When Marinda Davis was named second runner-up at the 2015 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, she dove headfirst into choreographing and producing a full-length show for her company, marInspired; the storytellers. But as her career was booming, Davis' body was breaking down. Behind the scenes, she was dealing with eight very serious illnesses, one of which led to a months-long hospital stay. Now, as she prepares a piece for Giordano Dance Chicago (debuting in March), Davis reflects on how she's powered through it all.
Next semester, there'll be a new course name on the syllabus of Boston Conservatory at Berklee: "Constructed Gender Identities in Classical Ballet: Men's Variations."
But this is not a new course, just a new title. The old name is one you might recognize: "Men's Class."
Egg Drop Soup's "Partying Alone" video turns a run-of-the-mill dance team audition on its head with a vision of female power from a mature woman. The panel is stunned when a gray-haired, red-lipsticked 80-something tosses aside her cane and lets loose, flipping her hair—and the bird.
Egg Drop Soup - Partying Alone (Official music video)
Take a second look at that head-banging grandma—she is none other than renowned dance researcher and anthropologist Judith Lynne Hanna. An affiliate research professor in anthropology at the University of Maryland, College Park, the author of numerous scholarly books and an expert witness in trials for exotic dancers, she has spent her career getting us to think about dance's relationship to society. Hanna, 82, said she hadn't performed since college when she got a call from a music video producer, who caught a video of her dancing with her 13-year-old grandson. The rockers of Egg Drop Soup loved her energy and flew her out to Los Angeles for a day-long video shoot. We spoke to Hanna about the experience.
According to the new documentary DANSEUR, 85% of males who study dance in the United States are bullied or harassed. A quote in the film from Dr. Doug Risner, faculty member at Wayne State University, states, "If this scope of bullying occurred in any activity other than dance, it would be considered a public health crisis by the CDC."
So why is it allowed to persist in ballet? And why aren't we talking about it more? These are the questions that DANSEUR seeks to answer. But primarily consisting of dance footage and interviews with male dancers like ABT's James Whiteside, Houston Ballet's Harper Watters and Boston Ballet's Derek Dunn, the film only addresses these issues superficially, with anecdotes about individual experiences and generalizations about what it's like to be a male dancer.
Few dancers are able to make a comfortable living from their creative pursuits alone. Many rely on non-dance freelance work or multiple part-time gigs, fearing that a full-time job would take too much time away from their dancing. However, plenty of artists manage to balance full-time day jobs with fulfilling dance careers, opting for the security, benefits and opportunity to learn new skills.
Perhaps the most precious tradition in tap dance is honoring the elders, reflecting a belief that dancers cannot tap a sound without re-sounding the steps of the masters. This show of gratitude is not nostalgic but regenerative: the practice of realizing the future from the past while making one's own inscription on the tradition.
And so it is with Sarah Reich and the release of her debut album, New Change, a mix of original tunes composed of percussive tap rhythms performed by Reich and an ensemble of jazz musicians. The tunes are dedicated to and named after jazz tap masters—from Harold Cromer, the tap dancer/vaudevillian who was Reich's decade-long mentor, to such notables as Ted Louis Levy, Arthur Duncan, Ivery Wheeler, Jason Samuels Smith, Brenda Bufalino and Dianne "Lady Di" Walker.
What is "new" in New Change is the common-sense idea that tap dance is music—and that it can be composed by tap dancers.
In Ikoradu, a part of Lagos, Nigeria, "The parents here don't believe in education," says Seyi Oluyole, in a video for Great Big Story. "They just want their kids to just sell stuff." Instead of watching the cycle continue, Oluyole took it upon herself to change these children's lives in a radical way.
Her method of connecting with them? Dance.
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Forty years ago, the movie musical Grease introduced audiences around the world to Grease lightning and an iconic hand jive. Would anyone guess now that all those unforgettable rock-n'-roll style dances were choreographed by a former Martha Graham Dance Company soloist? (Was John Travolta actually in a contraction?)
Choreographer Patricia Birch, better known as Pat, says "I was always attracted to Broadway, even when I was dancing with Martha."
After Grease's sensational success, Birch continued choreographing and directing, working nonstop for five decades and counting. She directed and choreographed numerous Broadway productions (Candide, A Little Night Music), was resident choreographer for the first six years of Saturday Night Live, choreographed HBO's Boardwalk Empire, and is currently working on touring her musical production, Orphan Train.
Paloma Garcia-Lee has one of those careers that most dancers only dream about. She's worked with a growing list of top Broadway choreographers—like Joshua Bergasse and Andy Blankenbuehler—and done shows from the edgy Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 to the classic Phantom of the Opera. Did we mention she's only 27?
Her latest gig has been one of her most exciting yet: the pre-Broadway production of Moulin Rouge, choreographed by Sonya Tayeh. Garcia-Lee opened up about why it's unlike any show she's worked on before, and about her personal life, including her choice to practice polyamory in her marriage.
Writing in Dance Magazine in 1969 about Tap Happenings, those weekly tap dance jams at the Bert Wheeler Theater in New York City, critic Patrick O'Connor commented on dancers Sandra Gibson and Leticia Jay, the two sole female performers: "Gibson, the first of the red hot 'soul' mamas does a number, as does Leticia Jay, but face it, the evening belongs to the men."
"Don't look at the mirror, look at your feet," Michelle Dorrance corrects. Smiling at the counterintuitive suggestion, Gillian Murphy, Devon Teuscher and Christine Shevchenko—American Ballet Theatre principals accustomed to projecting up and out to opera house balconies—look down at their pointe shoes as they shuffle into a line of tight fifth positions.
As polyrhythmic strains of music fill ABT's studios, the trio flashes through small, quicksilver position changes while Teuscher quietly counts a steady 4/4 beat that isn't yet audible in the music. Rapid-fire tendus take on an attack usually reserved for frappés, accom-panied by the sound of boxes purposefully striking the floor. ("The shape can exist a split-second before the note—it's like in tap, the motion has to happen early for the sound to be on time," Dorrance advised before the run.)
When they finish the section without stopping or kicking one another, Murphy smiles ruefully and says, "I need to get louder shoes."
Last night, Misty Copeland posted a call to action in a pair of Instagram posts, calling for her followers to share the names of African-American ballerinas.
A few years ago I was rehearsing with the Festival Ballet of Providence, attempting to remember a piece I'd choreographed almost a decade earlier. It wasn't going well, and in my frustration, I jokingly asked the dancers if anyone had savantish memory and could reverse movement phrases on the fly. Principal dancer Alan Alberto raised his hand. Alberto examined a video of the choreography and, within minutes, was able to set it on others as though he had performed it himself. I'd never seen someone able to synthesize and teach new material so dexterously.
A few months later I ran into him at Whole Foods, where he was standing behind a sample stand offering passersby a marinade by a company I'd never heard of: Mesa Fresca. I asked Alberto how long he had worked for the company. He paused, and remarked that, well, actually, he'd started it. I wasn't talking to an hourly worker; Alberto was a founder and CEO.
Is there anything more alluring than a group of well-dressed men who seriously know how to move? According to 15 million views of this Spanish fashion show, it seems not.
As an audience cheers, three teenage girls cross the stage in a line, to the high-energy beat of The Chainsmokers' "Don't Let Me Down." They're dressed in head-to-toe black, but each of their shirts is decorated with bright bulbs, flashing and blinking in various colors as they move.
The performance is a product of STEM From Dance, a New York City-based nonprofit founded by Yamilee Toussaint—an MIT grad who's been dancing since age 5. The program targets middle and high school girls of color, who are vastly underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, and might not otherwise see STEM as an option or be encouraged to try it.
World, if you haven't already, meet Jay Ledford.
She's an incredibly gifted 18-year-old student at the Kirov Academy of Ballet with lines for dayyyyys. She's also transgender. And describing her as inspiring is a bit of an understatement.
Jay began transitioning relatively recently, and has been documenting her journey on Instagram. She's an active advocate for transgender youth, the kind of role model that so many young people—inside and outside of the dance world—need right now.
During a period when I was intentionally taking a step back from performing, I was especially sensitive to the question, "So, are you auditioning for things?" Besides the insecurity of being a freelancer not hustling in that way, I also rankled at the complexity of what it means for a non-binary performer to audition.
To put it bluntly, there aren't many safe opportunities for us. That's because so many audition listings include gender-exclusionary phrases, so trans and non-binary artists either aren't eligible to show up or aren't sure whether or not they'd be welcome.
This time last year, Catherine Conley was already living a ballet dancer's dream. After an exchange between her home ballet school in Chicago and the Cuban National Ballet School in Havana, she'd been invited to train in Cuba full-time. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and one that was nearly unheard of for an American dancer. Now, though, Conley has even more exciting news: She's a full-fledged member of the National Ballet of Cuba's corps de ballet.
"In the school there were other foreigners, but in the company I'm the only foreigner—not just the only American, but the only non-Cuban," Conley says. But she doesn't feel like an outsider, or like a dancer embarking on a historic journey. "Nobody makes me feel different. They treat me as one of them," she says. Conley has become fluent in Spanish, and Cuba has come to feel like home. "The other day I was watching a movie that was dubbed in Spanish, and I understand absolutely everything now," she says.
So far, the fervor to create diversity in ballet has primarily focused on dancers. Less attention has been paid to the work that they'll encounter once they arrive.
Yet the cultivation of ballet choreographers of color (specifically black choreographers) through traditional pathways of choreographic training grounds remains virtually impossible. No matter how you slice it, we end up at the basic issues that plague the pipeline to the stage: access and privilege.
Back in January, Chase Johnsey grabbed headlines when he resigned from Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, where his performances had garnered critical acclaim for over a decade, alleging a culture of harassment and discrimination. (An independent investigation launched by the company did not substantiate any legal claims.) Johnsey, who identifies as genderqueer, later told us that he feared his dance career was at an end—where else, as a ballet dancer, would he be allowed to perform traditionally female roles?
But the story didn't end there. After a surprise offer from Tamara Rojo, artistic director of English National Ballet, Johnsey has found a temporary artistic home with the company, joining as a guest at the rank of first artist for its run of The Sleeping Beauty, which continues this week. After weeks of working and rehearsing with the company, last week Johnsey quietly marked a new milestone: He performed with ENB's corps de ballet as one of the ladies in the prince's court.
Sometimes as an artist, you need to leave the studio behind.
Just ask Summation Dance co-founders Taryn Vander Hoop and Sumi Clements. In 2016, the U.S. election was dominating the air waves just as they were finishing their company's fifth season in New York City. Feeling burned out by the assembly-line-like hustle of pumping out new work, they decided to hit the road.