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
The connections dancers make in college are no joke. For recent alum Gabrielle Hamilton, working with guest choreographer John Heginbotham at Point Park University put her on the fast track to Broadway—not in an ensemble role, but as the lead dancer in one of this season's hottest tickets: Daniel Fish's arresting reboot of Oklahoma!
We caught up with Hamilton about starring in the show's dream ballet and her delightfully bizarre pre-show ritual.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Last Friday, through an appeal to an independent arbitrator, the American Guild of Musical Artists successfully reinstated NYCB principals Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro, previously fired for allegedly circulating sexually explicit texts containing nude photos.
AGMA opposed Ramasar and Catazaro's terminations in order to prevent the setting of a dangerous precedent that would allow dancers to be fired under less understandable consequences. But we cannot allow future cases to dictate the way we handle this situation—particularly a union committed to "doing everything in [its] power to ensure you have a respectful environment in which to work."
But according to the H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory, one in every three dancers in New York City lives under the poverty line, and may lack the resources to purchase the ingredients they need to make nutritious meals.
Not to mention the fact that dancers are busy, and often running around from class to rehearsal to performance to side hustle, grabbing whatever they can get to eat on-the-go.
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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I have a commitment, a romance, a love affair with dance, with the feeling that happens when the music and the steps so perfectly align and I can't help but get chills. That feeling when my partner and I are dancing as one, when everyone onstage feels the same heartbeat, when it's just me alone in my bedroom.
You can see them in "Fosse/Verdon" episode one. Michelle Williams, playing Gwen Verdon, wears them with a cool, retro, forest-green jumpsuit. Tucked beneath a mop top of tousled Gwen Verdon locks, Williams sports a pair of discreet and tasteful onyx drop-earrings—the dancer's favorites. Verdon wore them all her adult life, according to her daughter Nicole Fosse, a co-executive producer of the FX series that puts a spotlight on a great woman of American dance.
"I have very little memory of my mother wearing other earrings. They were her Gwen Verdon earrings," says Fosse, speaking by phone from her home in Vermont. "She's wearing them in 99 percent of the pictures of her performing."
Four years of lectures, exams and classes can feel like a lifetime for college dancers who have their sights set on performing. So when a professional opportunity comes knocking, it can be tempting to step away from your academics. But there are a few things to consider before putting your education on hold.
We've all been there: You see the craziest/most beautiful/oddest/wildest clip of a dance on Facebook and you simply have to see more.
But do you actually get yourself to the theater and sit through a 90-minute performance? The consensus, at this point, typically seems to be: No.
There is no clear correlation between a company's social media campaigns and how many seats they fill in the theater. That doesn't mean social media isn't, of course, vital. It simply means that "social media campaigns operating without other marketing campaigns don't cut it," says Rob Bailis, associate director of Cal Performances at UC Berkeley. "But campaigns without social media are far worse off."
Since the project was first announced toward the end of 2017, we've been extremely curious about Yuli. The film, based on Carlos Acosta's memoir No Way Home, promised as much dancing as biography, with Acosta appearing as himself and dance sequences featuring his eponymous Cuba-based company Acosta Danza. Add in filmmaking power couple Icíar Bollaín (director) and Paul Laverty (screenwriter), and you have a recipe for a dance film unlike anything else we've seen recently.
One of the country's top arbitrators has decided to reinstate Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro to New York City Ballet. The former principals were fired last fall for "inappropriate communications," namely graphic text messages.
The dancers' union, American Guild of Musical Artists, fought the termination, arguing that the firings were unjust since they related entirely to non-work activity. After a careful review of the facts, an independent arbitrator determined that while the company was justified in disciplining the two men, suspension was the appropriate action and termination took it too far.
A woman passes three men in the street. The men pursue her. They thrust their pelvises at her. They continue to pursue her after she slaps one's hand and walks away. They surround her. She glances around at them in alarm. One snatches her purse (to review the Freudian significance of purses, click here) and saunters off with it, mocking her. She tries to take the purse back, and the three men toss it over her head among each other. They make her dance with them. Each time she indicates "No," the men try harder to force her submission to their advances.
This is all within the first 10 minutes of Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free, a 1944 ballet about three sailors frolicking on shore leave during World War II, beloved by many and still regularly performed (especially during the last year, since 2018 was the centennial celebration of Robbins's birth). Critic Edwin Denby, after the premiere with Ballet Theatre, called it "a remarkable comedy piece" and "a direct, manly piece."
When you're bouncing between hotel rooms without access to a kitchen, eating a pescatarian diet can be challenging. Stephanie Mincone, who most recently traveled the globe with Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour, told Dance Magazine how she does it—while fueling herself with enough energy to perform for thousands of Taylor fans.
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?
The pleasure of watching prodigies perform technical feats on Instagram can be tinged with a sense of trepidation. Impressive tricks, you think, but do they have what it takes for an actual career?
Just look at 18-year-old Maria Khoreva, who has more followers than most seasoned principals; in videos, her lines and attention to detail suggested a precocious talent, and led to a Nike ambassador contract before she even graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Still, when she joined the Mariinsky Ballet last summer, there was no guarantee any of it would translate to stage prowess.
What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.
Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
Choosing music for your first-ever choreography commission can feel daunting enough. But when you're asked to create a ballet using the vast discography of the Rolling Stones—and you happen to be dating Stones frontman Mick Jagger—the stakes are even higher.
So it's understandable that as of Monday, American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Melanie Hamrick, whose Port Rouge will have its U.S. premiere tonight at the Youth America Grand Prix gala, was still torn about which songs to include.
What is an acceptable request from a choreographer in terms of nudity? On the first day of shooting All That Jazz in the 1970s, Bob Fosse asked us men to remove everything but our jock straps and the women to remove their tops. His rationale was to shock us in order to build character, and it felt disloyal to refuse. Would this behavior be considered okay today?
As much as audiences might flock to Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, ballet can't only rely on old war horses if it wants to remain relevant. But building new full-lengths from scratch isn't exactly cheap.
So where can companies find the money?
Today—April 16, 2019—marks what would have been Merce Cunningham's 100th birthday. As dancers from Los Angeles to New York City to London gear up for Night of 100 Solos (the marathon performance event being livestreamed today), and as companies and presenters worldwide continue to celebrate the Cunningham Centennial through their programming, we searched through the Dance Magazine Archives to unearth our favorite images of the groundbreaking dancemaker.
A bright disposition with a dab of astringent charm is how I remember Brock Hayhoe, a National Ballet School of Canada schoolmate. Because we were a couple years apart, we barely brushed shoulders, except at the odd Toronto dance party where we could dance all night with mutual friends letting our inhibitions subside through the music. Dancing always allows a deeper look.
But, as my late great ballet teacher Pyotr Pestov told me when I interviewed him for Dance Magazine in 2009, "You never know what a flower is going to look like until it opens up."
One night. Three cities. Seventy-five dancers. And three unique sets of 100 solos, all choreographed by Merce Cunningham.
This incredible evening of dance will honor Cunningham's 100th birthday on April 16. The Merce Cunningham Trust has teamed up with The Barbican in London, the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City and the Center for the Art of Performance in Los Angeles for a tri-city celebration.
The best part? You don't have to be in those cities to watch—Night of 100 Solos is being live-streamed in its entirety for free.