Best of 2018: DM Contributors Share Their Favorite Dance Moments of the Year
Dance Magazine editors and writers chose their favorite dance happenings of the year. Here are the moves, moments and makers that grabbed us:
Most Heartbreaking History Lesson: THEM
Ishmael Houston-Jones (left) and dancers in THEM. Photo by Rachel Papo, courtesy Blake Zidell & Associates
Originally performed in 1986 at the height of the AIDS epidemic, THEM was revived this year at Performance Space New York just as our collective memory of the crisis veers dangerously close to fading. Created by choreographer Ishmael Houston-Jones, composer Chris Cochrane and writer Dennis Cooper, the piece is a brutal, vulnerable, haunting exploration of gay sexuality and the horrors that AIDS inflicted on the artistic community. The cast—a youthful group, mainly queer men of color—appropriately reinterpreted the improvisation-based choreography for a time when so much has changed, and yet so much hasn't. —Lauren Wingenroth, assistant editor
The Feminist Art We All Needed: The People Movers' Glass
The People Movers in Glass. Photo by Chelsea Robin Lee, courtesy Ladenheim
What happens to a community forced to live under a glass ceiling? Glass, a film and performance project from Kate Ladenheim and The People Movers, handled heavy, heady concepts—like internalized misogyny and the patriarchal paradigm—in a way that was as artfully, entertainingly composed as it was intellectually stimulating. The four performers painted the audience's nails, preened in pantsuits and pushed each other's buttons—and showed off seriously smooth contemporary chops. —Courtney Escoyne, assistant editor
Boldest Reinterpretation of a Story Ballet: Dada Masilo's Giselle
Dada Masilo's Giselle isn't pretty: The protagonist's death is disturbing, not romantic; the Wilis are frighteningly vengeful, not delicate or pitiful. A black South African choreographer, Masilo reveals the violence behind the beloved plot. When Giselle (danced by Masilo herself) is betrayed, beaten and sexually assaulted in front of fellow villagers, they mock her, blaming her for being foolish enough to let it happen—and reminding us how survivors have been treated since long before the rise of #MeToo. —Jennifer Stahl, editor in chief
Most Creative Placemaking: Laura Gutierrez's Center Aisle Blues
Laura Gutierrez in Center Aisle Blues. Photo by Dabfoto Creative Services, courtesy University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts
Laura Gutierrez wanted to address her Houston Tejano heritage. Where better to do that than a Fiesta Mart, her go-to place growing up for everything from piñatas to quinceañera dresses? For Center Aisle Blues, Gutierrez spent weeks getting to know the staff and scouting her path through the store, finding its nooks and crannies. Her vocabulary ranged from sleek, linear movement to elaborate ways of connecting to the aisles. She fully owned the idea of dancing in the middle of a supermarket. The piece ended with her standing on her car in the Fiesta parking lot dressed in a sparkly fringed jacket, facing a city still recovering post-hurricane like a beacon of hope. —Nancy Wozny, contributor
Best Gender-Bending Tap Dance: Caleb Teicher's Great Heights
Caleb Teicher in Great Heights. Photo by ADG Photography, courtesy American Tap Dance Foundation
He's got style. He's got speed. And he's got chutzpah. This we know. But had we ever seen him dance in short shorts and high-heeled tap shoes? At American Tap Dance Foundation's Rhythm in Motion showcase, Caleb Teicher blew us away with his gender-bending solo Great Heights. His legs slapped, stomped and jabbed at the floor before he pounced on top of a bar stool. Then he kicked and tapped up a storm on that high perch. —Wendy Perron, editor at large
Most Creative Use of Props: Mean Girls
Who knew plastic lunch trays could stop a Broadway show? In Mean Girls, Casey Nicholaw trades tap shoes for trays to create percussive effects akin to classic song-and-dance numbers. The cafeteria-based "Where Do You Belong?" is a tongue-in-cheek breakout song, and it's deliciously over-the-top. —Madeline Schrock, managing editor
Most Dynamic Performance: Dorothée Gilbert in La Fille mal gardée
Dorothée Gilbert in La Fille mal gardée. Photo by Francette Levieux, courtesy POB
As Lise in Sir Frederick Ashton's La Fille mal gardée, Paris Opéra Ballet étoile Dorothée Gilbert possessed mischief and charm that had the audience laughing out loud. From her seamless attitude promenade (supported only by ribbons) to her sharp footwork and even sharper comedic timing, Gilbert's performance was both a technical and an artistic dream. —Marissa DeSantis, style & beauty editor
Biggest Boost to Ballet: San Francisco Ballet's Unbound Festival
With 12 world premieres from the likes of Justin Peck, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Alonzo King, San Francisco Ballet's Unbound Festival was a 17-day smorgasbord of dance. But it was so much more: Principal dancers revealed new sides of their artistry, featured roles transformed corps members into overnight stars and wildly imaginative works like Arthur Pita's Björk Ballet got everyone talking. At each intermission, the War Memorial Opera House lobby echoed with impassioned debates about what worked, what didn't and what was unlike anything seen before on the SFB stage. Unbound gave ballet, and audiences, a thrilling boost of adrenaline. —Claudia Bauer, contributor
Best Breakthrough: Lauren Lovette in Alexei Ratmansky's Namouna
Lauren Lovette and Taylor Stanley in Namouna. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB
Every so often, a performance seems to reveal the essence of a dancer. Lauren Lovette has always been a vivid performer. But during her debut in Alexei Ratmansky's fantastical, comic Namouna, a Grand Divertissement, the New York City Ballet principal infused her dancing with an attack and a lack of inhibition that felt new. "I adapted the role to her, lifted the passés and made the battements bigger so she felt she could be big onstage," Ratmansky says of their collaboration. That push seems to have unleashed something in her. Channeling her already distinctive personality through the eccentricities of the role, she was more present than she's ever been. —Marina Harss, contributor
Most Promising Debut Season: Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre
In four world-premiere works, Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre's inaugural season in Atlanta offered up dance that was technically pristine and highly entertaining. Braving torrential spring showers, Tara Lee's The Vertical closed the season outdoors with a playful and heartfelt look at aging. Whether out in the community or in a traditional theater, the five founding members of the company, all former Atlanta Ballet dancers, have shown that they know what it takes to put on a memorable show. —Candice Thompson, contributor
Most Inventive Dance Play: The Beast in the Jungle
Susan Stroman could have spent the rest of her days after The Producers just directing and choreographing in a similar, stupendously successful vein. But she went off-Broadway instead, and this year outdid herself with The Beast in the Jungle, at the Vineyard Theatre. Enlisting the extraordinary talents of Irina Dvorovenko and Tony Yazbeck, using multiple dance vocabularies, and going to a 1903 Henry James story for material, she put together what she calls a "dance play," and it was altogether enthralling. John Kander's waltz-inspired score ran the gamut of emotions, and her choreography did too—from a swooningly romantic pas de deux to a wrenching, heartbreaking solo, with a fantastic, multiheaded imaginary beast in between. —Sylviane Gold, contributor
Most Delightfully Unexpected Trend: Contemporary Dance in Music Videos
This year, Florence Welch and Akram Khan worked together on "Big God," by Florence + The Machine; Emma Portner created movement for Maggie Rogers' "fallingwater"; and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui choreographed "APESHIT," by Beyoncé and Jay-Z. High-profile music artists hiring contemporary choreographers seemed to be the trend of 2018—even for music not traditionally considered "dancy." These collaborations gave contemporary dance a bigger platform, and showed what it can bring to any style of music. —Kelsey Grills, audience engagement editor
Even if you haven't heard her name, you've almost certainly seen the work of commercial choreographer James Alsop. Though she's made award-winning dances for Beyoncé ("Run the World," anyone?) and worked with stars like Lady GaGa and Janelle Monae, Alsop's most recent project may be her most powerful: A moving music video for Everytown for Gun Safety, directed by Ezra Hurwitz and featuring students from the National Dance Institute.
We caught up with Alsop for our "Spotlight" series:
I want to make an apology because, in my opening speech at the Dance Magazine Awards on Monday, I inadvertently left out one awardee. I said, "Tonight we are honoring four outstanding dance artists who have contributed to the dance field over time." But then I named only three. How could I have forgotten Lourdes Lopez?!?!
We had all been hearing about Lourdes's taking the helm at Miami City Ballet with grace, intelligence, compassion and new ideas. I was planning to say, "Lourdes Lopez, who has brought new life to Miami City Ballet" because I thought that would cover a lot of ground. (My only quibble with myself was whether to say "brought new life" or "gave new life.")
Each year, The New York Times Magazine shines a spotlight on who they deem to be the best actors of the year in its Great Performers series. But, what we're wondering is, can they dance? Thankfully, the NYT Mag recruited none other than Justin Peck to put them to the test.
Peck choreographed and directed a series of 10 short dance films, placing megastars in everyday situations: riding the subway, getting out of bed in the morning, waiting at a doctor's office.
Today, we are thrilled to announce the honorees of the 2018 Dance Magazine Awards. A tradition dating back to 1954, the Dance Magazine Awards celebrate the living legends who have made a lasting impact on dance. This year's honorees include:
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On busy performance days, international guest artist Joy Womack always makes time for one activity after class and rehearsals: a nap. "I like to feel well-rested when I need to be in the spotlight at night, not dragging at the end of the day," she says. "It helps me recover and refocus."
With her earbuds tuned to a guided meditation app, she can squeeze in a nap wherever she needs to. "One time I even took a nap on the floor of the tour bus in Siberia," she says. "Dancers can sleep anywhere."
Joy Womack prioritizes napping before a show. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe magazine.
As research has revealed the benefits of short daytime naps, power-napping advice has proliferated, and more dancers are choosing to include a nap in their pre-performance routines. Approaching napping strategically will help you get the most out of an afternoon snooze.
On Monday night, a memorial was held at Riverside Church to honor the life and achievements of Dance Theatre of Harlem co-founder Arthur Mitchell. With nearly three months to process and grieve (Mitchell passed away on September 19) the atmosphere was not that of mourning as much as reflection, reverence and admiration for who he was, what he built and what remains. (Watch the full livestream here.)
The church filled with family, artistic friends, fans and admirers. What was most gratifying was the volume of DTH alumni from the school, company and organization who traveled across the globe to pay their respects, from founding members to present dancers and students. The house of worship was filled with the sentiment of a family reunion. As Mitchell was sent home, it was a homecoming for many who have not shared air together in decades. What was palpable was the authentic bonds that Dance Theatre of Harlem and Mitchell fostered in all.
Fans of the sublime English National Ballet first artist Precious Adams were probably excited to see her image splashed across the company's website in a promotional image for an upcoming production of Swan Lake.
But those who took a closer look were met with a disappointing reality: Adams, who is the only black woman in the company, is not listed on the principal casting sheet for the production.
Gennadi Nedvigin is not the only early tenure director breaking out a new production of The Nutcracker this season.
We love The Nutcracker as much as the next person, but that perennial holiday classic isn't the only thing making its way onstage this month. Here are five alternatives that piqued our editors' curiosity.
The Nutcracker is synonymous with American ballet. So when Gennadi Nedvigin took the helm at Atlanta Ballet in 2016, a new version of the holiday classic was one of his top priorities. This month, evidence of two years' worth of changes will appear when the company unwraps its latest version at Atlanta's Fox Theatre Dec. 8–24. Choreographed by Yuri Possokhov and produced on a larger-than-ever scale for Atlanta, the new ballet represents Nedvigin's big ambitions.
Ballet Hispánico returns to the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem with its full-length ballet, CARMEN.maquia. Spanish choreographer Gustavo Ramirez Sansano has reenvisioned the story of Carmen to emphasize Don José, the man who falls in love with Carmen, suffers because of her infidelity, then murders her in a "fit of passion." Their duets are filled with all the sensuality, jealousy and violence you could wish for—in a totally contemporary dance language.
Sansano's previous piece for Ballet Hispánico, El Beso, bloomed with a thousand playful and witty ways of expressing desire. He has a knack for splicing humor into romance.
Not being able to attend the in-person audition at your top college can feel like the end of the world. But while it's true that going to the live audition is ideal, you can still make the best out of sending a video. Here are some of the perks:
It's become a colloquialism—or, we admit, a cliche—to say that dance can heal.
But with a new initiative launched by British Health Secretary Matt Hancock, doctors in the U.K. will soon be able to prescribe dance classes—along with art, music, sports, gardening and more—for patients suffering from conditions as various as dementia, lung problems and mental health issues.
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
New York City Ballet fired principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro on Saturday. Both had initially been suspended until 2019 for engaging in "inappropriate communications," while principal Chase Finlay, who was the instigator of those communications, resigned. (Although, in a statement on Saturday, NYCB made it clear they had decided to terminate Finlay prior to his resignation.)
The New York Times reports that NYCB says the change from suspension to termination resulted from hearing the concerns of dancers, staff members and others in the NYCB community. Yet it's hard to ignore the fact that a lawsuit against NYCB had been filed in the meantime. A statement from NYCB executive director Katherine Brown and interim artistic team leader Jonathan Stafford stated:
"We have no higher obligation than to ensure that our dancers and staff have a workplace where they feel respected and valued, and we are committed to providing that environment for all employees of New York City Ballet."
Since the news was announced, both Catazaro and Ramasar have spoken out publicly about being fired.
What does it mean to be human? Well, many things. But if you were at the Dance Magazine Awards last night, you could argue that to be human is to dance. Speeches about the powerful humanity of our art form were backed up with performances by incredible dancers hailing from everywhere from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago to Miami City Ballet.
Misty Copeland started off the celebration. A self-professed "Dance Magazine connoisseur from the age of 13," she not only spoke about how excited she was to be in a room full of dancers, but also—having just come from Dance Theatre of Harlem's memorial for Arthur Mitchell—what she saw as their duty: "We all in this room hold a responsibility to use this art for good," she said. "Dance unifies, so let's get to work."
That sentiment was repeated throughout the night.
Choreographer Val Caniparoli started his ballet career by performing in Lew Christensen's The Nutcracker with San Francisco Ballet in 1971. Today, he still performs with SFB as Drosselmeir, in the company's current version by Helgi Tomasson.
It takes Caniparoli a lot of concentration to stick to the choreography.
"I have the four versions that I choreographed of the role in my head, plus the original I danced for years by Lew," he says. "That's a lot of versions to keep straight."
A list of Clara alumnae from Radio City's Christmas Spectacular reads like a star-studded, international gala program: Tiler Peck and Brittany Pollack of New York City Ballet (and Broadway), Meaghan Grace Hinkis of The Royal Ballet, Whitney Jensen of Norwegian National Ballet and more. Madison Square Garden's casting requirements for the role are simple: The dancer should be 4' 10" and under, appear to be 14 years old or younger and have strong ballet technique and pointework.
The unspoken requisite? They need abundant tenacity at a very young age.
When I read last month that Jessica Lang Dance had announced its farewell, I'm sure I wasn't the only dancer surprised. In the same way that many of us, when reading an obituary, instinctively look for the cause of death, I searched for a reason for the company's unexpected folding. It was buried in the fifth paragraph of The New York Times article:
Her manager, Margaret Selby, said in an interview that Jessica Lang Dance's closing showed how difficult it is to keep a small dance company running these days. "You have to raise so much money, the smaller companies don't have enough staff, and Jessica was running the company for the last seven years without a day off," she said. "She wants to focus on creative work."
Whereas the announcement itself may have come as a shock, the root cause certainly doesn't. All of us in the field are familiar with the conditions to which Selby refers. But that these problems can topple the success of a company like Lang's, which boasts seven years of national and international touring that include commissions from Jacob's Pillow and The Joyce, among others, is sobering.