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What It's Like to Dance Lucinda Childs to a Chorus of Ducks and Car Traffic

The Blanket performs Lucinda Childs: The Early Works. Photo by Ben Viatori, Courtesy The Blanket.

Intermittent quacking issued from the Just Ducky Tours amphibious vehicle floating along the Monongahela River. Revolutionary War–era reenactors recreated historical events at Fort Pitt. Bridge traffic rumbled overhead. This ambient symphony at Pittsburgh's Point State Park accompanied The Blanket as the dancers rehearsed and performed Lucinda Childs: The Early Works, a retrospective of four architectural, pedestrian works choreographed by the award-winning, post-modern dance maven between 1975 and 1978.

The Blanket, a project-by-project driven ensemble established in 2016 by Matt Pardo and Caitlin Scranton, aims to enhance Pittsburgh's modern dance community through reconstructions, commissions and collaborations with noted choreographers. Last weekend's presentation, which included Childs' Radial Courses, Katema, Reclining Rondo and Interior Drama, marked its first major presentation, challenging the dancers to perform the intricate choreography originally set to silence in an ambient, unpredictable soundscape.


"At first, I couldn't hear the rhythmic footsteps of the other dancers. I felt like an individual apart from the group," recalls dancer Eric Lobenberg, who had relied on auditory cues developed in-studio. "After several rehearsals, we began to connect with each other in different ways," adds the Point Park University senior.

Lucinda Childs: The Early Works. Photo by Ben Viatori, Courtesy The Blanket.

In rehearsals, the dancers were taught movement phrases from the four works and issued homework—scores with letters and numbers to decipher and memorize. Reconstructing the patterning with castmates, developing an internal meter and acquiring unity provided additional challenges.

"To the untrained eye, it just looks like walking and skipping," says modern dancer/choreographer Jil Stifel. "But there is a lot to think about." Reclining Rondo, a geometric floorwork, consists of a single repeated phrase but requires extremely slow execution, while the angular Katema calls for shifts in counting as well as "walking backwards in opposite directions." Radial Courses demands exacting attention to spatial alignment and its relentless, rhythmic circular pattern. Pardo and Scranton, both exponents of Childs' works, helped ease these challenges.

Lucinda Childs: The Early Works. Photo by Ben Viatori, Courtesy The Blanket.

The three-week rehearsal period was capped with a session conducted by Childs, en route from receiving the Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award. "She was gracious," says Stifel.

Adds fellow cast member Bianca Melidor, for whom dancing such rhythmically-specific work in silence was a new challenge, "I learned to trust myself."

The Conversation
25 to Watch
Photo credits, clockwise from bottom left: Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet; Jayme Thornton; Jochen Viehoff, Courtesy Stephanie Troyak; Karolina Kuras, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Kim Kenney, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet; Jim Lafferty; Arian Molina Soca, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Altin Kaftira, Courtesy Dutch National Ballet; Scott Shaw, Courtesy Shamar Wayne Watt

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.

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Spotlight
James Alsop has choreographed for stars from Beyoncé to Janelle Monae. Photo via Facebook

Even if you haven't heard her name, you've almost certainly seen the work of commercial choreographer James Alsop. Though she's made award-winning dances for Beyoncé ("Run the World," anyone?) and worked with stars like Lady GaGa and Janelle Monae, Alsop's most recent project may be her most powerful: A moving music video for Everytown for Gun Safety, directed by Ezra Hurwitz and featuring students from the National Dance Institute.

Enough! www.youtube.com

We caught up with Alsop for our "Spotlight" series:

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Dance Magazine Awards
A very important name got skipped in the introductions.

I want to make an apology because, in my opening speech at the Dance Magazine Awards on Monday, I inadvertently left out one awardee. I said, "Tonight we are honoring four outstanding dance artists who have contributed to the dance field over time." But then I named only three. How could I have forgotten Lourdes Lopez?!?!

We had all been hearing about Lourdes's taking the helm at Miami City Ballet with grace, intelligence, compassion and new ideas. I was planning to say, "Lourdes Lopez, who has brought new life to Miami City Ballet" because I thought that would cover a lot of ground. (My only quibble with myself was whether to say "brought new life" or "gave new life.")

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Dance in Pop Culture
Albert Watson, courtesy of Pirelli Calendar

We were beyond excited to see the annual Pirelli Calendar when it was announced last summer that Misty Copeland was to be one of four women featured in the 2019 edition. And now, the wait is finally over.

Albert Watson, courtesy of Pirelli Calendar.

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Dance Magazine Awards
Clockwise from top left: Crystal Pite, photo by Michael Slobodian; Lourdes Lopez, photo by Alexander Iziliaev; Michael Trusnovec, photo via Instagram; Ronald K. Brown, photo by Julieta Cervantes

Today, we are thrilled to announce the honorees of the 2018 Dance Magazine Awards. A tradition dating back to 1954, the Dance Magazine Awards celebrate the living legends who have made a lasting impact on dance. This year's honorees include:

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Dance in Pop Culture
Julia Roberts is one of 12 celebs Justin Peck choreographed on. Photo by Philip Montgomery, Courtesy NYT Mag.

Each year, The New York Times Magazine shines a spotlight on who they deem to be the best actors of the year in its Great Performers series. But, what we're wondering is, can they dance? Thankfully, the NYT Mag recruited none other than Justin Peck to put them to the test.

Peck choreographed and directed a series of 10 short dance films, placing megastars in everyday situations: riding the subway, getting out of bed in the morning, waiting at a doctor's office.

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Health & Body
Even a 10-minute nap can give you a performance boost. Photo by Getty Images

On busy performance days, international guest artist Joy Womack always makes time for one activity after class and rehearsals: a nap. "I like to feel well-rested when I need to be in the spotlight at night, not dragging at the end of the day," she says. "It helps me recover and refocus."

With her earbuds tuned to a guided medi­tation app, she can squeeze in a nap wherever she needs to. "One time I even took a nap on the floor of the tour bus in Siberia," she says. "Dancers can sleep anywhere."

Joy Womack prioritizes napping before a show. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe magazine.

As research has revealed the benefits of short daytime naps, power-napping advice has proliferated, and more dancers are choos­ing to include a nap in their pre-performance routines. Approaching napping strategically will help you get the most out of an afternoon snooze.

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In Memoriam

On Monday night, a memorial was held at Riverside Church to honor the life and achievements of Dance Theatre of Harlem co-founder Arthur Mitchell. With nearly three months to process and grieve (Mitchell passed away on September 19) the atmosphere was not that of mourning as much as reflection, reverence and admiration for who he was, what he built and what remains. (Watch the full livestream here.)

The church filled with family, artistic friends, fans and admirers. What was most gratifying was the volume of DTH alumni from the school, company and organization who traveled across the globe to pay their respects, from founding members to present dancers and students. The house of worship was filled with the sentiment of a family reunion. As Mitchell was sent home, it was a homecoming for many who have not shared air together in decades. What was palpable was the authentic bonds that Dance Theatre of Harlem and Mitchell fostered in all.

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Rant & Rave
Precious Adams is not cast as Odette/Odile, but is the face of ENB's marketing campaign. Screenshot via English National Ballet's website

Fans of the sublime English National Ballet first artist Precious Adams were probably excited to see her image splashed across the company's website in a promotional image for an upcoming production of Swan Lake.

But those who took a closer look were met with a disappointing reality: Adams, who is the only black woman in the company, is not listed on the principal casting sheet for the production.

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News
Amy Seiwert rehearses Sacramento Ballet. Photo by Keith Sutter, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet

Gennadi Nedvigin is not the only early tenure director breaking out a new production of The Nutcracker this season.

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News
RUBBERBANDance Group in Victor Quijada's Vraiment doucement. Photo by Mathieu Doyon, Courtesy Danse Danse

We love The Nutcracker as much as the next person, but that perennial holiday classic isn't the only thing making its way onstage this month. Here are five alternatives that piqued our editors' curiosity.

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News
Yuri Possokhov at work on his new Nutcracker for Atlanta Ballet. Photo by Kim Kenney, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet

The Nutcracker is synonymous with American ballet. So when Gennadi Nedvigin took the helm at Atlanta Ballet in 2016, a new version of the holiday classic was one of his top priorities. This month, evidence of two years' worth of changes will appear when the company unwraps its latest version at Atlanta's Fox Theatre Dec. 8–24. Choreographed by Yuri Possokhov and produced on a larger-than-ever scale for Atlanta, the new ballet represents Nedvigin's big ambitions.

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What Wendy's Watching
Shelby Colona and Chris Bloom in CARMEN.maquia. PC Christopher Duggan

Ballet Hispánico returns to the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem with its full-length ballet, CARMEN.maquia. Spanish choreographer Gustavo Ramirez Sansano has reenvisioned the story of Carmen to emphasize Don José, the man who falls in love with Carmen, suffers because of her infidelity, then murders her in a "fit of passion." Their duets are filled with all the sensuality, jealousy and violence you could wish for—in a totally contemporary dance language.

Sansano's previous piece for Ballet Hispánico, El Beso, bloomed with a thousand playful and witty ways of expressing desire. He has a knack for splicing humor into romance.

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Health & Body
Dance classes will be a part of a movement towards "social prescribing." Photo by Leon Liu via Unsplash

It's become a colloquialism—or, we admit, a cliche—to say that dance can heal.

But with a new initiative launched by British Health Secretary Matt Hancock, doctors in the U.K. will soon be able to prescribe dance classes—along with art, music, sports, gardening and more—for patients suffering from conditions as various as dementia, lung problems and mental health issues.

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Health & Body
LINES dancer Courtney Henry. Photo by Quinn Wharton

We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.

But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.

A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.

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Rant & Rave
Jessica Lang Dance in Lang's Thousand Yard Stare. Photo by Todd Rosenberg

When I read last month that Jessica Lang Dance had announced its farewell, I'm sure I wasn't the only dancer surprised. In the same way that many of us, when reading an obituary, instinctively look for the cause of death, I searched for a reason for the company's unexpected folding. It was buried in the fifth paragraph of The New York Times article:

Her manager, Margaret Selby, said in an interview that Jessica Lang Dance's closing showed how difficult it is to keep a small dance company running these days. "You have to raise so much money, the smaller companies don't have enough staff, and Jessica was running the company for the last seven years without a day off," she said. "She wants to focus on creative work."

Whereas the announcement itself may have come as a shock, the root cause certainly doesn't. All of us in the field are familiar with the conditions to which Selby refers. But that these problems can topple the success of a company like Lang's, which boasts seven years of national and international touring that include commissions from Jacob's Pillow and The Joyce, among others, is sobering.

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Sending a video audition gives you more control over the process. Photo by ShareGrid via Unsplash

Not being able to attend the in-person audition at your top college can feel like the end of the world. But while it's true that going to the live audition is ideal, you can still make the best out of sending a video. Here are some of the perks:

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Advice for Dancers
Getty Images

I'm really upset with myself for bingeing. I'm good with my diet for a few days, but then I give in and stuff myself with pizza and ice cream and am filled with self-hate.

—Binge Eater, White Plains, NY

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Dance Magazine Awards
Misty Copeland opened the 2018 Dance Magazine Awards. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

What does it mean to be human? Well, many things. But if you were at the Dance Magazine Awards last night, you could argue that to be human is to dance. Speeches about the powerful humanity of our art form were backed up with performances by incredible dancers hailing from everywhere from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago to Miami City Ballet.

Misty Copeland started off the celebration. A self-professed "Dance Magazine connoisseur from the age of 13," she not only spoke about how excited she was to be in a room full of dancers, but also—having just come from Dance Theatre of Harlem's memorial for Arthur Mitchell—what she saw as their duty: "We all in this room hold a responsibility to use this art for good," she said. "Dance unifies, so let's get to work."

That sentiment was repeated throughout the night.

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The Creative Process
Snow Scene in Val Caniparoli's The Nutcracker for Louisville Ballet. Photography by Wade Bell

Choreographer Val Caniparoli started his ballet career by performing in Lew Christensen's The Nutcracker with San Francisco Ballet in 1971. Today, he still performs with SFB as Drosselmeir, in the company's current version by Helgi Tomasson.

It takes Caniparoli a lot of concentration to stick to the choreography.

"I have the four versions that I choreographed of the role in my head, plus the original I danced for years by Lew," he says. "That's a lot of versions to keep straight."

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Dance in Pop Culture
Juliet Doherty looking out from the Radio City Music Hall stage

A list of Clara alumnae from Radio City's Christmas Spectacular reads like a star-studded, international gala program: Tiler Peck and Brittany Pollack of New York City Ballet (and Broadway), Meaghan Grace Hinkis of The Royal Ballet, Whitney Jensen of Norwegian National Ballet and more. Madison Square Garden's casting requirements for the role are simple: The dancer should be 4' 10" and under, appear to be 14 years old or younger and have strong ballet technique and pointework.

The unspoken requisite? They need abundant tenacity at a very young age.

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