Curtain Up

August 23, 2009





I never liked the title Fame for a movie about kids training to be performers. Maybe singers and actors fantasize about fame, but for dancers it’s not about that. It ’s about passion, discipline, and motivation. It’s about transformation on the stage. It’s about the daily work of developing your artistry and pushing your body beyond what you thought it could do.


However, the new Fame movie promises to make the public aware of the hard work and drama that accompany a performer’s hopes and dreams. I’m thrilled about the cast—what could be better than Bebe Neuwirth as a ballet teacher? Find out how Bebe prepared for her role in Emily Macel’s feature “Fame, the Next Generation.” You’ll also hear from young dancers Kherington Payne and Paul McGill about how they relate to the characters they play.


For me, performing has even more of a mystique than celebrity. We know that Michael Jackson was not a charismatic person offstage. Onstage, he rocked. He exploded with precise and powerful dancing (and singing). Dancers who worked with him or were profoundly influenced by him have their say in “Remembering Michael Jackson” in “Vital Signs.”


In this month’s “Why I Dance,” Gavin Larsen says she is normally shy and blossoms only onstage. She realized at a young age that it’s easier to face hundreds or thousands of pairs of eyes in the dark than to face just one pair in daylight. That darkness helps her transform.


Of course it takes a choreographer to provide the material that will allow the dancer to transform. In “Their Vision, My Body,” Evan McKie talks about how three of Europe’s edgiest choreographers have given him that gift. Wayne McGregor, Marco Goecke, and Kevin O’Day are each stretching the ballet vocabulary in their own ways, and in doing so, are stretching curious dancers like Evan.


Sadly, two ballerinas who made that kind of transcendence happen regularly have stepped down, leaving holes in the national ballet scene. Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Louise Nadeau and San Francisco Ballet’s Tina LeBlanc epitomized the performer who excels and enchants, who makes you sit up with attention and crave to see what they will do next. Reading about them in “Transitions,” you’ll see that they both sustained this exhilarating level of performance for decades.



Photo by Steve Vaccariello