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BRONX GOTHIC Shows Just How Much Okwui Okpokwasili Deserved That Bessie
Performing a one woman show for 90 minutes is an exhausting feat, no matter the context. But when Okwui Okpokwasili does it in Bronx Gothic, it's a Bessie-winning tour de force. A new documentary also titled BRONX GOTHIC, directed by Emmy-nominee Andrew Rossi, shows what it really took for Okpokwasili to perform such an intense work on tour for several months.
It's obvious that Bronx Gothic, which explores black girlhood through a narrative loosely based on Okpokwasili's childhood in the Bronx, is physically draining—for the first half hour of the piece, her entire body vibrates, sometimes violently. At times, she throws herself on the floor, limbs slamming against hard wood floors. In the film, when her parents are shown a video of the piece, their first question is if there's a doctor on site. But Okpokwasili doesn't do this for shock value—she's forcing audiences to confront "a brown body in pain," as she explores what it means to be brown in a world that values whiteness.
The tour was emotionally draining, too, especially because Okpokwasili was so generous with her time and so unafraid of being vulnerable in front of her audience. She hosted talkbacks after each performance on tour, and they often seemed to be as difficult as the piece itself. Some people just didn't get it: "We were really confused by it," admitted one Midwestern audience member. Another divulged that she heard someone near her say "shoot me now" during Okpokwasili's vibrating sequence.
But the majority of audiences did seem to connect with the deeply personal work, and the conversation would often shift to people sharing their own stories: "How do I reign in my emotional response to keep the focus on this person?" asked Okpokwasili, as she held back tears after hearing one woman's fears about the safety of her black teenage sons. It's rare to see an artist so willing to shift the focus off her own work and commit to exploring someone else's experiences.
Watch BRONX GOTHIC at screenings across the country this summer.
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!
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:
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.
In his final bow at New York City Ballet, during what should have been a heroic conclusion to a celebrated ballet career, Robert Fairchild slipped and fell. His reaction? To lie down flat on his back like he meant to do it. Then start cracking up at himself.
"He's such a ham," says his sister Megan Fairchild, with a laugh. "He's really good at selling whatever his body is doing that day. He'll turn a moment that I would totally go home and cry about into something where the audience is like, 'That's the most amazing thing ever!' "
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?
In the world of ballet, Arcadian Broad is a one-stop shop: He'll come up with a story, compose its music, choreograph the movement and dance it himself. But then Broad has always been a master of versatility. As a teenager he juggled school, dance and—after the departure of his father—financial responsibility. It was Broad's income from dancing that kept his family afloat. Fast-forward six years and things are far more stable. Broad now lives on his own in an apartment, but you can usually find him in the studio.
Bales of hay, black umbrellas, bicycles—this Midsummer Night's Dream would be unrecognizable to the Bard. Alexander Ekman's full-length, inspired by Scandinavian solstice traditions and set to music by Mikael Karlsson, is a madcap celebration of the longest day of the year, when the veil between our world and that of the supernatural is said to be at its thinnest. The Joffrey Ballet's performances mark the seductively surreal work's North American premiere. April 25–May 6. joffrey.org.
"There's an ancient energy in Fana's movement, a deep and trusted knowing," says Jeff, director of the Chicago-based Deeply Rooted Dance Theater. "Because I witnessed the raw humanity of his dancer's souls, I wanted my dancers to have that experience."
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.' "
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.