Feng-Yi Sheu Taking Up the Mantle of Martha
“Go at your audience with a whip," Louis Horst used to tell Martha Graham. When the Martha Graham Dance Company came to City Center last April, its second New York season since winning back the rights to its own repertory, the whip was in one body: Fang-Yi Sheu. Even her name bites and slices. Small and dark, Sheu studied Graham technique with Ross Parkes in her native Taiwan and joined the Graham company in 1995. At City Center she took up the mantle of Graham and danced with scathing grandeur. In Hérodiade, she gave us indecision burnished like a blade. In Errand Into the Maze, her concentration was like compressed coal (remember, she's underground with the Minotaur). Nerve-jangled rhythms sheathed in smooth muscle, Sheu's dotted walk along the rope was primal power. She shows you the true monster: her mind, the anxiety spiral she's fighting. “I believe you must have a demonic technique," wrote Graham in Blood Memory. Hail Sheu, demon wings. www.marthagrahamdance.org —Laura Jacobs
Danny Tidwell Swift Mastery
At the premiere of Robert Hill's Dorian for American Ballet Theatre last year, one dancer soared above the rest. When Danny Tidwell leapt towards the arc lights and hung in the air for a long, surreal moment, the gasps in the audience were audible.
Tidwell, a 20-year-old corps member, has sculpted, elegant proportions and a kinetic ease that bely his late start in ballet. At 15, he won a scholarship to the Universal Ballet Academy. By 2002, he'd earned a silver at the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson [see DM, October, 2004, page 53] and entered ABT's Studio Company.
ABT's male roster is famously deep, but Tidwell stands out nonetheless. “Danny has innate timing," says Hill. “He's capable of changing the texture of his physical attack, which allows him to make extreme dynamic shifts." Tidwell knows his strengths—and goals. “Jumps and turns aren't hard; artistry is," he says. “To create a whole new world for the audience, that's the fantasy of ballet." www.abt.org —Hanna Rubin
Avichai Scher Young and Prolific
Twenty years old, and he's created more than 20 ballets. At 16, Avichai Scher, then an SAB student, created his first work for the school's Student Choreography Workshop. “I loved it, and the ideas kept coming. I'd work with dancers even when there were no production opportunities," he says. Since then, ABT Studio Company, Miami City Ballet School, Washington Ballet,
and Sacramento Ballet, among others, have danced his pieces.
For San Francisco Ballet School, Passing Fancies revealed sophistication in concept, structure, and musicality. SFB artistic director Helgi Tomasson says, “How someone moves people around in space, how they create structure, is telling. I sensed a hunger—this is what he wants."
Scher (pictured with Erena Ishii), now a corps dancer with Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley, wonders how he'll manage to choreograph along with dancing professionally—but he knows he doesn't want to wait. He'll be 21 soon—time for another ballet? www.balletsanjose.org —Cheryl Ossola
Uri Sands Choreography for the Gods
Uri Sands may be Charlotte's sexiest man (according to Creative Loafing Charlotte), but in Minneapolis, he's a dance deity. Last summer the choreographer debuted a new project, Space T.U. Embrace, in which he powered through a solo with an athletic blend of African, ballet, modern, symbolic, and ritualistic moves, before being joined by 15 multiracial dancers in a performance of generosity, grace, and primal power. A former dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Minnesota Dance Theatre, Sands commutes between his gig as principal dancer with North Carolina Dance Theater and his home in St. Paul, where he lives with his dance collaborator and wife, Toni Pierce-Sands (also a former Ailey dancer), and their son. Space T.U. Embrace is the pilot project of the couple's still unnamed company, and their dancers, practicing a diversity of styles from ballet to bharata natyam, exemplify the cultural richness of the Twin Cities dance community. In June, the company embraces Minneapolis audiences, once again, with new work and selections from Space at the Southern Theater. www.southerntheater.org —Camille LeFevre
Szabolcs Varga From Budapest to Boston
Looking like a wild gypsy boy, with his exotic features, tall, rangy body, and go-for-broke attack, Szabolcs Varga—known as Sabi—is a dancer on the move at the Boston Ballet. His freshness, passion, and focus got him cast in leading roles last season—Rudi van Dantzig's Romeo and Juliet, and Balanchine's Duo Concertant—and artistic director Mikko Nissinen promoted him from the corps to second soloist.
The Hungarian-born Varga was awarded “Best Young Dancer" at the third annual Rudolph Nureyev International Ballet Competition in 1997, a year before graduating from the Hungarian National Dance Academy in Budapest. Nissinen scooped him up first for the Alberta Ballet, then brought him to Boston in 2002. “Every guest choreographer wants to work with him," Nissinen says. “He absolutely has principal potential." www.bostonballet.org —Iris Fanger
Maria Gillespie Riding a Hungry Edge
A pocket-sized powerhouse who delights in mercurial shifts of kinetic extremes, Maria Gillespie is a mesmerizing performer, beloved teacher, and rising choreographic talent. Born in Nashville, Tennessee, where she danced with the Nashville Ballet, Gillespie moved to Los Angeles after earning a B.A. from SUNY Purchase and studying Limón, Graham, and Klein release technique in New York City. Recently, the three-time Lester Horton Dance Award-winner has created a buzz with dances highlighting her sense of physical abandon and predilection for riding the razor's edge between vulnerability and risk. As the quickly expanding repertory of her Oni Dance Company proves, Gillespie's appetite for choreographic invention is capacious. In 2004, the company premiered five dances, toured to Colorado, New York, and Tokyo, and was one of only seven groups selected for REDCAT's New Original Works Festival. This year looks to be just as busy for Gillespie, with two commissions and the debut of an evening-length piece at L.A.'s J. Paul Getty Center. www.onidance.org —Sara Wolf
Nancy Lemenager A Gypsy Steps Up
The plan was to dance as a Broadway gypsy until she was 25 or so, then “go back to school for something real." Not gonna happen. Nancy Lemenager is getting stuck with a career as a Broadway lead.
“I loved being in the ensemble," she says. “I never looked down on it." But after applying her spunky style to a solo in the 1997 anthology of Johnny Mercer songs, Dream, Lemenager shifted her sights from getting the chorus jobs she'd been landing since she was 18 in 1989 to finding more opportunities to grow. A string of regional shows eventually landed her back on Broadway as a lead in the ill-fated 2003 musical Never Gonna Dance.
Doing a stage version of a Fred and Ginger film turned out to be a bittersweet experience. “When you're in the ensemble," she says, “you detach a bit from the fate of the show. But when you're at the center, it becomes so personal." As in heartbreaking. Still, once you've done a big role on Broadway, producers find it easier to imagine you in them. And sure enough, Lemenager went on to her current stint as sexy, tempestuous Brenda (partnered above with Desmond Richardson), subbing for Elizabeth Parkinson in Twyla Tharp's Movin' Out. There should be future Broadway leads for Lemenager, who connects with audiences as easily in lighthearted tap numbers as she does as sizzling vamps. Her dream right now: combining the charm and the sex as Roxie Hart in Chicago. http://movingout.uvision.net —Sylviane Gold
Nutnaree Pipit-Suksan Rare Soul
Just last year, Nutnaree Pipit-Suksan was a promising student toiling away at The Royal Ballet's academy in London. Today, halfway around the world, she's enjoying her first season with the San Francisco Ballet—a soloist at the age of 19.
Leapfrogging over the usual corps de ballet stint is unusual for any dancer, no matter how talented or mature. But Ommi, as she's known to friends, projects the persona of an old soul in the body of a young dancer. Although not a ballerina yet, her sometimes serene, sometimes hauntingly expressive dancing speaks of a refreshing intelligence. She has already won critical attention and moved artistic director Helgi Tomasson to cast her in the lead pas de deux of his 7 for Eight.
Still, here and there, you can see glimpses of the teenager who won her first gold medal at the Royal Academy of Dance's Adeline Genée competition when she was 15. There's a hint of shyness and a girlish smile when she makes a rare misstep. It only adds charm to her self-possessed authority. www.sfballet.org —Mary Ellen Hunt
Yoon-Jeong Jin From the Heart
South Korean-born dancer Yoon-Jeong Jin thrives on the poetic, imagistic dance performed by New Jersey's Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company. Her long limbs, sinewy muscles, and technical rigor make her equally riveting in dramatic expressionist passages and elegant, lyrical works. Trained since childhood in Korean traditional dance, Jin, 31, also studied ballet and modern dance. She earned her BFA from Pusan University and was a member of Pusan's Kui-In Chung Modern Dance Company for four years before coming to America. She joined Chen's 12-member multicultural company in 2000 after completing her MFA at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.
in, who also choreographs, says she finds a sympathetic spirit in Chen. “A modern piece, for me, has to be something from the heart, and Nai-Ni's style is like that," she says. “When I do her movement, I feel free." www.nainichen.org —Nicole Plett
Fin Walker Fierce Human Insight
With an acute eye for telling gestures, cyclical patterns, and habitual body language, Fin Walker puts dancers (her own, and those in commissioning companies) through challenging but never inhuman paces. She seems to expose them as people, not just performers. It lends her plotless dances a complex, often eruptive energy.
Walker began choreographing more than a decade ago, having danced for the highly-regarded UK independent artists Jonathan Burrows and Rosemary Butcher. The backbone of her work is the percolating music of composer Ben Park. As Walker Dance Park Music they are currently an associate company of the Royal Opera House, where their dance-opera Essence is in the cards for 2005.
Although tightly-wound, Walker's unflinching dances aren't hard-edged. In a manner perhaps unique in British choreography, they relate to the lives we lead. Her fierce yet subtle truths have the potential to change how we look at others and think about ourselves. http://info.royaloperahouse.org —Donald Hutera
Mark Dendy Broadway Bound
In the last six months, Mark Dendy has mounted a rock musical at New York's wild and woolly Fringe Festival and choreographed at the august Metropolitan Opera House. Such unlikely juxtapositions are nothing new for this once-downtown choreographer, who's been making an uptown name for himself.
This month his unorthodox version of Afternoon of a Faun—think six fauns instead of one (Dendy originally made this as a duet)—opens at the Washington Ballet. And at various times during the coming year he will be working on three prospective Broadway shows and two more personal musicals—Bible Stories, based loosely on the life of his paternal grandmother, and Run, Jack, Run, based on Dream Analysis, his tour de force dance-theater piece.
Dendy doesn't shy away from challenges. His Fringe musical, Andru's Head, was about a disembodied head who hosts a kiddie TV show. At the Met, he worked on Julie Taymor's postmodern production of The Magic Flute (pictured), devising Eastern-flavored movement for stiltwalkers, puppets, and dancers in pointe shoes and four-foot headdresses. If all this weren't daunting enough, Dendy has also plunged into writing and directing (he did both on Andru's Head). All he has to do is write a few songs, and he'll be a one-man musical shop. —Sylviane Gold
Mikhail Ilyin Russian Ascendance
From white nights to white-hot days, from Baroque palaces on the Neva to Art Deco by the beach, St. Petersburg native Mikhail Ilyin has leapt through a six-year career to land as a principal dancer at Miami City Ballet. With his artistry evolving from the Vaganova Ballet Academy to the mostly Balanchine repertory of his current company, this 24-year-old Russian has not only acclimated but thrived. His classicism ascends in technical fluency and musicality with each performance.
Having garnered medals at international competitions (silver from New York; bronze from Jackson; see DM October, 2004, page 53), Misha—his nickname recalls that other famous fellow—serves up choreography based on Petipa or Saint-Léon as if freshly confected. Whether in Balanchine's airy Sylvia Pas de Deux or in the fast-forward mode of Ballo della Regina, he remains just as gameful when tackling Taylor or Tharp. He leaves audiences remembering not devilish devices, but the beauty of a dance. www.miamicityballet.org —Guillermo Perez
Brian Reeder Telling Time in a Timeless Art
In 1985, when Brian Reeder first appeared prominently before New York's balletgoers, the Pennsylvania-born-and-trained dancer proved himself a rare bird. Displaying uncommon finesse as both dancer and partner, the 19-year-old illuminated the program's two Balanchine offerings, Who Cares? and Concerto Barocco. In 2002, after a dancing career with New York City Ballet, Ballett Frankfurt, and American Ballet Theatre, Reeder showed new, and arguably rarer, plumage.
With his witty and enchanting premiere for ABT Studio Company, Lost Language of The Flight Attendant, Reeder presented his calling card as a seemingly lost breed: an inspired balletmaker who can bring his own time to ballet's timeless art. Happily,
his talent blossomed as the budding choreographer created more ballets: Staged Fright (ABT Studio Company), Day Dreams of a Deer Hunter (Brown University students), and Another Day, Another Dream (New York's High School of Performing Arts).
In 2005, Reeder's creations can be discovered at ABT Studio Company this month and for Washington Ballet in May. —Robert Greskovic
Scott Wells Dance as Sport
Wherever dance and sports meet, Scott Wells has taken out a long-term lease on the spot. Over the past 12 years, he has, as his titles suggest, boxed with Mozart, wrestled with affection, suffered acrobatic heartbreak, fantasized a 10-rounder between Rocky and Baryshnikov, and, in One Fell Swoop, invited skateboarders to share the spotlight both in a San Francisco performance space and a huge hall in Germany. What's remarkable about Wells and his metamorphosing company is the sheer pleasure he communicates in risking life and limb, and the manner in which he makes audiences complicit in the process. He bites the floor. We bite our nails.
Lured to dance through contact improvisation, Wells (tossed by Sara Fanoe above) has created 14 full-length works, most of which lack structural coherence. However, at last summer's West Wave Dance Festival, Wells limited his forces and produced a little masterpiece. In Duet in three parts: Fun. struggle. may-be Beauty, the man and woman grow more emotionally estranged as their clothes fall from their bodies and their rolling acrobatics become more intense. Bathed in midnight blue, the encounter suggests Wells may have invented a new mix of dance and athletics. Welcome to Cirque de la Lune. www.scottwellsdance.com —Allan Ulrich
Amy Seiwert Shattering the Glass Ceiling
In Amy Seiwert's ballet Monopoly, a lone female dancer ends the fight for acknowledgement among three maniacally striding men by ditching her pinstriped suit for a red dress. If that corporate heroine struggled to break the glass ceiling, the 34-year-old Seiwert continues to shatter it. Her works for Carolina Ballet, American Repertory Ballet, and Oakland Ballet are gutsy, tension-fraught, and packed with partnering that is mind-bending to watch.
Seiwert, who dances with Michael Smuin's San Francisco-based company, is drawn to challenging music and steely confrontations. She excels in knotty pas de deux that stretch her women to Forsythe-like extremes. Smuin Ballet, Sacramento Ballet, and her own pick-up troupe, im'ij-re, will dance her bold works in 2005. (Pictured is Passive Aggression with dancers Whitney Simler and Michael Separovich.) —Rachel Howard
Natalia Magnicaballi Desert Star
Natalia Magnicaballi has the regal bearing of a queen, the spirit of a gypsy, and the soul of a sylph. In flaming chiffon, she flashes across the stage in Ib Andersen's Mosaik like a shooting star. As a principal with Ballet Arizona, she arches her sinuous back and undulates her arms with poetic delicacy in Bournonville's La Sylphide, and struts with sexy sultriness in Balanchine's Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. Her clarity and fleet footwork dazzle in Balanchine's Allegro Brillante and as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. She is, according to Andersen, “emotionally very lush."
Born in Buenos Aires, Magnicaballi, 28, studied with Wasil Tupine at the Teatro Colón ballet school. At 17, she caught the eye of Julio Bocca, in whose company she danced principal roles. In 1999, Suzanne Farrell entrusted her with the lead role in Tzigane, which Balanchine created exclusively for Farrell. This year, BAZ artistic director Andersen has scheduled her in Balanchine's Agon and Petipa's Paquita. Clearly, Magnicaballi hovers on the brink of stardom. www.balletaz.org —Astrida Woods
Kristi Boone On Fire
During adagio Kristi Boone's long hyperextended legs continuously rise, curl, and unfold like smoke. The sultry almond-eyed beauty is a choreographer's dream, combining sensuality and grace with athleticism, sophistication, and musicality.
The American Ballet Theatre corps dancer from Rochester, New York, is exciting in both classical and contemporary work, and each new ballet reveals another layer of ability. “Kristi has a highly developed dramatic sense for someone so young," says John Meehan, director of ABT's Studio Company and mentor to Boone (pictured with Marcelo Gomes). “Choreographers come in and want to use her. I think John Cranko would have gone nuts for her, and MacMillan, too."
From her ghostly Zulma in Giselle Act II, to her flesh-and-blood beauty in Jirí Kylián's Petit Mort, to her gum-smacking, swaggering Harlot in Romeo and Juliet, Boone makes an impression. What's next for this smoldering talent? One hint: Heat rises. www.abt.org —Kate Lydon
William Cannon He's a Rebel
William Cannon walks across the stage in BalletMet's production of Stanton Welch's Play and suddenly explodes in a fit of restless energy, throwing his limbs in all different directions. From that moment on, the ballet is his. In the final segment he leads the cast in full-out jazzy, leggy moves, his torso snapping from one extreme to another. Cannon keeps his eyes dead front, giving the dance an intensity that is both sexy and defiant. His presence is unforgettable.
Cannon grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and began dancing at age 11 at BalletMet Dance Academy. During the summer he was 17, he studied on scholarship at the Lou Conte Dance Studio, the school affiliated with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. For the next three years, he danced with BalletMet, performing in works by Welch, James Kudelka, and Susan Hadley, as well as Balanchine. Last summer, he opted for doing more modern and jazz and less ballet by joining Hubbard Street 2. One wonders how long HS2 can contain him before he bursts into HS proper. www.hubbardstreetdance.org —Wendy Perron
Teresa Reichlen Balanchine Beauty
There's something utterly artless—and, therefore, endlessly captivating—about Teresa Reichlen's wide-eyed beauty. The willowy blond Virginian, who began training at the relatively late age of 10 at Russell School of Ballet, is a Balanchinean prototype in appearance (tiny head, supple torso, and legs that go on forever). At just 20, Reichlen flies through difficult choreography with the ease of a butterfly. As the soloist in Balanchine's arduous Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2, she was a vision of sophisticated calm (and, in one performance, further proved her ingenuity by stepping in for Jennie Somogyi, who suffered an injury). As the showgirl in “Rubies," Reichlen was adorably bold—her delicate sexiness is the type that oozes warmth and good humor. A member of New York City Ballet since 2001, she invigorates the Balanchine repertory with soothing, expansive grandeur. This ethereal dancer is still in the corps but chances are she'll emerge in the spotlight soon. www.nycballet.com —Gia Kourlas
Nejla Y. Yatkin Indelible Imagery
She looks like Cleopatra, but when she moves it is with the muscle of a Mark Antony. Cradled in the sensuous traditions of Near Eastern dance, then trained in the stern school of German modern (at Die Etage), Yatkin set out four years ago to conquer the dance scene in Washington, D.C. with her intense performances, intellectual choreography, and inspired teaching (at University of Maryland). She names José Limón and Maurice Béjart as influences. Eleo Pomare pushed her to go solo. She's riveting, whether in Limón's Chaconne, Donald McKayle's Angelitos Negros, or her own For People with Wings. In Ziva Cohen's flamenco dances she seems utterly native, yet as though she'd stepped out of a time machine from a Spain of the future because she conforms to no traditional gender role. Yatkin's group choreography is new, and if not careful, she dominates it. In 2005 she's taking the indelible images she creates onstage to Siberia, Florence, and Taiwan. Watch for a new solo premiering in the fall. www.ny2dance.com —George Jackson
Erik Kaiel A Solid Build
Thicker than your average dancer, with a physique developed splitting wood to heat the family house in Portland, Oregon, Erik Kaiel looks like a linebacker. “Before I was 15, I could walk on my hands the length of a football field," he says. Recently married to a Dutch economist, he splits his time between Brooklyn and Amsterdam, where he teaches at the Rotterdam Dansacademie.
His recent duet, the discovery of slowness, seen at the Joyce Soho in New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, and Montreal, is notable for its attentive, methodical, solid partnering. Performed with Laurel Dugan to Brian Eno's Music for Airports, it has a lapidary clarity. He made it to faster music, and then just “let it take the time it took." The result is seriousness without heaviness.
Kaiel (lifting Layard Thompson above) is as thoroughly steeped in literature as he is in dance, with an MFA from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and a fondness for Rilke. Right now he's working in small forms, but wait until he has the resources to field an ensemble! www.arch8.org —Elizabeth Zimmer
Domingo Rubio Getting a Second Wind
Two years ago, at age 37, Mexico City-born Domingo Rubio, whom the Los Angeles Times' Lewis Segal hailed as “one of the great dancers of the age," hung up his ballet shoes. His 20-year career included performing as a principal dancer with Mexico's National Dance Company, and Taller Coreográfico De La UNAM, capped by four years with the Joffrey Ballet. Dazzling audiences in The Moor's Pavane and Afternoon of a Faun, the charismatic performer also partnered Neve Campbell in Robert Altman's 2003 film, The Company.
But Rubio's retirement, during which time he mounted exhibitions of his dance-themed sculptures, was short lived: This month Rubio is guesting with the Joffrey, reprising Faun in the Netherlands. Dancing with New York-based Ballet Hispanico in the spring, he'll share the lead in an updating of Ramon Oller's Bury Me Standing. “In order to understand how much you love something," says Rubio, “you need to step back. It's important to be refreshed, and now I've got a second wind." www.ballethispanico.org —Victoria Looseleaf
Kristen Foote Next In Line
When artistic director Carla Maxwell first spotted her, Kristen Foote was a high school student training with the Canadian Children's Dance Theatre in Toronto. Maxwell offered her a scholarship to study with the Limón Dance Company, but when another company member was injured, her apprenticeship became a performance contract overnight. Four years later, Foote, 23, has blossomed into a dancer of remarkable versatility. She's equally as radiant in the dances of Limón and Humphrey as she is in works by Kylián, Lubovitch, McKayle, and Susanne Linke. Last fall, she added a new element to her repertoire—when she's not performing with the Limón Company, she's kicking with the Radio City Rockettes. Watch for Foote to claim her place this year in the line of famous women who, like her, embody the Limón signature of beauty, grace, and power. www.limon.org —Robert Tracy
Kathi Martuza Shaping Her Future
Kathi Martuza, 25, squeezes every last drop out of her movement phrases, mindfully shaping every inch of her athletic and elegant frame with quiet effort. Onstage her slightest gestures are amplified by a chiseled face, muscular body, and sumptuously arched feet.
A born principal? You'd think so, but this captivating beauty honed her skills for six years in the corps of San Francisco Ballet before packing her bags for Oregon Ballet Theatre, where she is currently shining in major roles.
“She has blossomed into an artist," says Julia Adam, choreographer and former principal with SFB. “And what's fun as a choreographer are the shapes her body creates. It's so curvy and strong."
Last year, Martuza's first at OBT, she stole the spotlight in an array of roles including Balanchine's Duo Concertant (above with Artur Sultanov) and OBT artistic director Christopher Stowell's sultry, tango-inspired pas de deux in Adin. “She's running with everything I'm handing her," says Stowell. “She is really rising to the occasion." www.obt.org —Kate Lydon
Motaz Kabbani Shattering Taboos
Motaz Kabbani is best described as a cultural terrorist whose work upends the status quo. Undulating pelvises and twining arms juxtaposed with modern dance extensions tantalize and sometimes shock. Nudity coexists with Eastern headscraves. Taboos are shattered and viewers obliged to reexamine their beliefs.
The 34-year-old Syrian-born, Montreal-trained chemical engineer-turned-choreographer/ dancer divides his time between Montreal and Beirut. Straddling two worlds makes him hyper-aware of social contradictions, and his poetic and provocative dances foam with revolutionary ideas. Racism is a frequent theme.
“He handles the body in ways we don't. Even Graham didn't use it this way," says Montreal playwright Eugene Lion, a Kabbani mentor. The constant vertical and horizontal waves that ripple from head to toe are as particular to Kabbani as the contraction was to Graham.
Kabbani's newest work, Nouvelles Danses Sauvages (left, Kabbani is suited) is typically challenging: An African dancer performs The Dying Swan, a former Paris Opéra Ballet star impersonates Josephine Baker, and Kabbani himself belly dances. His Sépultures Numériques will be shown in Beirut in April, and in Montreal in November. —Linde Howe-Beck