Deaf Dancer Bailey Anne Vincent and Michele Wiles Are Combining Sign Language and Ballet
"I'm going to end up in Timbuktu," jokes Bailey Anne Vincent about navigating New York City's bus system. The Washington-DC–based dancer, choreographer and director (of her multi-genre, body-positive Company360) instead opted for an Uber to meet her collaborator, BalletNext artistic director Michele Wiles, and me at a diner in midtown Manhattan.
In lamenting the buses' challenges, Vincent's complaint isn't with their routes. Though you might never know it from conversing with her or watching her dance, she's mostly deaf. She began losing her hearing in her teens due to a medical condition called atypical cystic fibrosis—a complicated diagnosis that impacts a number of her organs. But this hasn't stopped Vincent from dancing. She trained at Rockbridge Ballet in Virginia before college and later danced with a small company in the DC-metro area. Now 31, Vincent has hardly slowed down.
BalletNext's work-in-progress will combine American Sign Language with ballet. Photo by Albert Ayzenberg, Courtesy Overdrive PR.
Her newest project, with Wiles as co-choreographer, incorporates ballet and American Sign Language (ASL). The two dancing directors presented a work-in-progress showing this week before its premiere in March at New York Live Arts. She and Wiles hope to bring inclusivity and awareness to the dance community regarding hearing-impaired needs, without sacrificing technical or artistic standards.
The two met through a "cold email" Vincent sent to Wiles in the fall. "I sound like a creepy stalker, but I was sort of a big dance nerd and a fan of BalletNext," Vincent says. She floated the idea of creating a ballet incorporating ASL, but didn't expect much of a reply. Wiles, however, was intrigued. The former ABT principal dancer doesn't shy away from a challenge. Exhibit A: She left the premier company at the height of her career in 2011 to start her own troupe. Experimentation is one of Wiles' primary tenets: "That's why we're here with BalletNext," she says. "Because we want to take risks."
The idea to integrate ballet and ASL felt organic. "It's an advantage for BalletNext, for the choreography we're doing. It's inspiring me to make something in a new, unique way," says Wiles. The yet-unnamed piece has five dancers, including Wiles, Vincent and members of BalletNext.
From left: Bailey Anne Vincent, Violetta Komyshan, Michele Wiles, Alice Regnouf and Egle Andriekaite. Photo by Albert Ayzenberg, Courtesy Overdrive PR.
The process began with Vincent teaching a few ASL signs. For example, placing the index fingers next to each other and then moving them apart denotes a feeling of disconnectedness. A single finger held at the chest conveys the feeling of being alone. Adding ballet vocabulary, Vincent and Wiles paired "disconnect" with a piqué and "loneliness" with a soutenu. From there, they combined more signs and steps, elaborating on, repeating or chopping up certain phrases.
An internal metronome allows Vincent to dance in time without hearing the music, while in daily life, she gets by through lip-reading. When she's choreographing, communicating details is easier with an interpreter. For this trip to New York City, Vincent's friend and fellow dancer Emily Moran was able to help. She even interpreted Wiles' and Vincent's introductory comments for the audience at the showing.
Vincent equates the piece's signing with poetry rather than prose. It deals with more abstract concepts—like being disconnected from others—rather than spelled-out storylines. Similarly, dance and ASL aren't always literal. A single hand sign might represent an idiom rather than an exact translation of a word. Barring pantomime scenes, the language of ballet evokes feelings, not specific words.
Dancers have something to gain from practicing a non-verbal language. "Anyone these days can kick their leg up to their face," says Vincent, but without épaulement and artistry, ballet can appear robotic. "In ASL, your face is your inflection." She notes that posture and expression can turn a sign phrase—or a balletic step—from a soft question into an angry declaration.
In addition to incorporating ASL, Vincent and Wiles are challenging the idea that pointework and landing jumps should be soft and graceful. "We're thinking of doing it a capella where the music completely cuts out, as if we were all not hearing," says Wiles, "and the only way we can hear is by making these really loud pointe shoe sounds." Even without hearing her shoe boxes hitting the floor, Vincent chimes in, "To be loud is liberating."
Wiles and Vincent hope the emotional impact of their piece will resonate across audiences of varying abilities. Vincent believes it will be touching for deaf audience members: "It elevates this language that means so much to the deaf community." For their hearing counterparts, Wiles says, "It's going to open their eyes."
Though piece is still in its early stages, Vincent feels that dancing and choreographing with a high-profile collaborator like Wiles is already building more awareness. Even little things like having a signer interpret curtain announcements is a good place to start. "Deaf culture can be very positive," says Vincent. "Instead of having this thing taken away, we gain this beautiful visual language that's so much like dance."
Few people who are busier during the holidays than corps members of American ballet companies. December is officially Nutcracker season—a company's chance to earn a huge chunk of their revenue for the year, and a dancer's chance to go a little, ahem, nuts, waltzing and swallowing fake snow night after night for weeks on end.
But Nutcracker can also be an opportunity like no other, and for some corps members, it's the highlight of their year. Five dancers told us what helps them get through it all.
When Rambert, the United Kingdom's oldest professional dance company, announced Wednesday that Benoit Swan Pouffer had been appointed artistic director, it was hardly surprising news. Since April, two months after Mark Baldwin stepped away from Rambert after a 15-year tenure at its head, Pouffer has served as guest artistic director. That initial appointment was in and of itself a somewhat unexpected move, but the company had already brought the choreographer into the fold with a commission for its newly-formed junior company, Rambert2.
Given how regimented the Radio City Rockettes are, from their precise kick lines to their Christmas Spectacular season show schedule (which can include up to four performances a day), it's no surprise they're just as strict with their skincare routines. After all, sweating in stage makeup six days a week can cause dryness and breakouts for even the most easygoing skin types. We caught up with Rockettes Alyssa Lemons and Nina Linhart for all of their tried-and-true skincare picks.
Congratulations are in order for American Ballet Theatre star Gillian Murphy and her husband, former ABT dancer Ethan Stiefel, who are expecting their first child next June!
Murphy announced her pregnancy today on Instagram:
She will not be dancing in the company's upcoming tour or the 2019 Metropolitan Opera House season, but plans to return to the stage next fall.
We have no doubt that Murphy will be the ultimate cool mom. Here's why:
Since losing her eyesight due to an undiagnosed optic nerve atrophy, choreographer and performer Mana Hashimoto has dedicated her life's work to exploring how the body exists in space with or without sight.
Trained in ballet, jazz and Graham technique, she has performed all over the world, from her native home in Japan to New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art and Jacob's Pillow. Hashimoto is also the founder of Dance without Sight, a series of workshops designed to discover movement through touch, sound and smell.
Dance Magazine recently say down with Hashimoto to learn more about her process, and what it's like to be a bridge between the seen and unseen worlds.
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Online video game Fortnite is involved in serious controversy over its "emotes" dance feature. Even if you're not a gamer, this is a case choreographers should keep close tabs on. Here's why.
Let us quickly introduce you to Fortnite Battle Royale: The video game sprung up in September 2017 and has grown to insane levels of popularity. It's free to play and features 100 users duking it out to be the last person standing. But here's the catch: If you want to get ahead, you have to make in-game purchases, trading real money for V-Bucks, which you use to redeem things like weapons.
So what's it got to do with dance? A whole lot. One of Fortnite's most popular—and lucrative—features is its emotes, animated dances that users can purchase to perform on the battlefield. Many are taken directly from pop culture, and Fortnite's developer, Epic Games, is in the midst of a heated lawsuit regarding its Swipe It emote. After much public debate, rapper 2 Milly filed a suit last week claiming that Epic Games stole—and is now largely profiting from—the Milly Rock, a dance move he created and popularized, without his permission. Take a look:
It's the 60th anniversary of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and their season at New York City Center is going strong with more than 20 works—including world premieres and company premieres.
Ronald K. Brown, who just received a Dance Magazine Award, has made his seventh work for Ailey, The Call. It's a gorgeous pastiche of three different types of music: Bach, jazz by singer Mary Lou Williams and Malian music by Asase Yaa Entertainment Group.
If a teacher or choreographer has ever commented that your dancing looks stiff, the problem could be that you aren't breathing effectively. "When dancers aren't breathing, their shoulders are up and there's no length in their movement. They start to look like they're just waiting to get to the next thing," says Maria Bai, artistic director of Central Park Dance in New York.
It may seem like a no-brainer—of course you can't move without breathing. But beginning dancers often hold their breath because they are so focused on picking up choreography, says Sarah Skaggs, director of dance at Dickinson College. Even advanced dancers can benefit from focusing more on their breath. "Sometimes they are paying so much attention to what their limbs are doing that they forget about the lungs, the chest, the trunk. Breath is the last thing they're thinking about, but really it should be the first," says Skaggs. The more integrated your breathing is, the more relaxed and present you will feel.
I've been a fan of Jordan Isadore's for about a decade. His gorgeous, spine-contorting renditions of Christopher Williams' repertory are legendary, and for many years I had the privilege of making dances with him and producing his works through DanceNOW[NYC].
Over the last year or so, as he began winding down his performance career, Isadore began making odd, phenomenal objects: dribs of Labanotation scores rendered as hung mobiles, gorgeously crafted in stained glass and metal. The designs are stunning, imbued simultaneously with a hipster-nonsense contemporaneousness and reverence for dance history.
I spoke with Isadore about his retirement from the stage, and transition to crafting full time.
There's always that fateful day each year, usually in February or March, when ballet contracts are renewed. Dancers file into an office one by one, grab an envelope and sign their name on a nearby sheet of paper to signify the receipt of their fate. Inside that envelope is a contract for next season or a letter stating that their artistic contribution will no longer be needed. This yearly ritual is filled with anxiety and is usually followed by either celebratory frolicking or resumé writing.
Whenever I received my contract, I would throw up my hands joyfully knowing that I would get to spend one more year dancing. In 14 years at Boston Ballet, I never once looked at my pay rate when signing a contract. The thought of assessing my work through my salary never crossed my mind.
Watching Bohemian Rhapsody through the eyes of dancer, there's a certain element of the movie that's impossible to ignore: Rami Malek's physical performance of Freddie Mercury. The way he so completely embodies the nuances of the rock star is simply mind-blowing. We had to learn how he did it, so we called up Polly Bennett, the movement director who coached him through the entire process.
In a bit of serendipitous timing, while we were on the phone, she got a text from Malek that he had just been nominated for a Golden Globe. And during our chat, it became quite clear that she had obviously been a major part of that—more than we could have ever imagined.
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.
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.
We caught up with Alsop for our "Spotlight" series:
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.
If the news about the upcoming CATS movie has your head spinning, we're right there with you. It seems like every week we have a bit more to share about the new film adaptation, which is set to release in December 2019. So, in order to keep it all straight, we present you with our master list of everything we know—our version of "The Naming of Cats," if you will. We'll add updates as they emerge.
People have a tendency to think of dance as purely physical and not intellectual. But when we separate movement from intellect, we limit what dance can do for the world.
It's not hard to see that dance is thought of as less than other so-called "intellectual pursuits." How many dancers have been told they should pursue something "more serious"? How many college dance departments don't receive funding on par with theater or music departments, much less science departments?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.