2015 Dance Magazine Awards
Celebrating five dance luminaries: National Ballet of Canada's Karen Kain, Noche Flamenca's Soledad Barrio, dance historian David Vaughan, Urban Bush Women's Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and American Ballet Theatre's Marcelo Gomes.
Kain and Nureyev after a Giselle performance in 1976. Photo by L.D. Cartoogian, courtesy DM Archives.
Anyone who saw Karen Kain running down a flight of stairs as the 16-year-old Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty will never forget the thrilling impact of her youthful exuberance. Those were the 1970s, when the National Ballet of Canada, frequently headlined by Rudolf Nureyev, regularly danced at New York's Metropolitan Opera House and crisscrossed North America on lengthy tours. Nureyev recognized Kain's stellar talent early on, and, as her frequent partner in guest engagements, he made sure the world knew, too. She was soon a sought-after artist. But, despite her foreign engagements, she remained loyal to NBoC, and danced with the company for 28 years. Her retirement was celebrated with a special cross-Canada Karen Kain Farewell Tour.
Yet her greatest role might be the one she performs today: NBoC's artistic director. When she took the job in 2005, she set herself three major goals—to raise the level of classical dancing, diversify the repertoire and get the company touring internationally again. Ten years in, NBoC is now dancing better than ever. The repertoire has added works by Aszure Barton, William Forsythe, Wayne McGregor, John Neumeier, Crystal Pite, Jerome Robbins and Christopher Wheeldon, whose Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and The Winter's Tale NBoC co-produced with The Royal Ballet. In 2011, the company unveiled a new staging of Romeo and Juliet by Alexei Ratmansky. Most importantly, Kain has championed new work by Canadian choreographers, presenting all-Canadian triple bills and recently commissioning a full-length version of Le Petit Prince from principal dancer Guillaume Côté.
The combination of excellent dancing and a revitalized repertoire has helped achieve her third goal, to return NBoC to the world stage with visits to Los Angeles, London, New York City and Washington, DC. “Touring has become difficult and expensive," she says. “I can't replicate the experience I had 40 years ago, but I'm determined to pursue what's possible. We'd been almost totally left out for too long. Now, we're part of the conversation in the ballet world again." —Michael Crabb
Barrio performs Antigona with Noche Flamenca in New York this month. Photo by Zarmik Moqtaderi, courtesy Noche Flamenca.
The greatest flamenco artists are said to possess “duende," a Spanish word loosely translated as an inner spirit that emanates from an intense emotional connection with song and dance, and that produces a trancelike state in observers. Or, as Goethe defined it, “a mysterious power that all may feel and no philosophy can explain."
Soledad Barrio delivers the essence of duende. Through her many performances with Noche Flamenca, founded by Barrio and her husband, Martín Santangelo, she has committed her life to the primal elegance and passion of flamenco. With her snaking arms, sinuously flowing walks, rhythmically complex footwork, intentioned gaze and climactic, fiery eruptions, Barrio is one of the greatest flamenco performers in the world.
Born in Madrid, Barrio danced as soon as she could walk, although she didn't begin formal flamenco studies until she was 18. Gypsy tradition wasn't in her lineage, but it certainly inhabited her soul. “Since I was very young, dance has given my life a reason to exist," she says. “I was lucky enough to encounter flamenco." Her mother's family survived Franco's often brutal dictatorship, an experience that helped shape Barrio's earthy authenticity as a performer.
Barrio studied with such distinguished flamenco artists as Maria Magdalena, El Ciro, El Guito and Manolete. Before forming Noche Flamenca, she danced as a soloist with the companies of Manuela Vargas, Blanca del Rey, Luisillo, El Guito, Manolete, Cristobal Reyes, El Toleo and Ballet Espanol de Paco Romero.
Although she is a master of the full spectrum of flamenco styles, she is particularly known for the soleá, the flamenco form that expresses the deep anguish of a rebellious cry. (The word fittingly derives from soledad, defined as “loneliness" or “solitude"). Dancing it, Barrio innervates the braceo (arms) and floreo (hands) directly from her expressive torso. As she moves to the music of the cantaores, she physicalizes the impassioned pulsations of the guitar and vocals.
“I don't see myself as an artist, I see myself as a worker," says Barrio. “The more hours I can work and study, the better an artist I can become." —Joseph Carman
Vaughan still performs at 91. Here, at the Montreal Fringe Festival with Pepper Fajans. Photo by Gilbert Gaytan.
At 91 years old, David Vaughan could pass for a much younger man. He's writing a book (his fourth), holds monthly film screenings at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and recently went on tour, as a performer, to the Montreal Fringe Festival. These ventures are just the latest in a lifetime of dedication to dance. His indelible contributions to the field—as a writer, historian and archivist—only continue to deepen.
A latecomer to ballet class, Vaughan began formal training at 23 in his native London, though he'd been “obsessed with dancing," as he puts it, from a young age. He moved to New York City in 1950 with a scholarship to the School of American Ballet, where he met a modern dance teacher named Merce Cunningham. When Cunningham opened his own studio in 1959, Vaughan became the secretary, which helped to supplement his modest income as a performer in off-Broadway musicals.
Photo by Gilbert Gaytan
That side job blossomed into more. At John Cage's invitation, Vaughan coordinated the Cunningham company's 1964 world tour, a reputation-building milestone for the group. His affinity for collecting and organizing company ephemera—programs, press, photographs, letters—earned him the formal role of company archivist in 1976, created through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The position was unprecedented for a dance troupe; as Vaughan says, “I had to invent the job as I went along." Cataloguing the company's developments—his original index card system, he says, still rivals any computer—he ensured that its history did not fade into the past.
His ingenuity rippled out. “He paved the way for so many of us," says Norton Owen, head of the archives at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, adding that Vaughan set the “gold standard" for dance archiving practices. “In a way, he's still leading the pack."
Vaughan's warm, enlightening prose can be found in Frederick Ashton and His Ballets, his celebrated biography of the British choreographer, and the journal Ballet Review, to which he has contributed since its first issue in 1965. Having poured his vast, meticulous knowledge of Cunningham's oeuvre into the breathtaking book Merce Cunningham: Fifty Years, he's now at work on a biography of another mid-century renegade, the underexposed choreographer James Waring.
And his performing career? He and his 30-year-old friend, the dance artist Pepper Fajans, plan to return to Montreal in January for a reprise of their award-winning Fringe Festival duet. “We were a big hit!" Vaughan says. He's earned the bragging rights. —Siobhan Burke
Jawole Willa Jo Zollar
Jawole Willa Jo Zollar doesn't simply create choreography. She creates family, giving her dancers the kind of strengthening, nourishing roots that foster the confidence to make their own mark in the world.
Zollar's work, like 1986's LifeDance I...The Magician (the return of She), subverts notions of how women should behave. Photo by Hakim Mutlaq, courtesy DM Archives.
“If you want to go fast, go alone," says Zollar, citing a beloved African proverb. “If you want to go far, go together."
Celebrating her troupe's 30th anniversary last season, Zollar wrote on Urban Bush Women's website, “I wanted a company that brought forth the vulnerability, sassiness and bodaciousness of the women I experienced growing up in Kansas City." Her critically acclaimed work subverts notions of who can dance, how dancers' bodies should look and how women should behave—especially black women. For talented artists like Christal Brown, Paloma McGregor, Nora Chipaumire, Maria Bauman, Samantha Speis and Marjani Forté-Saunders, she has forged inroads into a profession still largely governed by white standards.
Zollar first trained with Joseph Stevenson, a student of Katherine Dunham. She traces her influences to icons like black vaudevillian Cholly Atkins, Dianne McIntyre and Daniel Nagrin whose evening-length solo, Peloponnesian War, she remembers, sent the crowd at an anti–Vietnam War rally into raptures. She perceived, she recalls, “something he was able to do that was very different from any of the speeches."
From Walking with Pearl...Southern Diaries—evocative of time, place and the human heart—to the audacious Batty Moves and the new Walking with 'Trane (created with Speis), Zollar's work liberally draws from ballet and modern dance, as well as such styles as club dancing, double dutch and Rastafarian ritual. Her dancers' bodies carry urgent letters to the world, stories bursting to be told. Healing stories, motivating stories, transformational stories. Urban Bush Women, as former member Christal Brown puts it, are medicine women.
Ours is a time that requires us to assert that black lives matter. We live, as well, in a time of joy when American Ballet Theatre admits its first black ballerina to the rank of principal. We also see, in the many Zollar alumnae now claiming their own generative ground, seeds of artistry and activism to carry the legacy forward and make a difference. —Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Ask any ballerina who would be her dream partner, and very likely the answer will be Marcelo Gomes. The Mariinsky Ballet's prima ballerina Diana Vishneva has specifically chosen him to partner her both at American Ballet Theatre and at home in Russia. He partnered venerable ballerina Alessandra Ferri on her farewell tour in Japan and Italy in 2008. Blessed with an uncanny sense of timing, balance and sensitivity to a ballerina's needs, he knows instinctively how to anticipate his partner's movement, allowing her to completely immerse herself in her role.
Yet Gomes can just as easily command the stage on his own. His presence is grounded, magisterial, expansive. With precise technique, the 6' 2" Gomes makes Frederick Ashton's quicksilver choreography for Oberon in The Dream, for example, seem as natural as breathing. He feels just as at ease moving through legato passages with his elongated lines. Since joining ABT at age 18 in 1997, the former Brazilian prodigy has dazzled at all stages of his journey to become one of its most beloved stars.
Gomes uses his 6' 2" lines to his advantage. Here, in Liam Scarlett's With a Chance of Rain. Photo by Marty Sohl, courtesy ABT.
“Everything about being onstage drives me as a dancer, from the anticipation to the applause," says Gomes, who came to the U.S. at 13 to study at the Harid Conservatory. “But most of all my growth as a human being through my performing is what motivates me."
Gomes' consummate grasp of contemporary movement, matched by his mastery of classical technique, has made him a favorite of choreographers like Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon, Twyla Tharp and William Forsythe. His vast dramatic and technical range allows him to dance Prince Désiré in The Sleeping Beauty one night and the wicked fairy Carabosse on the next.
Gomes has recently demonstrated his emerging talent as a choreographer, creating ballets for ABT, Complexions Contemporary Ballet and La Scala. “I've always had an itch to create my own movements," he says. “I love how music makes me feel, and being creative with dancers is incredibly fulfilling."
Perhaps most impressive are Gomes' humble approach to the work and his generosity as a mentor for younger dancers. “I have learned so much from the dancers that have come before me, and I feel I need to give back," he says. “It's not just about dancing well, but about who you are in your life, both on and off the stage, and how you interact with other artists, and perhaps, most importantly, how you respect the art form." —Joseph Carman
From the angles of your feet to the size of your head, it can sometimes seem like there is no part of a dancer's body that is not under scrutiny. It's easy to get obsessed when you are constantly in front of a mirror, trying to fit a mold.
Yet the traditional ideals seem to be exploding every day. "The days of carbon-copy dancers are over," says BalletX dancer Caili Quan. "Only when you're confident in your own body can you start truly working with what you have."
While the striving may never end, there can be unexpected benefits to what you may think of as your "imperfections."
It's the second week of Miami City Ballet School's Choreographic Intensive, and the students stand in a light-drenched studio watching as choreographer Durante Verzola sets a pas de trois. "Don't be afraid to look at the ceiling—look that high," Verzola shows one student as she holds an arabesque. "That gives so much more dimension to your dancing." Other students try the same movement from the sidelines.
When Arantxa Ochoa took over as MCB School's director of faculty and curriculum two years ago, she decided to add a second part to the summer intensive: five weeks focused on technique would be followed by a new two-week choreography session. The technique intensive is not a requirement, but students audition for both at the same time and many attend the two back-to-back.
On a summer afternoon at The Ailey School's studios, a group of students go through a sequence of Horton exercises, radiating concentration and strength as they tilt to one side, arms outstretched and leg parallel to the ground. Later, in a studio down the hall, a theater dance class rehearses a lively medley of Broadway show tunes. With giant smiles and bouncy energy, students run through steps to "The Nicest Kids in Town" from Hairspray.
"You gotta really scream!" teacher Judine Somerville calls out as they mime their excitement. "This is live theater!" They segue into the audition number from A Chorus Line, "I Hope I Get It," their expressions becoming purposeful and slightly nervous. "Center stage is wherever I am," Somerville tells them when the music stops, making them repeat the words back to her. "Take that wherever you go."
Dance artists, as a rule, are a resilient bunch. But working in a studio in New York City without heat or electricity in the middle of winter? That's not just crazy; it's unhealthy, and too much to ask of anyone.
Unfortunately, Brooklyn Studios for Dance hasn't had heat since mid-November, making it impossible for classes or performances to take place in the community-oriented center.
So what's a studio to do? Throw a massive dance party, of course.
As winter sets in, your muscles may feel tighter than they did in warmer weather. You're not imagining it: Cold weather can cause muscles to lose heat and contract, resulting in a more limited range of motion and muscle soreness or stiffness.
But dancers need their muscles to be supple and fresh, no matter the weather outside. Here's how to maintain your mobility during the colder months so your dancing isn't affected:
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A newly launched initiative hopes to change the face of ballet, both onstage and behind the scenes. Called "The Equity Project: Increasing the Presence of Blacks in Ballet," the three-year initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is a partnership between Dance Theatre of Harlem, the International Association of Blacks in Dance and Dance/USA.
"We've seen huge amounts of change in the years since 1969, when Dance Theatre of Harlem was founded," says Virginia Johnson, artistic director of DTH. "But change is happening much too slowly, and it will continue to be too slow until we come to a little bit more of an awareness of what the underlying issues are and what needs to be done to address them."
From the outside, it seemed like the worst of New York City Ballet's problems were behind them last winter, when ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired amid accusations of abuse and sexual harassment, and an internal investigation did not substantiate those claims.
But further troubles were revealed in August when a scandal broke that led to dancer Chase Finlay's abrupt resignation and the firing of fellow principals Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro. All three were accused of "inappropriate communications" and violating "norms of conduct."
The artistic director sets the tone for a dance company and leads by example. But regardless of whether Martins, and George Balanchine before him, established a healthy organization, the issues at NYCB bespeak an industry-wide problem, says Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, founding artistic director of Urban Bush Women. "From New York City Ballet to emerging artists, we've just done what's been handed down," she observes. "That has not necessarily led to great practices."
If you've ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at Dance Magazine, now's your chance to find out. Dance Magazine is seeking an editorial intern who's equally passionate about dance and journalism.
Through March 1, we are accepting applications for a summer intern to assist our staff onsite in New York City from June to August. The internship includes an hourly stipend and requires a minimum two-day-a-week commitment. (We do not provide assistance securing housing.)
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.
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:
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.
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.