25 to Watch

June 21, 2007

Dance Magazine‘s annual look at who’s new and breaking through in 2006.





Because he jumps higher and quicker than anyone alive, hip hop and underground house dancer James P. Colter is nicknamed “Cricket.” A fearless capoeirista, Cricket bounces across the stage, launching his small, compact body into flight and flipping off double-triple somersaults or aerial turns. When grounded, he will do slow motion handstands then slowly leverage down. Or, he might slide across the floor on his head. He seems to spend more time upside down than right side up. Wonderfully intelligent and gentle, Colter is also an admired teacher, intent on spreading the history of hip hop to others. A New Jersey native, Colter moved to Philadelphia to dance with Rennie Harris’ Puremovement. Back in the day, Cricket also opened for mainstream recording artists like KRS-One, Deee-Lite, and Will Smith. This year he can be seen in Puremovement’s concerts touring across the nation. Recently Cricket founded his own Philadelphia crew and company, Crazy Natives/Soul Motion, dedicated to performance and education. An inspirational dancer and man. —Sally Sommer


Counter Revelation

Anouk van Dijk

Anouk van Dijk’s dancers move as if their limbs were shot out of a cannon. Ask the choreographer how she gets this effect, and she’s likely to haul out a notebook filled with diagrams illustrating Countertechnique, the movement system she has developed over the past 20 years. “It uses three-dimensional counter directions within the body to establish a dynamic sense of balance and control,” she says, “unlike the traditional approach in modern dance where most movements are controlled from the pelvis.” This month the Netherlands-based anoukvandijk dc is in residence at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography in Tallahassee to make a DVD of Countertechnique principles. But the best demonstration is in watching the dancers move. They whip, spin, lunge, and fall flat on their faces. As brutal as it looks, van Dijk assures us that her unique approach actually reduces the incidence of injury. See the company at MASS MoCA in Jan., Tallahassee and Seattle’s Velocity Dance in Feb., and Danspace Project in New York in October. —Karen Hildebrand

Night Light

Caitlin Valentine

When Caitlin Valentine performs, she glows. With her seemingly effortless technique and beautifully proportioned body, Valentine exudes joy onstage. She began training in tap, jazz, ballet, and musical theater in New Jersey, but switched her focus solely to ballet when she moved to Florida at age 11, dancing at Orlando Ballet’s school and joining the company at age 16. “Orlando Ballet is like a family,” she says. “I love being here. Being 19 and in a bigger company I wouldn’t have these opportunities.” She revealed her expressive talents as Guinevere in Samantha Dunster’s Camelot last spring, and credits Dunster, school director Peter Stark, and the late company artistic director Fernando Bujones for her accomplishments. “Performing is what I love. I give it everything and I hope that shows.” Catch her in May at Orlando’s Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre when the company present Bujones’ version of Raymonda: The Medieval Times Ballet. —Kate Mattingly

Flashback to Heroism

Kurt Douglas

Kurt Douglas performs the heroic Limón repertoire with vibrancy, attack, and inner joy. Now in his fifth year with the Limón Dance Company, he attributes his success in such pieces as Psalm and A Choreographic Offering to the powerful, dramatic content of Limón’s work. “It’s about being artistically vulnerable,” Douglas says. “I love to re-create Limón’s raw, masculine emotions.” After studying the Graham technique at New York City’s LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts, Douglas headed to the Boston Conservatory of Music to train with former Limón dancer Jennifer Scanlon. After graduating with flying colors, he was offered a contract by the artistic director of the Limón Company, Carla Maxwell. The following year he received the Princess Grace Award for outstanding performer, and by 2003, he was dancing lead roles. This year catch him in the monumental Limón revival Missa Brevis in March in Los Angeles, or in May at the Virginia Arts Festival. —Robert Tracy

Always Searching

Aesha Ash

When Aesha Ash was in the corps of New York City Ballet, she had a piquant quality and invigorating energy that made some observers wonder when she would be named soloist. Another person who noticed was Albert Evans, the NYCB principal who cast her as the lead in his edgy, design-conscious Haiku in 2002. “His piece reawakened something inside of me,” Ash said recently. Whatever that something was, she went in search for more of it in Europe and danced with Béjart’s Ballet Lausanne for two years. Now she’s back, and Alonzo King’s got her. Last fall on a break from rehearsals for his San Francisco-based LINES Ballet, she said, “Alonzo believes in searching out the artist within you. He makes me do a lot of self-exploration. It’s not only physical work but also a ton of mental work.” With Ash’s terrific dancing and King’s global-inspired choreography, this could be a match made in heaven. —Wendy Perron

Lush Hybrid

Tania Isaac

With an alluring stage presence and a prodigious stash of movement ideas, Tania Isaac is spreading her special magic on Philadelphia stages and beyond. A native of St. Lucia, West Indies, Isaac balances hot movements and cool attitudes to create a delicious concoction of Caribbean dance forms (calypso, reggae, soca, zouk), modern-postmodern idioms, visual images, and the spoken word—so good we can almost taste it. Isaac rocked Philly in 2004 with home is where i am, an evening-length, multimedia piece on immigration. Fusing choreography with personal documentary and social commentary, her stage picture is intelligent, voluptuous, witty, and political, all in the same breath. The women in Isaac’s multicultural ensemble perform sensually and sensuously without becoming pornographic objects. A veteran of Urban Bush Women and Rennie Harris Puremovement, Isaac and her eponymous company will be in residence at the Bates Dance Festival in July performing Standpipe, her new work. —Brenda Dixon Gottschild

Mercury Rising

Ma Cong

A quicksilver light fills the stage when Ma Cong dances. Grounded in a visceral love of moving, he exudes joy in the lift-off and exhilaration as he flashes through the air. Formerly with the National Ballet of China, Cong is expanding his artistry as both principal dancer and emerging choreographer with Tulsa Ballet. His passion for moving gave rise to his first full work last year. It wove influences ranging from folk and classical forms to Kylián and Duato into a richly varied vocabulary. Cong recently premiered a second work and appeared as guest dancer with the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (the Florence Opera House) and the Teatro Massimo in Palermo. As Tulsa Ballet’s sole male principal dancer, Cong performs in February and again in April at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. —Cynthia Perry

Short Stories, Tango Style

Navarrete x Kajiyama

When Mexican-born José Navarrete and Japanese-American Debby Kajiyama started working together in 2001, they explored the intersection of their individual cultures. But they really hit common ground when they discovered a mutual passion—tango. The two petite dancers have become formidable tangueros who are now exploring the theatrical potential of this social dance in the Bay Area. Just as Astor Piazzola, whose music they often use, pushed tango’s resonance into other realms, Navarrete and Kajiyama dig into the tension between constraint and freedom. They stretch the duo form and dip into the cauldron of tango’s underbelly. What they have come up with is a series of pungent little essays—some of them light, some of them dark, all of them crisply designed and excellently performed. Navarrete x Kajiyama Dance Theater will appear May 17–June 4 at the 2006 San Francisco International Arts Festival, which will focus on Latino culture. —Rita Felciano

Dancer Turning Choreographer

Edwaard Liang

When Peter Boal asked New York City Ballet principal Wendy Whelan who she’d like to choreograph a duet for them to dance in Boal’s chamber company, Whelan chose Edwaard Liang, the Taiwan-born City Ballet soloist. Liang’s poetic pas de deux, Distant Cries, was so successful that it was picked up by City Ballet for their spring gala. Elegant, long-limbed, and precise, Liang has a keen feeling for contemporary work as both dancer and choreographer. He was terrific in Fosse, whipping off strings of pirouettes that wowed the Broadway audience. His multimedia group dance, This Mortal Coil, made for the launch of the Cedar Lake Ensemble last fall (see “New York Notebook,” October), was fast-moving and dramatic with the added dimension of an anguished solo figure. A recent back injury has kept Liang off the stage but hasn’t slowed down his creative pace. This month he premieres a ballet for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, set to music by Philip Glass. —Amanda Smith

Fifth Time’s a Charm

Ballet Pacifica

What do Eugene Loring, John Clifford, David Wilcox, and the Joffrey Ballet have in common? They all tried and failed to sustain a ballet company in Los Angeles. Will Ethan Stiefel’s Ballet Pacifica be any different? “I’m involving great people at the right time,” says Stiefel (left), who is known in ballet circles as a savvy businessman. The principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre assumed artistic directorship of the Orange County company last November and immediately surrounded himself with a first-rate crew: Amanda McKerrow as ballet mistress (right), John Gardner as artistic associate (center), Lorin Johnson as director of the school, and Tom Gulick as executive director. After almost two years of fundraising and planning, the 25-member troupe will have its premiere in October. Stiefel plans to program works by Tharp, Lubovitch, Balanchine, Ashton, and Robbins as well as Finnish choreographer Nils Christe and Dutchman Didy Veldman. “I feel ready,” says Stiefel. Let’s hope he is. Los Angeles is still the only major city the U.S. without a ballet company, and no one wants it to remain that way. —Kate Lydon

Cirque de Ballet

Josie Walsh

Fusing aerial acrobatics and gymnastics with edgy pointe work best described as “extreme ballet,” Los Angeles-based artistic director/choreographer Josie Walsh creates mini-Vegas-like extravaganzas with her six-year-old Myo Dance Company. A former Joffrey Ballet and Zurich Ballet dancer, Walsh has an additional weapon in her creative arsenal: Husband Paul Rivera fronts an industrial rock band, Kyo, grinding out guitar licks perched on a pair of stilts. This spring in Hollywood, her 20-member troupe performs The Garden of Reason, a “non-linear journey through the mind.” Walsh, who also teaches and is choreographing Tinker Bell for Disney, says, “We’re dance-based but use circus arts to enhance choreographic opportunities—and to defy gravity.” —Victoria Looseleaf

Moon Goddess

Carla Körbes

Brazilian-born Carla Körbes thrilled New York City Ballet audiences when she leaped into the spotlight soon after joining the company’s corps de ballet in 2000. Luminously beautiful, she was playful and musical as Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and articulate and dramatic in Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3. She looked like she could do no wrong. But a series of injuries and illnesses kept Körbes offstage for large chunks of time, and it was only last season when—promoted to soloist—she began to shine anew. Then she announced she was moving—to Pacific Northwest Ballet, along with her mentor Peter Boal, who had been responsible for bringing her to the School of American Ballet. It’s Boal and Seattle’s gain. She has already brought her stylistic elegance and full-bodied sensuality into the stark geometry of Forsythe’s Artifact II. Look out for her in PNB’s new staging of Balanchine’s Jewels in June. —Roslyn Sulcas

Crazy Legs

Lisa Benson

At the Jazz Dance World Congress in Chicago last August, Odyssey Dance Theatre’s Lisa Benson revealed an unlimited supply of high-tech energy. In company director Derryl Yeager’s modern jazz duet Motif, Benson rocked the house with her meticulous pointe work, warm presence, and insanely supple body. The young audience screamed with delight each time her penché stretched beyond the beyond. Leaving Salt Lake City at 16 for opportunities in California, she returned with a string of awards to study as a ballet major in the dance program at the University of Utah. But when ODT, based in Salt Lake City, offered the chance to explore everything from ballet to hip hop, plus a European tour and four annual home seasons, Benson jumped. Excited to work with new associate artistic director Bonnie Story, whose extensive film and video experience is sure to bring a new edge, Benson remarked, “How can you not love the challenges at ODT?” —Kathy Adams

Lights, Camera, Dance!

Dance Camera West

In Los Angeles, a city notorious for being unfriendly to homegrown dance, Dance Camera West Film Festival is all about being inclusive: documentaries, Hollywood classics, site-specific performance combined with video, and experimental non-narrative films—DCW shows it all each June. Screenings take place at venues across the sprawling megalopolis at museums, an outdoor plaza, a hillside park, and at landmark movie palaces. Different crowds turn up each night, and it’s not dance fans only, says co-director Lynette Kessler. The festival has grown from 2002’s two nights of movies to last year’s 45 films at six sites, attracting 3,000 people. For the first time, DCW showed films in the fall, and they will show winning entries from the American Choreography Awards next summer. Co-director Kelly Hargraves plans to offer workshops on how choreographers can transform performance for the camera. —Laura Bleiberg

Eloquent Eroticism

Hee Seo

Casual. Sexy. Lithe. When Hee Seo glided through Morning After at American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company gala this spring, she brought a sleek sensuality to Brian Reeder’s playful look at post-coital mores. Seo, 19, now an ABT apprentice, seems to have better credentials for a dewy Aurora than a femme fatale. She started ballet at 11 in her native Seoul, studied at Washington, D.C.’s Kirov Academy, and in 2003 won both the Prix de Lausanne and the top prize at Youth America Grand Prix, which gained her a place in ABT’s Studio Company. “She has refinement and sensuality,” says artistic associate Clinton Luckett. “And she makes extraordinarily beautiful classical shapes.” While Seo feels her technique lags—“I can’t do five pirouettes”—her interest lies more in developing artistic depth. “When you walk upstage, you need to be as expressive with your back as you are with your face,” she says. “I’m a dancer trying to put a face on my back.” —Hanna Rubin

Accidental Juliet

Mariko Kida

When Mariko Kida joined Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, she never imagined her first assignment would be to portray one of literature’s most famous heroines. But there she was, a shimmering picture of young love in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Romeo and Juliet, passionately moving through the work’s classical steps and contemporary choreography with equal finesse. And she was only a member of the corps. “I should have been nervous,” Kida says quietly. Originally chosen as an understudy for the part, she was practicing off in a corner when artistic director Gradimir Pankov saw her and decided she should perform Juliet. “She is a jewel,” says Pankov. “Such a small body but she moves large. So much harmony there.” Kida, 22, studied at the San Francisco Ballet School on a Prix de Lausanne scholarship and danced with Alberta Ballet for two years before joining Les Grands in 2004. Now a demi-soloist, versatile Kida looks forward to tackling her company’s new cutting-edge repertoire. —Kena Herod

Romantic Era Ballerina

Leticia Oliveira

With her deep-set dark eyes and flair for emotional depth, Houston Ballet’s first soloist Leticia Oliveira recalls ballerinas of the past. With a rare authenticity and vintage charm, she transported audiences back to 1940s Russia in the “Serenade” solo of Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc. She embodied Giselle’s frail character and her ghostly incarnation as a Wili. At the age of 18, Oliveira left her homeland of Brazil, where she had danced with Municipal Theater of Rio de Janeiro, to pursue more performing opportunities. Before landing in Houston in 2001, she danced with the Fernando Bujones Dance Company and the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. Promoted to first soloist in 2004, she’s been on the rise ever since. “I love story ballets,” claimed Oliveira as she prepared to dance Tatiana in Cranko’s Onegin, her new favorite role. This February she will have her first chance to dance in Stanton Welch’s new Swan Lake, and later on in the season, Don Quixote. —Nancy Wozny

Brain Child

Jonah Bokaer

Knocking the socks off Merce Cunningham audiences around the globe would be an achievement for any young dancer. But Jonah Bokaer has also begun a body of solo choreography that is wowing his peers. After growing up in Ithaca, New York, Bokaer attended the North Carolina School of the Arts and in 2000 became the youngest dancer to ever accepted into the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Bokaer finds spontaneity in the company’s repertoire, bringing the familiar shapes alive with arc and undertow. In his own work, humanity and fluidity are matched by intellectual inquiry. In his recent solo, Nudedescendance, Duchamp’s historic painting, “Nude Descending a Staircase,” collides with computer technology. Bokaer’s last task in the piece is to drink a bottle of water while bumping down a ladder, bum to rung, nude. Look for a new work in the Family Matters series at Dance Theater Workshop in January. —Chris Dohse

Solar Energy

Isaac Spencer

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Isaac Spencer has an electric presence onstage. With an intense internal focus, he moves as if some perfectly coiled spring had just been released in him. In works like Nacho Duato’s Gnawa and William Forsythe’s Enemy in the Figure, his energy radiates into space, unforced yet thrilling, beautifully controlled yet a little wild. Small, lean and boyish, Spencer, 23, has the looks of a bohemian Tom Sawyer. He grew up in Worcester, MA, began dance classes at 9, attended Walnut Hill (a private performing arts high school), and graduated from Juilliard in 2004. He immediately joined Hubbard Street 2 and a month later was invited into the main company. Spencer is self-critical about his ballet technique, but says, “One of the things I’ve learned is to embrace what you do have.” Catch him during Hubbard Street’s national tour throughout February, or during the company’s spring season, March 22–April 9 at Chicago’s Harris Theater for Music and Dance. —Hedy Weiss

Back on Track

Misa Kuranaga

Whether she’s whipping through a Petipa variation or gliding softly in a premiere by Lucinda Childs, Misa Kuranaga radiates strength, musicality, and a meticulous sense of épaulement. Shy in speech but brave in her actions—and onstage—the Japanese ballerina had actually contemplated quitting dance at age 17. But in 2001 she had good luck at the most prestigious European ballet competition. “The Prix de Lausanne saved my life,” she says with a laugh. “It gave me a scholarship to San Francisco Ballet School, and the same year I won a gold medal at the 9th Moscow Competition.” Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen noticed her immediately at the Monaco Dance Forum, where she had taken class, and offered her a contract in BB’s corps without a formal audition. He cast her as Amour in Don Quixote and then promoted her to second soloist. This March she’ll dance in an energetic premiere by Helen Pickett, and in May, she performs a lead in Balanchine’s classic Serenade, which she says is “a dream come true.” —Theodore Bale

The Non-Choreographer

Miguel Gutierrez

Miguel Gutierrez is not a choreographer. This Brooklyn-based “dance artist,” as he prefers to be called, often collaborates with media artists and musicians so that movement is only one part of his artistic endeavors. In dAMNATION rOAD (2004), his company, called Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, presented a searing, visceral portrait of terror incarnate. Frenetic floor work, slicing arms, and furtive running passages were staged amidst a film of a burning tractor-trailer, blinding white lights, and a bleating soundscape. It was a caustic, apocalyptic performance experience. This year finds Gutierrez, who has danced with Joe Goode and John Jasperse, in a “back to basics” mood. After the New York premiere last month he brings new pieces to DiverseWorks in Houston, TX (March 3–4) including the solo Retrospective Exhibitionist, which he says examines his own vulnerability as a performer. Choreographer or dance artist—whatever his title, Gutierrez’s messages are loud and clear. —Vanessa Manko

The Next Russian Legend

Yevgenia Obraztsova

During the Kirov Ballet’s summer season in London, 21-year-old Yevgenia Obraztsova’s evocative Juliet had British balletomanes comparing her to that other legendary Russian, Galina Ulanova. From her very first moment onstage, the audience was ensnared by her spontaneity; her beautiful, expressive face and long slim limbs; her fleet footwork, thistledown-soft technique, and flowing lyricism; and her spirited and dramatic elucidation of Shakespeare’s doomed heroine. Later, in Forsythe’s Approximate Sonata her delicate demeanor gave way to contemporary off-balances and a tough physicality. Obraztsova joined the Kirov in 2002 and won the gold medal at the last Moscow International Ballet Competition. She recently appeared as an actress-dancer in the French film, Les Poupées Russes, receiving excellent reviews. Under the tutelage of former Kirov ballerina Ninel Kurgapkina, Obraztsova should continue to polish and refine her performances, and we can expect to hear a lot more about her in the years ahead. —Margaret Willis


Amar Ramasar

Unleashing a torrent of frenzied movement in Peter Martins’ The Infernal Machine, snapping fingers and hips in Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free, or dancing with classical clarity in Agon, New York City Ballet corps member Amar Ramasar has consistently stood out from the crowd since joining the company in 2001. Born in the Bronx to a Trinidadian father and a Puerto Rican mother, Ramasar started ballet at 14 because it “looked challenging.” He has a beautiful line, an effortless jump, and an instinctive musicality. But you don’t watch Ramasar for his technique, which he uses simply as an underpinning for his eloquent, expressive dancing and his engaging, ebulliant personality. He knows how to project vulnerability and compassion onstage—and deadpan humor too. These gifts should bring a great deal to New York City Ballet-goers in 2006. —Roslyn Sulcas

They Come as a Package

This Woman’s Work

Heads up presenters! Co-founders Princess Mhoon-Cooper and Bridget Moore with Hope Boykin, Camille Brown, Shani Nwando, Ikerioha Collins, and Ursula Payne, have joined together under the banner “This Woman’s Work” (TWW) and have produced two sold-out events so far. Admittedly, they had loads of help from elders like Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, but it took plenty of their own hard work. From management to public relations, designing to fundraising, they have built their own collective to showcase their individual choreography. Although they come from the companies of Ronald K. Brown, Rennie Harris, and Alvin Ailey, and are informed by icons Pearl Primus and Katherine Dunham, the end product is all theirs. Amidst a myriad of young dancemakers in New York, these emerging black women are intent on getting their work out—on their own terms. TWW will perform in Washington, D.C., at Howard University Feb. 3–4. —Charmaine Patricia Warren

Splashing Colors

Kazu KumagAi

Tapper Kazu Kumagai dances like the American Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock painted. Intense and focused, Kumagai pays no attention to his upper body or funky clothes. Straddling his legs out, then bringing them in, he riffs backwards as happily as riffing forward. He will crisscross his own tracks in tight patterns, building dense rhythmic accumulations, playing with the music. Then he stops, listens, and splatters down delicate taps like colorful paint dribbles. Kumagai started tapping at 15 in Japan, then came to the United States to work with excellent teachers Barbara Duffy and Ted Levy. Since 1997 he has earned respect as an international leader in tap and a gifted recipient of the American tap legacy. Dancers like Kumagai are living proof that tap dancing is one of our greatest exports of the 21st century. Watch an elegant 11-second Parco ad of Kumagai dancing on Plexiglass at www.plusetplus.com. —Sally Sommer