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How Do You Make an Angel Fly on Broadway? Hire Dancers, Of Course
The first part of Angels in America ends with a bang: Prior Walter, the character we've followed for roughly three and a half hours as he weathers the AIDS crisis in 1980s New York City, sees an Angel crash through the ceiling. She beats her wings, hovering over the man cowering in his bed, and intones, "Greetings, prophet. The great work begins!" It's an immensely satisfying conclusion to Part One, and makes audiences that much more eager to get to the second.
But how do you make an angel fly?
In the Broadway revival of Tony Kushner's landmark play, specifically the Marianne Elliott–directed production that transferred to the Great White Way after a wildly successful run on the West End, you hire six extra cast members, a combination of dancers and aerialists, and figure it out together.
Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter in Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches. Photo by Brinkhoff & Mögenburg, Courtesy DKC/O&M
Bring in movement consultant Steven Hoggett (who is receiving a Critics' Choice Award from the Chita Rivera Awards this season, and got his own Tony nod for his Harry Potter and the Cursed Child choreography), and you have something akin to magic. With his help, those six performers became the Angel Shadows who make the titular Angel fly, fight or twitch a wing in annoyance, as well as move sets and props, during the two-part, eight-hour play.
We talked to Angel Shadow Silvia Vrskova—an alum of Ballet Hispánico, Cirque du Soleil and Broadway's Fiddler on the Roof—to find out what it's like being a dancer in the most Tony-nominated play in history:
What Rehearsals Were Like
"The day I found out I got cast, we had to do a workshop to audition the Angel understudy. We couldn't believe it! We didn't have a contract and we were already in rehearsal!
"We had two months of rehearsals in Brooklyn. The Brits work very differently—even though we were just "Shadows," we were all on the same level. If you had something to say, you could, and they did such a good job of casting people who aren't just good dancers, but creators as well."
What's an Angel Shadow, Anyway?
"We're the essence of the Angel, the extension of their feelings. The expressions of the worlds, how they feel about each other or the situation—we are that.
"We're very much on the floor, sliding crouching, moving. When we have to lift someone, the preparation has to be seamless—how do we make the Angel go up so you don't really see us? And how do you get the sense that you're part of the Angel even though you're far away?"
Making the Angel Fly
"It was like a puzzle we had to un-puzzle. The flying was too long in London, so we had to figure out how to shorten it. I'm an aerialist, so I loved that they would listen to us, and our ideas to make it faster or safer. You have to have a plan. It's a lot of brainwork. In those rehearsals we were so exhausted, my brain was going to explode trying to find the solutions! We were just so invested in it.
"We know both Angels, what they each want. At the beginning, we had to be more sturdy for Beth Malone, her feet would really push down and she had a lot more movement. Amanda Lawrence, at the beginning, wasn't as...not violent, but energetic. Now I don't need to remember. Intuition tells you what to do with each body."
Amanda Lawrence as the Angel. Photo by Brinkhoff & Mögenburg, Courtesy DKC/O&M
Surviving An Eight-Hour Play
"Oh my god! It's not easy. Those days melt together. I'm like, Didn't we just do this!? It's a constant stretching, warming up backstage. We're always on the floor! Everyone is like, Aren't they exhausted?"
Handling Props and Sets
"I never knew putting furniture on the right spot could be so stressful! Sometimes you have to save a scene. You have to prepare your body for the impossible, so you can do what you aren't expecting to have to do—and then make it look like nothing happened so the audience doesn't see it when something goes wrong."
Putting Aside Ego
"It's so humbling to feel that it's not about me this time. We're only a small part, but if we can make it better, that's a big accomplishment. I miss doing what I'm good at, but this is a different challenge, to put the ego aside and be happy for someone else. It's rewarding."
What it Means to be Part of Such an Iconic Work
"In the early rehearsals, when the actors would do run-throughs, I would cry every day! I would love to see it from the front again!
"I was 20 years old when I moved to New York City, and I watched the Angels in America movie with my roommate after one of my friends was diagnosed with AIDS. He almost died at 25 because he couldn't get the pills. I would never have imagined that 20 years later I would be a part of this play."
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New York City Ballet is celebrating the Jerome Robbins Centennial with twenty (20!) ballets. The great American choreographer died in 1998, so very few of today's dancers have actually worked with him. There are plenty of stories about how demanding (at times brutally so) he could be in rehearsal. But Peter Boal has written about Robbins in a more balanced, loving way. In this post he writes about how Robbins' crystal clear imagery helped him approach a role with clarity and purpose.
Who says you need fancy equipment to make a festival-worthy dance film? Right now, two New York City–based dance film festivals are calling for aspiring filmmakers to show their stuff—and you don't need anything more cumbersome than a smartphone to get in on the action.
Here's everything you need to know about how to submit:
On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba tours the U.S. this spring with the resolute Cuban prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso a the helm. Named a National Hero of Labor in Cuba, Alonso, 97, has weathered strained international relations and devastating fiscal challenges to have BNC emerge as a world-class dance company. Her dancers are some of ballet's best. On offer this time are Alonso's Giselle and Don Quixote. The profoundly Cuban company performs in Chicago May 18–20, Tampa May 23, Washington, D.C., May 29–June 3 and Saratoga, New York June 6–8.
We all know that the general population's knowledge of ballet is sometimes...a bit skewed. (See: people touching their fingertips to the top of their head, and Kendall Jenner hopping around at the barre.)
Would your average Joe know how to do ballet's most basic step: a plié? Or, more to the point, even know what it is?
SELF decided to find out.
When Lisset Santander bourréed onstage as Myrtha in BalletMet's Giselle this past February, her consummate portrayal of the Queen of the Wilis was marked by steely grace and litheness. The former Cuban National Ballet dancer had defected to the U.S. at 21, and after two years with the Ohio company, she's now closer to the dance career she says she always wanted: one of limitless possibilities.
For 17 years, James Samson has been the model Paul Taylor dancer. There is something fundamentally decent about his stage persona. He's a tall dancer—six feet—but never imposes himself. He's muscular, but gentle. And when he moves, it is his humanity that shines through, even more than his technique.
But all dancing careers come to an end, and James Samson's is no exception; now 43, he'll be retiring in August, after a final performance at the Teatro Romano in Verona, where he'll be dancing in Cloven Kingdom, Piazzolla Caldera and Promethean Fire.
The wait for Alexei Ratmansky's restaging of Petipa's Harlequinade is almost over! But if you can't wait until American Ballet Theatre officially debuts the ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House on June 6, we've got you covered. ABT brought the Harlequinade characters to life (and to the Alder Mansion in Yonkers, NY) in a short film by Ezra Hurwitz, and it's a guaranteed to make you laugh.
When an anonymous letter accused former New York City Ballet leader Peter Martins of sexual harassment last year, it felt like what had long been an open secret—the prevalence of harassment in the dance world—was finally coming to the surface. But the momentum of the #MeToo movement, at least in dance, has since died down.
Martins has retired, though an investigation did not corroborate any of the claims against him. He and former American Ballet Theatre star Marcelo Gomes, who suddenly resigned in December, were the only cases to make national headlines in the U.S. We've barely scratched the surface of the dance world's harassment problem.
Many choreographers have been defeated by Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. However, one dancemaker whose stridency, rhythmic daring and sheer inventiveness could possibly match Stravinsky's is Wayne McGregor. For his first commission from American Ballet Theatre, McGregor has taken on this earth-cracking music in AFTERITE, to premiere at ABT's Spring Gala. Also on the May 21 gala program are excerpts from Alexei Ratmansky's restaging of the comic ballet Harlequinade, the full version of which will premiere next month, and a pièce d'occasion by tapper Michelle Dorrance. May 21–26. abt.org.
If diamonds are a girl's best friend, it's safe to say that faux-diamond earrings are a dancer's best friend. A fixture onstage at just about every competition weekend, these blinged-out baubles are also the surest sign that recital season is upon us again. And what better way to get into the sparkly spirit than by drooling over these 5 diamonds in the rough? (Sorry not sorry!)