These Are Our "25 to Watch" Picks for 2019
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.
Photo by Jayme Thornton
Evan Ruggiero's story started as something out of A Chorus Line—aged 5, he said, "I can do that" after seeing his sister's dance class. He got so good he performed with the New Jersey Tap Ensemble, and was obviously headed to Broadway after college. But when he was diagnosed with bone cancer at 19, the story veered off its well-worn track and became something else altogether—inspirational amputee tap dancer on YouTube graduates to a dance career as the latter-day incarnation of the legendary Clayton "Peg Leg" Bates.
Nearly a decade after his diagnosis, Ruggiero is rewriting the story yet again. Not content to remain a novelty act, he danced, leapt, fenced and fought his way through the rollicking off-off Broadway musical Bastard Jones, a boisterous adaptation of the 18th-century novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. As the lusty, big-hearted title character, he was alternately charming, funny, soulful—and he can sing, too. The production did nothing to disguise his prosthetic leg—it became a comic prop or a handy weapon as necessary, and melted away the rest of the time, just part of his mesmerizing dance toolbox. —Sylviane Gold
Photo by Karolina Kuras, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada
With his debut as Bluebird in Rudolf Nureyev's production of The Sleeping Beauty last spring, National Ballet of Canada corps member Siphesihle November quickly established himself as the rightful heir to one of the most challenging male parts in the classical repertoire. While standing only 5' 7", November dances tall. His buoyant jump and clean lines were honed at Canada's National Ballet School, but he possesses a charisma that comes from his early years dancing to kwaito, an energetic style of house music popular in his hometown of Zolani, South Africa.
His debut in the virtuoso role came less than nine months after his graduation from NBS. The now-20-year-old has already further tested his innate talents this season on Puck, the impish fairy driving the plot in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Dream. "I think it's any dancer's ambition to get out of the corps and take on more solo roles," November says. "I am looking forward to the next chapter." —Deirdre Kelly
Sophie Miklosovic as a Wili in Giselle. Photo by Jennifer Zmuda, Courtesy BalletMet
A mix of youthful innocence and vulnerability characterized Sophie Miklosovic's Juliet this past August. Dancing Romeo and Juliet's balcony scene pas de deux, she attained a level of artistry that equaled her expert technique. Delicate port de bras accompanied textbook footwork as Miklosovic embodied Juliet's elation and trepidation.
The former competition dancer from Detroit says she always had an affinity for tiaras, but that competing was more than that: It was instrumental in honing her natural skills as a dancer. She earned top honors at the 2015 and 2016 Youth America Grand Prix and a gold medal at the 2017 World Ballet Competition. BalletMet artistic director Edwaard Liang hired her in 2017 when she was only 17.
Despite her many early successes, Miklosovic says the constant challenge of ballet keeps her grounded: "Working to achieve something difficult in a split second is what keeps me going." —Steve Sucato
Taylor (right) in her PowerShift. Photo by David Gonsier, Courtesy Taylor
With a natural facility that speaks contemporary and hip-hop languages fluently, Micaela Taylor got her professional start dancing for renowned Los Angeles companies like BODYTRAFFIC and Ate9. But since founding The TL Collective in 2016, she has chosen to perform exclusively in her own unique vocabulary, a fusion of styles she dubs "contemporary/pop." Informed by her training in both Vaganova and commercial dance, it's a quirky mix of funky moves layered over a more formal, grounded modern technique, full of jutting elbows and juicy knees.
The daughter of a pastor, Taylor has a big vision and is not afraid to reflect on difficult themes ranging from information overload to community crisis. A subtle spirituality emanates from her dances through an intuitive musicality that utilizes syncopation and counterpoint. Yet, even in fast, complex phrases of movement and gesture, Taylor and The TL Collective surprise in their ability to come together in virtuosic unison.
With upcoming premieres for both BODYTRAFFIC and Gibney Dance Company, as well as an Inside/Out appearance at Jacob's Pillow and a full-evening premiere at L.A.'s Ford Amphitheatre for her own company later this year, Taylor's theatrical street style is fast finding support and enthusiastic audiences on both coasts. —Candice Thompson
Aran Bell with Devon Teuscher in Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT
Performing Romeo as a 19-year-old corps member would be a feat at any company. But at American Ballet Theatre, where it can take dancers near decades to land promotions and principal roles, it's nothing short of a coup. Yet when Aran Bell did just that last summer—in New York City, at the Metropolitan Opera House, no less—he did it with a gravitas it takes most dancers years to develop and a sincerity only an actual teenager could bring to the role.
Bell was hardly an unknown before his debut. He was profiled in the 2011 documentary First Position, where at age 11 he was already raking in awards and turning like a top. But he hasn't rested on his prodigy laurels. Though he's still a virtuoso technician, he's also a refined actor with an unflagging work ethic—he even spent an extra year in the ABT Studio Company in the midst of a challenging growth spurt. Now 6' 3", he's a natural partner, dancing with some of ABT's starriest women, such as Misty Copeland and Stella Abrera. But his Romeo debut was perhaps his greatest triumph thus far, tackling Sir Kenneth MacMillan's near-impossible lifts with ease and finesse. —Lauren Wingenroth
Photo by Michael Erlewine, Courtesy Gareiss
Mild-mannered radical Nic Gareiss is not just one to watch, but one to hear. He brushes, scrapes, scratches and strokes the floor from a repertoire of moves and sounds drawn from various traditional step-dance forms—Appalachian clogging and Irish and Canadian step dance, to name a few. He susurrates, whispers and sibilates with his feet in gently subversive ways—mindful of the forms' conventions and then questioning and playing with them so that they speak to us as aptly today as one hundred, two hundred, three hundred years ago.
The Michigan-born dancer charms you the moment he enters his intimate performance spaces—a gentle, sweet smile lighting his face, eyes lowered. "When I walk into a room," he says, "there's a sense of beginning with quietness, of dynamic build. Everything feels like it's about pleasure and how can we share pleasure together in this moment, between performer and audience."
For the past six years, Gareiss has spent an average of 36 weeks a year on the road, wherever new projects and fellow sound-making collaborators beckon. In 2019 he is taking the art and tradition of step dancing to people one home at a time with his show Solo Square Dance. How big is your living room? All he needs is an 8' by 8' space and your attention. —Emma Sandall
Chisako Oga with David Morse in Balanchine's Serenade. Photo by Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet
Whether executing snappy, precision pointe work as Coppélia or graceful turns and leaps as the Russian Girl in Balanchine's Serenade, Chisako Oga arrests attention. The 22-year-old technical wunderkind showcased all those qualities, plus riveting acting abilities, during her first season with Cincinnati Ballet as Guinevere in artistic director Victoria Morgan's King Arthur's Camelot. Oga's passionate dancing melted hearts and sent pulses racing with daring runs and leaps into her partner's arms.
Born in Dallas, Oga swiftly rose from trainee at the San Francisco Ballet School in 2015 to Cincinnati Ballet principal dancer in 2017. Her talents won her a silver medal at the 2016 Shanghai International Ballet Competition and a bronze at the 2018 USA International Ballet Competition. Says Oga, "I want to be the kind of dancer that touches hearts and inspires people." —Steve Sucato
Maria Khoreva with Xander Parish in Balanchine's Apollo. Photo by Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre
Her frequent dance videos and musings in English have earned 18-year-old Maria Khoreva more Instagram followers than superstars Diana Vishneva and Maria Kochetkova. While it's hardly a guarantee of stage success, she isn't just a social media phenomenon. Her airy precision and lively stage personality won over the Mariinsky Ballet, too: Within a month of her graduation from the Vaganova Ballet Academy last summer, she had joined the company and was dancing Terpsichore in Balanchine's Apollo, as well as a pas de deux from Sir Frederick Ashton's Marguerite and Armand, alongside principal Xander Parish.
Khoreva has been documenting her transition into company life through sweet, cheerful Instagram posts about everything from muscle fatigue to St. Petersburg weather. Thanks to her popularity, she is a Nike ambassador and Bloch has made her a spokesperson. This savvy Russian ballerina already has a global audience at her fingertips. —Laura Cappelle
Roman Mejia in Balanchine's Allegro Brillante. Photo by Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB
New York City Ballet has a long tradition of testing young corps members with leading roles. But no one has had quite as fast a rise lately as 19-year-old Roman Mejia—and he seems perfectly ready for more. Last February, just three months after joining the corps, he was handed the meaty role of Mercutio in Peter Martins' Romeo + Juliet. Wearing a sly, side-cocked smile, he danced with a perfect mixture of musicality, thrilling bravura and unflappable self-confidence. In the same season, he danced soloist roles in Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free and The Four Seasons, his performances as instinctive as if to the manner born.
In a way, he was. Mejia is the son of former NYCB dancer Paul Mejia and Fort Worth Dallas Ballet principal Maria Terezia Balogh. He trained at his parents' school in Texas before following in his father's footsteps at School of American Ballet and NYCB. Compact and boyish, Mejia is a shoo-in for NYCB's Edward Villella roles (he's already tackled Tarantella at the Vail Dance Festival). And with the recent retirement of principal Joaquin De Luz adding to the current dearth of leading men, we're likely to see a lot more of him. —Amy Brandt
Benjamin Freemantle in Trey McIntyre's Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB
When Fred Astaire danced with a hat rack, and Gene Kelly with an umbrella, their exuberance infused life into those inanimate objects. Benjamin Freemantle did the same with a wooden footstool in the world premiere of Trey McIntyre's Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem, during San Francisco Ballet's Unbound festival. In a feat of choreographic galvanism, Freemantle made us believe the stool was his partner, tenderly cradling it, balancing it and rolling over it with more than enough lyricism for them both.
Freemantle, just 22 at the time and recently named a soloist, came into his own during Unbound, also dancing featured roles created on him by Christopher Wheeldon and Dwight Rhoden. But it wasn't the Vancouver native's debut in the spotlight. In his first year in the corps, he danced Lensky in Onegin opposite Dores André's Olga. Since, he's also created a part in Benjamin Millepied's The Chairman Dances—Quartet for Two and snagged soloist spots in Wheeldon's Cinderella and Helgi Tomasson's Swan Lake. Those roles barely tapped Freemantle's talent, his star turn in Unbound showing that there are even greater things to come. —Claudia Bauer
Pioneer Winter Collective
Marjorie Burnett and Pioneer Winter in his Gimp Gait. Photo by Mitchell Zachs, Courtesy Winter
Pioneer Winter Collective confronts issues all too often ignored. With technical rigor and unflinching rapport, director Pioneer Winter and his collaborators skillfully tackle topics concerning people of varied physical ability, body type, gender identity and sexual orientation. For example, in Reprise, a gay man of color commands, from his wheelchair, unison poses or the foot rhythms of a flamenco dancer. As compliance erupts into rebellion and control swerves into cooperation, moves traverse spheres of power and turn trespass into authority.
PWC also ventures beyond theaters: Through LEAP (Leaders of Equality through Arts and Performance), a framework the company uses to engage the community in social justice dialogue, it held creative leadership summits for LGBTQ youth and allies in 2017 and 2018. Its biennial Grass Stains fosters site-specific works by choreographers and performance-based artists with alternative outlooks. Ahead lie more pieces about intersectionality, including a commission featuring a young basketball wiz, as well as more site-specific work and films. Every project champions the striving for personal authenticity, for in life as in art, Winter insists, "being truly human can be the hardest part." —Guillermo Perez
Wubkje Kuindersma rehearsing Two and Only. Photo by Altin Kaftira, Courtesy Dutch National Ballet
It didn't take long for Wubkje Kuindersma to establish herself as a choreographer on Dutch National Ballet's stage. In just 10 minutes, her Two and Only portrayed rare emotional intimacy between two men—veteran principal Marijn Rademaker and an apprentice, Timothy van Poucke. The duet she crafted was full of fluid, musical partnering, capturing the emotion in two folk songs performed live by singer-songwriter Michael Benjamin without ever looking sappy. It stood out even alongside a work by Hans van Manen, the Dutch neoclassical master, earning Rademaker a Benois de la Danse nomination.
Born in Cameroon, Kuindersma trained in Rotterdam and danced with companies including Danish Dance Theatre and Wayne McGregor's Random Dance. Since 2009, she has steadily built up her resumé as a freelance choreographer. 2018 turned into a breakthrough year: Following Two and Only, she served as an Artistic Partnership Initiative Fellow at New York University's Center for Ballet and the Arts. In November, she also premiered a new work for Philadelphia's BalletX. Add Kuindersma to the list of female choreographers ready for bigger stages. —Laura Cappelle
Adeene Denton giving her TedX talk, "Netflix and Chill at 0 Kelvin." Photo by TedXProvidence, Courtesy Denton
If a graduate student, when asked about their intended career, states they're going to be an astronaut, it's best to take them at their word. Since coming to Brown University in 2016 to earn her Ph.D. in planetary geology, Adeene Denton has used her dance practice to consider how bodies might move and generate meaning during interstellar travel. Her research question, as articulated in her hilarious TEDx talk, "Netflix and Chill at 0 Kelvin," is, roughly, How will we dance when unconstrained by gravity?
This is no idle speculation. For NASA to engage in long-duration space flight, creative culture must be considered alongside more obviously scientific concerns. (Getting to Mars takes a super-long time. Art and expressiveness help prevent astronauts from getting bored.) Denton, meanwhile, has a terrestrial repertory—charged, intricate dances that have been shown around New England—and her recent research makes her arguably the best-suited individual on the planet to choreograph in microgravity. This is the mark of a specific brand of dance innovator: the scientist-artist who, by dint of their research, composes the outer limits of a field that doesn't quite exist. Yet. —Sydney Skybetter
Tanya Chianese in rehearsal. Photo by Rob Best, Courtesy Chianese
With visceral, sometimes uncomfortably intimate dance, choreographer Tanya Chianese took on sexual harassment in her 2018 work Nevertheless. Accompanied by the a cappella group Cat Call Choir, Nevertheless packed an emotional wallop. Buzz about it even reached Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (who inspired the feminist catchphrase "Nevertheless, she persisted"); Warren's assistant called to congratulate the Oakland-based choreographer on her work.
Whether her topic is hard-hitting or abstract, Chianese, 30, draws you along a story arc with a sense of theatrical composition that's rare among choreographers more than twice her age. That quality has been apparent since the evening-length debut of her company, ka∙nei∙see collective, in 2015's Cookie Cutter. She risked twee obviousness by using actual cookie cutters as props, but the result was a wry referendum on conformity. In 2016's Duchamp-inspired Readymade, dancers unfurled dozens of toilet paper rolls during a kaleidoscope of solos, duets and ensembles. "My company name is a play on the words 'can I see,' " Chianese says. "What are you seeing? It's finding the things that change our perspective." —Claudia Bauer
Photo by Rachel Neville, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet
Harmonies emanate from Jessica He as she springs into arabesques in Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, her port de bras generous, her feet as sensitive as a pianist's hands. In Craig Davidson's Remembrance/Hereafter, she plunges into spiraling falls and inverted lifts with urgency and a disarming sense of trust in her partners. In Balanchine's Who Cares? she lingers for a split second at the top of each high développé, her hips and shoulders coyly catching Gershwin's pulse.
He in Craig Davidson's Remembrance/Hereafter. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet.
The California-born graduate of The Rock School for Dance Education, newly recruited into Atlanta Ballet from Houston Ballet II last season, breathes freshness into any work she dances. She showed grace under pressure when she stepped into the lead role in Davidson's ballet just three days before the premiere last March. The role drew attention to He's innate ability to dance inside the notes as if in tune with a composer's inspiration. This musicality, proportionately blended with technical strength and a palpable sense of joy, makes He an embodiment of classicism—and an emerging muse. —Cynthia Bond Perry
Photo by Richard Thach, Courtesy Culbreath
Joshua Culbreath gets to and from the floor like lightning. A 28-year-old veteran of the cypher and the stage, he combines speed with a determined improvisational style that draws you to the edge of your seat. Fierce and fast in the circle, a space that he says "is for talking to my closest friends," he insists it doesn't get more personal than a battle. By comparison, "It's a little like dreaming once that spotlight hits the stage. The audience fades."
Culbreath, aka BBoy Supa Josh, has performed for a decade with Rennie Harris Puremovement, where he also serves as rehearsal director and leads RHAW, its training company. Rarely idle, he dances often with Raphael Xavier and reps his own crew, Retro Flow. Fresh off the Red Bull BC One circuit, you can catch Culbreath playing in the pocket in his solos, where he aspires to be "an extra instrument" and dance with the music rather than to it. —Anna Drozdowski
Jasmine Harper with Neil Haskell on "So You Think You Can Dance." Photo by Adam Rose/FOX, Courtesy FOX
There's a deep soulfulness to Jasmine Harper's movement. Her dancing is precise, yet fluid, featuring an intricate musicality that's rare on today's commercial scene. In the five years since her stint on "So You Think You Can Dance," the 25-year-old has rocketed into Los Angeles' current commercial dance zeitgeist.
After performing with Beyoncé during her Super Bowl 50 performance in 2016, Harper appeared in the star's video for "Formation." Most recently, she danced with Queen Bey at Coachella (dubbed "Beychella" after the performance went viral), appeared in the iconic music video for "APES**T" that was filmed at the Louvre Museum, and performed in Beyoncé and Jay-Z's On the Run II tour last year.
"I try to let the music speak through my movement," she says. "I want the audience to feel what I feel when I'm performing." —Courtney Bowers
Sydney Dolan performing the pas de trois in Swan Lake. Photo by Arian Molina Soca, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet
Seventeen-year-old Sydney Dolan's career at Pennsylvania Ballet has been nothing short of meteoric. Last year, as an apprentice, the 2018 Princess Grace Award recipient performed Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty, Dewdrop in Balanchine's The Nutcracker, the pas de trois in Angel Corella's Swan Lake and Tall Girl in Balanchine's "Rubies."
"She's exceeded expectations with everything we've given her," says Corella, Pennsylvania Ballet's artistic director. "She's the perfect example of what an artistic director is looking for in a dancer: someone who works hard to get their reward. She's a wonder."
Now a member of the corps de ballet, Dolan's technique is equal parts clean, correct and dynamic, yet she brings an abandon to each role that's raw and knowing. "She's done so much in such a short time," Corella adds. "She's already a star now. Imagine what will happen when she becomes a principal." —Haley Hilton
Cristina Hall in Yann Lheureux's The Rare Birds: Cristina. Photo by François Martinez, Courtesy Hall
Cristina Hall crafts the lines of her body like an architect, no detail slipping her awareness. In traditional flamenco settings, she commands the space with her precise footwork and explosive energy. Her choreographies weave together unique body percussion with never-before-seen footwork combinations, using nontraditional production elements and addressing decidedly contemporary concerns. When she choreographed to Nina Simone's "Blackbird," impeccable technique allowed her to seamlessly merge flamenco's intense musicality with graceful strokes of her upper body. (The work was a finalist in the Sadler's Wells Global Dance Contest in 2011.) In 2017, she imaginatively combined flamenco and electronic music to explore what it means to be human in the digital age with Bionic, which won Madrid's Tetuán District Choreographic Contest.
As an American flamenco artist in Spain, Hall has relentlessly fought to prove herself. Perhaps that struggle fuels her palpable emotion onstage: Her willingness to be vulnerable lends an honesty and realness to her presence. With her dazzling originality, Hall is breaking boundaries in flamenco and beyond. —Alice Blumenfeld
Shamar Wayne Watt
Shamar Wayne Watt in his Gully spring: Di exhortation. Photo by Scott Shaw, Courtesy Watt
Jamaican-born dancer Shamar Wayne Watt demands the audience's full attention; his focus slices through the room like a laser. In his Gully spring: Di exhortation, a plastic gallon jug of water slowly drips over his head as he circles the microphone hanging just above mouth level. Watt's spoken text interrogates white supremacy and colonialism; his delivery is akin to a revolutionary preacher. Both movement and voice demonstrate a deft sense of tension and flow.
The Bessie-nominated artist has worked with nora chipaumire since he was a student at Florida State University. "I immediately gravitated toward the unapologetically intelligent, nonconforming and hyper-swaggering blackness she exudes," Watt says—a description that could fit him, as well. Now, as his career moves forward, Watt is interested in developing what he describes as an insurgent aesthetic, revaluing bodies, perceptions and stories that have been deemed without value. —Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone
Paul Morland with Rashaun Mitchell in Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener's SWITCH. Photo by Paula Lobo, Courtesy Morland
When Paul Morland dances, the very air molecules around him seem to vibrate. Whether he's immersed in MADBOOTS DANCE's aggressive, hyperphysical vocabulary or Gallim's syrupy, humanistic rituals, he tackles movement with a ferocious attack and an inexplicable elasticity. His calm, considered manner makes the flurry of motion spinning out from his zen center seem perfectly natural. Some dancers seem to bend time; he bends space, as well.
The former competition kid (and New York City Dance Alliance Foundation Dance Magazine College Scholarship winner) has all of the tricks you might expect, plus the smooth contemporary technique that's a signature of his alma mater, New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Both have been put to good use: Since graduating in 2017, Morland has performed in Andrea Miller's Stone Skipping at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, appeared at The Joyce Theater with both MADBOOTS and Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener, and traveled from La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in New York City to Italy's Spoleto Festival with Stefanie Batten Bland. These days, you can find him touring the U.S. with the Hofesh Shechter–choreographed Fiddler on the Roof, dancing in the ensemble and portraying the titular fiddler. —Courtney Escoyne
Photo by Lee Gumbs Photography, Courtesy Payne
When it first hit the competition stage, Easton Payne's work—set to bold song choices like classic Frank Sinatra, and devoid of standard tilts and pirouettes—was a breath of fresh air. The 21-year-old choreographer started making waves on Instagram in 2015, posting one markedly different combo after another while cultivating something of a cult following in the process. Payne's unapologetic singularity quickly caught the eyes of dancers, teachers and commercial-world standouts alike. Soon, he was choreographing routines for some of the country's top competition kids, while getting cast in everything from concept videos with Tyce Diorio to fashion collaborations with Adidas.
Like any young professional, he has his fair share of career bucket list items (namely, choreographing a Broadway show). But for now, he's as content as can be, returning to Los Angeles when he isn't choreographing for studios across the country. "I will never truly fit the mold," he says, "but that's the common human experience—discovering how to 'fit' without sacrificing our innate shape." —Olivia Manno
Hadar Ahuvia (left), lily bo shapiro and Mor Mendel in Ahuvia's Everything you have is yours? Photo by Karl Cooney, Courtesy Ahuvia
Hadar Ahuvia's Everything you have is yours? teeters on the edge of disaster. She has a clear agenda, and sometimes stops for lecture-demonstration style moments that could easily turn didactic. But they somehow never do. Content that, in the hands of another choreographer, could feel like it's being shoved down an audience's throat is instead thoughtfully doled out with nuance and humor. Ahuvia takes risk after risk, and watches them each pay off in a powerful piece of dance theater—earning her a 2018 Bessie nomination for Outstanding Breakout Choreographer.
Looking at Ahuvia's performance resumé, her savvy, sophisticated style comes as no surprise: She's worked with downtown favorites like Sara Rudner, Anna Sperber and Jon Kinzel, and is a regular, compelling presence in the work of Reggie Wilson. But for the 33-year-old Israeli-American choreographer, a significant part of her practice happens offstage, through workshops where she teaches "deconstructed" versions of Israeli folk dances and imparts the context and complications she feels are all too often missing. —Lauren Wingenroth
Matty Davis in his Carriage. Photo by David Kasnic, Courtesy Davis
"I grew up just crushing my body against asphalt," says Matty Davis, who pursued aggressive rollerblading and snowboarding alongside baseball, soccer, hockey, and track and field. "I'd jump 24 stairs on a pair of skates and smash my crotch on a railing. I separated my shoulder and dislocated all the fingers on my left hand." After a table saw went through four of the fingers on his other hand, he had "a minor amputation, several bone fusions and a bone graft."
Combine that kind of pain threshold and appetite for risk with Davis' studious nature—he has a research-heavy creative process and two art degrees—and you get unforgettable choreography. Carriage, a series of intensely physical, site-specific duets with Ben Gould, occurred in a wide variety of locations, including the deck of a boat cruising between Chicago's riverside skyscrapers. Wood bone mill's escapades were set in and under a stately mulberry tree and repeated during each of the four seasons; in winter, three ground fires burned while Davis and Bryan Saner climbed, sparred and leapt from high branches.
Davis, just shy of 30 and based in New York City, remains cagey about dance. "I auditioned for a lot of companies back in the day and I'm grateful some of that stuff didn't work out," he says, laughing. In 2012, he co-founded BOOMERANG with Adrian Galvin and Kora Radella; they sunset the group as Davis prioritized other projects. This year, he'll continue collaborating with German filmmaker Hito Steyerl and, with Saner, plans to co-host an outdoor, immersive overnight workshop and performance. —Zachary Whittenburg
Stephanie Troyak brings the awkwardness of an ungainly colt to the soloist role in Pina Bausch's Seven Deadly Sins, a coveted part that she snagged in her first season with Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch. Her sprawling length blossoms into sweeping gestures of equal parts abandon and exactitude; her grit and acting chops are put to good use during the more disturbing sections of Bausch's psychological epic. "I feel at home in Pina's mix of theater and storytelling," says Troyak, a 24-year-old alum of the renowned Booker T. Washington High School for Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas.
Troyak in Pina Bausch's Seven Deadly Sins. Photo by Jochen Viehoff, Courtesy Troyak
Troyak's controlled wildness, perfect for pieces like Bausch's Rite of Spring, was developed during her time with Batsheva—The Young Ensemble, where she danced the earthy works of Ohad Naharin, Sharon Eyal and Danielle Agami. While at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and Batsheva, she tried her hand at choreography and has not stopped—much like the whirlwind swirl of her career. —Nancy Wozny
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."
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.
Sono Osato, a trailblazing ballet and musical theater dancer, passed away last Wednesday at her home in New York City.
Best known for originating the role of Miss Turnstiles in Jerome Robbins' hit On the Town—one of Broadway's first non-segregated musicals—Osato got her start at 14 as the youngest member of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, and as the troupe's first Japanese-American performer. She went on to dance for Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre), where she found success in New York City but was banned from touring in Mexico and California because of her Japanese background. For a brief time, Osato went by her mother's maiden name, Fitzpatrick, in an effort to escape the World War II-era anti-Japanese sentiment. During the war, her father was confined under military guard in Chicago as an enemy alien.
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."