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Erica Lall credits her tap dancing for the musical sensitivity of her American Ballet Theatre performances. From a wili in Giselle ("I love petit allégro," she says) to a soloist in Marcelo Gomes' contemporary AfterEffect, Lall deftly accents a striking range of choreography. Precise and expressive, she floats on the music, never overstressing the beat. As a Porcelain Princess in Alexei Ratmansky's staging of Aurora's Wedding last spring, she mastered the variation's minute, detailed movements and relentless pointework with a delicate, doll-like charm.
If you had a dollar for every cup of coffee spilt over an Alastair Macaulay review, you could put a down payment on a Brooklyn studio. The British-born Macaulay became The New York Times' chief dance critic in 2007. Since then his reviews, often personal in tone, filled with reminiscences as well as dance history, have generated their share of controversy—and buzz. Even his favorite dancers, like David Hallberg, are not immune from criticism. And few current dancemakers are deemed worthy of his choreographic pantheon, where Balanchine, Ashton and Cunningham reign supreme.
But despite his quirks, Macaulay has drawn fresh attention—and many would argue fresh audiences—to dance. Some companies have found that a positive review feeds ticket sales on tour; others that a negative one chills box-office sales overnight. His passionate critiques, pro or con, appeal to readers who have come of age in the unvarnished world of social media.
What makes American Ballet Theatre quintessentially American? A new Ric Burns documentary American Ballet Theatre: A History tries to find an answer. The film airs tomorrow night on PBS’s American Masters series just as the company kicks off its 75th anniversary season. Expect snippets from dancers like Misty Copeland, speaking frankly about being an African American in ballet, and Julie Kent, drawing a sharp contrast between a company founded on a single choreographer’s vision and a repertory ensemble like ABT. These glimpses come between extended slow-motion sequences and long takes from an interview with dance historian Jennifer Homans (whose well-known admiration for Balanchine’s work makes her an odd choice to explain the importance of ABT’s varied repertoire). But the program offers an intriguing taste of the company’s special mystique. Dance Magazine asked Gillian Murphy to tell us more.
What do you think are the characteristics of an ABT ballerina?
The rep is so diverse and the standard is so high that all of the dancers need to be great athletes, exceptionally quick learners and versatile enough to perform a wide variety of classical and contemporary roles. A ballerina in ABT needs the skill and the chutzpah to breathe new life into the iconic roles of the past and the humility and curiosity to continue to grow as the art form expands in new directions.
The documentary shows clips of celebrated past ABT ballerinas. Are there ones whom you especially admire?
Natalia Makarova, Gelsey Kirkland and Cynthia Gregory particularly impressed me when I was a kid. Also, when I joined ABT, I really looked up to Susan Jaffe and Amanda McKerrow. They always epitomized elegance, beauty and richness of character on the stage, and their generous coaching has been invaluable.
In the documentary, you comment about performing Odile. What’s fun—or difficult—about dancing her?
I see Odile as a femme fatale. But I actually feel that Odette's subtlety and vulnerability is more challenging than Odile's dynamism. However, since I'm fairly low-key in real life, it's particularly fun to be the wicked character and stir up drama.
Alexei Ratmansky is interviewed in the documentary. You have worked with him on several ballets. How does his work fit into ABT’s identity as a repertory company?
Until Alexei's appointment, ABT hadn't had an official artist-in-residence since Antony Tudor. We have had ongoing creative collaborations with choreographers such as Twyla Tharp and Lar Lubovitch, and it makes such a difference for the dancers to have that ongoing experience with particular styles and movement vocabularies. It’s wonderful to have Alexei Ratmansky working with ABT on a consistent basis. He’s quietly intense in the studio, very specific with every detail of musicality and physicality, and it is a pleasure to work with him.
What do you love most about dancing with ABT?
There are so many reasons why I am grateful to dance at ABT. I've always been drawn to dancing the mix of full-length classics and rep by Balanchine, Robbins, Tudor, and so many other masterful choreographers from the past and present. And ultimately, I'm inspired every day by all the extraordinary and unique dancers in this company.
Homage and innovation pair seductively in choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s M!longa, a refreshing exploration of tango’s essence, opening tonight at New York City Center after premiering to rave reviews in London in 2013. Ten dancers and an onstage band move beyond tango’s classic male-female dynamic to explore the yearning and melancholy beneath the passion in solos, a male trio, ensembles and thrilling male/female duets. Cherkaoui has cast both contemporary dancers and leading Argentinian tango artists like German Cornejo, who lend authenticity and presence to the piece’s many moods. DM recently interviewed Cornejo, 28, about dancing in the show:
How does M!longa capture tango’s essence?
It shows the most important thing about the tango: connection and intimacy. It’s two bodies breathing at the same time, giving all from one partner to another.
How long have you been performing tango?
I started at 10, and have been a professional dancer since I was 14. Along the years, I studied ballet, contemporary dance and jazz in order to complete my formation as a dancer.
Why do you think Cherkaoui chose to explore the tango idiom?
He's trying to prove the purity of the genre from a more emotional place, on occasion using clichés and other ideas to go beyond the superficial. He worked intensely with each of us, allowing for the development of a wide range of expressive possibilities within the "tango" of each couple. This allowed for the creation of different sides of this popular dance form.
What do you hope that audiences take away from the piece?
I hope the audience can see that tango is more than serious faces and criss-crossing legs. Rather, it is an oasis for human contact, a communication channel in an increasingly mechanized society that mourns the lack of contact.
What drew you to tango?
Well, many things. At first I felt in love with the wealth of music, and tango’s intensity and mystery. Then, I was completely trapped by the complexity of the dance and at the same time the simplicity of the embrace of another person. The tango is a one-way trip: Once you know it, you will not want to leave it anymore.
Broadway choreography often vanishes when the curtain comes down. Numbers fade from dancers’ memories, dance captains move on and few choreographers have the leisure to polish their legacies. American Dance Machine launched in the 1970s to preserve the best of Broadway dance. Relaunched two years ago as American Dance Machine for the 21st Century, the company now showcases newer Broadway work and musical theater rarities as well. The current run at the Joyce Theater in New York not only revives classic showstoppers like Michael Bennett’s “Turkey Lurkey Time” from Promises Promises, but also recent ones by Rob Ashford (the title number from Thoroughly Modern Millie) and Andy Blankenbuehler (“The Club” from In the Heights). The pieces have been staged by starry names like Donna McKechnie, Diane Walker, Randy Skinner and Marge Champion and the dancers, drawn from the world of ballet as well as Broadway, have equally impressive resumes: New York City Ballet’s Daniel Ulbricht, Craig Hall, Amar Ramasar and Georgina Pazcoguin join tap headliners Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards and Derrick Grant, and a host of featured and ensemble Broadway talent.
“ADM is passing on the legacy and knowledge of some of the industry’s most renowned choreographers,” says Alison Solomon, a Broadway dancer and choreographer who will perform a duet from Street Scene, choreographed by Patricia Birch. “I’ve been doing so much as an associate choreographer lately, it’s exciting to have the opportunity to get back on stage.” Solomon wishes that she had been dancing when Fosse and Robbins were working on Broadway, but in the meantime, she has a list of dances that she hopes ADM21 will bring back. “I think it would be awesome to do numbers from some of the big MGM musicals, like the ‘Broadway Melody’ ballet from Singing in the Rain,” she says. Hmmmm. Paging Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly types….
The Royal Ballet’s new artist-in-residence, Liam Scarlett, has been generating buzz on both sides of the Atlantic for the last few years. His latest work, Hummingbird, will have its world premiere next week at San Francisco Ballet to Philip Glass’s Tirol Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. Dance Magazine is giving a pair of tickets to the ballet’s April 30th performance. Also on the program are Helgi Tomasson’s popular The Fifth Season and Serge Lifar’s celebrated showcase of neoclassical style, Suite en Blanc. Click here to enter.
Bollywood’s hot so don't miss your chance to learn new, vibrant Bollywood and bhangra dance moves—free— from members of blue13 dance company at L.A.’s "Bollywood in Hollywood" jam. A live DJ and drummers will get you moving to the beat under the stars June 30. For more information (and to reserve your free spot), click here.
Expand your dance horizons with Nicole LeGette’s Landscapes of Uncertainty. Free dance performances should never be ignored, so mark July 10 on your calendar to see this butoh and poetry-infused work in the Chicago Cultural Center Dance Studio, 6:30 p.m.
Get in on the action as tappers of all styles, backgrounds, and countries converge on the Big Apple for Tap City, July 8-11. There are training programs for all ages, master classes galore, performances, and citywide events that celebrate tap-a great American art form! $23 for students—more info, click here.
Hey students! Take a break from studying to see Alvin Ailey! The Orange County Performing Artscenter is offering student rush tickets to upcoming Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performances. The series runs March 11–16 at the Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa, CA. Tickets are $20 for orchestra seats and only $10 for seats in the tiers! Don’t forget to bring your student ID! Visit OCPAC.org or call 714-556-2746 for more info.
For warm weather dwellers, it’s that time of year again: The 5th Annual Miami Beach Dance Festival! Hosted by Momentum Dance Company, this year’s festival will feature five dance companies and 50 artists over a 10-day period. The festival includes workshops, master classes, dance films, panel discussions and lectures, and it’s April 3–13 in Coconut Grove, FL. Tickets to events run from $8 to $25. Visit momentumdance.com to get yours (get them before March 15 and save $5!).
If you’re a bunhead who’s been looking to get your tap on, here’s your chance, with Dance 101’s Discover Tap Series. This 8-week beginner course, taught by UGA Tap Dawgs founder Lindsay Thiel, will have you time stepping and shuffling in no time. It’s Saturdays from 3–4PM starting on March 1 at the Dance 101 studios in Atlanta, GA. Get all eight classes for just $175! Visit dance101.org for more info.
What’s even better than seeing a great show onstage? How about seeing a world premiere show from behind-the-scenes?! Malashock Dance is inviting the public (that’s you!) into the studio to experience “Stay The Hand” before its world premiere performances in April. It’s at the Dance Place San Diego, March 7–8 at 8PM and March 9 at 7PM, and tickets are just $15! Get yours by calling 619-260-1622 or at malashockdance.org.
Wanna talk dance? Then do it the Ivy League way! Harvard University and Boston Ballet are partnering up to give you a behind-the-scenes look at one of the world’s premiere ballet companies with its new series, Dance Talks. At this unique panel discussion, you’ll chat with Boston Ballet’s choreographers and artistic staff and get a sneak peek at the company’s upcoming performances. It’s Wednesday, March 19 at 7:30PM at the Harvard Dance Center in Cambridge, MA. Tickets are just $10 and you can get ’em at the door or by calling 617-496-2222.
Growing tired of your typical classes? Come take one with State Ballet of Georgia’s Ballet Master Svetlanta Gochiashvili! This community class is Feb. 18 at 7:30PM at the Gustafson Dance Studio in Santa Barbara, CA, and it’s only $15! Call 805-966-6950 or visit sbdancealliance.org to reserve your spot today.
Calling all tappers! Lady Di is in the house! America’s First Lady of Tap, Dianne “Lady Di” Walker, is coming to North Adams, MA, from Feb. 20–23 for a series of workshops and performances. This all-ages event culminates an “all-out jam” session and performance on Feb. 23 at 4PM. All events are held at the MASS MoCA performing arts center in North Adams and are free for kids and just $5 for adults. For more, check out massmoca.org.
Want your weekend dose of hip-hop with a side of ballet? Then come spend a worldly night out with six acclaimed dance companies (Step Afrika! Maryland Youth Ballet! Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Co!) at the 4th annual Dance Bethesda Concert. It’s Sat., March 8 at 8PM at the Round House Theatre in Bethesda, MD. Getting in will only cost you $20, so get your tickets today from bethesda.org.
Get your dance fix from the comfort of your own couch! If you're still mourning the winter absence of "So You Think You Can Dance," MTV has got you covered with it's new reality hip-hop competition series, "Randy Jackson Presents: America's Best Dance Crew." The show will feature dance crews facing off against one another in dance battles and celebrity judges include J.C. Chasez and Shane Sparks. The show premieres Feb. 7 at 10PM on MTV plus there's a special casting episode that will air this Saturday at 2PM. Get ready to get hooked on this new show! For more, check out http://dancecrew.mtv.com.
The master of modern, Merce Cunningham, is coming to your computer. Beginning in February, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company will begin an online video program called "Mondays With Merce," featuring a live feed from Cunningham's class. Check it out at merce.org. So if you haven't been able to take a class with Cunningham, now's your chance to log on and learn the technique and movements that make Cunningham technique what it is today.