Inside DM

2016 Dance Magazine Awards

This year we celebrate four extraordinary dance heroes: New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck, choreographer Lar Lubovitch, activist/teacher Carolyn Adams and historian Lynn Garafola.

Tiler Peck

Tiler Peck transcends all preconceived notions about ballet: that it is old-fashioned or boring or mannered or quaint. To see this New York City Ballet principal dance “Fascinatin' Rhythm" in Who Cares?, or Dewdrop in The Nutcracker, is to understand, immediately, that Peck has somehow bent the laws of physics in her favor. Her dancing weds pure movement intelligence with pure musical intelligence. And it calls attention to the choreography and the music in a new way—when she dances, you see new steps and hear nuances in the music you never noticed before.

With Tyler Angle in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Unframed. PC Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

And then there's her range. Peck, who was born in Bakersfield, California, 27 years ago, started out as a jazz kid doing commercial work. She performed in a Broadway production of The Music Man at age 11, and the bug never left her. Two years ago, she starred in Little Dancer, a show Susan Stroman built around her. Peck appeared on Live from Lincoln Center in a production of Carousel with the New York Philharmonic. She has danced with Memphis jooker Lil Buck, clown extraordinaire Bill Irwin and contemporary dancers. She's even been on “Dancing with the Stars."

But it's at New York City Ballet that she has made her most profound mark. Early on in her career—she joined the company as an apprentice at 15 and became a principal at 20—some wrote Peck off as a technical whiz kid with little to say. But NYCB star Damian Woetzel noticed her right away, and picked her to be his partner in Christopher Wheeldon's version of Carousel. He encouraged her to dance more freely and give in to her theatrical instincts. Boy, did she listen. As he puts it, “Her musicality, ease, daring and willingness to quite literally try anything is expanding and elevating dance in front of our eyes."

With each new role she takes on, she subtly shakes off dust and cobwebs, revealing the essence of the ballet anew, as if the steps had been made for her. Like a jazz musician, she bends the beat. She says, “I like to play with the music when I'm onstage. It's like a game, and that's what makes it exciting."

This makes her irresistible to choreographers. Justin Peck, the choreographer in residence at NYCB, has made some of his most challenging roles for her. Wheeldon has tapped into her all-American qualities—pluckiness, lack of affectation—in works like Estancia and Les Carillons. Liam Scarlett capitalized on her theatrical flair in Funérailles. Whatever gauntlet they throw her way, she exceeds it.

Marina Harss


Lar Lubovitch

Rehearsing The Bronze Horseman with dancer Angelina Vorontsova at the Mikhailovsky Ballet. PC Stas Levshin, Courtesy LLDC.

The dance world may be small, but the branch of its family tree made by Lar Lubovitch is expansive. First there's his modern troupe, Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, an incubator for his work since 1968, where former company members include choreographers Doug Varone and Darrell Grand Moultrie, and international performer Drew Jacoby. Then there are Lubovitch's dances in the repertoires of countless modern and ballet companies, not to mention his creations for Broadway, Olympic ice-dancing routines and the Chicago Dancing Festival, which he co-founded. “It's a chance to get out of myself," says the soft-spoken Lubovitch of the variety in his career, “to not get stuck in one idea of who I am or what I do."

At 73, the master dancemaker is still treading new ground: His two-act, 28-dancer The Bronze Horseman premiered at the Mikhailovsky Ballet in St. Petersburg in May. “Each time I make a dance, I feel like there's something more to discover," says Lubovitch. “It's always an effort and a mystery. It's compulsive to see if I can do it better."

Although he started making up dances as a kid, Lubovitch didn't pursue choreography professionally until he saw José Limón's company as an art student at the University of Iowa. “I didn't realize it was something that people actually did with their lives," he says. He transferred to Juilliard, where he studied under dance giants like Limón, Martha Graham and Antony Tudor.

Today, Lubovitch's polished, yet vulnerable work melds his signature musicality with sweeping movement and seamless, intriguing partnering. “His movement feels so delicious," says choreographer and former Lubovitch dancer Katarzyna Skarpetowska. “His dances are true dancers' dances."

This year, Lubovitch has become a distinguished professor at the University of California, Irvine; been named one of America's Irreplaceable Dance Treasures by the Dance Heritage Coalition; and received the Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for lifetime achievement. Unsurprisingly, he continues to explore new avenues: This fall he organized NY Quadrille, transforming The Joyce Theater into a raised stage flanked by the audience, for a series of world premieres by downtown dancemakers Pam Tanowitz, RoseAnne Spradlin, Tere O'Connor and Loni Landon. —Madeline Schrock


Carolyn Adams

Teaching a Taylor technique class at The Ailey School. PC Kyle Froman.

Paul Taylor, in his autobiography Private Domain, describes Carolyn Adams' dancing—and personality—as “unmannered and wondrous...an elegant nectar laced with warm delicacy, easy and effortless." For 17 years Adams charmed the world dancing with his Paul Taylor Dance Company. Her incredible range and effervescent style are evident in the roles she created in masterpieces such as Esplanade, Arden Court, Cloven Kingdom and Big Bertha.

But Adams, 72, says that her biggest “calling" is as a teacher. Those skills were honed early, as was her sense of activism. During her Taylor tenure, she and her sister Julie Adams Strandberg established The Harlem Dance Foundation in their childhood home with a mission to “nurture an endangered art form in an endangered community." For 20 years they produced performances and developed arts-education programs aimed at integrating dance across generations.

Since retiring from the stage in 1982, Adams has taught at some of the country's most prestigious dance programs—most notably 27 years at Juilliard. She has also served as director of education at Jacob's Pillow, and is the founding artistic director of the New York State Summer School of the Arts School of Dance. She currently teaches at The Ailey School, and also serves on Taylor's board of directors. (A natural-born nurturer, at the age of 58, Adams and her husband—former Taylor dancer Rob Kahn—adopted two children from Azerbaijan.)

Of all her accomplishments, Adams is most proud of the Repertory Etude program at the American Dance Legacy Initiative, which she established with her sister. Housed at Brown University, ADLI's mission is to foster appreciation of America's rich dance heritage. The “etudes" are short commissioned dances distilled from signature historical works available for dancers to study and perform. “As time passes," Adams says, “I am acutely aware of how we are connected intergenerationally. How it holds value, and that we must remain linked!"

Her work at ADLI has included people with Parkinson's disease and autism spectrum disorders. Adams' work with Artist and Scientists as Partners (ASaP) advocates for diverse medical and arts practices. “More than a think tank, we focus on process," she explains. “I am fascinated by how movement keeps the brain alive. When focused on learning, we concentrate on what we can do, not what we can't."

That's the optimistic sentiment she has always adhered to, according to Robert Battle, artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, who considers her a mentor and confidant. “She has always concentrated on what is there rather than what isn't. She has a way of distilling information that lets you own it. She doesn't say 'Do it this way,' rather 'Think about it this way'—for instance, that by simply lifting your arm you are connecting to the entire universe."—Rachel Berman

Lynn Garafola

Garafola is one of the world's leading dance historians. PC Christian Oth Studio, Courtesy Garafola.

As a student at Barnard College, I would walk into Lynn Garafola's office hours with a tentative question on my mind, in need of scholarly direction. Forty-five minutes and a few bookshelf consultations later, I'd emerge with pages of notes and a revamped appreciation for dance history, newly inspired to examine Isadora Duncan's feminism or race in the work of Ted Shawn.

A meticulous researcher, a treasured professor and one of the world's leading dance historians, Garafola possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of her field, made even more expansive by her generosity in sharing it. (Since graduating and becoming a faculty member in Barnard's department of dance, I haven't stopped learning from her.) Through her vast body of work, most notably her acclaimed 1989 book Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, she has helped to establish new standards of rigor in dance scholarship, viewing the art form's elusive past as inseparable from its cultural, social and economic contexts.

A New York native, Garafola grew up studying ballet with the Armenian teacher Madame Seda (whose pupils also included Jacques d'Amboise). She trained with Alvin Ailey, at a studio owned by a former dance partner of the Hollywood choreographer Jack Cole, and later with the modern dancer Janet Soares as an undergraduate at Barnard, where she majored in Spanish and has taught for 16 years. (She becomes a professor emerita in July.)

“So many intertwined paths," Garafola says of her teachers. “I guess that's why I'm a historian. I love to follow those threads and imagine the lives behind them."

Her interest in writing about dance and dance history flourished in the 1970s as she began pursuing a Ph.D. in comparative literature. When a friend asked why she was researching the picaresque novel, considering that she was attending dance performances all the time, she gave the question serious thought and changed her dissertation topic to the Ballets Russes.

In addition to writing and editing numerous books—including a forthcoming history of Bronislava Nijinska—Garafola has written for Ballet Review, Dance Research Journal and The Nation, among many other publications. She has been a Dance Magazine contributor since 1985.

If you want to feel excited about the future of dance scholarship, attend a presentation by Garafola's thesis advisees, in whom she fosters the same passion, integrity and respect for the discipline that characterize her own work. As she puts it, “I believe it's essential for students who spend much of their lives dancing to have some idea of where they come from, of how they exist and engage with the larger society around them." —Siobhan Burke

The Conversation
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Sin #2: Misaligning the spine. Photo by Erin Baiano

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Rolling In

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."

Rant & Rave
Matthew Murphy

I write this letter knowing full well and first-hand the financial challenges of running an arts organization. I also write this letter on behalf of dancers auditioning for your companies. Lastly, I write this letter as a member of society at large and as someone who cares deeply about the culture we are leading and the climate we create in the performing arts.

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"When I started out, I wanted to be a Fred Astaire," he told us, "and after that a Jerome Robbins. But then I realized there was always somebody a dancer or choreographer had to take orders from. So I decided I wanted to become a director, namely a George Abbott. But as I got older I dropped the hero-worship thing. I didn't want to emulate anyone. Just wanted to do the things I was capable of doing—and have some fun doing them. By this time I'm glad I didn't turn out to be an Astaire, a Robbins or an Abbott." He would go on to become an Academy Award–winning director, indelibly changing musical theater in the process.

The Creative Process
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Health & Body
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Let's say that today you're having a terrible time following your class's choreography and are feeling ashamed—you're always stumbling a few beats behind. Do you:

1. Admit it's your fault because you didn't study the steps last night? Tonight you'll nail them down.
2. Feel worthless and alone? You slump your shoulders, avoid eye contact with your teacher and fellow dancers, and wish to disappear.

Shame is a natural emotion that everyone occasionally feels. If you answered #1, it may be appropriate—you earned it by not studying—and positive if it motivates you to do better in the future.

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My hypermobility used to cause me a lot of trouble, but I've gained confidence and strength after reading about it in one of your columns. I now have a Pilates instructor who's retraining my body and helping me dance in a consistent way. Thank you!

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Wendy Whelan spoke with Balanchine legends Allegra Kent, Kay Mazzo, Gloria Govrin and Merrill Ashley. Eduardo Patino.NYC, Courtesy NDI

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