25 to Watch
Meet the breakout stars of 2016.
Furlan and Emily Bromberg rehearsing Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Daniel Azoulay, courtesy MCB.
Soloist, Miami City Ballet
As a bold Tony for Maria, a tender Romeo for Juliet or a troubled Don José for Carmen, Jovani Furlan brings frank passion to his partnering. Even in works without plot, this recently promoted Miami City Ballet soloist can amplify character to marvelous effect—with a probing humanity, for instance, in the part originally choreographed for Paul Taylor in Balanchine’s Episodes. His technical prowess, honed at MCB School following training in his native Brazil, heightens leaps and steadies turns, and his natural musicality adds fluency to both solos and the ensemble. Whether spirited or grave, Furlan is an ardent explorer of moods, and his enthusiasm lets us share the pleasure of every nuance he discovers. —Guillermo Perez
Cliburn in Robert Dekkers’ Yours is Mine. Photo by Natalia Perez, courtesy Post: Ballet.
In her debut season with contemporary ballet troupe Post:Ballet, Cora Cliburn has shown maturity beyond her 19 years. She has the pin-prick precision and delicate touch you might expect from her sprightly build, but also a daringness that makes her shine in choreographer Robert Dekkers’ off-kilter movement and origami partnering: She crashed an athletic, sexually charged, all-male trio with gusto in his Yours is Mine, and met the intensity of veteran performer Ricardo Zayas in Reason does not know.
After performing in Post:Ballet’s home season in San Francisco and at Jacob’s Pillow this summer, Cliburn joined the freshman class at Stanford University, where she’s studying math. She is hardly done with dance, however, and will continue performing with Post:Ballet throughout the year, while doing her best to embrace uncertainty about the future. “I like to know where every limb, every muscle is,” she says. “I’m trying to come to terms with not knowing what’s going to happen.”
—Josie G. Sadan
Photo by Ginger Murray, courtesy Miller
When she first appeared in the Twin Cities dance scene, Kaleena Miller was often the sole female presence in a testosterone tsunami of male dancers. As the young men around her exploded into rambunctious, raucous tap routines that set audiences screaming, Miller always maintained her cool, engaging crowds with sly wit, flowing limbs and mesmerizing footwork. Relaxed, with easy, impeccable technique, we know now that she was biding her time. Today, Miller is redefining how we consume tap. She’s created The Cutting Board, an open-mic-style tap dance and live music show at a Minneapolis bar; co-founded Rhythmic Circus, a wildly popular troupe that appeared on “America’s Got Talent”; choreographed for her Kaleena Miller Dance, which has been commissioned by the Walker Art Center; and co-founded the Twin Cities Tap Festival, which had its inaugural event this past fall. Miller has become a one-woman show—whether or not she’s wearing her signature red tap shoes. —Camille LeFevre
Francesco Gabriele Frola
Frola in John Neumeier’s Nijinsky. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic, courtesy NBoC.
First soloist, National Ballet of Canada
Few were surprised when Francesco Gabriele Frola vaulted out of the corps de ballet to become a first soloist with the National Ballet of Canada this season. The 23-year-old has been on an upward climb: In 2010, he took the bronze medal at the International Ballet Competition in Cuba, and in 2012, the silver at Helsinki. In 2014, he received the Patron Award of Merit from NBoC.
Since then, Frola has continued to scale new heights. An understudy for the role of Prince Florimund in The Sleeping Beauty last season, he commanded the spotlight when injuries left artistic director Karen Kain no choice but to cast an untried corps dancer in the role. With his eloquent port de bras, expressive musicality and smoldering sex appeal, Frola amply demonstrated that he was more than ready for the challenge, earning a standing ovation. —Deirdre Kelly
Miller as Titania. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB.
Apprentice, New York City Ballet
Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream demands a luxuriously leggy Titania. New York City Ballet has an impressive stable of them these days, including, as of the final day of the company’s spring 2015 season, the previously anonymous apprentice Miriam Miller.
Well, not quite anonymous: At 5' 9", she has the requisite legs in spades, making her eye-catching in even the most faceless corps roles. But as Titania, Miller displayed the easy authority of a marquee-name star. A natural actress with beautifully expansive technique, she gave us every side of Titania: the gracious monarch, the strong-willed wife, the sweetly daffy spell victim. Though she had a few wobbles—it takes a lot of strength to control those limbs—nothing appeared to shake her. Indeed, Miller seems blessed with the very Titania-like ability to laugh off her own foibles, secure in the fact that the stage is her kingdom, and she its queen. —Margaret Fuhrer
Corps member, Mariinsky Ballet
Shakirovav in Laurencia. Photo by Natasha Razina, courtesy Mariinsky.
The Mariinsky Ballet likes to push ballerinas young, but Renata Shakirova is setting new records. The sprightly brunette started dancing soloist roles with the company while still a Vaganova Ballet Academy student. By the time she graduated last summer, her buoyant jump and precocious technical polish had earned her debuts as Princess Florine, the lead in Balanchine’s “Rubies” and in Alexei Ratmansky’s Concerto DSCH.
Now officially in the corps de ballet, director Yuri Fateyev is grooming the 20-year-old for stardom: She made her debut as Kitri in Don Quixote, her dream role, in October, and will dance Juliet in February. This past fall, she was also featured in the Russian TV competition “Bolshoi Ballet” alongside Kimin Kim, the Mariinsky’s young Korean star. There is a captivating sense of wonder and joy about her as she claims her place in the Mariinsky repertoire, and the world stage might very well be next. —Laura Cappelle
Photo by Nathan Sayers
Corps member, American Ballet Theatre
Brought up in Larkspur, Colorado, Sterling Baca still has about him a whiff of the West: an expansiveness and self-confidence that feels both unfettered and relaxed. Perhaps that’s why, when he had his debut in Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free as the Second Sailor—the one who gets to dance with the girl—it felt so right. His pas de deux with Gillian Murphy packed some heat. “I connected to the role,” he says. “I kind of am that character,” new to the city, full of romantic possibility. Baca is in his fourth year in the corps at American Ballet Theatre, but last season was a bit of a whirlwind. Besides Fancy Free, he also had a turn as the seductive purple-booted von Rothbart in Kevin McKenzie’s Swan Lake, a variation in which, as he says, “you get to showcase pretty much everything a male dancer does.” And this past fall, he was paired up with both Misty Copeland and Isabella Boylston in Twyla Tharp’s The Brahms-Haydn Variations, and with Murphy, again, in Mark Morris’ new After You. —Marina Harss
Photo by Stephan Walzl, courtesy Skapetowska
A former Lar Lubovitch dancer, Katarzyna Skarpetowska credits him as an influence for her organic, seamless movement. But her dances have a distinct voice, effortlessly treading the line between classical and contemporary technique. Each emerges from a dramatic or emotional idea to evoke “a very particular world,” she says, whether of tension and strife or cosmic harmony. For example, Polaris, inspired by an image from the Hubble Space Telescope, etches the cosmos across the stage—dancers surge along the floor through glittering pinpoints of light, or spin together in place in a way you never want to end. Though she had her first commission in 2002, Skarpetowska’s career now seems poised for flight, with increasing commissions from the likes of Parsons Dance and Richmond Ballet.
Sanchez rehearsing Guys and Dolls. Photo by Peter Coombs, Courtesy The Marriott Theatre.
Musical theater choreographer
Though as a performer he’s a Broadway vet, Alex Sanchez has yet to choreograph on the Great White Way. But he has proven his mastery of the form across the country, off-Broadway and at some of the most prestigious regional theaters. Last spring, it was a dynamic production of Guys and Dolls at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, showing all the tools in his arsenal: lyrical partnering, kick-line routines, comic interludes. But he topped himself with “The Crapshooters’ Dance,” digging deep into his bag of ballet tricks and sending the scene’s rambunctious gamblers diving to the floor, spinning across the set, jumping toward the flies. He knows how to move large groups of dancers, and how to make small groups look large. And his own career is likely to be looking large soon. —Sylviane Gold
Dancer, “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 12 tour
Nowakowski (right) and Alex Wong during the “SYTYCD” finale. Photo courtesy Foxflash.
Jim Nowakowski has the kind of backstory that’s catnip for “So You Think You Can Dance” producers. Born in South Korea and adopted by an American family at six months old, he underwent multiple surgeries to correct a cleft lip and palate, which made him a target for schoolyard bullies.
But that narrative, moving as it is, faded to the background over the course of Nowakowski’s run on Season 12. It was overshadowed by the pure thrill of his dancing: high-octane, astonishingly controlled, girded by the rock-solid technique he honed during his eight years with Houston Ballet. Nowakowski’s remarkable versatility—he looked nearly as impressive in hip-hop routines as he did in ballet—earned him comparisons to fellow ballet-pro-turned-“SYT”-star Alex Wong. And his elimination just before the finale episode provoked a storm of social media outrage from #TeamJim.
Currently on tour with “SYTYCD,” Nowakowski faces a future full of diverse options: A commercial dance career? A convention gig? A triumphant return to ballet? Whatever he chooses, he can rely on the continued adoration of his devoted “SYT” and classical fans alike.
Dori in Edwaard Liang's Murmuration. Photo by Amitava Sakar, courtesy Houston Ballet.
Corps member, Houston Ballet
Shahar Dori, Houston Ballet’s first Israeli dancer, journeyed far from home to make his dream come true. First a hip-hop dancer, he got hooked on ballet after a teacher at his arts high school in Haifa, Israel, suggested he take it to improve his technique. He studied at Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company for two years before making the difficult decision to leave Israel for a summer scholarship at Montgomery Ballet in Alabama. After snagging another scholarship to Houston Ballet Academy, he joined the company in 2012.
Now 23, Dori is a standout in the corps de ballet. He has been chosen for meaty parts, cast in Mark Morris’ premiere The Letter V, and as understudy for the lead role of the groom in Jirí Kylián’s Svadebka. He’s a strong dancer with smooth technique, capable of expressing great depth and feeling onstage. And his underdog path has made him determined to succeed.
Thatcher leading a rehearsal at SFB. Photo by Erik Tomasson, courtesy SFB.
As far as breakout years go, it would be hard to top Myles Thatcher’s 2015 season. In February, under the tutelage of Alexei Ratmansky via the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, Thatcher premiered Manifesto, his first regular-season commission for San Francisco Ballet, where he has danced in the corps since 2010. His richly musical choreography—he has a gift for layering movement on a score’s syncopations, downbeats and underlying rhythms—proved both abstract and infused with feeling. By the end of the year, Thatcher completed commissions for Joffrey Ballet and New York City Ballet. Along the way he developed a method for handling the pressure: “First you freak out, then you celebrate. And then you freak out again,” he says with a laugh. That humility is apparent as Thatcher, now 25, continues to hone his talent on world-class stages: “Every day,” he muses, “I can’t believe this is happening.” —Claudia Bauer
Dancer, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet
Figgins in Jorma Elo's 1st Flash. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy ASFB.
One look at Jenelle Figgins in motion and you feel as though you’re watching your old friend. Her interpretations, technically and artistically, are refreshingly clean and clear; onstage, she feels sincerely human. But that’s not to say she dances without glamour, spirit or smolder. At Dance Theatre of Harlem, she proved she could take on the classical and the contemporary. This season, Figgins joined Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, where choreographers like Kylián, Fonte and Elo are king. Audiences will find themselves falling in love with Figgins, and that royal court of choreographers, all over again, when they see her honest approach. —Kristin Schwab
Dancer, Visceral Dance Chicago
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy Visceral Dance Chicago.
Even when Visceral Dance Chicago’s Caitlin Cucchiara is part of a large group piece, your eyes gravitate to her. A petite, perfectly proportioned dancer, Cucchiara’s seamless lyricism, clarity and emotional intensity give her an unusually magnetic stage presence. Watch her finesse the most complex partnering, and you have the sense that her partner can almost sit back and relax, knowing she is totally in control.
Cucchiara was formerly a member of Thodos Dance Chicago, where she was a standout in A Light in the Dark, portraying the young Helen Keller in the one-act story ballet choreographed by Ann Reinking and Melissa Thodos. “I knew from the moment I saw Caitlin that she would be the start of what I wanted in my company,” says Visceral artistic director Nick Pupillo. “There’s just something about the way she feels and interprets things, the ways she draws the audience in.”
Dancer, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Photo by Andrew Eccles, courtesy Ailey.
A marvel of power and poise, Jacquelin Harris is one of the brightest lights at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Repertory doesn’t lie, and Harris is a natural, having graced the stage in Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain Pas de Deux, Ailey’s Pas de Duke and Matthew Rushing’s ODETTA. Of course, she’s conquered Ailey’s Revelations too, as one of the leads in the iconic “Wade in the Water” section.
And to think: This Charlotte native only just joined the company in 2014. At 23, she has plenty of time to grow in dimension, but one key to her allure is her earthy serenity. Does her love of math—she has a dance degree from Fordham University and The Ailey School, but is a mere three courses away from completing her math minor—have anything to do with her musicality? Perhaps. She eats up space with zest, but best of all is her simple grandeur: She reveals intimacy and liveliness without a drop of sentiment. —Gia Kourlas
Photo by High Concept Laboratories, courtesy Oliver.
Jamal Oliver, aka Litebulb, makes footworking look easy, despite its demands for blistering speed and superhuman precision. A descendant of Chicago house dance, footwork resembles tap, hip hop and skating on air; the lower limbs are a blur. Litebulb’s approach is squeaky clean as he propels flexed feet in and out, jumps into semblances of third and fourth position and flings his legs to the side. His arms and hands have expressiveness uncommon in street dance, and his torso can be uncannily still, or fluid and eloquent.
Litebulb first learned about footworking from watching locals in his neighborhood, but by high school, he had the opportunity to learn from some of the masters and innovators of the form. These days the 25-year-old Chicagoan tours nationally and internationally with The Era, the troupe he co-founded in 2014. He hopes to take footworking in new directions this summer, with his multimedia evening-length Living at 160 (the number comes from the beats per minute of footwork music). It’s a project made possible by his recent appointment as a 2015 Lab Artist by the Chicago Dancemakers Forum. —Laura Molzahn
Photo by Rachel Neville, courtesy Trainor.
Small but robust, Trainor Dance premiered at seemingly every dance hot spot in the Northeast last year, from Jacob’s Pillow to The Yard. With the fearless choreographer Caitlin Trainor at the helm, and a diverse collection of high-profile freelancers like Kaitlyn Gilliland at her side, the company offers a refreshing blend of highly formal but intensely human repertoire. Trainor’s movement resists classical patterns—a result of her late introduction to modern dance—but maintains clear lines and shapes. No two dancers in her company execute her movement the same. “I like to see unexpected pairings,” she says, “such as a petite woman lifting a muscular man, or very fast, light movement to a slow melody.” Odds are Trainor will continue to move in unexpected directions.
Norbert De La Cruz III
De La Cruz taking a bow with the dancers of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy ASFB.
Like a scene out of the show “The X--Files,” seven lit squares appear on a dark stage, each containing a dancer, as if caught in an alien tractor beam pulling them skyward. This opening scene from rising choreographer Norbert De La Cruz III’s Square None for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet illustrates his keen photographic eye, and talent for dreaming up the unexpected. The 27--year--old, who was born in the Philippines and raised in East Los Angeles, mixes the precision of classical ballet technique with the groundedness of modern dance to create movement that is as intriguing in detail as it is in structure. A stylistically diverse choreographer, he is at home creating sophisticated contemporary ballets for ASFB and more avant--garde works for Tulsa Ballet II and BalletX. In 2016, the New York City–-based De La Cruz says he will forgo his freelance performing career to focus on choreographing full-time. —Steve Sucato
Photo by Rachel Neville, courtesy Guy.
Tamisha Guy is a jumble of contradictions in the best possible sense: She marries ease and strength, regality and earthliness, balletic lift and sultry swagger. In Kyle Abraham’s The Gettin’, which Abraham.In.Motion toured last season (her first with the company), the former Graham dancer brought seamlessness to his whipping, twisting movement tornadoes, but never lost the importance of the punctuation, be it a narrative gesture or slicing arabesque. It can be hard for some dancers to bring clarity to Abraham’s filled-to-the-brim movement phrases. But when Guy takes the stage, you’re in for a smooth, wild ride.
Première danseuse, Paris Opéra Ballet
Baulac in La Belle au bois dormant. Photo by Sébastien Mathé, Courtesy POB.
For Benjamin Millepied, Léonore Baulac has become a symbol of the change he wants to bring to the Paris Opéra Ballet, combining French refinement with an appealing sense of freshness. Baulac unsuccessfully auditioned for the POB School as a child before joining as a paying student at age 15. She entered the corps de ballet in 2008, but went mostly unnoticed, despite bright turns as Olympia in The Lady of the Camellias and in the company premiere of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Rain.
Since Millepied’s arrival in 2014, however, Baulac’s career has skyrocketed. In addition to being promoted to première danseuse (first soloist), she’s had debuts in The Nutcracker and Paquita, and was featured in the opening ceremony of the Cannes film festival in a piece created by Millepied. With her preternatural fluidity, Baulac also takes to American-style neoclassicism with ease. This fall, she was one of the stars of Millepied’s latest creation, Clear, Loud, Bright, Forward; for her, it’s full speed ahead.
Felder in Yuri Possokhov's Classical Symphony. Photo by Kim Kenney, courtesy Atlanta Ballet.
Dancer, Atlanta Ballet
As much a solo dancer as she is a creative collaborator, Kiara Felder reflects her city’s vibe and her company’s style. Last season at Atlanta Ballet, Felder nailed the quick, precise pointework of Yuri Possokhov’s Classical Symphony, then dug wholeheartedly into Ohad Naharin’s Gaga-infused Minus 16. In Tara Lee’s the swimmer, she moved as if electricity coursed through her spine and limbs, creating fluidly sculpted curves. With bold lines, buoyant leaps and an undeniably bright stage presence, the 25-year-old is emerging on Atlanta Ballet’s forefront.
—Cynthia Bond Perry
Diaz and Campbell. Photo by Christopher Duggan, courtesy MADBOOTS.
Modern dance troupe
What sets MADBOOTS DANCE apart from other young troupes is its physical and emotional fearlessness. The work tackles male relationships with a queer sensibility that transcends sexuality. Since inaugurating their joint venture in 2011, Austin Diaz and Jonathan Campbell—with pedigrees from Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and The Juilliard School, respectively—are making a unique mark on concert dance with highly original movement that pushes skill and stamina to the limit. Both Campbell and Diaz are also prodigious dancers, slithering and streaking through space with dazzling agility.
MADBOOTS DANCE’s new evening-length piece for five men, (Sad Boys), closed the season at Jacob’s Pillow’s Doris Duke Theatre in August, toured to Toronto in December and will head to Vancouver in February. BEAU., which also premiered at Jacob’s Pillow, will tour to Atlanta in March. A commission for Point Park University dancers will premiere in April, sharing the bill with A-listers Larry Keigwin and Sonya Tayeh. —Gus Solomons jr
Photo by Ajja Deshayne, courtesy Ichinose.
Dancer, Nuremberg Ballet
Hiroki Ichinose is a chameleon, and at 23 years old, he’s already got the resumé to prove it. Since graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2013, the Maui native has worked with Kyle Abraham, Aszure Barton, and Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener, recently portraying a supple, slippery knight in shining armor in Mitchell’s Light Years.
Ichinose has the kind of facility that most dancers dream of. But rather than relying on elegant lines, he uses his abilities to push past his boundaries, moving seamlessly through transitions that appear nearly impossible to even the trained eye. He captivates audiences with his uniquely subtle approach. It’s this quality that has no doubt led him to his next dance venture overseas at Nuremberg Ballet. —Ali Castro
Veintimilla (front) starred opposite Chita Rivera (seated) in Broadway’s The Visit. Photo by Thom Kaine, courtesy O&M Co.
It takes guts to make your Broadway debut alongside Chita Rivera. But Michelle Veintimilla did just that, and more than held her own. Less than a year after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, she captivated audiences as the shadowy, ghostlike younger self of Rivera’s character Claire in The Visit, approaching even the simplest movements with sensitivity. “If Chita moved a shoulder a certain way, I had to figure out how she might have moved her shoulder when she was 16,” she says. In the show’s most powerful moment, a haunting pas de deux between the two, Veintimilla brought out the choreography’s subtleties, evoking the music’s melancholy with every slow backbend and flip of her skirt. Called the “most affecting” pas de deux of all on Broadway last season by The New York Times, the chemistry between Rivera and Veintimilla held the audience spellbound, and Veintimilla proved herself a force to reckon with in her own right. —Suzannah Friscia
Photo by Nathan Sayers
Dancer, Dance Theatre of Harlem
Watching Nayara Lopes perform, you could be fooled into thinking the human body was made to stand on pointe. With her uncanny sense of balance (plus beautifully placed épaulement and port de bras) she makes even the trickiest pointework look natural. After launching her career in Orlando Ballet II, Lopes won an apprenticeship to National Ballet of Canada from a top 12 finish at Youth America Grand Prix in 2011. The Brazilian dancer joined Dance Theatre of Harlem two seasons ago, taking on the company’s wide-ranging repertoire with her signature ease: She radiates a sense of effortless calm onstage no matter what kind of choreography she’s tackling. The effect creates a quiet but spell-binding stage presence that pulls the audience in—and keeps them wanting more.
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.
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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."