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 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.
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
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
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
A little over a year ago, I wrote an op-ed for Dance Magazine about the grueling, oppressive grant cycle. It was crying into my pillow, really. I was complaining and desperate to share my story. I was fed up with 10 years of applying for grants and having never received one for the research or development of my work. I was tired of the copy-and-paste rejection letters, the lack of feedback, and what seems to be a biased, inconsistent system.
I couldn't stand that I was made to feel as if I had to ask for permission to be an artist.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
The connections dancers make in college are no joke. For recent alum Gabrielle Hamilton, working with guest choreographer John Heginbotham at Point Park University put her on the fast track to Broadway—not in an ensemble role, but as the lead dancer in one of this season's hottest tickets: Daniel Fish's arresting reboot of Oklahoma!
We caught up with Hamilton about starring in the show's dream ballet and her delightfully bizarre pre-show ritual.
Last Friday, through an appeal to an independent arbitrator, the American Guild of Musical Artists successfully reinstated NYCB principals Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro, previously fired for allegedly circulating sexually explicit texts containing nude photos.
AGMA opposed Ramasar and Catazaro's terminations in order to prevent the setting of a dangerous precedent that would allow dancers to be fired under less understandable consequences. But we cannot allow future cases to dictate the way we handle this situation—particularly a union committed to "doing everything in [its] power to ensure you have a respectful environment in which to work."
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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But according to the H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory, one in every three dancers in New York City lives under the poverty line, and may lack the resources to purchase the ingredients they need to make nutritious meals.
Not to mention the fact that dancers are busy, and often running around from class to rehearsal to performance to side hustle, grabbing whatever they can get to eat on-the-go.
I have a commitment, a romance, a love affair with dance, with the feeling that happens when the music and the steps so perfectly align and I can't help but get chills. That feeling when my partner and I are dancing as one, when everyone onstage feels the same heartbeat, when it's just me alone in my bedroom.
You can see them in "Fosse/Verdon" episode one. Michelle Williams, playing Gwen Verdon, wears them with a cool, retro, forest-green jumpsuit. Tucked beneath a mop top of tousled Gwen Verdon locks, Williams sports a pair of discreet and tasteful onyx drop-earrings—the dancer's favorites. Verdon wore them all her adult life, according to her daughter Nicole Fosse, a co-executive producer of the FX series that puts a spotlight on a great woman of American dance.
"I have very little memory of my mother wearing other earrings. They were her Gwen Verdon earrings," says Fosse, speaking by phone from her home in Vermont. "She's wearing them in 99 percent of the pictures of her performing."
Four years of lectures, exams and classes can feel like a lifetime for college dancers who have their sights set on performing. So when a professional opportunity comes knocking, it can be tempting to step away from your academics. But there are a few things to consider before putting your education on hold.
We've all been there: You see the craziest/most beautiful/oddest/wildest clip of a dance on Facebook and you simply have to see more.
But do you actually get yourself to the theater and sit through a 90-minute performance? The consensus, at this point, typically seems to be: No.
There is no clear correlation between a company's social media campaigns and how many seats they fill in the theater. That doesn't mean social media isn't, of course, vital. It simply means that "social media campaigns operating without other marketing campaigns don't cut it," says Rob Bailis, associate director of Cal Performances at UC Berkeley. "But campaigns without social media are far worse off."
Since the project was first announced toward the end of 2017, we've been extremely curious about Yuli. The film, based on Carlos Acosta's memoir No Way Home, promised as much dancing as biography, with Acosta appearing as himself and dance sequences featuring his eponymous Cuba-based company Acosta Danza. Add in filmmaking power couple Icíar Bollaín (director) and Paul Laverty (screenwriter), and you have a recipe for a dance film unlike anything else we've seen recently.
One of the country's top arbitrators has decided to reinstate Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro to New York City Ballet. The former principals were fired last fall for "inappropriate communications," namely graphic text messages.
The dancers' union, American Guild of Musical Artists, fought the termination, arguing that the firings were unjust since they related entirely to non-work activity. After a careful review of the facts, an independent arbitrator determined that while the company was justified in disciplining the two men, suspension was the appropriate action and termination took it too far.
A woman passes three men in the street. The men pursue her. They thrust their pelvises at her. They continue to pursue her after she slaps one's hand and walks away. They surround her. She glances around at them in alarm. One snatches her purse (to review the Freudian significance of purses, click here) and saunters off with it, mocking her. She tries to take the purse back, and the three men toss it over her head among each other. They make her dance with them. Each time she indicates "No," the men try harder to force her submission to their advances.
This is all within the first 10 minutes of Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free, a 1944 ballet about three sailors frolicking on shore leave during World War II, beloved by many and still regularly performed (especially during the last year, since 2018 was the centennial celebration of Robbins's birth). Critic Edwin Denby, after the premiere with Ballet Theatre, called it "a remarkable comedy piece" and "a direct, manly piece."
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.
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?
The pleasure of watching prodigies perform technical feats on Instagram can be tinged with a sense of trepidation. Impressive tricks, you think, but do they have what it takes for an actual career?
Just look at 18-year-old Maria Khoreva, who has more followers than most seasoned principals; in videos, her lines and attention to detail suggested a precocious talent, and led to a Nike ambassador contract before she even graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Still, when she joined the Mariinsky Ballet last summer, there was no guarantee any of it would translate to stage prowess.
When you're bouncing between hotel rooms without access to a kitchen, eating a pescatarian diet can be challenging. Stephanie Mincone, who most recently traveled the globe with Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour, told Dance Magazine how she does it—while fueling herself with enough energy to perform for thousands of Taylor fans.
Choosing music for your first-ever choreography commission can feel daunting enough. But when you're asked to create a ballet using the vast discography of the Rolling Stones—and you happen to be dating Stones frontman Mick Jagger—the stakes are even higher.
So it's understandable that as of Monday, American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Melanie Hamrick, whose Port Rouge will have its U.S. premiere tonight at the Youth America Grand Prix gala, was still torn about which songs to include.
What is an acceptable request from a choreographer in terms of nudity? On the first day of shooting All That Jazz in the 1970s, Bob Fosse asked us men to remove everything but our jock straps and the women to remove their tops. His rationale was to shock us in order to build character, and it felt disloyal to refuse. Would this behavior be considered okay today?
As much as audiences might flock to Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, ballet can't only rely on old war horses if it wants to remain relevant. But building new full-lengths from scratch isn't exactly cheap.
So where can companies find the money?
Today—April 16, 2019—marks what would have been Merce Cunningham's 100th birthday. As dancers from Los Angeles to New York City to London gear up for Night of 100 Solos (the marathon performance event being livestreamed today), and as companies and presenters worldwide continue to celebrate the Cunningham Centennial through their programming, we searched through the Dance Magazine Archives to unearth our favorite images of the groundbreaking dancemaker.
A bright disposition with a dab of astringent charm is how I remember Brock Hayhoe, a National Ballet School of Canada schoolmate. Because we were a couple years apart, we barely brushed shoulders, except at the odd Toronto dance party where we could dance all night with mutual friends letting our inhibitions subside through the music. Dancing always allows a deeper look.
But, as my late great ballet teacher Pyotr Pestov told me when I interviewed him for Dance Magazine in 2009, "You never know what a flower is going to look like until it opens up."