Centerwork: Movin' In
On a snowy Saturday morning last January, 190 elementary and middle school students filed into Manhattan’s LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts. They had been hand-selected by the National Dance Institute, a nonprofit arts education organization, to receive regular weekend dance training for free as members of its performing groups.
In one studio, legendary New York City Ballet star and NDI founder Jacques d’Amboise rehearsed his work for the program’s year-end performance. It was a reimagining of Balanchine’s Apollo, the iconic ballet for which d’Amboise is perhaps best known. The significance of this was not lost on the students. “It’s amazing that normal kids get to work with a famous ballet dancer,” said Noa Bornstein, 11.
That’s just one of many amazing aspects of NDI. Over the past 35 years, the educational initiative has impacted the lives of more than 2 million children through its partnerships with New York City schools and residencies nationwide and abroad. But considering the staggering success of NDI, what’s most striking is the fact that the organization has never had a home base.
“We’ve been gypsies,” says artistic director Ellen Weinstein. “We’re lucky to have extraordinary friends and relationships. But there is nothing on paper; there’s no contract. We’re always worrying and wondering.”
In a few months, that will all change. This summer NDI is moving into an 18,000-square-foot facility in Harlem. The property, part of an abandoned school that’s been converted into a residential development and community space, marks the culmination of NDI’s 10-year search for a home of its own.
The new Center for Learning and the Arts will house four studios—the largest of which doubles as a 175-seat performance venue—plus administrative offices and a lobby art gallery. “I want it to be a haven for our artists, and not just them but artists in the community,” Weinstein says. “I want it to be a bubbling, living center for dance and the performing arts for children.”
Despite the new digs, NDI’s core mission of helping students in the classroom won’t change. The institute conducts programs in 30 New York City public schools, working year-round with 4,000 children—mostly from low-income communities with no other access to the arts. Once a week, an entire grade gathers in the auditorium or gym with a lead teaching artist, a teaching assistant, and a live accompanist (NDI stresses the connection between music and dance). Academic teachers sit in on the sessions to see their students in a new light, and shared curricular themes help them bridge lesson plans.
This year’s theme is “A Sense of Wonder: Science and the Arts Play Together.” The idea is to “take a scientific principle and—using music, dance, poetry—playfully celebrate that principle,” as d’Amboise explained to the dancers in his rehearsal. The previous Tuesday, fifth-graders at P.S. 20 captured that spirit. They memorized movement patterns based on alphabetical science terms (“ ‘A’ is for atom, ‘B’ is for biosphere”), and teaching artist Mary Kennedy incorporated a fluid “Matrix” step, inspired by the movie, into a dance routine.
“Although we’re demanding excellence, we’re doing it in a way that feels joyful,” says Tracy Straus, associate artistic director and a veteran teaching artist. D’Amboise agrees. “The teachers are models for the passion and love of an art form, and the morality that is involved in it,” he says. He adds that he is eager to expand NDI’s teacher training program. The organization has developed a rigorous methodology for its educators, but has had to borrow or rent space for the two-week training workshops. With the new building, Straus says, “We’ll be able to pilot different structures of the teacher training because we’re not beholden to anybody else.”
Similarly, the Center for Learning and the Arts will enable NDI to increase its after-school and Saturday offerings. Each year, around 200 children receive additional instruction on weekends. Around 100 are invited from NDI’s partner schools to join the SWAT (Scholarships for the Willing, Achieving and Talented) Team. “They may not be technically perfect,” program director Aileen Barry says of SWAT participants. “But they’re the kids who love it, who are dancing while they wait for the bus.” After SWAT, some children join the NDI Celebration Team, a group of about 80 junior-high students who show exceptional promise. Weinstein hopes to grow these programs as much as fourfold.
NDI also plans to broaden its international presence from this New York base. It has organized cultural exchanges with Russia, Australia, Bali, and China, but d’Amboise looks forward to seeding ongoing NDI-affiliate programs around the world. They are already experimenting with new technology to reach children in other countries. Last summer, using Cisco’s TelePresence video equipment, NDI hosted the first real-time virtual rehearsal with young dancers in Shanghai. “This building is meant to be a communications center for the arts and children globally,” says d’Amboise. (Anyone who reads his new autobiography, I Was a Dancer, will learn of d’Amboise’s extensive global experience as both a dancer and mastermind of NDI.)
The new facility also means something psychologically to an organization that’s been around since 1976 but never felt a sense of permanence. As 13-year-old Celebration Team student Ben Korman put it, “Everyplace needs a home, and NDI finally found its.” NDI has always run on the passion of its people, but on top of that energy, there is suddenly a palpable excitement for the future. “We will be in control of our destiny,” Weinstein says. “So I feel like the sky’s the limit now.”
Elaine Stuart has written about dance for The Wall Street Journal Time Out New York Kids.
NDI Dancers rehearse at LaGuardia High School. Photo by Eduardo Patino, courtesy NDI
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.