What These Five Choreographers Actually Think of Their Reviews
Love them or not, reviews are part of the ecology of being a dancemaker. Critical writing can validate, illuminate or sometimes get in the way of an artist's creative process. We spoke with five choreographers about their relationship to reviews.
Sergio Trujillo understands that Broadway reviews function differently than concert dance reviews: Although his work is crucial to the pacing and look of the show, he may only get acknowledged in a sentence. And by the time the review comes out, Trujillo is already at work on his next project. He does find reviews from out-of-town trials useful, as well as ones for dance shows, like his tango-infused Arrabal. "I reassessed a couple of moments so the narrative came through more clearly," he says. Most often he finds the advice from sages like Christopher Wheeldon and Jerry Mitchell, whom he brings into rehearsals, most valuable. "I distanced myself from reviews early on in my career," he says. "We can't be enslaved to them. We need to serve our own artistry. It's just one person's point of view. The truth comes from the audience."
Contemporary ballet choreographer Gabrielle Lamb has learned things from reviews that have changed her trajectory. "Once, a reviewer mentioned that all the works in a program used short pieces of music," she says. With that in mind, she chose a longer piece for a later work. Reviews also let her know how the work is coming across. "I spend so much time on a piece that it's hard for me to know how it is being perceived," she says. Lamb is flattered when someone writes something beautiful, but has felt the punch of a less than favorable review, too. "It is a bit of an out-of-body experience," she says. "Most often negative reviews are dismissive and don't contain much in the way of information. I remind myself that some of the choreographers I admire most have gotten some blistering reviews. In one recent case, the critic had reviewed a show I'd watched, and our opinions had been exactly opposite. Why should I expect that person to enjoy my work?"
Though her career trajectory put her in the spotlight sooner than most choreographers, Claudia Schreier has adapted quickly to the rigors of being a New York City–based artist. The Harvard-educated dancemaker sees reviews as a necessary part of the equation. "I'm grateful there is a critical response, regardless of what is said," says Schreier. "There's a certain responsibility on both sides in holding up the integrity of the art form." Schreier has taken critics' comments seriously at times. "Often I am already thinking about the things they mentioned," she says. "Translating dance into words is the gift of the critic, so to hold that reflection back at you can be incredibly helpful." Schreier has been made aware of ideas operating in her work that lent her direction for the future: Multiple reviews mentioning her musicality gave her the confidence to explore that quality further. "Sometimes, they can see patterns that I didn't see on my own," she says. She also realizes that some of what is said is not relevant to her process. "It's important to stay true to yourself. It's so easy to get derailed."
Reviews, good or bad, are not Joe Goode's favorite subject. "What I do is so personal. It's me. It's my heart. My truth," says the San Francisco–based choreographer, who has sworn off reading reviews completely. "I'm like a sponge. To have a stranger look at my work and say this part was too slow makes me question my choices. I resent having myself redirected by someone who wasn't informed by my process. Even a good review can influence you for the wrong reasons." Goode does bring in a few people he trusts to see works in progress. He also finds that there's a new generation of writers who want to engage with the work through a more exploratory process. "They are looking at the work with curiosity and questions, not a thumbs up or down approach," he says. "That's really healthy."
Critics have compared Rosie Herrera to Pina Bausch for her theater-infused works. "When I first heard that, I thought, Cool, who is that?" says Herrera, laughing. Early on, Herrera had the advantage of a local critic writing for the daily paper in Miami, which meant previews and reviews. "The critic was able to offer context. Whether the review was good or bad, it was coming from a place of knowledge, and that's always valuable." Herrera has also survived the knife of a New York Times review. "It's New York, everyone gets bad reviews," she says. "I do read them, but not the day after. Once I have a firm grasp on the successes and failures of the show and a clarity of where I want to go next, only then can I read it." n
Flamenco dancer and choreographer Rocío Molina created her first full-length production, Entre paredes ("Between Walls"), at the age of 22. At 26, the prodigy received Spain's National Dance Prize, the most coveted dance award in Spain. Now 34, her rupture with tradition makes her no stranger to controversy. But it, and her fiercely personal and contemporary style, means that each new project is a fascinating voyage.
Molina is the subject of French filmmaker Emilio Belmonte's first feature length documentary, IMPULSO. The film, which makes its U.S. theatrical premiere at New York City's Film Forum on October 17, follows Molina for two years as she tours Europe presenting a series of improvised works. These improvisations ultimately inspired the creation of one of Molina's masterworks, Caída de Cielo ("Fallen from Heaven"), which premiered in 2016.
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In a move that was both surprising and seemingly inevitable, New York City Ballet closed its fall season by promoting seven dancers. Joseph Gordon, who was promoted to soloist in February 2017, is now a principal dancer. Daniel Applebaum, Harrison Coll, Claire Kretzschmar, Aaron Sanz, Sebastian Villarini-Velez and Peter Walker have been promoted to soloist.
Newly promoted soloist Peter Walker has been showing his abilities as a leading man in ballets like Jerome Robbins' West Side Story Suite. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB
The announcement was made on Saturday by Jonathan Stafford, the head of NYCB's interim leadership team. These seven promotions mark the first since longtime ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired in the midst of harassment allegations at the beginning of this year. While Stafford and fellow interim leaders Rebecca Krohn, Craig Hall and Justin Peck have made some bold choices in terms of programming—such as commissioning Kyle Abraham and Emma Portner to create new works for the 2018–19 season—their primary focus has appeared to be keeping the company running on an even keel while the search for a new artistic leader is ongoing. Some of us theorized that we would not be seeing any promotions until a new artistic director was in place.
In the final years of her decade-long career with the Lewitzky Dance Company, University of Arizona Associate Professor Amy Ernst began to develop an interest in dance injury prevention. She remembers feeling an urge to widen her understanding of dance and the body. Soon after retirement from the Company, she was hired by the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Inglewood, California as a physical therapy assistant, where she worked for the next three and a half years. This work eventually led her to pursue an M.F.A. in dance at the University of Washington-Seattle. She remembers growing into the role of a professor during her time pursuing her degree. That incubation phase was critical. Ernst joined the faculty at the University of Arizona in 1995, and now as director of the M.F.A. program, mentors the new generation of dance faculty, company directors and innovators.
Ryan Steele has a simple rule for demanding days on Broadway: "I listen to my body," he says. "I have whatever I'm craving: If I need more protein, I go straight for that. If I'm tired, I know I need carbs."
This wasn't always Steele's approach. Growing up, shuttling between the studio and school meant relying on McDonald's and Burger King.
For over a decade, husband-and-wife team Pascal Rioult and Joyce Herring, artistic and associate artistic directors of RIOULT Dance NY, dreamed of building a space for their company and fellow artists in the community, and a school for future dancers. This month, their 11,000-square-foot dream opens its doors in the Kaufman Arts District in Astoria, Queens, a New York City neighborhood across the East River from Manhattan.
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With cooler weather finally here, it's time to talk warm-ups. And while your dancewear drawer is probably overflowing with oversized sweaters, leggings and enough leg warmers to outfit the whole class, warm-up boots are often forgotten. To keep your feet and ankles cozy in between rehearsals, we rounded up dance warm-up boots that suit every style.
Bloch Inc. Printed Warm-up Bootie
via Bloch Inc.
Created by Irina Dvorovenko and Max Beloserkovsky, this collection comes in a variety of tie dye, floral and even butterfly prints.
Some of my favorite experiences as both an audience member and a dancer have involved audience participation. Artists who cleverly use participatory moments can make bold statements about the boundaries between performer and spectator, onstage and off. And the challenge to be more than a passive viewer can redefine an audience's relationship to what they're watching. But all the experiences I've loved have had something in common: They've given audiences a choice.
A few weeks back, I had a starkly different experience—one that has caused me to think deeply about how consent should play into audience-performer relationships.
What happens when you mix two really good things together? Sometimes, it can be magical. It's practically guaranteed when one of those elements is the wizarding world of Harry Potter, and the other is—wait for it—dance-team–style hip hop.
When the Bible spoke of the "ingathering of the exiles," it didn't have dance in mind. Yet, this month, more than 100 dancers, choreographers and scholars from around the world will gather at Arizona State University to celebrate the impact of Jews and the Jewish experience on dance. From hora to hip hop, social justice to somatics, ballet to Gaga, the three-day event (Oct. 13–15) is "deliberately inclusive," says conference organizer and ASU professor Naomi Jackson.
Even when marking a move in rehearsal, Bobbi Jene Smith seems to dance with her whole being. "It comes from the pelvis," she says while directing a few of her fellow dancers in an undulating phrase. Her lower body spirals, pulling her torso behind it in one swift, visceral motion. "Always keep a bit of groove somewhere in your body," she says during another, more improvisational section.
Dance audiences might be most familiar with this side of Smith: the heart—and the guts—that she brings to her dancing. But in the four years since she returned to the U.S. from Tel Aviv, where she spent a decade performing with the Batsheva Dance Company, she has achieved a balancing act of creative roles: dancer, choreographer, teacher and budding actor.
The scene she's rehearsing is one of 10 she choreographed for Aviva, an independent feature film directed by Boaz Yakin, best known for his 2000 blockbuster Remember the Titans. She also plays a main character in the movement-driven story, as part of a cast of more than 30 dancers that she helped to select—including 20 of her students from Philadelphia's University of the Arts.
Coming this fall to the ever-expanding Ailey organization is an intriguing new event: the Choreography Unlocked festival. From Oct. 12–14 and 26–28, the Joan Weill Center for Dance will host workshops, performances and panel discussions. It is an extension of Ailey's New Directions Choreography Lab, an annual residency fellowship for four emerging and mid-career choreographers, founded by artistic director Robert Battle in 2011.
Cameron McKinney working with students at The Ailey School through the New Directions Choreography Lab. Photo by Nicole Tintle, Courtesy AAADT
The festival offers a rare experience for choreographers to work collectively on their craft, and for students and public audiences to interact firsthand with the process of creating dance. "Choreographers tend to section off on their own, so I wanted to offer classes for them to come together and vibe off each other," says Battle. He also hopes to demystify the choreographic process for audiences.
2018 has seen an endless parade of celebrations in anticipation of Jerome Robbins' centennial—and now the day has finally arrived. In honor of what would have been his 100th birthday, we dove into our photo archives and selected a few favorite shots of the choreographer whose career defined (and redefined) American dance.
Between long rehearsal days, performances and hectic touring schedules, it can be hard for professional dancers to plan for their post-performance careers while they're still onstage. This fall, that changes for five American Ballet Theatre principals. Stella Abrera, Isabella Boylston, Cory Stearns, James Whiteside and Gillian Murphy have been chosen as the first dancers to participate in Crossover Into Business at Harvard Business School, a semester-long program designed for professional athletes.
Last year, Crossover Into Business program director and HBS professor Anita Elberse was developing a case study on ABT, and reached out to the company executive director Kara Medoff Barnett, an alumna of HBS. "Anita mentioned the Crossover Program as an experience that has been transformative for professional athletes," says Barnett. "We looked at each other and had the same idea: How about inviting the ABT dancers to sit next to the NBA players?"
New York City Ballet fired principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro on Saturday. Both had initially been suspended until 2019 for engaging in "inappropriate communications," while principal Chase Finlay, who was the instigator of those communications, resigned. (Although, in a statement on Saturday, NYCB made it clear they had decided to terminate Finlay prior to his resignation.)
The New York Times reports that NYCB says the change from suspension to termination resulted from hearing the concerns of dancers, staff members and others in the NYCB community. Yet it's hard to ignore the fact that a lawsuit against NYCB had been filed in the meantime. A statement from NYCB executive director Katherine Brown and interim artistic team leader Jonathan Stafford stated:
"We have no higher obligation than to ensure that our dancers and staff have a workplace where they feel respected and valued, and we are committed to providing that environment for all employees of New York City Ballet."
Since the news was announced, both Catazaro and Ramasar have spoken out publicly about being fired.
People have a tendency to think of dance as purely physical and not intellectual. But when we separate movement from intellect, we limit what dance can do for the world.
It's not hard to see that dance is thought of as less than other so-called "intellectual pursuits." How many dancers have been told they should pursue something "more serious"? How many college dance departments don't receive funding on par with theater or music departments, much less science departments?
Earlier this week, a friend of a friend reached out to me seeking recommendations for a dancer/choreographer to hire. She wanted someone who could perform a solo and talk about their process for an arts-appreciation club. After a few emails back and forth, as I was trying to find out exactly what kind of choreographer she was looking for, it eventually emerged that she was not looking to pay this person.
"We are hoping to find someone who would be willing to participate in exchange for the exposure," she wrote.
Why do people think this is an okay thing to ask for?
Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui is a busy man. These days, when he's not directing Royal Ballet of Flanders or his contemporary company Eastman, he's working on a new duet with Irish dancer Colin Dunne, creating a premiere for the Göteborg Opera, or choreographing on Beyoncé like it's NBD.
Next week, he's also taking a trip to New York City to perform in Sutra, his hit collaboration with a group of 20 Shaolin monks. In the 10 years since its premiere, the work has been performed in 60 cities across 28 countries to rave reviews and sold-out audiences. The New York performances at the White Light Festival mark a homecoming to the same festival where the piece received its US premiere.
We recently caught up with Cherkaoui to hear his thoughts on performing on the opening night of the run, what he's learned from the monks and how he manages to juggle so many projects at once.
Waves of sheer dance inventiveness come rolling toward you. Dancers in sneakers, pointe shoes or ballet slippers mingle: it looks like a free-for-all but is carefully plotted out. Philip Glass' music lets the dancers ride his gorgeous momentum.
This is In the Upper Room, the celestial yet kinetically charged ballet made by Twyla Tharp in 1986. It hasn't been done by American Ballet Theatre since 2012 and now it's coming back with full force.
Few dancers are able to make a comfortable living from their creative pursuits alone. Many rely on non-dance freelance work or multiple part-time gigs, fearing that a full-time job would take too much time away from their dancing. However, plenty of artists manage to balance full-time day jobs with fulfilling dance careers, opting for the security, benefits and opportunity to learn new skills.
It's been three months since I pulled my hamstring while working extra hard on my flexibility in hot yoga. I've done physical therapy every week. But even though it's now healed, I feel pain as soon as I try to dance. Why can't I get over this?
—Meghan, New York, NY
American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Erica Lall spends most of her day in the studio rehearsing with choreographers like Alexei Ratmansky and Michelle Dorrance. But when she's not in the studio or on stage, this "25 to Watch" dancer is home making her family's Jamaican Curry Chicken.
Dance was the first language I responded to as a toddler. I loved watching it, being around it and imitating it. I was practically raised in the studio because my older sisters were always there; so, naturally, dance was in the cards for me. Turning 6 years old was a monumental birthday because it meant I was finally old enough to take that ballet/ tap combo class I had been eyeing for some time.
Susan Stripling Photography, Courtesy Tyler Hanes