25 To Watch

December 21, 2008

Ballet Nouveau Colorado 

The new leadership team at Ballet Nouveau Colorado is taking the suburban Denver company’s name seriously, bringing new, often technologically savvy approaches to everything from programming to marketing. Exhibit A is its innovative 21st Century Choreography Competition, in which entries are posted on YouTube and voted on by the public. Operating in the shadow of the larger and more established Colorado Ballet, the small company shows verve and imagination. The dancers have improved since the leadership changed less than two years ago, and artistic director Garrett Ammon is full of ideas. This past fall he mounted a program of rock ballets to the music of INXS and Queen. In February, Love will include three new pieces through a collaboration with Colorado’s Lighthouse Writers’ Workshop. The program features works by Ammon, Ma Cong (winner of the 2008 choreography competition), and Canada-based choreographer Mark Godden. Ammon’s wife, associate artistic director Dawn Fay, is a demanding yet caring taskmaster (both are veterans of Ballet Memphis and the Trey McIntyre Project). Sometimes, being the little guy in town can be just the motivation needed to get results. —Kyle MacMillan


Melissa Thomas 

There’s lightness and delicacy to the way Melissa Thomas dances that suggests the steps require little effort. The American Ballet Theatre corps member, 24, has excelled lately in dramatic roles, where her performances have a natural quality, even in the distilled storytelling of Tudor ballets like The Leaves Are Fading. Her Bathilde in Giselle, appalled and repelled by Albrecht’s deception, becomes a study in noble dignity and wounded pride. Her graceful Third Girl in Robbins’ Fancy Free slowly, sweetly entices the three sailors away from their foiled hopes to a fresh adventure. Expressive even in classical roles, Thomas, a native of Birmingham, AL, who joined the main company in 2002 through ABT’s studio company, has a lyricism that imbues the steps with meaning. Her Fairy of Charity in Sleeping Beauty has a giving quality in her port de bras; her Moyna in Giselle seems blown about the stage by winds from the beyond. In a promising crop of corps women, Thomas holds true to ABT’s theatrical mission. —Hanna Rubin


Leslie Kraus 

With her flaming red hair, large bright eyes, and sharp attack, Leslie Kraus brings a Susan Sarandon-ish glamour to downtown dance in Manhattan. In her third year with Kate Weare and Company, she seems to define the Kate Weare woman: bold, taunting, as willing to lash out at a partner as to caress. Weare’s choreography is sometimes unbearably intimate, counterbalanced by precise, repetitive rhythms. In the context of sexual struggle that Weare fosters, Kraus’ every move is taut, sharply focused, and a little scary.


Kraus, 27, grew up in Baltimore and went to a “normal ballet/tap/jazz studio” but also dabbled in gymnastics and theater. She graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she studied improvisation, choreography, and release technique—a good preparation for Kate Weare, who asks her dancers to create their own narrative. “It’s challenging,” says Kraus, “but it feels like a conversation, like discovering something new. The closeness in which we dance—that alone is intense.” What accounts for her riveting stage presence? “I try to be a clear window through which the audience can experience something,” she says. The company performs at the Danspace Project in June. —Wendy Perron


Sarah Reynolds

When Sarah Reynolds dances, you see the movement take its course through her whole body. Even her breathing is precise. As her ivory limbs emerge through a white screen in Jirí Kylián’s Sleepless, she is hauntingly ghostlike; each flick of her wrist or quiver of her body seems to make the bells of the score chime, rather than the other way around.


Born in Dublin and trained in both Irish step dance and ballet, Reynolds became a student of the Central School of Ballet in London. She then went to dance for Marguerite Donlon in Germany before joining NDT II in 2004. She was promoted to the main company after a performance at Jacob’s Pillow in 2007. Recently Reynolds enjoyed working with Wayne McGregor, whose use of psychology has prompted her to pursue the field academically. The company’s North American tour in 2009 includes stops in Toronto, Chicago, and L.A. —Helma Klooss and Emily Macel


Edwin Aparicio

Edwin Aparicio’s flamenco style is a study in contrasts. His furious footwork creates fast, pulsing beats that render his legs a blur. But from the waist up, he has a fluid torso and slowly curling wrists. 


The Washington, DC–based artist grew up with flamenco. He studied with notable artists in Spain and performed in Madrid’s most prestigious tablaos before returning to the U.S. in 2004 to start his own company, Flamenco Aparicio Dance Company. He performs original works that combine thoughtful storytelling and passionate dance. He recently appeared in Omayra Amaya’s La Sobremesa, and his company performed at the annual flamenco extravaganza at DC’s GALA Hispanic Theater. —Richa Gulati


Manuelito Biag

Manuelito Biag makes dances that are gutsy, gorgeous, and finely chiseled. To create them, the Phillippines-born, California-raised Biag digs into the dark and complex currents that boil inside relationships. The dances for his Shift Physical Theater are full of struggles, yet are oddly beautiful. Though he has choreographed for close to a decade, only in the past five years has he begun to speak with a voice unmistakably his own. Biag is developing into that rare artist who creates intricately structured work that speaks directly to an audience. Building slowly, he draws on personal narratives from his dancers. Giving Strength to This Fragile Tongue explored what remains unsaid between partners. Making Invisible looked at impermanence. The Shape of Poison was a Buddhist-inspired meditation on dis/attachment. For his most recent work, Ballast, the dancers unearthed the memories, hopes, and ambivalences that swirl around the idea of “home.” —Rita Felciano


Rachel Piskin

New York City Ballet corps dancer Rachel Piskin, 20, has been attracting attention through more than technique—although she has that to spare. Having studied nowhere else but the School of American Ballet (a rarity at NYCB), Piskin has the Balanchine style embedded in her muscles and memory. She can be as fleet-footed or as languid as any of her colleagues, yet what captures the eye is the gracious quality of her dancing: the soft line of her torso, the endearing tilt of her head, her welcoming smile. At 5’3”, she does not exactly command the stage (nor does she seem to try to), but she can charm you into noticing her among a corps of a dozen or more, including in Walpurgisnacht Ballet and Serenade. She joined the company in 2005; Marzipan in Nutcracker and the Pastorale in the La Sonnambula—classic entry-level roles—soon came her way. Piskin can be seen during NYCB’s winter season Jan. 6–March 1. —Harris Green


Kyle Abraham

Whether choreographing a duet in which two female dancers are lip-locked in a two-and-a-half-minute kiss or a stirring solo about racism, dancer/choreographer Kyle Abraham uses controversy as his muse. “I try to make work relevant to my experiences as a college-educated black gay man,” says Abraham. “My works tend to deal with the connotations and assumptions of all those labels.”


The 31-year-old Pittsburgh native, now living in Brooklyn, dances with David Dorfman in addition to making waves with his own dance company Abraham.In.Motion. As a performer, he is equal parts power and grace layered on a sinewy frame. His choreographic style is an amalgam of hip hop and modern dance. In 2009, audiences can see him with David Dorfman Dance as well as with his own company beginning this month as part of “Past/Forward: A Tisch Dance Alumni Celebration,” Jan. 31, at NYU’s Skirball Center. —Steve Sucato


Sonya Tayeh

Sonya Tayeh calls her choreography “combat jazz.” “It’s staccato, aggressive, and engaged, even when it’s slow. I’m always ready for battle.” But if the career trajectories of previous So You Think You Can Dance choreographers are anything to go by, Sonya Tayeh won’t have to battle too hard to get to the top. The 31-year-old dancemaker, who also teaches at EDGE Performing Arts Center in L.A., was introduced through TV sets across the country as one of several SYTYCD Season 4 newcomers. Her routines showed a distinct movement style: quirky and hard-hitting, but also poignant. Her contemporary piece for dancers Kourtni Lind and Matt Dorame brought a futuristic, animé action feel to the stage. Later in the season, her dark jazz number for dancers Courtney Galiano and Mark Kanemura showed a sinister, spunky side, with two lovers clawing after one another.


Tayeh, who will return for the next season of SYTYCD, presented a concert with her own company, Tayeh Dance, in California last November. She’ll also be teaching for the new Monsters of Contemporary Dance Convention in early 2009. —Kathryn Holmes


Ricardo Zayas

Brooklyn-born Ricardo Zayas fits in perfectly with Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, a company known for its otherworldly creatures. Zayas dances with a rarefied air, holding nothing back and moving those curving limbs as if he lives in a more viscous liquid than the rest of us. His sinewy, resilient grace attracted critical notice during his years in Ailey II, as well as during stints with Complexions and Shen Wei Dance Arts. But it’s his formal elegance, warmed by a generous onstage persona, that stands out in Alonzo King’s individualized and often wild choreography.  

“I live for the ‘almost-blooper’ moment onstage,” says Zayas. “You think you’re going to fall off balance—you’ve gone so far out that you’re seeing stars, but you just have to make it work.”


In his third season with LINES, Zayas will perform in the company’s home season in San Francisco and on a tour of France in April, as well as in performances in May at the Joyce in NYC. “It’s such a rush—to take your body out on a tangent, but still be able to keep your mind focused.” —Mary Ellen Hunt


Francisco Graciano

Calling a Paul Taylor dancer ebullient is like saying the sun’s shining: You’re glad it is, but you’re not surprised. Yet when Francisco Graciano tosses off some of Taylor’s signature barrel rolls, his warmth and energy seem fueled from within. Graciano, 30, one of several new kids on the Taylor block, can take a short duet in Airs and fill it with expression and exuberance. But he has the control and focus to dance slow, weighty movement, like the processional in Taylor’s Lines of Loss, with moving gravitas. A graduate of Stephens College for Women (male scholarship), he joined the main company in 2006 after two years in Taylor 2. Unlike some PTDC dancers who seem the designated heirs to earlier Paul Taylor stars, Graciano has a freshness that’s all his own. He brings a glow to the repertory, like Arden Court, as well as the new roles that Taylor has created on him. PTDC’s New York City Center season is Feb. 25–March 15, and the company performs March 27–28 at the Kennedy Center. —Hanna Rubin


Kiesha Lalama-White

Kiesha Lalama-White can throw a shot put or hurl a dancer through space with her athletic, contemporary jazz choreography. Although sports and gymnastics were her games, dancemaking is her passion. “Choreography is my release. It’s where I feel most secure, challenged, and eager,” says the Point Park University faculty member. Since winning the Bronze Leo Award from the Jazz Dance World Congress in 2007 for the intense Going, Going, Gone, this Pittsburgh native’s accessible, percussion-driven dances have been in demand. Last season she pulled visual and emotional strings in Let’s Play for Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago and offered intimate storytelling in Vicious Cycle for Michigan’s Eisenhower Dance Ensemble. Fearless, animated, and open, she respects her dancers and derives inspiration from her surroundings. She plans to use pointe work in her upcoming commissions for Pittsburgh’s Point Park University and Houston’s Metropolitan Dance Company in 2009. —Karen Dacko


Andrea Miller/Gallim Dance

With space-eating phrases both charmingly awkward and wildly technical, Andrea Miller’s Gallim Dance has burst onto NYC’s downtown dance scene. Her dancers wear lime green dresses and hot pink socks, and sing along to underground club music. Miller laces laugh-out-loud humor through serious moments, taking audience members on a ride. “I’m interested in contagious movement,” says Miller. “I’m looking for movement that erupts from the core of our physicality or subconscious. Something that is really raw.”


Born in Salt Lake City, Miller is informed by her four years at Juilliard and two years with Ohad Naharin’s Batsheva Ensemble in Israel. Miller returned to NYC to create Gallim Dance in 2006. Within two short years she won the Hubbard Street 2 Choreographic Competition, was invited to perform at Jacob’s Pillow, and received the Bessie Schoenberg Choreographic Residency at The Yard. Gallim Dance premieres a new work Blush, at the Joyce SoHo, Jan. 9–18, along with the return of her acclaimed evening-length work, I Can See Myself in Your Pupil. —Jen Peters


Jessica Tong

As a relatively new member of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Jessica Tong is a refreshing breath of spunk, exuberance, and individuality. Beyond having the clean technique, beautiful body, and versatility typical of the company, Tong moves with biting sharpness while maintaining an expressive fluidity. She exudes a powerful personality all her own.


Born in Binghamton, NY, and raised in Salt Lake City, Tong danced with BalletMet Columbus and Eliot Feld’s Ballet Tech before taking what she calls “all of the steps essential to joining Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.” She auditioned twice for Hubbard Street 2 before an offer of a summer scholarship to the Lou Conte Dance Studio led to two years in HS2, and an apprenticeship at HSDC. She became a full company member last January. As Tong says, “The perseverance paid off.” The coming year brings her across North America on tour with HSDC, performing new works by Toru Shimazaki and HSDC artistic director Jim Vincent. —Elena Hecht


Sarah Reich

Watching tapper Sarah Reich dance is a lesson in exuberance. Petite and electrifying, 19-year-old Reich has an uncanny ability to balance the hard-hitting syncopation of today’s rhythm tappers with just a touch of the confidence of the legends Gregory Hines or even Ann Miller. She’s grounded in multiple styles—salsa, swing, flamenco, and samba—which add extra insouciance to her tapping. Reich’s savvy enough to know that the old-schoolers have untapped wisdom in their beats. She spent the past four years working with veteran Harold Cromer as his tap assistant for dance festivals around the country. Dancing for more than a decade, Reich gleaned her hoofer skills from L.A. stalwart tap educators Al Desio, Syd Glover, and Paul and Arlene Kennedy. She currently graces TV screens and stages worldwide as a member of Jason Samuels Smith’s group Anybody Can Get It and Chloe Arnold’s Syncopated Ladies. —Paula Broussard


Christopher Vo

Although only 5’8”, Christopher Vo, 23, is a hard man to overlook when he’s onstage and in motion. In 2005, his sophomore year at the Juilliard School, he was one among scores of students in Eliot Feld’s Sir Isaac’s Apples. For some 80 minutes, they slid down and strode or jigged back up a steeply sloped raked stage as Steve Reich’s Drumming pounded away. Vo, performing each descent and ascent with more clarity, consistency, and joy than anyone else, soon became the one you couldn’t help watching.


Born to Vietnamese emigré parents in Texas, he graduated from Dallas’ Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and entered Juilliard on a full scholarship. His command of movement permitted him to range easily from the loosey-goosey exuberance of Twyla Tharp’s Deuce Coupe to the solemnities of Doug Varone’s The Constant Shift of Pulse. Required to slump to the floor repeatedly in Shift, Vo made each fall a series of graceful, fluidly evolving moves. He joined the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company upon graduation last spring. “Along with a clear mind,” says Lubovitch, “Chris possesses an unforced physical quality that cannot be taught.” In January and February, Vo heads out west with the Lubovitch Company, performing in Pennsylvania, California, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. —Harris Green


Megan Quiroz

When Edwaard Liang began casting Age of Innocence, his new work for the Joffrey Ballet last fall, he chose Megan Quiroz to dance one of its two pivotal duets. No wonder. In this exploration of romance (inspired by Jane Austen’s world of chaperoned dances and arranged marriages), she and her partner exemplify a match in which the chemistry turns out to be intense. And Quiroz, 26—who grew up in Michigan, studied with Pacific Northwest Ballet, and joined the Joffrey in 2004—is an innately passionate dancer. She quite naturally brings emotional heat and intensity to the stage. Her strong, expressive face; beautifully muscled legs; and ideally arched, articulated feet add to the drama.


Quiroz confessed that working with Liang was intimidating. “I felt very vulnerable, but you learn to leave any self-consciousness at the door.” While working on Liang’s piece, Quiroz (who is married to Joffrey dancer Brian McSween) also was learning two other featured roles—in the company’s revival of Joffrey’s Postcards and Wheeldon’s Carousel (A Dance). —Hedy Weiss


Kara Wilkes

In a performance of Balanchine’s Raymonda Variations, North Carolina Dance Theatre’s Kara Wilkes’ lithe arms and eloquent hands appeared to gather the space around her before gliding through the air. Wilkes’ long legs further accentuate a heavenly marriage of stately beauty and precise technical skill. Her dancing reveals each step as natural and elegant. NCDT artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux says of Wilkes, “She brings an imagination and marvelous sense of humor to her dancing that inspires choreographers and dazzles audiences.”


Before joining NCDT in 2007, the 27-year-old danced with Milwaukee Ballet and Ballet Victor Ullate in Madrid. This year, Wilkes will perform soloist and lead roles in all of NCDT’s productions, including the world premiere of Dwight Rhoden’s Othello, May 14–16 at Charlotte’s Belk Theater. —Steve Sucato


Seth Stewart

Seth Stewart has left his mark on In the Heights. As Graffiti Pete, he tagged the dance scenes with his grounded and cool hip hop dancing. When the show leapt from Off-Broadway to Broadway (and won the 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical), Stewart, a sharp dancer with an actor’s intuition, leapt into the limelight too. 


Although he played football in high school, Stewart found his love of dance through music video icons like Michael Jackson, and his uncle, notable dance TV host Stepp Stewart. Seth blends hip hop with crisp technique and stylized jazz movements inspired by Fosse. Dropping everything to audition at the age of 19, Stewart snagged his first job for Madonna’s “Reinvention” tour. He went on to perform with JLo and Jay-Z, and in Sweet Charity on Broadway. He will continue his role of Graffiti Pete, but he hopes to produce, direct, and choreograph his own shows in the future. Stewart says, “I’m artistically always ready to explode.” —Rachel Leigh Dolan


Marideth Wanat

Wiry, athletic, and a bit of a daredevil, Marideth Wanat of LehrerDance navigates the sumptuous switchbacks of Jon Lehrer’s all-flow, no-fixed-points method of choreographing with style. “I’ve always been the fearless sort,” says Wanat, 27. “I like throwing myself around with abandon—although it’s not always pretty.” Traveling at breakneck speed is just part of the territory at the new Buffalo, NY–based LehrerDance, where Wanat is a founding member and rehearsal director. Grounded in fluidity, she’s joyful without being sentimental. She takes pleasure in being on the cusp of jazz/modern fusion. As the lead in Lehrer’s upcoming new rock opera, An American Siddhartha: The Way Within in September at University at Buffalo’s Center for the Arts, Wanat will have the opportunity to dwell in off-kilter counterbalancing acts that keep her and the audience on edge. —Nancy Wozny


Jessica Collado

When the lights come up on Jessica Collado of Houston Ballet in Stanton Welch’s Red Earth, the audience believes she is one tough pioneer woman isolated in a barren desert. Sweaty and covered with mud, Collado has an earthiness that makes Welch’s story of the early Australian settlers come alive. In the same night, as Suzuki in Welch’s Madame Butterfly, Collado takes the subtle path, carrying the full burden of Butterfly’s choices with a stinging pathos and tender reserve. Her jazz training and natural showmanship came in handy during her performance as Jane the Wardrobe Girl who replaces the Diva in Welch’s ode to Gershwin, The Core. “At this point in my career I am up for any and all challenges, and roles that really push me,” says Collado, 24. “I am never afraid of making a total fool of myself in rehearsal. It’s when I let my guard down that my best dancing comes through.” Welch created a lead role for her in his new, full-length ballet Marie, based on the life of Marie Antoinette, which premieres in February, and she can’t wait to bring her talents to Nacho Duato’s first work for the company, Jardí Tancat, in May. —Nancy Wozny


Lux Boreal

Lux Boreal brings a sort of magical realism to the stage. The Tijuana company was founded in 2002 by Angel Arámbula and Henry Torres. Arámbula, 35, moves with slashing limbs and a balletic purity of line, while Torres, 34, radiates intelligent humor. Those distinctive styles add up to a rich vocabulary in work ranging from a tragicomic take on Tijuana’s drug trade to a sly send-up of the eight company members’ foibles. Lux Boreal is credited with raising the bar for dance in Tijuana. Arámbula and Torres are graduates of the Professional School of Contemporary Dance in Mazatlán (as are many of their dancers), and along with teaching regular classes and workshops, the company has Diplomado en Danza, a certificate program to train dancers supported by Mexico’s National University of Pedagogy and the Tijuana Municipal Institute for Arts and Culture.


Last summer, Lux Boreal represented Mexico at Expo 2008 in Spain and toured to Latvia with Allyson Green, who often sets work on them. They will perform in Mexico City in March. —Janice Steinberg


Ginger Smith

The eye follows Ginger Smith the way the ear follows a melody by Schubert—easily, naturally, and with the fullest confidence that the next moment will be as inevitable as the last.

Asked what has brought her, in four seasons at Ballet Arizona, from small solos to roles of Giselle and Sugar Plum and leads in new ballets by company artistic director Ib Andersen, Smith says simply: “I like to go onstage knowing the preparation is already behind me, and just enjoy the performance as it happens spontaneously.”

The 24-year-old Smith attended the School of Ballet Arizona before dancing with Boston Ballet II and the Royal Ballet of Flanders. Coming home wasn’t on her agenda until she caught Ballet Arizona’s Nutcracker during holiday break. The company’s progress under Andersen prompted her return.


Smith can be seen in February in Ballet Arizona’s Romeo and Juliet, and in June during the company’s annual “Best of Balanchine” programs. See www.balletaz.org. —Kenneth LaFave


Eric Underwood

Tall and muscular, Eric Underwood imparts a princely elegance. With pantherlike action, he covers the floor smoothly and with speed; he erupts into high, sustained leaps that devour the space. His extensions unfold effortlessly to Sylvie Guillem heights, and he snaps open his jetés to six o’clock position. Secure in his classical technique, he explodes in contemporary movement where his Olympic athleticism and control weave magic with his pliant body. At The Royal Ballet, he has created roles in Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV and Electric Counterpoint and Wayne McGregor’s Chroma.


Born in Washington, DC, Underwood trained at the School of American Ballet, danced for three years with Dance Theatre of Harlem, and in 2003 joined ABT. In 2006, he jeté-ed across the pond to join The Royal Ballet in London and was promoted to soloist last July. See him with the Royal when they perform at the Kennedy Center in DC this June. —Margaret Willis


Rachel Foster

A wild woman in Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena, a pizzicato demon in Victor Quijada’s Suspension of Disbelief, and a gutsy courtesan in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Romeo et Juliette, Rachel Foster embodies the power of contemporary movement in ballet.


Pacific Northwest Ballet’s newest soloist combines precision and vibrancy onstage. Encouraged by a ballerina mother, she trained at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, later joining the company and then moving to PNB in 2002. This past year, Foster has shown an unusual lyricism and authority. In Molissa Fenley’s State of Darkness, she remained utterly centered, drawn neither into darkness nor angst, with strength and dignity. The epic solo to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring challenged her “endurance, athleticism, and artistry,” she says, and was “the experience of a lifetime.” This past fall in Tharp’s premiere Opus 111, she displayed a sweet composure while sensually passing through the most complex of moves. See Foster in Balanchine’s Jewels Jan. 29–Feb. 7 and in PNB’s Broadway Festival program March 12–22. —Gigi Berardi