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Crazed Chipmunks & Royal Boxes: Dancers on Their Fave Theaters

Chicago's Auditorium Theater

For most dancers, walking into the theater elicits a familiar emotion that's somewhere between the reverence of stepping into a chapel and the comfort of coming home. But each venue has its own aura, and can offer that something special that takes your performance to a new level. Six dancers share which theaters have transported them the most.


GLENN ALLEN SIMS

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Glenn Allen Sims in Alvin Ailey's Masekela Langage. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy AAADT

Favorite theater: Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain

Royal details: "The theater is gorgeous and ornate, with deep red upholstery and gold trim. There is a huge royal box in the center, which takes you back to when kings and queens were watching performances there."

Impressive facilities: Even the dressing rooms are a sight to see: Amenities for the dancers include large, carpeted rooms, and towel service.


Spanish history: Sims was fascinated by the history of the theater, which was founded by King Ferdinand VII. "Knowing that I performed at one of the greatest theaters in Europe really holds a warm spot in my heart."


NATASHA DIAMOND-WALKER

Martha Graham Dance Company

Natasha Diamond-Walker at Teatro Greco Siracusa. Photo by CJ Nye, courtesy Diamond-Walker

Favorite theaters: The Joyce Theater in New York City and the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail, Colorado

City-sized: "The Joyce has a vintage '80s vibe to it, and the backstage space is limited, but that gives it a very signature New York City feel. I love that it's really intimate—I feel like I can relate to the audience because I can see everyone's faces when I'm dancing."

Mountain air and animals: Diamond-Walker recalls performing at the Vail Dance Festival once when a "crazed chipmunk" ran onto the stage. "I love that it's outdoors. The backdrop of the mountains and the natural light that pours in is really beautiful. There is also the altitude issue—they have an oxygen tank on the side of the stage, and it adds a little bit of a dangerous edge to it all."


ALICIA MAE HOLLOWAY

Dance Theatre of Harlem

Alicia Mae Holloway with Nicholas Rose in Dialogues. Photo by Nan Melville, courtesy DTH.

Favorite theater: New York City Center

Proud moment: "Dance Theatre of Harlem performs at City Center every year, and my first year in the company I was injured and couldn't do the performance. I was devastated. But this April, I got to perform Return by our resident choreographer Robert Garland. When I walked on that stage for the first time, I realized that this was exactly what I was working towards all those years of training."

Backstage quirk: "City Center is unique in the way that backstage on stage left is tiny, but backstage on stage right is very open and about the size of a dance studio." For Holloway, having adequate space in the wings eases pre-performance jitters. "I feel more relaxed before a show because it's not the same feeling as when I'm waiting backstage in a tiny wing."


VICTORIA HULLAND

Sarasota Ballet

Victoria Hullond (second from right) and Sarasota Ballet at Jacob's Pillow. Photo courtesy Hullond.

Favorite venue: Jacob's Pillow

Peaceful vibe: "It's so different from any other venue. It's kind of out in the middle of nowhere. I found it really peaceful to be able to take class in a barn and walk around outside in between shows to collect my thoughts and refocus. And there's so much dance history there."

Audience appreciation: "In between performances you can hear the audience talking about the show. They have a real appreciation for dance—they all traveled all the way there specifically because they love dance."

Special spot: There's a wall backstage that past dancers have written messages on over the years. "It was fun to read them before the show and find a new one every day to get encouraged before performing. It was comforting to know that we all feel the same way as performers."


LIL BUCK

Freelance artist specializing in jookin

Lil Buck. Photo by Random Vision Photography, courtesy Lil Buck.

Favorite theater: Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Endless fans: Lil Buck danced in Madonna's The MDNA Tour here in 2012. "The audience was as far back as the eye could see. I stage-dived for the first time!"

Perfectly planned: Madonna's team set up everything beforehand—hair, makeup, food and dressing rooms. "It was perfectly choreographed for the safest routes from the backstage area to where we needed to be on the stage."


PRINCE CREDELL

Nederlands Dans Theater

Prince Credell in Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot's Stop-Motion. Photo by Rahi Rezvani, courtesy NDT.

Favorite theater: New York City Center

Major nostalgia: When Credell performed at City Center last year, it brought him back to his adolescence at The Ailey School. "During Ailey's 40th-anniversary season gala many years ago, I was able to make a big impression on that stage that inspired the artistic staff to foster my growth from a young age." After spending so many years training to make it to the professional level, performing on that stage felt like coming full circle. "Performing at City Center reminded me how my love of dance has defined so much of my life."

Broadway
The "Merde" bag. Courtesy Scenery

Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.

But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?

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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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News
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

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Health & Body
Sara Mearns in the gym. Photo by Kyle Froman.

New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.

"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "

She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.

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