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Michelle Dorrance Took Over the Guggenheim Rotunda, And It Was Genius
Michelle Dorrance isn't a MacArthur-certified "Genius" for nothing. Last night at New York City's Guggenheim Museum, she premiered the first ever Works & Process Rotunda Project, a brand new initiative announced last summer that commissions site-specific work specifically for the Guggenheim's iconic Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Rotunda. (Next up: Daniil Simkin.)
Dorrance's project, in collaboration with fellow hoofer Nicholas Van Young, has set the bar for future projects almost unfairly high. The 40 minute piece was funny yet breathtaking, endlessly entertaining but compositionally brilliant, and as interesting aurally as it was visually. It had all of the rhythmic complexity that we've come to expect from Dorrance's work, but by placing the audience on the ramps (spiraling up seven stories) and the performers on the floor (okay, and occasionally on the ramps, too), the rhythms took on new dimensions. Basically, we loved it. Here are six reasons why.
It was impossible to label it as a single dance style. I spied breakdance, contemporary release technique, hints of Latin ballroom and (of course) some fantastic soft- and hard-shoe tap. Aside from hoofers Dorrance and Van Young, break dancers Ephrat Asherie and Matthew West were the other featured couple. Mixing genres can be hit or miss, but in this case the the amalgam of styles was a definite hit.
Dorrance and Van Young making music.
The dancers were musicians, and the musicians dancers. Dorrance spent as much time astride a drum as she did battling with Van Young on mobile platforms or using wooden sticks. A trio of dancers appeared periodically on the ramps to sing haunting melodies. The dancers who played instruments never felt secondary, because making dance and making music were valued equally—and often were the same action. It was surreal seeing familiar tap steps but hearing them sound completely different because of the acoustics of the space. The sensibility that anything can be a percussive instrument, including the ramps and walls of the Rotunda, pervaded the work, a strong reminder that both Dorrance and Van Young are STOMP veterans.
The audience made music, too. In one well-received section, Van Young stood in the center of a platform on the floor and wordlessly coached the sections of the audience in different clapping rhythms. If you were in the room, you had to pay attention—otherwise you'd definitely miss your cue—and it made everyone watching acutely aware of just how difficult it was to coordinate the complex sounds we'd been hearing from the performers all night. (As Dorrance put it, "Acoustically, this thing is a whole new animal.")
She took advantage of the "fifth wall" to add a new dimension. There was as much attention paid to how the work would look from above as to how it sounded—the intricate pathways carved by the performers had an almost kaleidoscopic effect, so no matter how high up you were you had something fascinating to see. When Asherie used b-girl floorwork to cross the floor, she seemed to be floating in space; when a handful of the performers ended the piece lying flat on their backs and took their bows from there, it created an optical illusion of them standing on the walls. And their energy was infectious—even if you couldn't see their faces from above, you could feel the focus, joy and determination radiating from every person on the floor.
Dorrance and Van Young.
She really responded to the space. When we talked to Dorrance about the project in November, she had a few ideas of what she wanted to do with it, but was quick to point out, "We would be fools to walk in there and think we're going to do something without the space telling us, 'No, you're not going to do this.' " Sure enough, the final structure was many, many steps removed from the initial ideas she had tossed around before beginning rehearsals, but the exploration she had set for herself—"non-traditional percussive movement, in a direction where we maximize what we can do in that space"—was evident throughout.
It was just fun. I saw senior citizens, small children and everyone in between crowded onto the ramps, and not a single person wasn't nodding along to the beat at some point or cheering as hard as they could by the end. You never knew what was going to happen next, but it almost inevitably evoked smiles, laughs or murmurs of approval. Who says great, serious choreography can't be fun?
Best of all, if you weren't one of the lucky few to make it to the one-night-only show, one of the performances was streamed via Facebook Live—you can watch it here.
All images: Works & Process Rotunda Project: Michelle Dorrance with Nicholas Van Young, February 16, 2017, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Rotunda. Photos by: Matthew Murphy
The revival of everything '90s has been in full-swing for a while now—we saw Destiny's Child reunite at Coachella, Britney Spears is headed back on tour, and the Spice Girls miiight be performing at the Royal wedding next month. But Hollywood saved the best '90s moment for last, bringing *NSYNC back together to receive their official star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 30.
Because we love a good dance #TBT, we're reliving five of the boys' best dance moments.
"I Want You Back"
The band's first single from their self-titled debut album in 1998, "I Want You Back," was the start of their takeover (and their choreographed dance moves).
Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
Gina Gibney runs two enormous dance spaces in New York City: Together they contain 23 studios, five performance spaces, a gallery, a conference room, a media lab and more. Gibney is now probably the largest dance center in the country. It's not surprising that Dance Magazine named Gina Gibney one of the most influential people in dance today.
One of the biggest myths about ballet dancers is that they don't eat. While we all know that, yes, there are those who do struggle with body image issues and eating disorders, most healthy dancers love food—and eat plenty of it to fuel their busy schedules.
Luckily for us, they're not afraid to show it:
What does a superstar like Carlos Acosta do after bidding farewell to his career in classical ballet? In Acosta's case, he returns to his native country, Cuba, to funnel his fame, connections and prodigious energies back into the dance scene that formed him. Because of its top-notch, state-supported training programs and popular embrace of the art of dance, Cuba is brimming with talented dancers. What it has been short on, until recently, are opportunities outside of the mainstream companies, as well as access to a more international repertoire. That is changing now, and, with the creation of Acosta Danza, launched in 2016, Acosta is determined to open the doors even wider to new ideas and audiences.
There's so much more to the dance world than making and performing dances. Arts administrators do everything from raising money to managing companies to building new audiences. With the growing number of arts administration programs in colleges, dancers have an opportunity to position themselves for a multifaceted career on- or offstage—and to bring their unique perspective as artists to administrative work.
While Solange was busy helping big sis Beyoncé give Coachella its best performances of all time, an equally compelling project was quietly circulating on Instagram:
New York City Ballet continues its first year without Peter Martins at the helm as our spring season opens tonight.
When he retired at the start of the new year, we plunged headfirst into unknown, murky waters. Who would the new director be? When would we know? Would we dancers get some say in the decision? Who would oversee the Balanchine ballets? Who would be in charge of casting? Would a new director bring along huge upheaval? Could some of us be out of a job?