What To Do When You Hate the Choreography You're Performing
Katie Gibson remembers a particularly trying time from her early days in a ballet company: “We were rehearsing a story ballet exploring the history of America's addictions," says Gibson, who has most recently performed with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet and Ballet NY. “I was cast in the '80s section, dancing the mambo and miming doing lines of cocaine, complete with mirrors and little straws." Gibson's younger self was horrified to be pretending to do drugs onstage, especially when in her heart, what she really wanted was to be dancing Balanchine's Concerto Barocco.
Almost every dancer has had to perform work that made them cringe—whether they hated the subject, the movement vocabulary or the piece altogether. These ordeals can challenge even the most professional among us. However, it is part of your job to figure out a way to grin and bear it. “You are not a dance critic, you are a dancer," says Sean Stewart, veteran American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet member. “Your job is not to decide how much you like a piece. Your job is to do it." Yet in order to get it done without going crazy, you may have to dig deeper into your artistic process.
Find a Way to Relate
Micaela Taylor suggests trying to build a relationship to the piece. Photo by Orlando Agawin, courtesy Taylor.
Micaela Taylor, artistic director of The TL Collective in Los Angeles, finds that creating a relationship to the story behind the movement can help you engage with unfamiliar work. While dancing for BODYTRAFFIC, she had trouble connecting to some of the repertory. "I am an African-American woman, and I felt like I couldn't relate to the story historically," says Taylor of a work by an Israeli man. "But I eventually connected to the piece by delving into the physicality of the gestures and creating a strong female character through them."
For Stewart, doing a little research helps him relate to material that may not be speaking to him immediately. "There are a number of reasons why you may not connect with a certain project," he says. "It could be personal or it could be that you haven't been exposed to enough of the inspiration." Educate yourself on the choreographer's body of work, and explore any source material for the piece. There might be something you can use to develop a better relationship to the movement.
For Katie Gibson, watching a piece from the audience helped her enjoy it more. Photo by Eduardo Patino, courtesy Ballet NY
During a tech rehearsal, Gibson was able to sit in the audience and watch her peers perform the ballet she had previously dismissed. She could see how entertaining the work was and enjoyed the experience of watching it. "How a ballet feels is totally different than the audience experience, and as a dancer, you are getting only one little piece of it," says Gibson. Taylor uses a similar tactic when she is in the front of the room and can sense her dancers might not be getting it. "As a choreographer, I will sometimes have my dancers step out of the piece one at a time and watch it, to see the whole work and not worry about their eight-count," says Taylor. Changing your perspective could end up changing your attitude.
Try to get through a tough process with humor and camaraderie. Photo via Unsplash
If none of these tactics work for you, it just might be time to laugh a little. "The easiest way to get through a tough work is with camaraderie," says Gibson. "Don't make fun of it, but find moments to have fun, joke, enjoy, because rehearsals will be horrible otherwise." Even though dance is competitive and requires a lot of focus, try not to take a discouraging project too seriously. "Everyone has moments where they need to release tension and talk about not liking something," says Stewart. But he cautions against dwelling. "The shorter amount of time you complain the better. Most people want to have a good time, and you don't want to be there suffering."
When to Call It Quits
If a project really isn't working for you, you have to come to terms with it. Photo by Justus Nathan, courtesy Taylor
"I always try to eliminate my desires and remember that ultimately, it is the choreographer's work and vision," says Micaela Taylor, who has spent several years as a dancer in Los Angeles. "But if the situation still doesn't work, you have to come to terms with it." Consider the consequences if you need to bow out of a particularly negative experience. "When I was younger, I found myself in a place where I couldn't emotionally handle an atmosphere or the personality in charge," remembers ABT's Sean Stewart. "A decision like that certainly redirects your career." Talking to someone you trust can ensure you have explored every other option before making a final decision.
Choosing music for your first-ever choreography commission can feel daunting enough. But when you're asked to create a ballet using the vast discography of the Rolling Stones—and you happen to be dating Stones frontman Mick Jagger—the stakes are even higher.
So it's understandable that as of Monday, American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Melanie Hamrick, whose Port Rouge will have its U.S. premiere tonight at the Youth America Grand Prix gala, was still torn about which songs to include.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
What is an acceptable request from a choreographer in terms of nudity? On the first day of shooting All That Jazz in the 1970s, Bob Fosse asked us men to remove everything but our jock straps and the women to remove their tops. His rationale was to shock us in order to build character, and it felt disloyal to refuse. Would this behavior be considered okay today?
As much as audiences might flock to Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, ballet can't only rely on old war horses if it wants to remain relevant. But building new full-lengths from scratch isn't exactly cheap.
So where can companies find the money?
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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Today—April 16, 2019—marks what would have been Merce Cunningham's 100th birthday. As dancers from Los Angeles to New York City to London gear up for Night of 100 Solos (the marathon performance event being livestreamed today), and as companies and presenters worldwide continue to celebrate the Cunningham Centennial through their programming, we searched through the Dance Magazine Archives to unearth our favorite images of the groundbreaking dancemaker.
A bright disposition with a dab of astringent charm is how I remember Brock Hayhoe, a National Ballet School of Canada schoolmate. Because we were a couple years apart, we barely brushed shoulders, except at the odd Toronto dance party where we could dance all night with mutual friends letting our inhibitions subside through the music. Dancing always allows a deeper look.
But, as my late great ballet teacher Pyotr Pestov told me when I interviewed him for Dance Magazine in 2009, "You never know what a flower is going to look like until it opens up."
One night. Three cities. Seventy-five dancers. And three unique sets of 100 solos, all choreographed by Merce Cunningham.
This incredible evening of dance will honor Cunningham's 100th birthday on April 16. The Merce Cunningham Trust has teamed up with The Barbican in London, the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City and the Center for the Art of Performance in Los Angeles for a tri-city celebration.
The best part? You don't have to be in those cities to watch—Night of 100 Solos is being live-streamed in its entirety for free.
When George Balanchine's full-length Don Quixote premiered in 1965, critics and audiences alike viewed the ballet as a failure. Elaborate scenery and costumes framed mawkish mime passages, like one in which the ballerina washed the Don's feet and dried them with her hair. Its revival in 2005 by Suzanne Farrell, the ballerina on whom it was made and to whom Balanchine left the work, did little to alter its reputation.
Yet at New York City Center's Balanchine festival last fall, some regretted its absence.
"I'd want to see Balanchine's Don Quixote," says Apollinaire Scherr, dance critic for the Financial Times. "It was a labor of love on his part, and a love letter as well. And you want to know what that looks like in his work."
Even great choreographers make mistakes. Sometimes they fail on a grand scale, like Don Quixote; other times it may be a minor misstep. Experiment and risk help choreographers grow, but what happens when a choreographer of stature misfires? Should the work remain in the repertory? And what about a work that fails on some levels but not others?
After the horrific March 15 terrorist attacks at two New Zealand mosques, the music and arts community sprang into action to plan a way to help victims and their families. A series of resulting concerts, titled "You Are Us/Aroha Nui," will take place in New Zealand (April 13 and 17), Jersey City, New Jersey (April 17) and Los Angeles (April 18). Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Our People, Our City Fund, which was established by the Christchurch Foundation to aid those affected by the attacks.
Throughout 2019, the Merce Cunningham Trust continues a global celebration that will be one of the largest tributes to a dance artist ever. Under the umbrella of the Merce Cunningham Centennial are classes and workshops, film screenings and festivals, art exhibitions and symposia, and revivals and premieres of original works inspired by the dancemaker's ideas. The fever peaks on April 16, which would have been the pioneering choreographer's 100th birthday, with Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event, featuring a total of 75 dancers in three performances live-streamed from London, Los Angeles and New York City.
Cloud & Victory gets dancers. The dancewear brand's social media drools over Roberto Bolle's abs, sets classical variations to Beyoncé and moans over Mondays and long adagios. And it all comes from the mind of founder Tan Li Min, the boss lady who takes on everything from designs to inventory to shipping orders.
Known simply (and affectionately) to the brand's 41K Instagram followers as Min, she's used her wry, winking sense of humor to give the Singapore-based C&V international cachet.
She recently spoke with Dance Magazine about building the brand, overcoming insecurity and using pizza as inspiration.
The Ballet Memphis New American Dance Residency, which welcomes selected choreographers for its inaugural iteration next week, goes a step beyond granting space, time and dancers for the development of new work.
This is huge news, so we'll get straight to it:
We now (finally!) know who'll be appearing onscreen alongside Ariana DeBose and the other previously announced leads in Steven Spielberg's remake of West Side Story, choreographed by Justin Peck. Unsurprisingly, the Sharks/Jets cast list includes some of the best dancers in the industry.
The pleasure of watching prodigies perform technical feats on Instagram can be tinged with a sense of trepidation. Impressive tricks, you think, but do they have what it takes for an actual career?
Just look at 18-year-old Maria Khoreva, who has more followers than most seasoned principals; in videos, her lines and attention to detail suggested a precocious talent, and led to a Nike ambassador contract before she even graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Still, when she joined the Mariinsky Ballet last summer, there was no guarantee any of it would translate to stage prowess.
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.
At six feet tall, Jesse Obremski dances as though he's investigating each movement for the first time. His quiet transitional moments are as astounding as his long lines, bounding jumps and seamless floorwork. Add in his versatility and work ethic, and it's clear why he's an invaluable asset to New York City choreographers. Currently a freelance artist with multiple contemporary groups, including Gibney Dance Company and Limón Dance Company, Obremski also choreographs for his recently formed troupe, Obremski/Works.
Last night at Parsons Dance's 2019 gala, the company celebrated one of our own: DanceMedia owner Frederic M. Seegal.
In a speech, artistic director David Parsons said that he wanted to honor Seegal for the way he devotes his energy to supporting premier art organizations, "making sure that the arts are part of who we are," he said.
It's a bit of an understatement to say that Bob Fosse was challenging to work with. He was irritable, inappropriate and often clashed with his collaborators in front of all his dancers. Fosse/Verdon, which premieres on FX tonight, doesn't sugarcoat any of this.
But for Sasha Hutchings, who danced in the first episode's rendition of "Big Spender," the mood on set was quite opposite from the one that Fosse created. Hutchings had already worked with choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, who she calls "a dancer's dream," director Tommy Kail and music director Alex Lacamoire as a original cast member in Hamilton, and she says the collaborators' calm energy made the experience a pleasant one for the dancers.
"Television can be really stressful," she says. "There's so many moving parts and everyone has to work in sync. With Tommy, Andy and Lac I never felt the stress of that as a performer."