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What It Feels Like to Come Home to Dance After 22 Years
These days I work as assistant to shoe icon Steve Madden. It's a busy job, and it had me running late for my first dance rehearsal with Jane Comfort and Company after…22 years? Yikes!
When Jane asked if I'd like to perform in her 40th-year retrospective, I didn't hesitate to say yes. I'd worked with Jane for many years, and really missed her and the process of putting a show together. The pieces I'd be performing involved mostly gesture, like Four Screaming Women, and singing and acting in She/He. At 64 years old, I was thrilled at the chance to hit the stage again.
We wouldn't have a lot of rehearsals for our performance of Four Screaming Women at the Joe's Pub Dance Now series, so I'd looked at the piece a thousand times, and practiced indoors, on decks, near swimming pools, and on trains. I've always been an over-rehearser, because I like to get the material deeply ingrained so I can "get lost" when it's time to perform.
Excerpt from Jane Comfort's Faith Healing, with text by Tennessee Williams' (from The Glass Menagerie). Performed by Mark Dendy, Nancy Alfaro, and Scott Willingham.
I last performed Four Screaming Women in 1988, but miraculously, muscle memory kicked in, and though I had to work to get the text down, the gestures came back like I'd done them a lot more recently than the 20th century. Maybe my past drilling had a lasting effect!
When I walked into Jane's studio, where we'd rehearsed so many hours for so many years, a place where I'd grown as a person and an artist, a place where I was able to pursue my art while my baby daughter rocked in a swing (thanks Jane!), I felt like I'd come home. Memories rose to the surface as I looked at the familiar columns, art and furniture that surrounded the space.
I felt really lucky to be working with Jane, Peter Sciscioli, and Leslie Cuyjet, all talented, supportive castmates. I told myself to just go with the process, to make my mistakes and try to retain what I learned from them. I really wanted to be present throughout, so I could eventually move beyond drilling, and give the words and movement their full value.
When the day of the show arrived, my heart was pumping like I'd just run a marathon, even at tech rehearsal. The last "exposed" performing I'd done (meaning, not part of a big group) was about 11 years ago. I wasn't sure if I was afraid I'd make a mistake, or excited to be on stage, or a combination of both.
I forced myself to focus on my breath before going on, and that quieted my pounding heartbeat some. Once onstage, though I could practically hear myself swallow, the familiarity and enjoyment of performing hit, and I was able to express and feel in command of my performance.
This April, we'll be showing Four Screaming Women again at La MaMa, and I'll also reprise my role as Clarence Thomas in She/He, a piece from 1995. I'm so fear-struck/excited that I've already learned my monologue, and am working with castmate Peter Sciscioli, who is also a "Voice as Movement" coach, to help me find more subtleties within the role, and to enhance my vocal performance. Jane recently invited guests after only one She/He rehearsal, and this time I thought my heart was going to jump right out of my chest!
It's only January, but I'm going to work my butt off to do the best I can this April, to allow the performance to rise to the surface, so it's not forced out by sheer will. I have been so elated to have this return to the world of dance, the world in which I spent so many cherished years. I feel like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I've clicked my heels and realized, there's no place like home.
"There's an ancient energy in Fana's movement, a deep and trusted knowing," says Jeff, director of the Chicago-based Deeply Rooted Dance Theater. "Because I witnessed the raw humanity of his dancer's souls, I wanted my dancers to have that experience."
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.
Have a scroll through Agnes Muljadi's Instagram feed (@artsyagnes), and you'll notice that in between her ballet shots is a curated mix of lifestyle pics. So what exactly sets her apart from the other influencers you follow? Muljadi has made a conscious effort to only feature natural beauty products, sustainable fashion and vegan foods. With over 500k followers, her social strategy (and commitment to making ethical choices) is clearly a hit. Ahead, learn why Muljadi switched to a vegan lifestyle, and the surprising way it's helped her dance career.
He may not be a household name, but you probably know Brandon Stirling Baker's work. The 30-year-old has designed the lighting for most of Justin Peck's ballets—including Heatscape for Miami City Ballet, and the edgy The Times Are Racing for New York City Ballet—but also Jamar Roberts' new Members Don't Get Weary at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a trio of Martha Graham duets for L.A. Dance Project.
He's been fascinated by lighting ever since he attended a public performing arts middle school in Sherman Oaks, California, where he had his first experiences lighting shows. He also has a background in music (he plays guitar and bass) and in drawing. Both, he says, are central to the way he approaches lighting dance.
Update: Due to an overwhelming response, the in-person audition has been moved to a larger location to accommodate more dancers. See details below.
For the first time in more than 10 years, Janet Jackson is holding an open audition for dancers.
Even better? You could land a spot in her #JTribe simply by posting a video on social media.
What does it take to become an international superstar? Carlos Acosta might have a few ideas.
At the Oxford Literary Festival earlier this month, the BBC sat down with Acosta to ask for his life lessons. His answers—which he says he will pass on to his kids one day—give incredible insight into how he's become such a beloved worldwide success.
The ballet world will converge on San Francisco this month for San Francisco Ballet's Unbound: A Festival of New Works, a 17-day event featuring 12 world premieres, a symposium, original dance films and pop-up events.
"Ballet is going through changes," says artistic director Helgi Tomasson. "I thought, What would it be like to bring all these choreographers together in one place? Would I discover some trends in movement, or in how they are thinking?"