25 To Watch

December 26, 2007

Even in the corps of American Ballet Theatre, Sarawanee Tanatanit stands out for her striking look and daring quality. In past City Center seasons, Tanatanit, 24, has reveled in such repertoire as Within You Without You: A Tribute to George Harrison, where she sparkled in Ann Reinking’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and in Tharp’s Baker’s Dozen, where she slides and struts with a jazzy, sensual confidence. In her native Bangkok, Tanatanit studied Thai dance and competed on the national rhythmic gymnastics team. A gymnastics scholarship took her to Vancouver, where she studied at the Goh Ballet Academy. Now she blends crisp classical technique with a refreshing modern cool in choreography by Mark Morris, Jirí Kylián, and Benjamin Millepied. Catch her in elegant classical mode in ABT’s Met season beginning in May. —Susan Yung


The Boston-based collaborative Kinodance Company fuses film and movement to create a language rich in metaphor and expressivity. In the vivid and mysterious Denizen, the most recent work of the five-member troupe, Armenia is evoked through “choreography of the elements.” The lines are blurred when it comes to defining Kinodance’s form: Dance, cinema, and visual art work together to amuse and intrigue audiences. Kinodance, headed by Alissa Cardone (choreographer and dancer) and Alla Kovgan (film director), is constantly on the move. They collaborated with the National Gallery of Armenia to form a dance cinema initiative in, of all places, the South Caucusus. Kinodance will perform in April at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art. —Theodore Bale


With enthusiasm shooting from lithe limbs, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet was last season’s sleeper favorite for their daring performances of Ohad Naharin’s thrilling compilation, Decadance. Under artistic director Benoit-Swan Pouffer, who is dedicated to presenting the choreography of international innovators, Cedar Lake worked with Naharin and his improvisational gaga technique for three months. The commitment paid off. Technical feats, willful exuberance, and emotional power blew audiences away. And while team synergy bolsters Cedar Lake, the company finds increased strength in individual gifts: Heather Hamilton’s drama, Jessica Lee Keller’s power accentuated by cashew feet, and Jon Bond’s uncanny elasticity. Not so long ago critics and audiences alike dismissed Cedar Lake as the experiment of a wealthy patron with dubious taste. But after the recent explosion, the company has proven itself. This season they will work with Italian choreographer Jacopo Godani, the Canadian Crystal Pite, and Stijn Celis from Belgium. —Lauren Kay


Dawn Dippel brings an understated elegance to all that she dances. She possesses noble grace and a quiet command of space. Nothing ever looks pushed or forced. With her old world Botticelli-like features, flaming red hair, and versatile technical skills, Dippel excels in lyrical and dramatic work, but is equally comfortable in L.A. street jazz. Since joining Dominic Walsh Dance Theater in 2006, she has moved up the ranks of the company, landing the role of Aurora in Walsh’s new Sleeping Beauty. Last season she ruled the stage in his Love Intr-Fear, and later exuded a cool curiosity as the lead in Mauro Bigonzetti’s Pression. You might say her plate is full—Dippel is a member of DWDT, Revolve Dance Company (also in Houston), and a co-owner of North Harris Performing Arts, a leading competition studio in Spring, TX. She looks forward to performing in New York for the first time this March at the Joyce with DWDT. —Nancy Wozny


As a performer, Boston-based Lorraine Chapman combines the grace of a Renaissance Madonna with a Norse Valkyrie’s strength of purpose. However, center stage is no longer her prime destination. Since forming Lorraine Chapman The Company in 2002, she has morphed into an award-winning choreographer with quirky, witty and altogether individual works. If their technical base harkens to her years with Ballet de Montreal, Ballet British Columbia, and Feld Ballets/NY, her eclectic ideas come from shedding her pointe shoes to dance with the contemporary dance troupes of Amy Spencer/Richard Colton and Marcus Schulkind. Chapman’s work combines bare feet and physical prowess with images from literature, film, circus, vaudeville, and musical comedy. Schulkind says, “Her work suddenly springs upon you, profound and memorable.” A more recent mentor, Donald Byrd, calls her dances “quintessential New England—mysterious, and deeply felt.” Chapman’s company performs at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art April 11–12. —Iris Fanger


There’s a nonchalance to Kendrick Jones, a natural elegance that makes his virtuoso tapping seem like a mere tip of the hat. He blazed through the Encores! concert staging of Stairway to Paradise last year, wowing critics with his grace and sophistication. The New York Times’ Ben Brantley called him “the most exquisitely expressive young tap dancer since Savion Glover.” Yet Jones, 22, is a throwback, a hoofer who owes his classic style more to tap’s heyday than its hard-hitting renaissance. It’s no surprise Gregory Hines was a mentor as well as an idol. Hines took the 14-year-old dancer from Flint, MI, under his wing, paid for tap festival scholarships, and urged him to become a triple threat. Heeding Hines’ advice, Jones decided last fall to return to school and complete his BA at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts for musical theater and acting. He’ll continue to perform occasional gigs in NYC while going to school. “I want to emulate that smooth, sportin’-life style of Gregory’s,” Jones says. “He was like Sammy Davis Jr. and John Bubbles. I like the hoofin’ that people do now, but those old timers’ grace moves me more.” Heading back to the future with Jones will be an smooth trip. —Hanna Rubin


As the smitten Student in Christopher Wheeldon’s The Nightingale and the Rose at New York City Ballet, Tyler Angle is the personification of a romantic love so youthful and innocent, so consumed with the object of his affection, that his actions are heedless of the world around him. Angle, 21, joined City Ballet in 2004, where his brother Jared is a principal. He first drew attention for his last-minute replacement of an injured principal in Liebeslieder Walzer, rarely danced by a corps member. His dramatic abilities are often tempered by a particular sweetness; he has also delivered a passionate Romeo in Sean Lavery’s balcony scene and a lighthearted sailor in Fancy Free. A dancer in Wheeldon’s own company’s debut season, Angle has displayed breathtaking lines and sensitive partnering; he stands poised to become a danseur noble for the 21st century. —Amanda Smith


Fierce and feisty Bronx-born Diana Morales doesn’t seem to break a sweat when knocking out routines for her audition. Neither does native New Yorker Natalie Cortez, 29, the triple threat who plays Diana in the current revival of A Chorus Line on Broadway. “She’s pretty tough; I’m pretty tough. She’s stubborn; I’m stubborn. She has this incredible love for what she does,” Cortez says of her character. And that love surges toward the audience when Cortez dances. Whether you’re in the front row or up in the balcony, Cortez gets to you. Her “pas-de-bourée kick-ball-change” courses through the opening number. For a compact 5′ 3″ dancer, her extensions are remarkable. Among a cast of seasoned dancers like Charlotte d’Amboise, Cortez never fades into the background. The gymnast-turned-jazz dancer who didn’t care for ballet fell for modern when she first attended the American Dance Festival. She studied musical theater at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts CAP program, and after getting cast in many non-Broadway shows, this role is her big break. And, in true Morales style, she’s not backing down. “I’m going to stick around for A Chorus Line as long as my body will let me.” —Emily Macel


Exhale Dance Tribe is a young, sassy, brassy troupe that delivers leaps, spins, high kicks, undulations and a potent sensuality culminating in life-affirming finales. Since 2000, Missy Lay Zimmer and Andrew Hubbard, two ex-Broadway dancers (they met performing in Cats), have directed and choreographed for their Cincinnati-based group. Zimmer and Hubbard often perform, but the spotlight belongs to the five lithe young women who have absorbed the Exhale style of attack and attitude, while bringing to their performances extraordinary stage presence and joy of movement. At the 2007 Cincinnati Fringe Festival, Exhale drew cheers and critical raves. Zimmer won a local award for outstanding choreography after the company performed in Know Theatre of Cincinnati’s Christmas Yet to Come. On March 28 and 29 they’ll be at Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center for their third annual production. —Kathy Valin


The abstract, deeply intelligent choreography of Mathew Janczewski, which his dancers inhabit with almost preternatural ease and precision, makes audiences swoon. A graduate of the University of Minnesota dance program, he launched ARENA Dances 12 years ago. Janczewski’s formalism, at times, even elicits a sense of the sublime. In October Janczewski premiered his newest piece, Ugly, commissioned by the Walker Art Center. Created in three parts—”Baroque,” “Technology/Disco,” and “Nature”—it looks at society’s demand for artifice and physical perfection through a movement vocabulary that draws from court dance, a gymnastic athleticism, and martial arts. Janczewski’s collaborators include an architect, a playwright, and electronic-music icon Morton Subotnick, who performed the score live and onstage. In May, Janczewski remounts his exquisite waterBRIDGE at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis. —Camille LeFevre


At 21, Michela Marino Lerman is a quadruple threat, not just an ace hoofer. A choreographer who sings, acts, and performs, she also loves directing. Her first full-fledged opportunity came when she was 19 and the downtown venue Dixon Place commissioned AM+Bu$h+ED, her original show that included rappers and tappers. “No matter what you do as a young person today, you’re somehow ambushed by the mainstream corporate view on what they think a young person should be,” she wrote. In this work, her goal was to “ambush” audiences into seeing that young people do care about the world. It all began with a debut as a 5-year-old on Sesame Street. In her teens, Lerman was a regular at Buster Brown’s weekly tap jams in Manhattan. Brown allowed Lerman the freedom to develop her melodic improvisational chops. Gregory Hines was so impressed with Lerman’s “feet,” that he also began to mentor her. That “atta girl” was the incentive Lerman took to carry her shoes to such far-flung venues as The Netherlands, Germany, Bermuda, Spain, and Japan. In 2008, Lerman plans to continue to perform regularly at The Box nightclub in NYC with fellow tapper Jimmy Sutherland, and at the annual Tap City festival. —Jane Goldberg


Diana Albrecht dances with the elegance of a young princess. Strength and delicacy meld together, from her long, arched feet to the regal carriage of her head. Dancing Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, her compact body moves with buoyancy and efficiency, ornamented by quick, light feet and the flash of her generous extension. Supported by her family in Paraguay, Albrecht’s appearance at the 2005 Youth America Grand Prix in New York won her a full scholarship to The Washington School of Ballet and a position in Washington Ballet’s Studio Company. Two seasons later, she’s been promoted to apprentice with the full company. Artistic director Septime Webre has planned featured roles for her, with principal roles just waiting in the wings. You’ll find her in February in 7×7 Love Duets, and in May in Webre’s Cinderella. “My dream always was to come to America and do this kind of dance,” says Albrecht of the Balanchine choreography, though she also confesses to seeing herself as a “more lyrical dancer,” with a longing for great classical roles like Odette/Odile. Watching her arms uncurl like velvet ribbons as she moves, you know it’s just a matter of time. —Lea Marshall


CHARLES O. ANDERSON and his Dance Theatre X
When slashing yet lush, lyrical movements weave with texts from literary heavyweights like W.E.B. DuBois, James Baldwin, and Essex Hemphill, Charles O. Anderson’s politicized and poetic voice reaches out to touch us all. In Funky Suite: Body and Soul, his gay black male cast—himself included—ushers us into an ethos that challenges gender stereotypes. The women of Dance Theatre X wear his movement like luxurious garments woven of willpower. In April at Philadelphia’s Painted Bride, Dance Theatre X will premiere a new work, Hush, that deals with trauma and memory. Anderson created the work in collaboration with Afro-fusion choreographer Vincent Mantsoe and butoh/ballet/hip hop fusion choreographer Kota Yamazaki. —Brenda Dixon Gottschild


Carolyn Rose Ramsay has discovered “tall girl heaven” on the Mediterranean. The 22-year-old, 5′ 8″ Canadian from Vancouver joined Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo in September and is thrilled to find, “I don’t stick out so much.” The long-legged beauty had towered above her corps colleagues as a rare foreigner in Alicia Alonso’s Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Alonso welcomed her anyway because she admired Ramsay’s “determination and hard work.” Ramsay had gravitated to Cuba in 2003 (after training at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School) because of the technical excellence of the BNC dancers. At the USAIBC in 2006, she won a corps contract from Miami City Ballet. “Miami was a fantastic experience but somehow not right for me.” But MCB artistic director Edward Villella is confident Ramsay has a bright future. “Carolyn has innate talent and the joy of dancing. She has poise and personality in the grand classical manner.” Carolyn Ramsay may think she sticks out because of her height, but it’s her natural grace in movement that audiences will remember. —Michael Crabb


The awakening came when she first performed the magical central duet in Nacho Duato’s exotic Gnawa with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Tiny and lithe, with a face that is enigmatic in its scrubbed, quiet beauty, Penny Saunders was like a hummingbird just freed from its cage—quick, precise, and yet seamless and surprising in her moves. These impressions were confirmed last year when she danced another beautifully imagined duet in Lar Lubovitch’s Cryptoglyph. Saunders, 29, was just 16 and still a student at the Harid Conservatory in Florida when she got her first job with American Repertory Ballet in NJ. After four years, she moved on to Ballet Arizona, then switched to more contemporary dance with MOMIX. In 2004, after three auditions, she was finally accepted to HSDC. “I think I’ve really begun to tap into my full potential at Hubbard Street,” says Saunders, whose abiding dream is to work with Swedish choreographer Mats Ek. This season you can see her performing at the Harris Theater in Chicago March 26–April 5, and at the Joyce in NYC Aug. 4–16. —Hedy Weiss


Sleek and slinky, Ekaterina Kondaurova thrilled audiences at City Center’s Fall for Dance festival last September. The Kirov Ballet beauty rocked Alexei Ratmansky’s hauntingly repetitive Middle Duet. Each flick of her leg or whip of her head towards partner, Islom Baimuradov, had people gasping. The lithe limbs of this 24-year-old with fiery red hair and a penetrating gaze surge into the movements with an earthy yet powerful fervor. Born in Moscow and trained at the Vaganova Academy, Kondaurova joined the Kirov in 2000 and became a soloist in 2006. Though she’s been cast in plenty of classical roles (Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty, Medora in Le Corsaire), she thrives on contemporary works. When she returns to City Center this April with the Kirov Ballet and Orchestra, she will be dancing in Steptext, by her favorite choreographer—William Forsythe. “I feel freedom in his dancing. You get so much energy from Forsythe’s movement. After performing the ballet, you are still excited.” —Emily Macel


Sharna Fabiano is a thinking-person’s tango dancer. Balancing atop tall pencil-thin heels, she traces rococo patterns as she swivels and snakes a leg around partner Isaac Oboka. A modern dancer by training, Fabiano immersed herself in the Argentine tango community a decade ago. Trained by tango revivalist Daniel Trenner and by teachers in Buenos Aires, she is among a new wave of tangueras (female tango dancers) who assert their power to lead on dance floors and concert stages. “She takes tango movements and brings them to greater artistic expression,” notes Boston-based dancer and artistic advisor Michael Silverman. In March at Washington, DC’s Dance Place, her Sharna Fabiano Tango Company offers a premiere fusing her two worlds: contemporary and tango. A former member of the women’s tango collective TangoMujer Company, Fabiano, 31, still teaches social tango around the U.S. and Europe. “Dancing with someone so closely activates your creative energy,” she says. “It transforms you in subtle ways.” —Lisa Traiger


Ain’t she sweet? And a technical dynamo too. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Kumiko Tsuji attacks Dwight Rhoden’s jazzy Smoke ’n Roses with spontaneous playfulness while thrusting her sassy extensions and grand jetés skyward. Her ebullient Princess Florine and sprightly Fairy of Song in The Sleeping Beauty are radiantly virtuous. “My favorite role so far is Cupid in Don Quixote,” says the bubbly 24-year-old. As a child, she watched ballet on TV in her native Japan. “I wanted to be a princess.” While she enjoys enriching her movement vocabulary in contemporary ballets, she loves the classics and aspires to star in Giselle and La Bayadère. Tsuji trained at London’s Royal Ballet School and danced with the Hong Kong Ballet before joining PBT in 2003 as an apprentice. Promoted to principal dancer this season, the fast-rising artist can be seen in Pittsburgh this March in Rhoden’s Carmina Burana and April in the lead role of Derek Deane’s Alice in Wonderland. —Karen Dacko


Celestina didn’t step into her first dance class until she was in college. Yet after only a few months of jazz and hip hop training at University of Southern California and EDGE Performing Arts Center in L.A., she signed with a talent agency and the work started pouring in. Her raw talent landed her an array of commercial gigs from iPod and Ford national campaigns to a featured dancer in music videos for Prince, Brandy, Black Eyed Peas, and Usher. Celestina was first noticed while freestyling on set for Lloyd Banks’ music video On Fire, where she bent backward almost parallel to the floor and threw her arms behind her, earning her the nickname “Matrix.” Her gravity-defying move became so popular that other dancers and recording artists began mimicking it. She joined the cast of DanceLife, an MTV dance reality show produced by Jennifer Lopez in 2007. Now she is transitioning from dancer to overall entertainer, appearing as a backup dancer and singer in the Alvin and the Chipmunks film, which premiered in December. She is also releasing a dance workout DVD with fellow “DanceLife” cast member Jersey. —Wendy Garofoli


Lanky and low-key, Broadway dancer Noah Racey has a quiet charm that creeps up slowly on audiences. So do the dance numbers he choreographs. Racey, singled out for his roles in Never Gonna Dance and Curtains, has a passion for creating old-time Broadway showstoppers. He has found a home in Town Hall’s popular “Broadway by the Year” series, where he’s resident choreographer. “I want the audience to feel entertained,” he says. “I don’t want them to analyze or scrutinize—I want them to be joyful.” Racey’s choreography for “All Singin’, All Dancin’,” last summer’s musical salute there, had his disarmingly casual stamp. For one number, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” Racey and four other male tappers provided beats and body percussion as singer/dancer Joyce Chittick, accompanied only by a cello, sinuously inched across the stage and through Cole Porter’s yearning lyrics. As she glided off, down came the house. The revue’s classic style and spirit caught the eye of director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell, who’s teaming up with Racey to workshop it this spring with an eye to a Broadway transfer. Racey isn’t ready to hang up his taps yet, though. “I’m stuck with the rhythm bug,” he says. Lucky for us, we’re stuck with Racey—’cause we’ve got him under our skin. —Hanna Rubin


Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Mara Vinson has a performance persona both delicate and poetic. In Nacho Duato’s Rassemblement, she upstaged all with her gritty, emotionally charged performance. Growing up of Japanese heritage in Redondo Beach, CA, her early ballet training began as therapy to correct a hip condition. She then made her way to PNB’s professional division. While a member of the corps in 2001, she was picked to dance the role of Clara (traditionally danced by an adult in PNB’s Nutcracker). Her femininity and determination surface in all the right places—as Aurora in Ronald Hynd’s The Sleeping Beauty, and in more contemporary fare: Kiyons Gaines’ abstract {SCHWA} and Susan Marshall’s aerial Kiss. In her recent black swan performance, her dancing was some of the most daring of PNB’s season. —Gigi Berardi


He blazes across the stage like a streak of lightning fueled with enthusiasm and brimming with confidence. At the age of 18, Ivan Vasiliev is one of the hottest young male dancers in the world. Born in Vladivostock and trained in Minsk, he was snapped up by the Bolshoi Ballet after winning the Moscow ballet competition in 2005 and the Grand Prix at Varna in 2006. With a curly mop of light brown hair, sparkling eyes, and a cheeky grin, he sets the stage alight in ballets like Don Quixote and La Bayadère. His solos are filled with speeding-arrow jetés, blisteringly fast tours à la seconde, and Catherine-wheel pirouettes that burn holes in the floor. His multiple pirouette record is 21, though he ruefully states that there is only time for 10 or 11 in performance. When not dancing, he loves to read and quote poetry. Though still a soloist, Vasiliev has all the charismatic qualities that will make him a true star. —Margaret Willis


The comedic talent of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo has been the company’s calling card since its founding in 1974. But Chase Johnsey (aka Yakatarina Verbosovitch and her danseur alter-ego Roland Daulin) uses his brilliant technique and delicate quality to blur gender lines to the point of spooky illusion. The petite 22-year-old, Florida-born, diva is so convincing that if you plunked him down into the cast of ABT’s La Bayadère as one of the Shades, no one would blink an eyelash. Trocks director Tory Dobrin has sometimes had to steer Johnsey back to his comic duties. But when Verbosovitch charmingly laps up the pirouettes and leaps of The Flames of Paris pas de deux or the sustained feminine phrasing of Le Corsaire’s warhorse duet, the performance is more than a little mind-blowing. Johnsey has received rave reviews from London to Tokyo. Look for him on the road with the Trocks in Virginia, Chicago, and Toronto this month. —Joseph Carman


No to prettiness, no to glamour, no to glistening muscular limbs. Yes to intensity, yes to body heat, yes to wildness, freedom, and in-your-face defiance. Faye Driscoll has produced a giddy anarchism we haven’t seen since the fake blood-and-nudity hilarity of DanceNoise in the 1980s. The sexuality in her latest piece, Wow Mom, Wow, is more basic than heterosexuality. The dancers are doggies who hump or cats who claw. They are also young women who speak their hopes and fears while slamming a brush through their hair. But underneath the wild child antics is a rigorous sense of craft. Some of the episodes refer back to the past and enlarge it. The effect is cumulative. A graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Driscoll has danced with Doug Varone, David Neumann, and Yasmeen Godder. Wow Mom, Wow opened at Dance New Amsterdam, where Driscoll teaches. This month she appears at HERE Arts Center in Manhattan, and in the spring she’s at Brooklyn Arts Exchange and Brooklyn College. In the summer she’ll head to San Francisco’s West Wave festival and The Key City Playhouse in Port Townsend, WA. —Wendy Perron


Whether entangled in a rope, wobbling “headless” across the stage, or shyly partnering a giant bird, as he did in the most recent Our Breath is as thin as a Hummingbird’s Spine, Shinichi Iova-Koga is intense. With butoh as part of his heritage, the Santa Clara, CA–born dancer/choreographer locates highly imagistic pieces in a shadowy universe in which the absurd coexists with the lyrical, and destruction and creation hold each other in balance. As much at home in Germany as in California, Iova-Koga uses the dancers’ physicality to make works that are as hilarious as they are haunting. On April 24, the mercurial and mesmerizing Iova-Koga and his nine-year inkBoat ensemble will premiere c(H)ord—a collaboration with the Seattle-based Degenerate Art Ensemble—at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. —Rita Felciano