than straightening or locking the knee, even if it feels slightly bent. She must develop a heightened awareness of the turnout muscles from the top of the thigh down to the calf. “The muscles must be activated to not allow the dancer to give in to the hyperextension," says Spizzo. She uses the image of the barbershop pole to encourage dancers to apply that feeling of an infinite spiral to their legs. Somatic practices such as Pilates can help to strengthen those stabilizing turnout muscles. Spizzo insists that dancers stand with the heels together in first position and never be allowed to press back into that knee joint. To do this, “the quadriceps must remain soft. As soon as you grip, it pulls that kneecap back dangerously."
Using Unnecessary Tension
“Tension," says Daniel Lewis, dean of dance at the New World School of the Arts, “pulls you off balance. It tightens the muscles and causes injury." Stiff muscles are injury-prone muscles, which make free and confident movement impossible.
Unwanted stiffness can also limit your versatility as a dancer. “Modern dance is concerned with trying to go into space off-center and off-balance," says Mary Cochran, chair of the dance department at Barnard College. “If you spend too much time holding your body stiffly, it's hard to make the transition from working in-balance to working off-balance."
Rhythmic breathing helps dissipate tension. Think of the lungs as another limb and pace the breath with the dynamics of the music. Sustain a sense of motion in the body, even when you are still, advises Cochran. Doing so will help reverse the muscle memory of using tension as a form of stability.
Pinching Your Shoulder Blades
Although used as a strategy to open the chest in front, pinching your shoulder blades together immobilizes the back. The serratus anterior on the sides of your rib cage is so overstretched that it can't work. Edward Ellison says that pinched shoulder blades impede the freedom of the arms and the support of the upper spine. He feels that they “cause your weight to fall behind your axis, and strain the trapezius and rhomboid muscles of the back."
Irene Dowd suggests thinking about widening the tips of the shoulders to the side, to allow plenty of room for the chest. “It helps to think about the chest—full of your lungs, your heart, all those organs—as a sphere," says Dowd. “We need to have enough room for all those precious organs to breathe." To relax shoulder blades, sometimes she will tell students to focus on the movement of the hands. “Is the hand really a lively part of my being?" Dowd has her students ask. “The shoulder blade should support that hand."
Getting Stuck in a Rut
While physical habits impede progress, the deadliest sin is losing the drive to improve technique at all. Franco De Vita, principal of American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, says good technique begins with a dancer's approach to class. Being present and focused enables the dancer to learn combinations quickly—and correctly. “Not listening and changing the exercise is unacceptable," says De Vita.
Michael Vernon, chair of the ballet department at Indiana University, feels the worst thing a dancer can do “is to get fixed into doing something a certain way, being safe. I love young dancers who understand that you have to dance for tomorrow, and not yesterday." Keeping an open mind means more than just trying a different preparation for a pirouette. “Being open to new styles of dance and new ways of moving the body is vital to keeping the art relevant."
What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.
Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
Just before retiring in 2015, Sylvie Guillem appeared on "HARDtalk with Zeinab Badawi," the BBC's hard-hitting interview program. Badawi told Guillem,
"Clement Crisp of the Financial Times, 14 years ago, described your dancing as vulgar."
"Yeah, well, he said that. But at the same time, when they asked Margot Fonteyn what she thought about lifting the leg like this she said, 'Well, if I could have done it, I would have done it.' "
They were discussing Guillem's signature stroke—her 180-degree leg extension à la seconde. Ballet legs had often flashed about in the higher zones between 135 and 160 degrees before. But it wasn't until the virtuoso French ballerina regularly
extended her leg beside her ear with immaculate poise in the 1980s that leg extensions for ballet dancers in classical roles reached their zenith. Traditionalists like Clement Crisp were not taken with it.
When coming up with phrases of movement, choreographers all have their habits: certain patterns they return to again and again, tendencies that repeat themselves whether they mean for them to or not.
What if artificial intelligence could be used to help choreographers mix things up by suggesting thousands of other options—and ones that still fit their choreographic style, no less?
In the early 1960s, a group of dancers started questioning the existing rules of choreography. Influenced by John Cage, they created dances that were startling in their simplicity and risk-taking. Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, Trisha Brown, David Gordon, Deborah Hay, Elaine Summers and Lucinda Childs were all part of this group. Most of them had studied or danced with Anna Halprin or Simone Forti. Visual artists like Robert Rauschenberg and Alex Hay were part of this cauldron of experimentation as well as composer Philip Corner.
The Museum of Modern Art has mounted an expansive exhibit called "Judson Dance Theater: The Work Is Never Done." It gathers photos, artwork, scores, objects and films that bring the period alive. If you get there before January 16, you'll see the films of Brown's early work. Her piece Walking on the Wall was so disorienting that it was almost hallucinatory. (Actually, this film and most of the Brown pieces are from the 70s.) Playing with perception was a big part of the Judson and post-Judson eras.
Balanchine and Stravinsky. Cunningham and Cage. Graham and Copland. Twentieth-century dance was dotted with memorable partnerships between musicians and choreographers that wrought magical, full-bodied, brilliant works.
Today's composer-dancemaker duos, though, have gone in a decidedly different direction. In ever-growing numbers, mainstream musicians are this century's dance collaborators. Sufjan Stevens has aligned himself with New York City Ballet's Justin Peck; Bon Iver's brought his signature indie folk to Minnesota contemporary troupe TU Dance; and even Sia's getting in on the act, working with Akram Khan on a dance theater piece premiering this summer.
What is it that's drawing pop artists to the dance floor?
Though Polunin has long had a reputation for behaving inappropriately, in the last month his posts have been somewhat unhinged. In one, Polunin, who is Ukrainian, shows off his new tattoo of Vladimir Putin:
I've just read Emma Sandall's piece on hyperextension and the 180-degree position. It's intelligent, interesting, well-written. But there are a few mistakes and some misleading remarks. I can't resist writing the following.
1. If Guillem says Fonteyn said would have lifted her leg higher if she could, then that's what Guillem says.
But she's wrong. Keith Money's book "Margot Assoluta" (published in 2000) includes a photo of Fonteyn in rehearsal doing a seconde almost to shoulder-height: she told Money "I can get the leg that high—but it ruins the line." Fonteyn wanted level hips, something crucial to many ideas of placement but not discussed by Sandall.
The cover star of the January 1974 issue of Dance Magazine was beloved Italian ballerina Carla Fracci. She was adored by ballet fans in the U.S. for her guest appearances with American Ballet Theatre, and a bona fide celebrity in her hometown of Milan. But she nevertheless made time for her director husband and their young son, who often accompanied her on tour. "I don't like to be only ballerina," she told us. "I say: the dance—all right. I like it. I like my work, and I do the best that I can. But it is not 'all' for me...Most dancers are closed, in a way, because it takes so much to dance, the physique is under so much stress, that often they are too tired, even to read, or to go to the theaters, the museums, to hear music, to be with people. But you can't be a dancer without these things...You can't just close your eyes and go to the barre. You get lost in this obsession with the barre and toe shoes. Your life can be destroyed that way."