Dance Magazine Awards 2014
This year we celebrate six extraordinary dance artists: American Ballet Theatre's Misty Copeland, Youth America Grand Prix's Larissa Saveliev, jazz master Luigi, American Tap Dance Foundation's Brenda Bufalino and Tony Waag, and choreographer Wayne McGregor.
Misty Copeland is more than a dancer. As an outspoken advocate for racial equality in ballet—and living proof of the possibilities—she's an icon.
Her story is by now familiar to Copeland's many fans: She began training at 13 after being discovered at a Boys & Girls Club in California. She was recognized as a prodigy almost instantly, and had her first performance with American Ballet Theatre just four years later.
Since then, she's become the first African-American soloist at ABT in over two decades, and she's used that distinction to become an ambassador for ballet: In the past year alone, she's starred in jaw-dropping ads for Under Armour, debuted as a guest judge on “So You Think You Can Dance" and published a memoir that's now being adapted into a feature film. She is also on the advisory committee of ABT's Project Plié diversity initiative, and spends her “free time" doing outreach at public schools and teaching master classes around the country.
“It's so easy to say my dream is to be the first female African-American principal at a major company," says Copeland. “But, really, my goal is to bring in a new crowd of people who are going to continue to support ballet even after I leave."
Despite her many projects, Copeland's classical career remains her primary commitment. On ABT's Australian tour this August, she made a highly acclaimed debut as Odette/Odile. “Performing Odette is something I never imagined I would do," she says. “I'm always preaching to young dancers of color to see every possibility for themselves. And yet, there's this subconscious thing ingrained in our brains that a white swan is just this ideal of a long, pale, thin Russian woman." Reviews praised her nuanced characterization, and her “ravishing" chemistry with her Prince Siegfried, Alexandre Hammoudi.
Copeland says the challenges of being an African-American ballet dancer change daily. Yet she's confident that race is an issue that will no longer be swept under the rug. “It's a conversation the ballet world has to face because it's gone beyond them," she says. She's thankful her high-profile projects have recently inspired the mass media to cover the topic—but she won't slow down until the major ballet schools are filled with more faces like hers.
With such relentless determination, it's easy to wonder if she ever has any downtime. “I try to take Sundays off," she says, then adds, “in the spring." —Jennifer Stahl
Above: Photo by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.
No nail polish, no jeans and no bangs. These rules were handed down from the Bolshoi management in the 1980s. But at least one teenage corps member didn't listen. Frustrated by the restraints, Larissa Saveliev was a rebel. She cut her hair, painted her nails and wore denim. In 1995 she and her husband, fellow Bolshoi dancer Gennadi Saveliev, came to the United States; three years later they co-founded Youth America Grand Prix, which has become the most successful student ballet competition in the world.
So, how did a teenage rebel from Soviet Russia become a mogul of international ballet?
“In Soviet times we didn't have video or YouTube," recalls Saveliev. Competitions were how the Bolshoi dancers found out about the ballet world outside of Russia. When Saveliev traveled to London on tour in 1994, she got a glimpse of the prosperity in the West. “That was a shock," she says, “like: 'Wow, we don't have anything like that!' "
When she and Gennadi first arrived in the U.S., they taught at a small ballet program at a jazz school in New Jersey. “I really fell in love with teaching," she says. But she noticed a dearth of big conventions where ballet teachers and students could share methods. She took a page from the jazz conventions like New York City Dance Alliance and European international ballet competitions to create a new entity.
Her teenage rebelliousness translated into a whirlwind of DIY energy. With Gennadi's help, she started YAGP in Boston, Washington, DC, Chicago, Los Angeles and Boca Raton. Today, it's expanded to include 14 cities in four countries, for a total of about 50,000 entries (many are repeat participants), with dancers earning $2 million in scholarships. More than 300 alumni now dance with top companies like American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet and Ballet West.
Saveliev is involved in every aspect of the operation. At one point last season, she watched 12-year-olds compete in Philadelphia while stealing looks at her laptop to see 9-year-olds live-streamed from Houston.
Her charisma—part blunt honesty, part sharp wit, all devotion to ballet training—is appreciated by parents and judges alike. She holds the names of myriad students in her head, and her keen eye matches many of them to the school that will best nurture their unique talent. John Selya, a frequent YAGP judge, has watched participants grow into top-notch professionals through the striving that Saveliev fosters. “YAGP is the real ballet academy of this country," he recently declared.
Yet YAGP is more than a competition or an academy. By commissioning new work, Saveliev has also developed the choreographic abilities of the likes of Marcelo Gomes and Emery LeCrone. And, to inspire the students, she has invited international figures to perform at the annual galas, giving American audiences their first glimpse of many superstars. Before joining ABT, Natalia Osipova, Ivan Vasiliev and Polina Semionova all made their New York debuts at YAGP. —Wendy Perron
Above: Saveliev teaching class in Southern California. Photo by Joe Toreno.
Brenda Bufalino and Tony Waag
An American Tap Dance Foundation event is bound to feature virtuosity in a variety of styles: cheeky song-and-dance duets, ensemble numbers brimming with up-and-comers, rhythmic solos paying tribute to tap's lineage and ingenious contemporary works drawing inspiration from all of the above. It's also sure to feature two individuals: Brenda Bufalino and Tony Waag.
Working together, with Bufalino serving as the resolute captain and Waag the bright beacon searching for new paths ahead, they have nurtured a thriving tap community in New York City. And they've held fast to their artistic mission, providing a home for dancers that's rooted in the rhythmic tap tradition yet expansive in its outlook.
ATDF began in 1986 as the American Tap Dance Orchestra, founded by Bufalino. She and her mentor Charles “Honi" Coles thought company work could be the antidote to tap's dilemma: Traditionally considered a soloist's form, tap was vulnerable to setbacks when individual stars fell out of favor. “We were trying to move tap dance from being a vaudeville act onto the concert stage," says Bufalino.
The ATDO toured extensively, often performing Bufalino's choreography, an enticing mix of sophisticated counterpoint melodies and lilting phrasing. (Two of her creations, Haitian Fight Song and Buff Loves Basie Blues, have since been honored with American Masterpiece grants from the National Endowment for the Arts).
Perhaps most important, ATDO provided a supportive creative environment. Although the group performed as an ensemble, each member's individual style was celebrated.
But in the 1990s, the ATDO fell victim to dwindling financial support. Waag, an original member—and an indefatigable optimist—launched Tap City, the New York City Tap Festival in 2001. In 2002, he relaunched the ATDO as the American Tap Dance Foundation, taking over as artistic and executive director. Bufalino became artistic mentor.
“This organization has been very successful at returning to its roots and reinspiring itself," Waag says. ATDF's many programs include concerts, choreography residencies and showcases. They have also built a comprehensive educational program founded on the Copasetics' rhythm tap canon.
Yet ATDF welcomes tappers of every stripe, a tribute to its original mission: inclusive, community-minded collaboration. “That is where Tony and I both have stood together," Bufalino says, “and are still standing." —Katie Rolnick
Above: Bufalino and Waag. Photo by Rachel Papo for Dance Teacher.
From lengthened reaches up to the sky to sultry walks with opposing shoulder angles, Luigi's trademarks can be found on the Broadway stage and TV screen alike. His classic jazz technique, born out of exercises aimed at healing himself after a devastating car accident in 1946, is now known world-over for its sophistication, elegance and sensuality. The gliding footwork, majestic épaulement and jazzy musicality are so imbued in classic jazz that, often, students don't even realize they've already learned Luigi's basics.
Originally Eugene Louis Faccuito, the Steubenville, Ohio, native was one of 11 children, and he started his career tapping and later singing in a touring orchestra act. After serving in the Navy during World War II, Luigi made his way to Hollywood, training with Bronislava Nijinska, Michel Fokine and Eugene Loring.
Upon waking from a coma after the car accident with one side of his body partially paralyzed, doctors telling him he'd never walk again, Luigi resolved to inhabit his now-trademark saying “Never stop moving." He practiced modern choreographer and eurythmic dancer Michio Ito's angular port de bras, which became the underpinning for his own technique, eventually morphing into the 24 arm motions dubbed L'urythmics. Back in the studio post-injury, Luigi worked on creating a stable second position that would help him regain balance, pressing down on an invisible barre—now a recognizable Luigi stance.
Soon, Luigi was dancing again, working in such films as An American in Paris and Annie Get Your Gun, before adding Broadway to his resumé. Eventually he opened Luigi's Jazz Centre in New York City. “When I first started to do exercises, I wanted to make sure I'd always be able to dance," says Luigi. “And, I wanted to teach it correctly."
Today, Luigi's classes are still filled with Broadway veterans (past students have included Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli, among others) and recreational dancers alike, and the immense value of his technique in creating balance, a center and style are obvious. Though his classes are now mostly taught by his invaluable assistant, teacher and dancer Francis Roach, Luigi is still very much involved, always maintaining a supervising eye. “The dancers still move the way I wanted to see it," Luigi says, his signature black leather cap perched on his head. “The sophistication of it, the beauty: To me it's just as elegant as when I started." —Lauren Kay
From top: Luigi in 1964 (2), photos by Jack Mitchell, Courtesy DM Archives; Watching a class today, photo by Lucas Chilczuk.
When Wayne McGregor burst onto the ballet scene in 2006, it was as a disarming outsider. Chroma, his landmark hit for The Royal Ballet, was an idiosyncratic shot of energy, all fast, quirky feats of hyper-articulation, plugged into the zeitgeist of the time with its White Stripes score and roots in scientific research. The ballet was in the deconstructivist tradition of William Forsythe, yet unlike anything else being created. In a matter of weeks, McGregor became the first non-ballet-trained choreographer in residence at The Royal.
It wasn't the first time the choreographer had come from left field to change dance from within. McGregor founded Random Dance in 1992, and began spinning original movement out of his unique body, mining its loose-jointed, alien-like quality. He drew inspiration from fields as apparently distant as cognitive science, medicine and digital technology, earning acclaim for the savvy results onstage. “Learning through the process of making is one of the most exciting things for me, and we do ourselves a big disservice in dance by saying it's a non-intellectualized art form," he says. “Actually, the relationship between the brain and the body is absolutely critical."
At the heart of his work is a desire to position dance into the wider world and foster collaboration, whether it's with anthropologists or rock singers. No venture is too lowbrow or highbrow. In 2012, he created a public dance with 1,000 participants for London's Olympic Games; this fall, he commuted from the set of a new Tarzan movie to New York Fashion Week, where he created an installation for Gareth Pugh.
Companies around the world, from the Mariinsky to Alvin Ailey, have embraced his work, with multiple productions of Chroma and 2008's Infra. McGregor has also nurtured budding choreographers at The Royal Ballet and Random Dance, taking them out to see performances in other genres or meet artists. “I think one of the great aspirations in creativity is difference, and what is asked for in training is often sameness."
His own work shows astonishing creative facility. In 2015, he will tackle his first full-length ballet for The Royal, Woolf Works, and Random Dance will gain a new building with a “huge capacity for technology" in London's former Olympic Park, designed as a creation space and innovation hub. The outsider has arrived, and his imagination shows no signs of running dry. —Laura Cappelle
From top: McGregor with composer Dustin O'Halloran; McGregor rehearsing Atomos. Photos by Ravi Deepres, Courtesy McGregor.
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
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.
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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.)
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.
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:
Just before retiring in 2015, Sylvie Guillem appeared on "HARDtalk with Zeinab Badawi," the BBC's hard-hitting interview program. Badawi told Guillem,
"Clement Crisp of the Financial Times, 14 years ago, described your dancing as vulgar."
"Yeah, well, he said that. But at the same time, when they asked Margot Fonteyn what she thought about lifting the leg like this she said, 'Well, if I could have done it, I would have done it.' "
They were discussing Guillem's signature stroke—her 180-degree leg extension à la seconde. Ballet legs had often flashed about in the higher zones between 135 and 160 degrees before. But it wasn't until the virtuoso French ballerina regularly
extended her leg beside her ear with immaculate poise in the 1980s that leg extensions for ballet dancers in classical roles reached their zenith. Traditionalists like Clement Crisp were not taken with it.
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.
My personal life has taken a nosedive since I broke up with my boyfriend. He's in the same show and is now dating one of my colleagues. It's heartbreaking to see them together, and I'm determined never to date a fellow dancer again. But it's challenging to find someone outside, as I practically live in the theater. Do you have any advice?
—Loveless, New York, NY
The inimitable Carol Channing, best known for her role as the titular Hello, Dolly!, passed away today at 97.
Though she became a three-time Tony winner, Channing was born in Seattle, far from the Great White Way, in 1921. After growing up in San Francisco, she attended the famed Bennington College, studying dance and drama. She later told the university, "What Bennington allows you to do is develop the thing you're going to do anyway, over everybody's dead body." For Channing, that meant decades of fiery, comical performances, bursting with energy.