First Position: Where Are They Now?
Five years ago, a little dance documentary took the ballet world by storm. First Position, former dancer Bess Kargman's film that followed several top dancers competing at Youth America Grand Prix, took a slew of awards at film festivals. Not only did it give viewers an unprecedented look at the pressure-filled world of ballet competitions, it also made stars of the talents it followed.
This year's New York City finals, April 22–29, are fast approaching. (By the way, YAGP will be streaming all the live action online.) So it got me thinking: What happened to those kiddos—now adults—that Kargman introduced us to years ago?
The first young dancer we met in the documentary was Aran Bell, an 11-year-old American studying in Rome. Bell loved BB guns and ballet, and had a pretty great sense of humor. And oh yeah, he was incredibly talented, with a natural ability to turn like a top.
Today, Bell dances in American Ballet Theatre's Studio Company. He's certainly a little taller than he was during the First Position days, but he can still turn.
Aran Bell, photographed by NYC Dance Project.
Rebecca Houseknecht's story felt the most conventional of those First Position. She lived at home, went to a traditional high school, she even tried cheerleading. At Maryland Youth Ballet though, where she trained, she wasn't your average dancer. Houseknecht had beautiful lines, and a natural ease to her dancing. Unfortunately, at the end of the film, we find out she didn't place at the YAGP finals. But she was offered an invite to audition privately at Washington Ballet, and was hired to dance in the Studio Company.
According to a Washington Post story from 2012, Houseknecht spent a year dancing professionally, and then quit. She denied a contract from Sebtime Webre to join the main company. "I didn't like having to dance for my job, as weird as it sounds," she said. "You think it was my dream, but it just didn't work." Houseknecht went on to study speech pathology at Towson University, and joined its national title-winning competitive dance team. And after taking a peek at her Twitter, it looks like she's still involved in the dance, as a ballet teacher at Maryland Performing Arts Center.
Joan Sebastian Zamora
Joan Sebastian Zamora was a 16-year-old grown up. He was living in New York City during filming, away from his parents in his native Colombia. Zamora had squeaky-clean technique for a young dancer. At the end of First Position, we learned that he was given a scholarship to study at the Royal Ballet School.
After graduating from there, Zamora joined the English National Ballet, where he danced for two seasons. He left in 2015 to come back Stateside and join The Joffrey Ballet in Chicago.
Californian Miko Fogarty was sort of what you would expect of a serious ballet-dancer-to-be. She left traditional schooling to do homeschooling so that she could spend more hours during the day dancing, and her mom was a stereotypically obsessive dance mom. But all those sacrifices paid off. Fogarty's dancing had a maturity well beyond her 12 years.
Since the film, Fogarty went on to win tons of medals, including gold at the 2013 Moscow International Ballet Competition, silver and bronze at Varna, and a Prix de Lausanne Award. She has gained a crazy social media following. Her Instagram has more than 280,000 followers. She now dances with the Birmingham Royal Ballet.
The gifted Michaela DePrince had a crazy-inspiring story. Born in Sierra Leone, her parents were shot by rebels. With no one to take care of her, DePrince was put in an orphanage. She was eventually adopted by Americans Elaine and Charles DePrince, who enrolled her at The Rock School in Philadelphia. DePrince had an incredible balance of flexibility and strength, and was clearly going to go far.
De Prince eventually left Philly to study at ABT's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. She spent one year at Dance Theatre of Harlem before moving to the Dutch National Ballet as an apprentice. Since then, she's taken on several principal roles at the company. And just this month, DePrince was promoted to grand sujet for the 2016–17 season.
DePrince with Oscar Valdes in rehearsal, photo by Altin Kaftira.
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."