Ethan Stiefel's retirement from American Ballet Theatre on Saturday, the last day of the company's season, marks the end of an era. A generation of male principal dancers—Vladimir Malakhov, Julio Bocca, Jose Manuel Carreño, Angel Corella, and now Stiefel—that many of us grew up idolizing onstage and on TV will have all taken their final bows at the Met. I was deeply moved to see Stiefel, on Monday evening, dancing Ali in Le Corsaire (which he'll repeat at his farewell performance). Not only because he gave a truly terrific performance—no signs of injury and expertly milking his big solo for an adoring audience—but you could feel him lift the energy of all the dancers onstage. You could see his unabashed fearlessness in Marcelo Gomes, who danced the leading pirate Conrad—and who was in the corps de ballet in 1998 when Le Corsaire was filmed for PBS, with Stiefel, in his second year as a principal dancer with ABT, in that role. (If you pay attention, you can actually see Gomes as one of the pirates in the film version.) You could see Stiefel's presence strike a fire in Sascha Radetsky, then also one of the pirates in the corps, now dancing the slave trader Lankedem. Stiefel inspires greatness, and will continue to do so not only throughout ABT's ranks, but in his own company, Royal New Zealand Ballet, where he's entering his second year as director. We hope to see RNZB here in the States soon.
Stiefel as Conrad (his solo begins at 1:35) in Le Corsaire (1998)
Stiefel with Alessandra Ferri in Ashton's The Dream (2004)
Stiefel with Julie Kent in Balanchine's Stars and Stripes, filmed for Center Stage (2000)
There isn't much that seems to pose a serious challenge to Jamar Roberts. At 6' 4", with the uncanny ability to shape energy to its most attractive or powerful or luscious impact, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer has given unforgettable performances of Alvin Ailey's lyrical Night Creature, Robert Battle's tortured tour-de-force In/Side, and Ronald K. Brown's fervent Grace. But, as he recalls, upon seeing Wayne McGregor's Chroma, his first thought was a panicked, “How am I going to do this?"
On December 4, Chroma will have its New York premiere at New York City Center—danced not by one of America's major ballet companies, or The Royal Ballet, for whom it was made, but by Ailey. For many audience members on the company's upcoming 23-city North American tour, it will also be their first opportunity to see the ballet, an epic assault of bodies stretched to their limit. Artistic director Robert Battle is sending a clear message: His dancers can do anything—their way.
“What I love about this company is that we all have something distinctive to give," says Rachael McLaren, a dancer of luminous clarity. Under Battle, the Ailey repertoire has branched out considerably. Battle's programming choices reveal how superb Horton technique and soulful theatricality, coupled with individual strengths—the ferocious energy of Ghrai DeVore, the elegant line of Antonio Douthit-Boyd, the regal self-possession of Linda Celeste Sims—illuminate the works of Jirí Kylián, Rennie Harris, Kyle Abraham, and Paul Taylor anew—sometimes several of them in one evening. The shift not only allows the different facets of the dancers' artistry to shine, but the works themselves—the musical phrasing, the group dynamics, the visceral impact—take on a new light.
In addition to the new rep, one third of the 30-member company has also been brought in by Battle. “The company is a lot more open, because younger people are like that—they're not so set in their ways," says Roberts. “And Robert is offering a rep where you have to be completely open to transforming yourself, which creates a really good energy."
Right: The company runs through Barton's LIFT; for five weeks, the company worked on phrases like "tornado" and "cry." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy AAADT.
For the 2013–14 season, which includes a return visit to Lincoln Center's Koch Theater next summer, Battle has also acquired Bill T. Jones' exhilarating D-Man in the Waters (Part I) and commissioned a new work from Aszure Barton, plus new productions of Alvin Ailey's The River, made for American Ballet Theatre in 1970, and Pas de Duke, Ailey's 1976 showstopper for Judith Jamison and Baryshnikov. The mix is meant to energize audiences and dancers alike. “Some of it is looking at how does this work with the history of the company—how does it work with it by sometimes working against it?" says Battle. “That contrast is interesting, where it's unexpected but totally right."
“It's great that Robert wants to push us as much as our audience," says McLaren. “And I trust him. He's able to see this bigger picture, the greater arc. It's funny, we're a repertory company and we're expected to be able to do so many different things. But it's kind of easy to forget how capable you are unless you're really pushed and pulled in these directions."
Battle deflects praise for his expansive vision. “I don't know what else I would do," he says with a shrug. “This is the stuff I like. I can see or hear myself in Richard Strauss' Salome as much as I can in Thelonious Monk. That was always nurtured in me, and so I'm still sort of that young child, switching my soundtrack."
Relating his choices to the company, “it also goes back to Alvin Ailey himself," says Battle. “This is an artist, a genius who was trying to express something personal. He had to be a black choreographer because of the times in which we lived—that's the way he was looked at. As I say all the time: I am a human being, nothing human can be alien to me. That's what he and so many other trailblazers were trying to say: We should only be limited by our imagination. In some ways, that struggle of perception still exists. But it also gives me a wonderful platform to express things that are 'unexpected.' And in that way, his legacy and Judith Jamison's vision are tied in with my vision—the sky's the limit."
With that mindset, Battle commissioned a premiere from Aszure Barton, known for her innovative, sometimes outlandish, choreography, whom he first met as the kid sister of one of his Juilliard classmates. Barton's LIFT, set to an original percussive score by Curtis Macdonald, shows off the Ailey dancers' rhythmic dexterity and dynamism, deployed to haunting effect. “She came in with a blank slate and we basically had to help her create this whole thing from scratch, which is really cool," says Roberts, who eventually became the work's central dancer. Over five weeks, the entire company worked, at first without casting, on phrases with names like “tornado," “cora," and “cry." Any dancer could be called upon at a moment's notice for Barton to see how a sequence would look on one individual or as part of a group.
Battle places casting decisions fully in the hands of the choreographers and stagers—although he and Masazumi Chaya, the company's indispensable associate artistic director, will answer any questions they may have. Between the dancemakers and the dancers, he says, “I try and create a happy collision, and then get out of the way and watch it unfold."
“I like that let's-explore-together kind of feel," says McLaren about Barton's creative mode. “It wasn't like, 'You need to get it right now, and if you don't get it, I'm going to be frustrated.' It was 'I see you and you are enough. Let's create.' I think the work of the professional is understanding that it's OK to be imperfect, to give yourself to the movement. Dancing is about allowing your vulnerability to speak in ways that audience members can see."
Left: Linda Celeste Sims and Antonio Douthit-Boyd in Chroma. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy AAADT.
The tension created by that duality of vulnerability and force is what makes the Ailey dancers so captivating. Says Barton, “Their bodies are absolutely insane. They're skilled, they're smart, and they're passionate—they have this sacred understanding of something much bigger. And they're a real community. They just opened their door and said welcome."
These characteristics are only enhanced by the amount of time the company spends together—this year, the company toured 15 straight weeks across the U.S., plus three weeks in South America. At home in their studios, with wall-to-wall windows overlooking the Manhattan skyline, the dancers take company class each morning, taught by different teachers from around New York City, before rehearsing from 12:00 to 7:00 (broken up by an hour lunch break at 3:00 and rigorously enforced five-minute breaks every hour). It's common for three casts of dancers to be run-through ready in a week and a half—which was the case for Bill T. Jones' masterwork D-Man in the Waters (Part I). The innocence, momentum, and supreme athleticism of D-Man (which the Ailey dancers possess in abundance) are belied by the tragic circumstances of its creation. (Jones carried dancer Demian Acquavella through the work during its premiere; when Acquavella died of AIDS a year later, he was not replaced.) “D-Man is intense, but there's joy and liberation in that struggle," says McLaren. “I think it's going to be one of those pieces that will keep our spirits up on tour."
During an early rehearsal, Roberts (in bright pink pants, one of the few dancers dressed brightly) is marking his solo in a corner, blocking out the organized chaos around him, as other dancers, including McLaren, work through the piece's lifts, many of which have the women supporting the men. Socks are the footwear of choice for most in the room (the piece will be performed barefoot)—sometimes, for especially high-impact pieces, the dancers rehearse in brightly colored sneakers. The music for Revelations drifts into the studio from another downstairs, and the dancers, for whom that piece must be like breathing at this point, smile at each other knowingly.
Both McLaren and Roberts mention Ronald K. Brown as another choreographer whose works they find rejuvenating—“there's always something to grab onto because you know what each individual step means," says Roberts. Ailey's works are also favorites—McLaren hopes to perform his Masekela Langage someday, while Roberts says, “I don't remember a time when I didn't love to do Revelations." Both want more Ohad Naharin and Gaga. “Gaga classes are about exploring. How far can you go?" says McLaren. “How big is your mind? I like that idea of taking off your skin, opening yourself up, and seeing what you're really made of."
Right: Taking Ailey in fresh directions: Artistic director Robert Battle. Photo by Jayme Thornton.
As for future additions to the rep, the possibilities are endless. Roberts cites Akram Khan and Pina Bausch as choreographers whose work he would love to dance. McLaren picks Hofesh Shechter, and Roberts himself, who has been quietly working on his own choreography.
That these wishes fall squarely in the realm of possibility for the Ailey company comes back to Battle's understanding of how interconnected the dance world is. “There are choreographers who have been such a part of the legacy of modern dance—trailblazers who are imitated and emulated—that I feel are so important to now. Maybe, in the future, they will be right. I'm very much excited by history in that way—how are we repeating it, reinventing it, repurposing it. In some ways, I'm trying to create the space for things to happen that maybe I can't even imagine."
Through her innate sense of line and her spellbinding eyes, the radiant Rachael McLaren draws you deep into her performances. The Manitoba native began ballet at age 5 at the Royal Dance Conservatory in Winnipeg before moving to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School at 11. Despite auditioning several times for RWBS' professional division, she was never accepted. “Unfortunately, I don't really have that ballet aesthetic," she says. Upon high school graduation, McLaren auditioned for Mamma Mia! in Toronto and booked the gig. However, her teacher at RWBS, Jacqui Davidson, encouraged her to also audition for Ailey's summer program. She was accepted and, in her words, “my mind was totally blown." That feeling stuck with her during her two years with Mamma Mia!, so she returned to The Ailey School afterwards—and has been with Ailey ever since.
McLaren, 27, adapts her routine outside of the studio to the current demands of her rep. “You totally have to shift your focus and get into a different frame of mind." She loves to cook—as a pescetarian, she eats a primarily plant-based diet supplemented with a daily multivitamin and probiotic.
This season, she's taken up swimming—“for strength, flexibility in my joints, and stamina"—in addition to yoga, which she practices religiously. “I try to wear many hats," she says, “so I can express myself in a genuine way."
“I do have a lot of energy. People are always like, What are you on?" says Jamar Roberts. In solo roles, he often manages to Jamar-ify them, dominating the stage, no matter how wild the musicality, the movement texture, or sheer physical demand. His natural instinct for movement lives in “musicality and sensual things that I try and grab onto." Robert Battle calls him a gentle giant (which happens to be Roberts' Instagram bio, too).
Born in Miami, Roberts trained at the Dance Empire of Miami and the New World School of the Arts. “I never thought I would be a dancer—I didn't know what that was," he says. “I didn't have much money, but I wanted to go to dance class. I think I was so in those classes, so focused, that I couldn't see what was ahead of me."
At 18, after less than a month at The Ailey School, he was invited to join Ailey II and then, the following year, the main company. He took two season-long hiatuses from Ailey—the first in 2004, to pursue fashion design at Fashion Institute of Technology and then another in 2011. Once outside the studio, he says,“I try to get out of that dance space. I'm reading, I'm drawing, I'm painting, I'm going to museums." He continues, “You have to do whatever you need to do to get through. You go to whatever extremes for a decent performance—it sounds really crazy but it's true."
Portraits by Jayme Thornton.
Kina Poon is a dance writer and former Dance Magazine associate editor.
The NYC-based choreographer is gaining momentum.
The commissions keep coming for Gabrielle Lamb, a dancer of stunning clarity who illuminates the smallest details—qualities she brings to the dances she makes, too. This past year, the NYC-based dance artist won choreographic competitions at Milwaukee Ballet and Western Michigan University, and was named one of three finalists who will compete at Ballet Austin—the resulting works will premiere next year. A Savannah native who trained at the Boston Ballet School, Lamb danced with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal for nine years and with Morphoses under all three directors. Also a filmmaker and animator, she continues to perform with Pontus Lidberg Dance and others. This month, Lamb premieres her second piece for Philly’s BalletX. In August, a week before flying to Ballet Memphis to set one of her works, she spoke with associate editor Kina Poon.
How did you become interested in choreography?
From the time I was 5, I was putting on shows and designing costumes. But I stopped because choreography isn’t really part of intense ballet training. I was actually afraid to do it for a long time.
I felt intimidated. Somehow the courage that I had when I was a little kid, ballet training kind of wiped that out. When I went to Montreal to join Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, there were so many creative people, and most of the people who were really gung ho about choreography were guys. I felt myself sort of shrinking into myself, afraid I wouldn’t stand up beside them. But as time went on, I got over it and started daring. You just have to jump in.
Why do you think there are so few female ballet choreographers?
I actually feel like there are a lot of us in my generation. Maybe the line is whether you use pointe shoes or not. Thus far I haven’t. There have been some requests that I’m trying to figure out how to deal with.
Somebody recently said something interesting to me: that men in ballet are already outsiders. You’ve had to make a decision to be different. So I think it’s easier to take that step towards creating something of your own. Whereas for a woman, ballet is a very conformist thing to do—being pretty, following instructions, staying in line.
Do you find being an active dancer in other people’s work and then making your own difficult?
No. In a way I need it—well, I’m not always going to have the option, but it helps me to not go to the same patterns all the time and also to experience ways other people construct their work. You do have to be careful. I think about choreographers I worked with in Montreal who had worked with other choreographers that I knew and I would see—it’s just inevitable that we influence each other’s work. The trick is to go as far into it as you can, so it’s not just stealing something from the surface.
Which choreographers influence you?
Of people whose work I got to dance: Shen Wei, Mats Ek, and also Pontus, for partnering especially, had the greatest impact on my dancing. As far as people whose work I have yet to dance: Crystal Pite and Pina Bausch would be the two big ones.
Right: BalletX in Lamb's Stations of Mercury. By Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy BalletX.
Tell me about your new piece for BalletX.
I read a book recently that had someone making a choice at a pivotal moment and then you got to follow the line of her life in either case—it alternated chapters between option A, option B. I don’t know what form it will take in dance, but I like the idea of exploring alternate realities.
Did you use all of the BalletX dancers in your last piece?
I used everybody, but some of them were only in the second cast. That was the first time I ever had to not use everybody, and to make the choice was a real struggle for me. When I have to pick somebody after one day, I might be missing out on so much. I’ve found that, a lot of times, the people whose dancing doesn’t strike me in the beginning somehow have the most distinct moments in the piece. I was proud that both casts were so strong. It was a relief to me because I’ve been not chosen so many times in my own career that I guess I couldn’t bear it to do it to somebody else.
There’s so much more to be taken from a performing career than movement quality.
I’m really conscious of how I treat dancers. People tell me, You just need to toughen up and not worry about what the dancers think. And it’s like, Well, yes and no. There are people that take sadistic pleasure in undermining your confidence, who make you think that you can’t or you’re not good at something. With me, some people will get used more than others, but I want to be able to find something special about every person that I work with. Of course the end product that the audience sees is the priority, but it’s possible for us to have a good time making it, too.
DRA extends upstate.
If dance companies are families, as it’s often said, the benefit concerts helmed by Dancers Responding to AIDS are like giant weddings. “It’s a community experience, a moment where all these different kinds of artists come together as one company,” says Denise Roberts Hurlin, founding director of DRA, which produces the wildly successful Fire Island Dance Festival, among other galas. “We are really fortunate that the dance community is so generous and compassionate.”
A program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, DRA launches its latest event, the Hudson Valley Dance Festival, on October 12 at Historic Catskill Point, a 19th-century warehouse on the edge of the Hudson River, in Catskill, NY. The bill includes a DRA-sponsored duet by Marcelo Gomes for fellow ABT dancers Jessica Saund and Thomas Forster; a duet from Wendy Whelan’s Restless Creature (she was introduced to two of the choreographers with whom she has collaborated on a shared DRA evening); and works danced by Evidence, A Dance Company and Stephen Petronio Company. The latter two will show longer portions of their work—20-some-minute excerpts rather than the usual 5- to 7- minute segments. “This community is in such a culturally rich area,” says Roberts Hurlin, referring to the strong visual art tradition in the Hudson Valley. “We’re extending that and doing something a little different. It will offer a little more depth as to what their work is about.”
DRA’s other programs, including onstage audience appeals by artists in venues across New York City, raise hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for over 450 national AIDS and family service organizations. With the large number of NYC-based companies and theaters involved, Roberts Hurlin hopes that the audience appeals will expand to reach dance fans across America. She also underscores another dimension to DRA’s work—helping to provide free health services directly to professional artists through the Actors Fund. See
www.dradance.org for more information.
Pictured: Stephen Petronio Company at FIDF, 2010; Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy DRA
Larry Keigwin's company celebrates its 10th anniversary.
“Ten years ago, I was most interested in just showing my work,” says NYC-based choreographer Larry Keigwin. “It was through the thrill of putting on the next show that the nuts and bolts of the company were formed. I had no clue it would be the way it is today.”
What began as Keigwin and four friends, including Keigwin + Company co-founder Nicole Wolcott, lugging his mattress to the Joyce SoHo a decade ago, is now a troupe that has earned national acclaim for Keigwin’s zany blend of pop and formalism. Whether headlining a dance festival, performing a site-specific work with 50 members of the local community, or dancing onstage at the Joyce (where the company performs its anniversary season Oct. 29–Nov. 3), Keigwin + Co is not afraid to make concert dance fun.
Part of the company’s appeal springs from its dynamic performers. “I’m drawn to magnetic personalities,” Keigwin says, when asked what he looks for in selecting dancers. “It’s trite to say, but I like the triple threat of wonderful facility, great performance quality, and someone who is copasetic with the group. They’re generating a lot of the vocabulary together, so they need to enjoy working with each other. And being good-looking doesn’t hurt!” he adds, laughing.
Keigwin, unfortunately, will not be dancing himself at the Joyce, which presents a program of what he calls, with a hint of good-natured self-mocking, the company’s “greatest hits.” Counting fashion shows and cabaret among his credits, the hypercreative dancemaker has recently been occupied with choreographing his first Broadway-bound show, now in tryouts in Washington, DC. The company also travels to the Modlin Center for the Arts in Richmond, VA, Oct. 2–5 and the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia next month.
What does he still hope to achieve with Keigwin + Co? In addition to a musical inspired and created by the company and making films of his works, he mentions more international touring, which would, perhaps, add to the existing 12 versions of his Bolero, a delightful hodgepodge for local participants. —Kina Poon
Photo: Matthew Baker and Ashley Browne of Keigwin + Company, by Matthew Murphy, Courtesy K+C
This morning, Jacqulyn Buglisi's Table of Silence Project returned to the Lincoln Center plaza for the third year. The public ritual for peace, performed in remembrance of 9/11, draws inspiration from Rossella Vasta's installation of 100 terracotta plates. It concluded at 8:46AM with a minute of silence, marking the moment of impact on the North Tower. In addition to members of Buglisi Dance Theatre, many of the 100-dancer cast are affiliated with the city's top schools and conservatories.
View the piece, which was broadcast live on YouTube, below.
Sarah Van Patten, our September cover star, is a forceful dramatic talent who happens to be movie star beautiful. Although the San Francisco Ballet principal won't be onstage with the company this month (we have to wait a few more weeks before SFB takes over Lincoln Center), she'll make her way to the silver screen next week at the San Francisco Dance Film Festival. Van Patten is featured in White, one of the festival's opening night selections, which is co-directed and choreographed by SFB's Tiit Helimets. (Helimets penned a blog about the making of White here.)
Van Patten in White. Photo by Austin Forbord, Courtesy San Francisco Dance Film Festival.
If you can't make it to the festival, get your Sarah fix by reading her cover feature "The Evolution of Sarah Van Patten." Plus, check out these photo outtakes and a behind-the-scenes video from her cover shoot:
In costume for Christopher Wheeldon's Within the Golden Hour. Photo by Nathan Sayers.
In costume for Christopher Wheeldon's Cinderella. Photo by Nathan Sayers.
In costume for Helgi Tomasson's Trio. Photo by Nathan Sayers.
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In today’s dance world, excelling in only one genre may not be enough to land you your dream job. Exposure to as many styles as possible will prepare you for a fruitful career. Who knows? You might learn something new about yourself as an artist.
And who better to learn from than two bonafide dance stars—sisters Daisha Graf and Alicia Graf Mack—who have pushed themselves to master various facets of dance. Under their new organization the Daisha and Alicia Graf Arts Collective, they’ve assembled an impressive roster of guest teachers for their inaugural “Made to Move” intensive, at the New York City Center studios on August 31. At first glance, they are two very different dancers: Alicia is one of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre’s brightest stars, while Daisha possesses a long list of commercial credits, including work with Beyoncé and Rihanna—and has just been signed to Epic Records as a recording artist. But they both started out in ballet, and each have modern and commercial backgrounds as well. (Daisha holds a BA in Dance from Hofstra, while Alicia “went on tour” with that other Alicia—Alicia Keys—this summer.)
“We’re really excited to start a project together—we have never been able to work together—to do something positive and give back to the arts community,” says Alicia. “Whenever I come back to New York from being on the road, we meet all these students on the street and in the Ailey building, and this is going to be a great way to connect with those dancers who are aspiring to be professional artists.”
The Graf sisters, in mentorly fashion, invited their own mentors to teach at “Made to Move.” Participants will start the jam-packed day with a Gyrokinesis class taught by none other than 2012 Dance Magazine Award recipient Renee Robinson. “Renee has the most generous spirit,” says Alicia. “Dancers need to know that those are the types of people who are honored in the dance world, who are divas in the best sense of the word.” Alicia will teach a contemporary class, and then Ronald K. Brown, director of Evidence/A Dance Company, will teach a master class. Brown has actually influenced the professional lives of both sisters. “Daisha did ADF when she was a student and he used her in a piece, and that kind of changed her perspective on modern dance and African dance,” says Alicia. “And when I came to Ailey from a more classical world, he cast me in his ballet Ife / My Heart and I think that allowed people to see that I actually have rhythm and I can do another style. I will be forever grateful that he took that chance with me, and said you can do this.”
For a lunchtime Q&A, panelists including American Ballet Theatre’s Misty Copeland, Ailey’s Antonio Douthit-Boyd and Kirven Douthit-Boyd (our favorite newlyweds), plus the founder of E! Entertainment, Daisha’s commercial agent, and a dancer-turned-dance publicist, will take your questions.
The afternoon moves into a more commercial arena: Daisha and her mentor Rhapsody James, who has choreographed for Beyoncé, Cassie, and Step Up 2: The Streets, will each teach a class, and then the day ends with celebrity vocal coach Ankh Ra Amenhetep (you might recognize him from MTV’s Making the Band). “We felt it was necessary for the dancers to have a voice lesson,” says Alicia, “because if you go to an audition and they ask you to speak or sing, we want you to know your voice, to at least have heard it a few times.”
There are still a few spots left for the “Made to Move” intensive. To audition, send a link to a one- to two-minute video of yourself dancing to email@example.com. Get all the details here.
Tonight’s the night—Wendy Whelan’s Restless Creature has its world premiere at Jacob’s Pillow. We’ve been anticipating this program, which pairs the incomparable ballerina with four contemporary choreographers in a series of duets, since we heard the first whispers of its existence last year. (See our August "Dance Matters," which mentions the evening is scheduled for a 10-city tour through 2014.)
However, if you’re like us, you're currently a hundred (or maybe thousands of) miles away from the Berkshires. How lucky, then that the Pillow is so brilliant at bringing the festival to the world at large—electronically.
About a month ago, I visited the Pillow to speak on a lively Pillow Talk titled “CN U TWEET REVUS?” about how dance criticism and other forms of dance writing (like, uh, this blog I’m typing now) have expanded online. (Deborah Jowitt and Philip Szporer spoke eloquently about the impact of the web as media consumption changes; we were moderated expertly by Pillow scholar-in-residence Maura Keefe.) The meta element was that the talk was live tweeted—many of the Pillow Talks are—tagged by #talkdance.
Tonight, post-Restless Creature premiere, you can follow along at the Audience Chat using #talkdance even if you can’t be there in person. (We certainly will be.)
Then this Friday, two of the most brilliant minds in filming dance—Pillow videographer Nel Shelby, who has made four beautiful short films for each duet which you can watch here, and NYCB’s Ellen Bar—will share their work. (Again, you can follow along using #talkdance.)
Of course, technology cannot replicate the magic of live performance—or fully convey how the Pillow itself is the ultimate dance haven. During my trip, in just over 24 hours, I managed to catch the glorious Shantala Shivalingappa, the fearless dancers of Cedar Lake, and the talented students in the commercial dance intensive in five classes, rehearsals, and performances—plus enjoy three photo exhibits and a few hours with the treasures in the Pillow archives. (A taste here.) This weekend, in addition to Restless, the Jazz/Musical Theatre students and La Otra Orilla, a flamenco tour-de-force, will perform—the latter even gives a master class, and other companies grace the stunning Inside/Out stage for free all week.
But since we’re here in NYC, we’ll settle for what we can get via our internet connection. A big merde to Whelan, Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish, Brian Brooks, and Alejandro Cerrudo.
And after you've viewed the Pillow videos, here's one more gem: check out our own Wendy (Perron) interviewing Wendy Whelan for our “Choreography in Focus” series.
Here at Dance Magazine, we've always got emerging talent on the brain (our "25 to Watch," published every January, is coming together as we speak). Another way that early-career artists receive much-deserved recognition are the prestigious Princess Grace Awards, which were announced today. For 2013, the dancers and choreographers who have been recognized with scholarships and fellowships are Alexander L. Anderson (The Juilliard School), Skylar Brandt (American Ballet Theatre), Courtney A. Henry (Alonzo King LINES Ballet), Talli Jackson (Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company), and Rachelle Anaïs Scott (Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet). Three choreographers have received fellowships at specific companies: Rosie Herrera at Ballet Hispanico, Loni Landon at BODYTRAFFIC, and Robyn Mineko Williams at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.
In addition, special project awards recognize choreographers Eric Kupers and Zoe Scofield, a works-in-progress residency has been awarded to Camille A. Brown, and a choreography mentorship co-commission award goes to Alex Ketley at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC).
And finally Tiler Peck. Is there anything this eminently musical and stylish ballerina can't do? Peck, a Princess Grace awardee in 2004, will receive the 2013 Princess Grace Statue Award, given to past winners who have "distinguish[ed] themselves in their artistic disciplines" since their initial award (Peck received hers in 2004)—and which comes with a cool $25,000. The awards in total amount to more than $1 million.
The 2013 Princess Grace Awards, which recognize promising artists in the fields of theater, dance, and film, will be held on October 30 in New York City.
The larger-than-life energy that Lil Buck brings to any space—an outdoor masterclass in Vail, CO; onstage at the Koch Theater at Lincoln Center; and in front of the camera at a photo studio in downtown Manhattan—is totally infectious. At just 25 years old, he's still at the beginning of what we predict will be a long and fruitful career (we named him a "25 to watch" just last year), but we felt compelled to delve deeper into his story—into his ever-growing artistry and sense of style. Read his cover profile, "Mesmerizing Moves," by Marina Harss, here.
And as a bonus, here are some onset photos by Jayme Thorton, and a video from the cover shoot, (Damian Woetzel, Lil Buck's mentor, makes a cameo in both):
A gleaming white stage sitting directly on the water; visible rays of sunlight streaming through the clouds; a hugely talented group of performers from various corners of the dance universe, all united in one cause—in a word, the Fire Island Dance Festival is idyllic. We were lucky enough to be guests at last weekend's festival, and a great time was had by all.
From opening number—Broadway Dance Lab in founder Josh Prince's crowd-pleasing In Defense, which through simple yet evocative gesture celebrated the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy—to closing—an excerpt of Ron K. Brown's glorious Torch, with a movingly understated performance by Brown himself—the program had the audience cheering nonstop. Of special note were Robert Battle's wild Strange Humors, performed by Ailey dancers—and newlyweds—Kirven Douthit-Boyd and Antonio Douthit-Boyd; BODYTRAFFIC (a 2013 "25 to Watch") in an excerpt from Richard Siegal's high-spirited o2Joy (co-director Tina Finkelman Berkett, who appeared, is an incredibly generous dancer and a great actress); and Lar Lubovitch's iconic Duet from Concerto Six Twenty-Two, danced by Clifton Brown and Attila Joey Csiki. Even hilarious host Mo Rocca got a chance to strut his stuff in Turkey-Lurkey Time (choreographed by Al Blackstone with some diligence due to Michael Bennett).
Broadway Dance Lab in Josh Prince's In Defense. Photo by Danny Roberts, Courtesy DRA.
But our two favorite performances came from Abraham.in.Motion in Kyle Abraham's premiere When We Take Flight, another display of his genius at melding modern dance rigor with pedestrian vernacular, and Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild of New York City Ballet in Christopher Wheeldon's A Place for Us. The latter looked like a completely different piece from the one we saw at the NYCB spring gala. Perhaps the intimacy of the venue and the picturesque backdrop (or even the much improved costumes) helped us see this ballet for what it really is—a charming work that allows Fairchild's charismatic flair and Peck's truly remarkable facility—she makes tricky transitions and musical idiosyncrasies look as natural as breathing—to shine.
Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild in Wheeldon's A Place for Us.
Photo by Danny Roberts, Courtesy DRA.
The three performances raised an astounding $393,647, for Dancers Responding to AIDS, a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, a record in FIDF's nearly 20-year history. The funds benefit more than 450 national AIDS and family service organizations, as well as health and other services for performers provided by The Actors Fund. (DRA also provides some artistic support for its commissions.) We applaud the generosity of all involved in this wonderful cause. See www.dradance.org for upcoming benefit performances, including the inaugural Hudson Valley Dance Festival this fall.
And if you haven't seen this video of Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith of San Francisco Ballet performing Wheeldon's After the Rain at FIDF 2010, you need to stop what you're doing and watch it now:
Everyone knows that Ailey dancers are some of the hardest working performers in the biz—they spend five months on the road bringing their luscious dancing to an appreciative audience worldwide, in addition to two seasons here at home in NYC. (We're eagerly anticipating the amazing rep of the December run.)
This weekend, the company dancers are looking towards the (hopefully) distant future. All proceeds from "Dance Works Unhinged," a self-produced show at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, benefit the Ailey Dancers' Resource Fund. ADRF sets money aside for current and former Ailey dancers for career transitions, choreographic projects, and for loans for injury-related emergencies. (We can't stress how much we support this kind of proactive thinking about your life outside of performing.)
In addition to helping a great cause, the audience is in for an additional treat: We'll get to see what 10 Ailey dancers do as choreographer, working with dancers they know intimately—their fellow company members. Hope Boykin, Sean A. Carmon, Vernard J. Gilmore, Megan Jakel, Yannick Lebrun, Jamar Roberts, Matthew Rushing, Kanji Segawa, Jermaine Terry, and Marcus Jarrell Willis will all contribute pieces. And we're lucky that this performance benefit, which started in 1996, is back after a five-year hiatus, which was due to the Ailey dancers' jam-packed tour schedule.
Purchase tickets to "Dance Works Unhinged," running Saturday, July 20th at 7:30PM and Sunday, July 21st at 3:00PM, here.
"The human imagination is still the most powerful tool we have as a people." So said President Barack Obama this afternoon in his presentation of the National Medal of Arts to 13 recipients, including Dance Magazine Awardee Joan Myers Brown, Philadanco founder and director extraordinaire, and Washington Performing Arts Society, a prolific presenter of dance and music. (This year's storied group also included filmmaker George Lucas, playwright Tony Kushner, and soprano Renée Fleming.) Watch the ceremony below:
Love it or hate it, Breaking Pointe, the reality show following Ballet West, is firmly a part of the dance ecosystem. For our July issue, we talked to BW artists (both featured on the show and not) about its impact on their lives, dancing and otherwise. Find out their code word for "Are you miked?" here.
Watch Allison DeBona and Rex Tilton in action at our photo shoot here, and check out some additional images below:
On the upswing: Allison DeBona and Rex Tilton of Breaking Pointe. All photos by Matthew Karas.
DeBona in costume for Helen Pickett's But Never Doubt I Love.
Season Two premieres on The CW Network on July 22 at 9:00PM/8:00c. We hope (are we a broken record at this point?) that we'll get more dancing this time around.
"I need the Juliets, and I need the Giselles. I need to not just do the second ballerina."
So says Simone Messmer, one of the most individual and stunning dancers on any stage, who is leaving her soloist position at American Ballet Theatre after this season. In a heartfelt interview by Gia Kourlas in Time Out New York, she reveals that she will be joining San Francisco Ballet as a soloist. We echo Kourlas' comments in that we fully understand her decision, but will really miss her onstage at the Met. (She will perform with SFB here in New York in October.)
Messmer is the kind of dancer that you are always happy to see cast when you open your program. She's one of the most versatile members of ABT. The amplitude of her dancing sets her apart—she can't help, it seems, but give 200 percent of her energy to the role at hand. Many of her standout roles are in the contemporary rep—Tharp, Morris, and Taylor ballets automatically come to mind—but she's a gorgeous classical dancer, too, in ballets like Swan Lake and Giselle. (Her Myrtha is chilling in its strength and undercurrent of sadness.) She makes no qualms about being an outspoken dancer—"You have to look after yourself because no one else will," she says in the interview. It can be difficult to speak up for yourself in the ballet world, and that very adult understanding of self-worth comes through in her dancing onstage.
She talks at length about how working with ABT's resident choreographer Alexei Ratmansky is one of the most difficult things she's leaving behind (although, of course, Ratmansky works with SFB too—the Shostakovich Trilogy that premiered last month will be performed by SFB next year). Among many great Ratmansky parts, her Maiden, which she originated in his Firebird last year, was my favorite role in that ballet—witty, strange, and poignant. A kind of perfect encapsulation of a dancer whom we adore and admire.
Messmer in Taylor's Black Tuesday. Photo by Fabrizio Ferri, Courtesy ABT.
On Wednesday afternoon, ABT principal Hee Seo made her debut as Odette/Odile. It’s no secret that we love Seo, and there was much to love about her first Swan Lake. Her whole body expressed palpable fear upon meeting her Prince Siegfried, Marcelo Gomes. She allowed that initial skittishness to dissipate as the pas de deux progressed, enchanting both prince and audience with her long, willowy limbs, filling the music as they unraveled effortlessly. Sometimes when Siegfried falls in love with Odette, it feels like he’s just dazzled by the very existence of these strange swan-maiden creatures. Seo and Gomes conveyed a deeper connection. And a surprising touch—Seo’s undulating swan arms didn’t ripple quickly, as with many Odettes. She made strong strokes, as powerful beating wings do before a bird takes flight.
Seo was clearly more comfortable, more extravagant in her risk-taking, in Gomes’ arms than in her solos. She was lucky to perform this debut with him (and told me as much last week, when I ran into her at a performance of Le Corsaire). Gomes, as it has been said endlessly, allows his ballerinas to be at their very best by knowing exactly what they need physically and by being fully absorbed in portraying the role at hand. (He’s ABT’s MVP for many reasons, but not enough is said about his own dancing: his ultra-elegant epaulement—to which he’ll add flourishes like a deep cambre when appropriate musically—and his careful attention to connecting and finishing steps beautifully are singular across the company.)
Seo and Gomes in Swan Lake. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT.
The audience went wild at the end of Seo and Gomes’ black swan pas. The sizzling chemistry helped—their faces were so close during one supported arabesque, I thought she was going in for an impromptu kiss. Gomes’ pirouettes were super on—at one point, he opened his arms to second intending to finish, but still had enough momentum to complete a final revolution, surprising even himself. And Seo nailed the last arabesque balance in the diagonal of chugs traveling backwards. It was a strong debut that will only improve as she gets more opportunities to dance it.
We know there are few ballets as rough for the female corps as Swan Lake, so a big brava to all of the beautiful swans onstage this week. (You’re almost there, ladies.) And we wish a swift recovery to the wonderful Alexandre Hammoudi, Seo’s original Siegfried, who has been sidelined by a foot injury.
Our June cover dancer spent 10 years in the corps of New York City Ballet—in fact, when we assigned her cover story, we had no idea that her long-awaited promotion to soloist was in the wings. But Georgina Pazcoguin was always a star, no matter what her rank. Read about the versatile and charismatic Gina in her profile, "A Flair for the Dramatic."
Gina was a pleasure to work with at her photo shoot. She was game for anything, sweetly self-deprecating—just a lot of fun, period. (And what a jumper!) Her partner Charles Askegard stopped by towards the end of the shoot, and was wonderfully supportive. You can get a glimpse of what happened in this behind-the-scenes video here. We had so many great images that we couldn't fit them all in print, so we're sharing a few outtakes here:
Dress designed by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung.
There's a moment in this just-released short film—featuring David Hallberg, that prince of princes—that really resonates. He grabs his left knee, then right, then right ankle, then left, with a kind of testing touch to make sure that everything is responsive. It's a nod to a dancer's relationship with his or her body, that all-powerful instrument that sometimes—often—can fail. Hallberg himself recently returned to the stage after being sidelined with ankle injuries for nearly a year. (He's dancing beautifully, by the way, and performing two Romeo and Juliets this week—with Polina Semionova tonight and Natalia Osipova on Friday.)
Back to "Hallberg at Work." Made by NOWNESS (a lifestyle website that's owned by fashion house LVMH), the film was shot at American Ballet Theatre's studios at 890 Broadway and the choreography is by none other than fellow ABT principal (and DM favorite) Marcelo Gomes. We're not sure that the title really reflects what's going on here (we're pretty sure that Hallberg, at work, doesn't get to be so solitary and serene—or climb on the barre) but the footage does capture his introspective spirit and, when it can tear itself away from his face, his gorgeous line. (To see more of those famous legs and feet, check out Dance Magazine's behind-the-scenes video of his June 2012 cover shoot.)
Photo taken on set at ABT Studios in NYC, May 2013, by Garen Barsegian.
NOWNESS' dance films are a lovely mix of movement and fashion. See New York City Ballet's Janie Taylor (choreography by Justin Peck) here, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet's Craig Black (choreography by Benjamin Millepied) here, and Lil Buck here.
We're theater-bound tonight—the movie theater, that is—to see the Mariinsky's glorious Ekaterina Kondaurova in Swan Lake. And what makes tonight's broadcast extra special is that her performance (happening in St. Petersburg right now) is being captured in 3D, with the help of James Cameron's production company Cameron-Pace Group. As the Los Angeles Times reports, the technical challenges include seven rigs of cameras helmed by an international 71-person crew. It's a worldwide event: there are over 1,200 theaters in 50 countries showing this production. (NYC, unfortunately, only has 2D Showings, but find a theater—and format—near you here.)
We wish we looked this good in 3D glasses. Photo by Natasha Razina, Courtesy Fathom Events.
We have high hopes for the direction (not too many close-ups of feet, for the love of Petipa) with Ross MacGibbon, former Royal Ballet dancer, at the helm. (His recent work includes Matthew Bourne's 3D Swan Lake film and the Royal's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland live relay.) In Time Out London, Ann McGuire, the director of the venture's parent production company Glass Slipper Live Events, cited the success of Wim Wenders' 3D PINA as inspiration.
Beyond Big Red (as Kondaurova is affectionately nicknamed), the cast includes Timur Askerov as Siegfried and Andrei Yermakov as Rothbart. Our 2012 "25 to Watch" Keenan Kampa will dance one of the big swans, and Xander Parish, the British up-and-comer who just debuted as Albrecht, will perform as one of the Prince's Friends (with tiny tempest Maria Shirinkina and Nadezhda Batoeva). Mariinsky general director Valery Gergiev is conducting.
Tonight in London, Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg, one of the Royal Ballet's star couples onstage and off, will take their final bows at Covent Garden as members of that company in MacMillan's Mayerling. In an announcement made just two days ago, the company stated that the pair is leaving the company "to pursue other artistic challenges," and that they will both continue dancing. With Kobborg's expressed interest in directing and having more opportunities to stage and choreograph, we expect to see them at the helm of a company soon. Cojocaru remains cast for a Sleeping Beauty with American Ballet Theatre, where she has been a frequent guest artist, next month. (Citing injury, she recently cancelled performances of Symphony in C in London and Swan Lake here in New York.) Also in July, the couple's final performances with RB are scheduled for the company's Japan tour, and the World Ballet festival in Denmark has announced that the pair will dance there.
Cojocaru, whose magic stems from her dreamy combination of fragile beauty and intense emotional power, graced our cover in March 2002 as a new principal at age 20. About the Romanian ballerina, Margaret Willis wrote, "Her whole body breathes the patterns of the music in elegant, fluid movements. She links each episode seamlessly, her arms are held in graceful epaulement, her back is pliant yet strong, her footwork is exacting, and her turns are vertiginous and accurate."
Terry Trucco, who penned the magnetic Kobborg's May 1995 cover profile, said about that dancer (then still with the Royal Danish Ballet in his native Denmark), "Kobborg perfected the classic Danish quality of making the hardest steps look utterly natural, as easy and elegant as can be. In short, his carefully honed technique rarely gets in the way of the dancing."
We put Cojocaru on our cover again in June 2006, at top, in La Sylphide (Kobborg's own staging.) By then, they were a couple. Kobborg also contributed a "Why I Dance" essay to our September 2010 issue. "I guess one day I am going to wake up to the real world, but for now I am living a dream," he wrote. We look forward to seeing what those dreams may bring.
Kobborg and Cojocaru in MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy ROH.