Misty Copeland at the Dance Magazine Awards: "Dance Unifies, So Let's Get to Work"
What does it mean to be human? Well, many things. But if you were at the Dance Magazine Awards last night, you could argue that to be human is to dance. Speeches about the powerful humanity of our art form were backed up with performances by incredible dancers hailing from everywhere from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago to Miami City Ballet.
Misty Copeland started off the celebration. A self-professed "Dance Magazine connoisseur from the age of 13," she not only spoke about how excited she was to be in a room full of dancers, but also—having just come from Dance Theatre of Harlem's memorial for Arthur Mitchell—what she saw as their duty: "We all in this room hold a responsibility to use this art for good," she said. "Dance unifies, so let's get to work."
That sentiment was repeated throughout the night.
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Michael Trusnovec and Parisa Khobdeh in an excerpt from Paul Taylor's Promethean Fire. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
After giving a luminous performance of Paul Taylor's Promethean Fire with Parisa Khobdeh, Michael Trusnovec admitted that it might have been a "crazy idea" for him to choose to dance right before accepting his award. (For the record, we asked him to. Or, more accurately, we gave him the option in the hopes that he'd perform.) But he explained that he'd agreed to perform because dancing is "why I'm here—standing here—but also why I'm here, in general."
Most moving was when Trusnovec, a paragon of cool, collected strength, choked up when talking about what it feels like to know that there will no longer be any more "Taylor-made dances," sharing—in the most heartfelt way—what it's meant to him to have taken part in Taylor's genius.
Hubbard Street's Andrew Murdock and Michael Gross performed an excerpt of Crystal Pite's The Other You. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
In accepting her award, Crystal Pite told a story that most of us had never heard before: In the late 1970s, her mother and a friend traveled five hours by bus and ferry to see the Ailey company perform in Vancouver. When they got back to their room at the Holiday Inn, they spent the night reenacting their own version of Revelations.
Her mom's description of Judith Jamison sparked Pite's desire to dance. Later, when she was 13 or 14, Pite made her first solo for herself, and her mom sewed the costume: A long-sleeved white leotard and a floor-length white skirt with ruffles at the bottom. "I spent hours alone in the studio trying to channel the spirit of Judith Jamison and Alvin Ailey." It was what made her want to be a choreographer.
Last night, since she was coming to the house of Ailey, Pite brought along a photo of herself in that solo to give to Jamison. After the party, she sat on the floor of the studio in a second position straddle, writing a personal note to go along with it. Watching this insanely talented icon of our field pen a handwritten note to her idol (and how giddily excited she was to do it) reminded me of just how much dance artists can move each other, even when they don't realize it.
Crystal Pite holds up her photo of herself as a young teenager in the first solo she ever choreographed, in which she channelled the spirit of Judith Jamison. She brought it to give to Jamison herself, along with a personal note.
Raja Feather Kelly and Ephrat "Bounce" Asherie
Raja Feather Kelly and Ephrat "Bounce" Asherie accept their Harkness Promise Awards. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
The two Harkness Promise Awardees, Raja Feather Kelly and Ephrat "Bounce" Asherie, brought a blast of enthusiastic energy to the stage to accept their awards, which grant them each $5,000 and 40 hours of studio space. They gave a short joint speech, promising "we won't let you down."
Miami City Ballet's Tricia Albertson and Renan Cerdeiro performed an excerpt from George Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream in honor of Lourdes Lopez. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
Until she said it, I had never realized that Lourdes Lopez was the first Latina principal dancer at New York City Ballet and is the only Latina artistic director of a major American ballet company. With her incredible poise and eloquence, she reminded us of the power of dance: "It widens your world, it broadens your perspective. It teaches you about life and how to live it," she said. "Dance is everlasting and all-inclusive, and all we have to do is serve it."
Ronald K. Brown
Ron Brown spoke about how dance has drawn him back to the studio over and over throughout his life. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
In presenting the award to Ronald K. Brown, his dancer and associate artistic director Arcell Cabuag spoke about how Brown's dances "take us away from technology and all the nonsense, and reminds us how human we are, and how much we all have in common." Having just watched Annique Roberts soulfully perform Brown's She Is Here, which seemed to heat up the theater with her incredible warmth, we knew exactly what he was talking about.
Members of Gallim, which has performed at Nigel Redden's Spoleto Festival USA multiple times, performed an excerpt from Andrea Miller's Stone Skipping in tribute to him. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
The last award of the night was a new Leadership Award, presented to festival director Nigel Redden. This addition is our way of recognizing "the people who make it possible for dancers to dance and choreographers to choreograph," as our CEO Frederic Seegal put it.
Redden ended the event by sharing a sentiment that seemed to sum up the whole ceremony: "Dance is what it means to be human, what it means to be truly alive."
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On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
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.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
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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Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
It can be hard to imagine life without—or just after—dance. Perhaps that's why we find it so fascinating to hear what our favorite dancers think they'd be doing if they weren't performing for a living.
We've been asking stars about the alternate career they'd like to try in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and their answers—from the unexpected to the predictable—do not disappoint:
"New York City Ballet star appears in a Keanu Reeves action movie" is not a sentence we ever thought we'd write. But moviegoers seeing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be treated to two scenes featuring soloist Unity Phelan dancing choreography by colleague Tiler Peck. The guns-blazing popcorn flick cast Phelan as a ballerina who also happens to be training to become an elite assassin. Opens in theaters May 17.
The Brooklyn-based choreographer Gillian Walsh is both obsessed with and deeply conflicted about dance. With her latest work, Fame Notions, May 17–19 at Performance Space New York, she seeks to understand what she calls the "fundamentally pessimistic or alienating pursuit" of being a dancer. Noting that the piece is "quiet and introverted," like much of her other work, she sees Fame Notions as one step in a larger project examining why dancers dance.
What does Mikhail Baryshnikov have to say to dancers starting their careers today? On Friday, he gave the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
The heart of his message: Be generous.
Launching a dancewear line seems like a great way for professional dancers to flex new artistic muscles and make side money. Several direct-to-consumer brands founded by current or former professional dancers, like Elevé and Luckleo, currently compete with bigger retailers, like Capezio.
But turning your brand into the next Yumiko is more challenging than some budding designers may realize.
When I first came to dance criticism in the 1970s, the professional critics were predominantly much older than me. I didn't know them personally and, as the wide-eyed new kid on the block, I assumed most had little or no physical training in the art.
As slightly intimidated as I felt at the time—you try sitting around a conference room table with Dance Magazine heavy hitters like Tobi Tobias and David Vaughan—I smugly gave myself props for at least having had recent brushes with ballet, Graham, Duncan and Ailey and more substantial engagement with jazz and belly dance. Watching dancers onstage, I enjoyed memories of steps and moves I knew in my own bones. If the music was right, my shoulders would wriggle. I wasn't just coolly judging things from my neck up.