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The 5 Things You Should Do to Make Stage Combat Look Real
You dance like a knockout—but can you take a punch? Intense stage combat is a crucial element in many shows, from the sword fighting in Romeo & Juliet to the left hooks of the Broadway musical Rocky. But performing it well requires careful body awareness, trust and a full commitment to safety. Whether you're dancing a pivotal battle in a story ballet or intense partnering in a contemporary piece, these expert tips can help you make your fight scenes convincing, compelling and safe.
1. Master the Basics
When Luke Ingham was cast as Tybalt in San Francisco Ballet's Romeo & Juliet, he spent a full month practicing the basic body positions, footwork and momentum of fencing. "You need to be really grounded, you need to know where your feet are," Ingham says.
PC Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB
Only when he had the fundamentals down did he start learning the Act II sword-fight choreography. "Because of how long we spent perfecting everything, and how confident we became with the choreography, it allowed us to freely express our characters without being concerned about 'What am I doing now?' " says Ingham.
2. Get Up Close and Personal
Body combat, like the pushing, shoving, hair-pulling stepsisters in Cinderella, is safer and more believable when dancers are within half an arm's length of each other, rather than with arms straight and elbows locked out.
"You need to be as close to your partner as possible, so that you're able to nonverbally communicate what you need," explains Jared Kirby, a New York–based fight coordinator who has trained TV stunt people and Shakespearean actors, and recently helped choreographers Rick and Jeff Kuperman prepare for their production of The Count of Monte Cristo. "Then the victim's always in control. And the audience gets this amazing, visceral experience because the closer you are, the more realistic it looks," he says.
PC Absolutely Perilous
3. Know Your Target
Ingham spent hours rehearsing with former SFB principal Pascal Molat, who portrayed his opponent, Mercutio. "It's important to keep that continuity with the same partner," he says, so you can master the timing, momentum and position of every move. "Some people are short, some people are taller, and you need to have an accurate understanding of what point on the body you're aiming for." Stage-ready swords and knives are blunted and dulled, but they're not harmless, and accidentally getting hit "wasn't pleasant."
4. Fight Cooperatively
Even when characters are sworn enemies, the dancers portraying them need to be harmonious partners. "Fight work is 100 percent cooperative energy to show conflict," says Kirby. Remember that your most important job is protecting each other. "If you both embrace that, you'll work together to move the choreography to the next level," he says.
Comfort Fedoke and Mark Villaver, for example, were great partners but had not done a single lift together before they performed Talia Favia's physically and emotionally intense duet "Ending" last season on "So You Think You Can Dance." "She had never had to trust him in that way," says the contemporary choreographer. Favia encouraged them to talk about any fears, and to work out timing and transitions that felt best on their bodies. Confidence in your partnership "comes over time and practice, and being a good listener," she says.
Photo courtesy SYTYCD
5. Speak Up
If a choreographer or fight director asks you to do something that feels unsafe, say something. "It's a very unfortunate position, but it happens," says Favia, who never asks dancers to attempt dangerous tricks just for effect. "If it's choreographed correctly, the message will always be portrayed, even in a 'safe' version," she says.
If you can't resolve the situation in rehearsal, go to the director, studio owner or your union rep. "You have to trust your instincts and express yourself," Kirby says. "Respectful communication is key."
Bales of hay, black umbrellas, bicycles—this Midsummer Night's Dream would be unrecognizable to the Bard. Alexander Ekman's full-length, inspired by Scandinavian solstice traditions and set to music by Mikael Karlsson, is a madcap celebration of the longest day of the year, when the veil between our world and that of the supernatural is said to be at its thinnest. The Joffrey Ballet's performances mark the seductively surreal work's North American premiere. April 25–May 6. joffrey.org.
"There's an ancient energy in Fana's movement, a deep and trusted knowing," says Jeff, director of the Chicago-based Deeply Rooted Dance Theater. "Because I witnessed the raw humanity of his dancer's souls, I wanted my dancers to have that experience."
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
In his final bow at New York City Ballet, during what should have been a heroic conclusion to a celebrated ballet career, Robert Fairchild slipped and fell. His reaction? To lie down flat on his back like he meant to do it. Then start cracking up at himself.
"He's such a ham," says his sister Megan Fairchild, with a laugh. "He's really good at selling whatever his body is doing that day. He'll turn a moment that I would totally go home and cry about into something where the audience is like, 'That's the most amazing thing ever!' "
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.
Have a scroll through Agnes Muljadi's Instagram feed (@artsyagnes), and you'll notice that in between her ballet shots is a curated mix of lifestyle pics. So what exactly sets her apart from the other influencers you follow? Muljadi has made a conscious effort to only feature natural beauty products, sustainable fashion and vegan foods. With over 500k followers, her social strategy (and commitment to making ethical choices) is clearly a hit. Ahead, learn why Muljadi switched to a vegan lifestyle, and the surprising way it's helped her dance career.
He may not be a household name, but you probably know Brandon Stirling Baker's work. The 30-year-old has designed the lighting for most of Justin Peck's ballets—including Heatscape for Miami City Ballet, and the edgy The Times Are Racing for New York City Ballet—but also Jamar Roberts' new Members Don't Get Weary at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a trio of Martha Graham duets for L.A. Dance Project.
He's been fascinated by lighting ever since he attended a public performing arts middle school in Sherman Oaks, California, where he had his first experiences lighting shows. He also has a background in music (he plays guitar and bass) and in drawing. Both, he says, are central to the way he approaches lighting dance.
Update: Due to an overwhelming response, the in-person audition has been moved to a larger location to accommodate more dancers. See details below.
For the first time in more than 10 years, Janet Jackson is holding an open audition for dancers.
Even better? You could land a spot in her #JTribe simply by posting a video on social media.
What does it take to become an international superstar? Carlos Acosta might have a few ideas.
At the Oxford Literary Festival earlier this month, the BBC sat down with Acosta to ask for his life lessons. His answers—which he says he will pass on to his kids one day—give incredible insight into how he's become such a beloved worldwide success.