Pop Culture

What Happens When Site-Specific Dance Takes Over Times Square

Crowds gathered, even when they didn't know exactly what they were watching. Photo by Rachel Papo

At first glance, Times Square might seem like a near-impossible location for a site-specific dance performance. Between tourists posing for selfies, flashing billboards, New Yorkers rushing to work and people in Batman costumes trying to make a buck, it can be completely overwhelming and overstimulating. But that also makes it interesting.

"At its essence, Times Square is bodies moving through time and space," says Andrew Dinwiddie, acting director of public art at the Times Square Alliance. It's also a place with a rich dance history, from vaudeville to Broadway musicals to dance halls and studios.

Dinwiddie worked with Judy Hussie-Taylor, the executive director and chief curator of Danspace Project, to create a program of original works in Times Square this fall that reference the history and experience of the place. An estimated 33,000 people passed through the area each day during the four-hour program—most just happening upon it. What they saw was unique even for Times Square.


Laurie Berg's scape

Photo by Rachel Papo

Just below the signature red stairs of TKTS, the discount-ticket booth where theater lovers congregate every day, Laurie Berg and her six dancers wove in and out of the crowd in Father Duffy Square, performing scape. Sometimes, a small circle of attention cleared around them as they danced in unison to a pulsing beat. Other times, they were among the pedestrians, nearly brushing the face of a tourist. Times Square Arts employees handed out disposable glasses, each tinted with red or blue film. Many passersby grabbed a pair with no idea of what they were taking, or why.

Full Circle Souljahs' Behind The Groove—Times Square Edition

Photo by Rachel Papo

For Rokafella and Kwikstep, the married duo behind Full Circle Souljahs, dancing in Times Square has special significance. "Kwikstep and I met dancing on the street," says Rokafella. "We were part of different crews in the early '90s, putting our talents out there for the tourists, with this classic style of dance that was not being highlighted in the mainstream." They used to set up right in Duffy Square. The police would often interrupt their shows, sometimes arresting the dancers.

luciana achugar's New Mass Dance

Photo by Rachel Papo

Luciana achugar likens Times Square to being on the bottom of the ocean. "There are all these currents of people," she says. "It's constantly, fluidly changing." Her New Mass Dance began largely with a stillness in the crowd. Gradually, several figures in denim became apparent, standing statuelike at various points in the plaza. Just as you started to notice them, they came together in a huddle, each holding an arm in the center like a sports team. Later, they lay on the ground like a human starfish, connecting at their feet.

Broadway

We knew that Ivo van Hove and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's production of West Side Story would challenge our preconceived notions about the show.

But a recent Vogue story gives us a taste of just how nontraditional the Broadway revival will be. Most notably, van Hove is cutting "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet, condensing the show into one act to better reflect the urgency of the 48-hour plot. (The choice has been approved by the West Side Story estate, including Sondheim, who has "long been uncomfortable" with some of the "I Feel Pretty" lyrics.)

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Sponsored by NYCDA
Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

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Cover Story
Jayme Thornton

It's a much-repeated part of Francesca Hayward's origin story that she discovered ballet at age 3, when her grandparents bought a video of The Nutcracker to keep her occupied and she immediately started dancing around the room. What's less well-known is that there was another video lined up next to The Nutcracker that Hayward liked to dance along to: Cats. "I really just did the White Cat bit and fast-forwarded the rest," she remembers. "I'd make my friends who came around be the other cats."

Twenty-four years later, she's not only become a Royal Ballet principal, but has been cast as Victoria the White Cat in Tom Hooper's new movie adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, out in theaters on December 20. "I remember the director telling me I'd got the part: 'Just to let you know you're the lead in a Hollywood film,' he said." Hayward laughs. "This is crazy!"

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Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.

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