Centerwork: A Two-Way Street
CityDance students and members of Hubbard Street 2 warm up for a dress rehearsal. Photo: Theo Kossenas/Media 4 Artists, Courtesy CityDance.
“Pronounciate your feet,” Taryn Kaschock Russell declared to 28 of CityDance’s ballet students last fall during a master class in the airy North Bethesda, Maryland, studio. Russell meshed “pronounce” and “enunciate” into her own portmanteau to emphasize the clarity she wanted to see in the petit allégro. “I want you to fly,” she encouraged the students, some as young as 11, others seniors in high school. Then in sock-clad feet she hitched up her warm-up pants and precisely demonstrated the speed and ballon she was seeking. Breathless, the black-and-pink--–clad ballet students tried it again. Then again.
Russell, director of Hubbard Street 2, the second company of the acclaimed troupe Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, spent a brief three-day residency at the suburban Washington, DC, studio, where she and HS2 dancers taught both master classes and repertory and, most unusually, shared the stage with the high-school–aged dancers in a program featuring three works from the semi-professional company and eight showcasing the students of CityDance’s Conservatory/Select program.
Among the numerous pre-professional studios in the Washington, DC, region, CityDance has in just a few short years built a reputation as an alternative to dance studios that focus solely on ballet training or on a regimen of competitions. While it’s still too soon to track alumni from the program, students are being accepted into some of the nation’s most prestigious college dance programs, from Ailey/Fordham to SUNY Purchase.
“We have a lot of talented young people here,” said Lorraine Spiegler, artistic director of studio education for the school and conservatory. Many, she explained, find their way to CityDance when they’ve outgrown or don’t quite fit into their home studio. She said: “In our institution students don’t primarily come from one area or another. They come from ballet, hip-hop, the competition world; they come out of tiny little studios and larger, well-established ballet programs. At CityDance, they seek to understand what contemporary dance is and they can discover what it will mean to be a contemporary dancer.”
Founded in 1996, CityDance rose to acclaim as a repertory company that performed works by an impressive range of choreographers, including Doug Varone, Kate Weare, Sophie Maslow, and even Paul Taylor. The school came about after the company, and in 2005 became a partner in the Music Center at Strathmore’s education wing. Last year, though, the school eclipsed the company, which after years of touring internationally under the direction of Paul Gordon Emerson, folded up shop.
CityDance has more than 500 children enrolled this year, 120 of whom are in the competitive Conservatory/Select program, which offers performing opportunities and weekly master classes every Saturday for the studio’s pre-professional dancers ages 11 to 19. Recent or upcoming guest artists include members of Evidence, Complexions, and La La La Human Steps. That experience of a new teacher each week acclimates students to pick up unfamiliar material quickly and without fear, readying them for the world of auditions early in their careers.
The HS2 residency scheduled for the fall was unusual. Together, Russell and Spiegler agreed to share a bill, presenting three HS2 works and a selection of solo and group works from the CityDance student repertoire. Both organizations, Spiegler explained, are committed to seeking out and supporting new choreographic voices. Spiegler often hires young talent to create works on her students, and HS2 runs an annual choreography competition to expand the field.
Russell saw the brief residency (which occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy) as an opportunity for her dancers. “I love to give HS2 as many performing opportunities as possible,” she said. “I love that there’s some integration [between the two groups]. I don’t know that this exact model will go forward as something we might pursue, but I’m looking at what’s going to be most enriching for a residency.”
In this case, she saw success. The CityDance students got to take master classes and learn repertory from the HS2 dancers. The HS2 dancers got a chance to try out their own recently learned rep onstage, but, more important, Russell noted, they got the opportunity to lead classes and teach.
She pointed out that the HS2 dancers were only about four or five years older than some of the CityDance students. “Anytime they’re able to teach and they have that interaction in the front of the room,” Russell said, “I feel that that only brings inspiration for them when they go onstage.”
HS2 dancer Alicia Delgadillo taught a solo to a room full of attentive teens. While she now performs it regularly, Delgadillo first learned it as a high schooler when she was attending a HS2 summer intensive. She says that if she could go back and talk to her high school self, “I would say, ‘Get out of your head and just dance.’ ” That’s exactly what she hopes these students, who have the technical chops—legs that brush past ears, triple turns, and split leaps—can glean from her. The CityDance students dance at a high level technically; they are learning to rein in their energy and harness their emotions onstage.
Russell said that she wouldn’t be surprised if she were to cross paths with some of the CityDance students in coming years. “There’s no question that some of these dancers could be completely inspired by this experience and could find their way to us. I would welcome that.”
Lisa Traiger, a former president of Dance Critics Association, writes on dance from Rockville, MD.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Get Dance Magazine in your inbox
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.
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?
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?
When American Ballet Theatre announced yesterday that it would be adding Jane Eyre to its stable of narrative full-lengths, the English nerds in the DM offices (read: most of us) got pretty excited. Cathy Marston's adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's classic novel was created for England's Northern Ballet in 2016, and, based on the clips that have made their way online, it seems like a perfect fit for ABT's Met Opera season.
It also got us thinking about what other classic novels we'd love to see adapted into ballets—but then we realized just how many there already are. From Russian epics to beloved children's books, here are 10 of our favorites that have already made the leap from page to stage. (Special shoutout to Northern Ballet, the undisputed MVP of turning literature into live performance.)
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.
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.
When George Balanchine's full-length Don Quixote premiered in 1965, critics and audiences alike viewed the ballet as a failure. Elaborate scenery and costumes framed mawkish mime passages, like one in which the ballerina washed the Don's feet and dried them with her hair. Its revival in 2005 by Suzanne Farrell, the ballerina on whom it was made and to whom Balanchine left the work, did little to alter its reputation.
Yet at New York City Center's Balanchine festival last fall, some regretted its absence.
"I'd want to see Balanchine's Don Quixote," says Apollinaire Scherr, dance critic for the Financial Times. "It was a labor of love on his part, and a love letter as well. And you want to know what that looks like in his work."
Even great choreographers make mistakes. Sometimes they fail on a grand scale, like Don Quixote; other times it may be a minor misstep. Experiment and risk help choreographers grow, but what happens when a choreographer of stature misfires? Should the work remain in the repertory? And what about a work that fails on some levels but not others?
After the horrific March 15 terrorist attacks at two New Zealand mosques, the music and arts community sprang into action to plan a way to help victims and their families. A series of resulting concerts, titled "You Are Us/Aroha Nui," will take place in New Zealand (April 13 and 17), Jersey City, New Jersey (April 17) and Los Angeles (April 18). Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Our People, Our City Fund, which was established by the Christchurch Foundation to aid those affected by the attacks.
Throughout 2019, the Merce Cunningham Trust continues a global celebration that will be one of the largest tributes to a dance artist ever. Under the umbrella of the Merce Cunningham Centennial are classes and workshops, film screenings and festivals, art exhibitions and symposia, and revivals and premieres of original works inspired by the dancemaker's ideas. The fever peaks on April 16, which would have been the pioneering choreographer's 100th birthday, with Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event, featuring a total of 75 dancers in three performances live-streamed from London, Los Angeles and New York City.