What To Do When You All of A Sudden Have A New Artistic Director
When news reached the Limón Dance Company that Colin Connor was replacing longtime director Carla Maxwell in 2016, the tight-knit group experienced a range of emotions. "Everyone agreed that fresh energy would be a benefit to the company," says veteran dancer Logan Kruger. But the excitement lasted only until the fear sunk in—there would be changes, and some of them might even include saying good-bye.
It's understandable to experience feelings of shock, fear and even abandonment if your director leaves. It's not just that you'll have a new boss—a shift at the top can have a domino effect on casting, programming, rehearsal structure and branding. Here's how to forge a relationship with your new director and take advantage of the opportunities that come from having fresh eyes on your dancing.
Prepare for the Unknown
When Julie Kent took over The Washington Ballet as artistic director, she intended to redefine the organization. Photo by Mena Brunette, Courtesy TWB
How different your work environment may become and how long it will take to feel settled will depend on the type of transition. Is the shift part of a succession plan? Or has the board acted swiftly to remove someone? Is the search committee looking for a director to lead the same way or to envision an extensive change?
"Sometimes the goals stay the same even if something changes at the top," says Julie Kent, who experienced this type of transition multiple times as the longest-serving ballerina in American Ballet Theatre's history. But as artistic director of The Washington Ballet since July 2016, she has been leading an effort to completely redefine its repertoire and reputation. "There's no formula for such a huge transition. You can't rush the process," she says. "Remember that you are part of a larger whole."
Have Patience—but Be Honest
Dwayne Scheuneman (foreground) says that it's reasonable to ask for more clarity if you're totally in the dark. Photo by David DeSilva, Courtesy AXIS
Trust that the dancers' best interests are part of the plan, even if you don't hear all the details. It may be frustrating, but your job is to keep dancing. "Producing under any circumstances is your responsibility," says Kent.
If fear of the unknown is affecting your work, it's reasonable to ask for more clarity, says Dwayne Scheuneman, who has performed with AXIS Dance Company under founder Judith Smith and new director Marc Brew. "Request a one-on-one with the executive director or board member leading the search and let them know you're concerned—it might be what they need to hear to embrace a more open process," he says.
Don't Fear the Pink Slip
Kruger (right) focused on whether the new director was going to be a fit for her or not, rather than stressing about her job security. Photo by Keira Chang, Courtesy Limón
It's natural for an incoming director to make room for new dancers, but panicking about your job security won't impress anyone. "What worked for me was focusing on what I had to offer and trusting that I was either going to be a good fit or I wasn't," says Kruger. "I was auditioning for Colin, but he was also auditioning for me." (Five dancers ultimately left for various reasons. Connor replaced four of them, and Kruger was rehired.)
Lillian DiPiazza was in a vulnerable place when Angel Corella was hired as the new director of Pennsylvania Ballet. She had been promoted to soloist by former director Roy Kaiser but learned soon after that she had a back injury. "I found myself approaching my new boss saying, 'I'm going to be out for the next five months,' " she says. "I was worried about getting left behind." When she recovered, DiPiazza treated her return like she was joining a new company. She was promoted to principal for the 2016–17 season, by which point 17 dancers had left or were let go.
Marc Brew (foreground), the new artistic director of AXIS. Photo by Misako Akimoto, Courtesy AXIS
You might be surprised at how long it takes to find a groove with your new director, especially if they're busy closing out other commitments. Don't make decisions about someone right away, says Scheuneman. "Understand that there are so many things we don't see in the studio. Marc had a long relationship with us, but he was still nervous about moving from the UK and getting used to our community." Have compassion for the major changes the director is making in order to lead your company.
Lillian DiPiazza suggests steering clear of gossip about the new director. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet
Show through your work ethic that you want to be there and you're willing to embrace change, says DiPiazza. Gossip is inevitable, but steer clear of spreading negativity. "If the people you are close to become unhappy, it's easy to let it affect you, but how you react says something to everyone around you," she says. It's okay to acknowledge the validity of a concern that's at the root of the gossip, says Scheuneman. "Then, instead of hating on a new director, ask yourself how you can help them find a better way."
Use Change to Your Advantage
Kruger (left) ended up benefiting from her historical knowledge of the organization. Photo by Keira Chang, Courtesy Limon
Don't forget that some changes may benefit you. Company members with historical knowledge of the organization can be major assets to a new director. "We came to realize that Colin valued our opinions," says Kruger. "After his first full season, I was asked to be rehearsal director. He trusted me to help new dancers develop an understanding of Limón."
Fresh eyes can shake up casting, too. "It's hard to typecast dancers when you don't know them, so redefine yourself and be the kind of dancer that does the roles you want," says Kent. A fresh perspective might also push you to become more versatile. "We'd always had more emphasis on Balanchine, but Angel brought a more classical style," says DiPiazza. "It was rewarding to discipline our bodies to alternate between both."
Check In with Your Goals
Kent emphasizes that it's ultimately up to the dancer to decide what's best for them. Photo by Mena Brunette, Courtesy The Washington Ballet
What if it's not working out? "The organization has needs that might not align with what you want," says Kent. "I'm not a fairy godmother making wishes come true. I'm making tough decisions to set the company up for the greatest possible success. You are the only one who can decide if this is the ship you want to be on."
Maybe it's time to move on, and that's okay. You may realize this transition has prepared you to take a step forward towards a better career.
If you love Michael Jackson, you'll love this news: A pre-Broadway run of the MJ jukebox musical will hit Chicago this fall.
Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough boasts more than 25 MJ hits and has set its premiere for October 29. As previously reported, Christopher Wheeldon will direct and choreograph the new musical, while Lynn Nottage pens the book.
Gallim will honor Frederic M. Seegal and Limor Tomer at its February 12 Force of Nature gala. Both honorees have a close relationship with the Brooklyn-based contemporary dance troupe, so it's fitting that they'll be recognized at Gallim's first-ever gala.
Seegal, Dance Media's CEO, previously served as Gallim's board chairman. He fondly recalls his first encounter with the company: After Gallim brought down the house at its 2010 Fall For Dance performance, Seegal was immediately convinced that he had to support the company and connected with artistic director Andrea Miller that night.
These days, you don't have to be in the circus to learn how to fly. Aerial dance has grown in popularity in recent years, blending modern dance and circus traditions and enlisting the help of trapeze, silks, hammocks, lyra and cube for shows that push both viewers and performers past their comfort zones.
More dancers are learning aerial than ever before. Besides adding new skills to your resumé, becoming an aerialist opens up a new realm of possibilities.
Alicia Alonso's famed ballet company in Cuba has a new leader: the beloved hometown prima ballerina Viengsay Valdés.
Ballet Nacional of Cuba just named Valdés deputy artistic director, which means she will immediately assume the daily responsibilities of running the company. Alonso, 98, will retain the title of general director, but in practice, Valdés will be the one making all the artistic decisions.
I'm terrified of performing choreography that changes directions. I messed up last year when the stage lights caused me to become disoriented. What can I do to prevent this from happening again? I can perform the combination just fine in the studio with the mirror.
—Scared, San Francisco, CA
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From the angles of your feet to the size of your head, it can sometimes seem like there is no part of a dancer's body that is not under scrutiny. It's easy to get obsessed when you are constantly in front of a mirror, trying to fit a mold.
Yet the traditional ideals seem to be exploding every day. "The days of carbon-copy dancers are over," says BalletX dancer Caili Quan. "Only when you're confident in your own body can you start truly working with what you have."
While the striving may never end, there can be unexpected benefits to what you may think of as your "imperfections."
It's the second week of Miami City Ballet School's Choreographic Intensive, and the students stand in a light-drenched studio watching as choreographer Durante Verzola sets a pas de trois. "Don't be afraid to look at the ceiling—look that high," Verzola shows one student as she holds an arabesque. "That gives so much more dimension to your dancing." Other students try the same movement from the sidelines.
When Arantxa Ochoa took over as MCB School's director of faculty and curriculum two years ago, she decided to add a second part to the summer intensive: five weeks focused on technique would be followed by a new two-week choreography session. The technique intensive is not a requirement, but students audition for both at the same time and many attend the two back-to-back.
On a summer afternoon at The Ailey School's studios, a group of students go through a sequence of Horton exercises, radiating concentration and strength as they tilt to one side, arms outstretched and leg parallel to the ground. Later, in a studio down the hall, a theater dance class rehearses a lively medley of Broadway show tunes. With giant smiles and bouncy energy, students run through steps to "The Nicest Kids in Town" from Hairspray.
"You gotta really scream!" teacher Judine Somerville calls out as they mime their excitement. "This is live theater!" They segue into the audition number from A Chorus Line, "I Hope I Get It," their expressions becoming purposeful and slightly nervous. "Center stage is wherever I am," Somerville tells them when the music stops, making them repeat the words back to her. "Take that wherever you go."
Dance artists, as a rule, are a resilient bunch. But working in a studio in New York City without heat or electricity in the middle of winter? That's not just crazy; it's unhealthy, and too much to ask of anyone.
Unfortunately, Brooklyn Studios for Dance hasn't had heat since mid-November, making it impossible for classes or performances to take place in the community-oriented center.
So what's a studio to do? Throw a massive dance party, of course.
As winter sets in, your muscles may feel tighter than they did in warmer weather. You're not imagining it: Cold weather can cause muscles to lose heat and contract, resulting in a more limited range of motion and muscle soreness or stiffness.
But dancers need their muscles to be supple and fresh, no matter the weather outside. Here's how to maintain your mobility during the colder months so your dancing isn't affected:
A newly launched initiative hopes to change the face of ballet, both onstage and behind the scenes. Called "The Equity Project: Increasing the Presence of Blacks in Ballet," the three-year initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is a partnership between Dance Theatre of Harlem, the International Association of Blacks in Dance and Dance/USA.
"We've seen huge amounts of change in the years since 1969, when Dance Theatre of Harlem was founded," says Virginia Johnson, artistic director of DTH. "But change is happening much too slowly, and it will continue to be too slow until we come to a little bit more of an awareness of what the underlying issues are and what needs to be done to address them."
From the outside, it seemed like the worst of New York City Ballet's problems were behind them last winter, when ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired amid accusations of abuse and sexual harassment, and an internal investigation did not substantiate those claims.
But further troubles were revealed in August when a scandal broke that led to dancer Chase Finlay's abrupt resignation and the firing of fellow principals Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro. All three were accused of "inappropriate communications" and violating "norms of conduct."
The artistic director sets the tone for a dance company and leads by example. But regardless of whether Martins, and George Balanchine before him, established a healthy organization, the issues at NYCB bespeak an industry-wide problem, says Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, founding artistic director of Urban Bush Women. "From New York City Ballet to emerging artists, we've just done what's been handed down," she observes. "That has not necessarily led to great practices."
If you've ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at Dance Magazine, now's your chance to find out. Dance Magazine is seeking an editorial intern who's equally passionate about dance and journalism.
Through March 1, we are accepting applications for a summer intern to assist our staff onsite in New York City from June to August. The internship includes an hourly stipend and requires a minimum two-day-a-week commitment. (We do not provide assistance securing housing.)
What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.
Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
Though Polunin has long had a reputation for behaving inappropriately, in the last month his posts have been somewhat unhinged. In one, Polunin, who is Ukrainian, shows off his new tattoo of Vladimir Putin:
It's become a colloquialism—or, we admit, a cliche—to say that dance can heal.
But with a new initiative launched by British Health Secretary Matt Hancock, doctors in the U.K. will soon be able to prescribe dance classes—along with art, music, sports, gardening and more—for patients suffering from conditions as various as dementia, lung problems and mental health issues.
For the past few months, the dance world has been holding its collective breath, waiting for New York City Ballet to announce who will take over the helm as artistic director.
Though former ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired over a year ago after accusations of sexual harassment and abuse (an internal investigation did not corroborate the accusations), the search for a new leader didn't begin until last May.
Nine months later, the new director's name could be released any day now. And we have some theories about who it might be:
Some people take this profession as just a chapter of their life. They feel like dance is a job—a fun job, but a job. Other people live their life through dance. I never considered being a ballerina a profession. It's a lifestyle.
If I don't have a performance, I feel like a tiger trapped in a cage. I have so many emotions, I feel I need to give them to somebody, to exhaust myself—I need to cry or laugh, or else it's suffocating. Other people might scream or throw bottles into the wall. We dancers scream onstage through our movement. For me, it's like sweeping off the dust in my soul.
Back in 2011, Yale University's dean of science was thinking about refreshing the program's offerings for non-majors when he happened upon a Pilobolus performance. A light bulb went off: Dance is full of physics.
That realization led to what has become an eight-year collaboration between particle physicist Sarah Demers and former New York City Ballet dancer Emily Coates, both professors at Yale who were brought together to co-teach a course called The Physics of Dance. Their partnership has involved everything from directing a short film to presenting a TedX Talk and performing a piece that Coates created, commissioned by Danspace Project. This month, they're publishing a book about what they've discovered by dialoging across two seemingly disparate disciplines.
Sebastian Abarbanell remembers being asked as an undergrad at Trinity Laban in London to perform wearing only a dance belt. "I said no," he says, "because I felt uncomfortable." Now a performer with Sidra Bell Dance New York, he's performed partially nude several times, without reservation. The difference? "It comes with more experience and maturing as a dancer," he says. "When you see a dancer living in their skin, you don't need to put anything else on them. When I said no in college, I wasn't in my skin yet."
Getting in your skin—and getting comfortable wearing only your skin onstage—requires a particular alchemy of vulnerability, agency, preparation and practice.
Birmingham Royal Ballet announced today that international star Carlos Acosta will be taking over as director in January of 2020. Current BRB director David Bintley will be stepping down this summer, at the end of the company's 2019 season, after a 24-year tenure. "It is a tremendous honor and privilege to have been appointed to lead Birmingham Royal Ballet," Acosta said in a statement.
Since retiring from The Royal Ballet in 2015, Acosta has focused much of his attention on his native Cuba, where he's proven his directorial abilities at the helm of Acosta Danza, the contemporary company that he founded in 2016. In 2017 Acosta also opened his first Dance Academy through his foundation, which provides free training to students. We don't yet know how Acosta will balance his time between his projects in Cuba and his new role at BRB.