Curtain Up

May 27, 2009

During my first year out of college, I danced in a piece by Jeff Duncan, the Anna Sokolow dancer who started Dance Theater Workshop—so named because he believed in the “theater” part of dance. The piece was called Resonances, and I was replacing Ze’eva Cohen, who was one of the great dramatic modern dancers of the 1960s and ’70s. I had a solo that was loosely based on a dreamy but neurotic character. I was nervous and wanted to please Jeff but had no idea how to approach the role. I practiced that solo over and over, trying out different motivations. I can’t say I remember whether Jeff liked my rendition because mostly what I remember is my nervousness.


I think a lot of young dancers feel at a loss when they get cast in a dance “theater” piece. Nowadays you can look at DVDs or sometimes work with a coach. But what if you don’t have access to those routes, or if it’s a new role that’s never been done? In Lynn Colburn Shapiro’s “Going Inside the Role,” she talks to Tommy Tune as well as to celebrated former dancers Shelley Washington of Tharp, Peter Sparling of Graham, and Sarah Stackhouse of Limón—all of whom now stage major ballets. Reading what they say is the next best thing to being in a studio with these wise and demanding coaches.


The Bolshoi dancers have their own way of commanding a role. They are intuitive performers with a grand sweep. Ivan Vasiliev—the 21-year-old rising star who has thrilled audiences—exemplifies the older, heroic type of male dancer. It’s not only that his leaps take your breath away and his turns are uncountable. It’s that you see a real guy up there, someone with a heart and soul. He puts the “big” back into the Bolshoi, which is coming to three American cities this month.


Back in the States, where male dancing is a younger tradition, we still need to look at how we’re training men. Sure it’s hard to get boys into the studio, but some teachers are having luck with new ways to draw them in. In Teach-Learn Connection’s “Men at Work,” Joseph Carman has sought out teachers who are using their imaginations not only to train guys but to pull them in. Whether it’s Peter Boal bringing a trampoline into the studio, or Carl Flink taking his college boys out to a boxing session, there are bound to be ideas here for you or your colleagues.


Wendy Perron, Editor in Chief



Photo: Steve Vaccariello