What Happens When You Bring Street Dance On Stage?
Dance Magazine reached out to us with the questions: Over the years, how has increased acceptance and visibility on concert-dance stages affected hip hop and its artists? And how has hip hop influenced concert dance?
Our response? Whoa! Acceptance? Visibility? Immediately we knew that any conscientious attempt to unpack these questions would easily exceed the maximum word count. But we also acknowledged that questions like these affect what we do as dancemakers and artist-citizens.
So we interviewed our colleague Nicole Klaymoon and mentor Rennie Harris to contribute to a conversation. We are all multilingual dance artists with our own unique voices in hip hop and street-dance theater. We are from different backgrounds and generations whose work is presented as concert dance and builds on the groundwork of Rennie Harris Puremovement.
Amy O'Neal's Opposing Forces. Photo by Bruce Clayton Tom, courtesy O'Neal
To begin, our use of the term "street dance" aims to encompass multiple dance cultures that do not necessarily identify as hip hop, yet broadly get lumped into the category of hip-hop dance. Street, club, party dances and dance forms associated with hip-hop culture have been happening on proscenium stages for a long time. We are sharing a few of our responses and asking our own questions to hopefully spark some dialogue.
On Hip Hop's Impact On Concert Dance
Amy O'Neal: These questions make the assumption that dances from hip-hop culture need the concert-dance world to have visibility. They have a ton of visibility outside the concert-dance world.
Rennie Harris: Concert dance basically has appropriated everything under the sun, which has affected it in every way. So I think you have to ask, "How has hip hop not affected concert dance?" Hip hop has affected all of mainstream culture, aka white culture. It has affected the language of an entire nation when you have white kids speaking the slang.
d. Sabela grimes: The movement vocabulary that's been absorbed has expanded the lexicon of non–hip-hop dance forms. I think about how the moves in breaking, for example, have opened up a gateway for fresh ways to explore the floor and multiple surface areas of the dancer's body.
Nicole Klaymoon: I am not an authority figure on this conversation, but I do know that when I get a job in institutions, they want to call it "hip hop," but I call it "street" because it speaks to a community vibe and a social-dance form. So when we are innovating by taking a social dance out of context, how do you do that responsibly without disrespecting the culture?
Harris: Ballet dancers were dancing with breakers back in the '80s, so nothing is new. I performed with Ailey and ballet companies. We were doing this stuff way before Rennie Harris Puremovement.
On What Gets Programmed
Harris: When you look at the scope of it nationally, how many street-dance artists are working at a high level in the theater? Not many. Although, for a while, the Hip-Hop Theater Festival was going to a lot of countries and places and giving some shine to local artists.
grimes: There seems to be an overwhelming preference for "hybrid" work. Which usually translates to modern or contemporary with a dash of hip-hop movement.
O'Neal: Even though there are more companies and independent artists creating work that brings hip-hop culture to the stage, the noncommercial art world is not always aware of them, nor do they know how to engage with them.
Harris: I think if presenters know these artists, they are waiting for them to develop, but presenters are not taking these artists under their wing and helping them to develop their work.
O'Neal: A lot of organizations talk about being diverse and welcoming of all kinds of artists, but don't necessarily do the work it takes to connect with the constituents they claim to serve. Just because you open the doors to your castle, it does not mean all citizens will flow in.
grimes: The proscenium is but another field of play. So, am I aware that presenting on the concert stage doesn't validate or legitimize our dance forms, techniques and overall culture? Yes. Conversely, I've peeped how dance projects that encompass canonic Western narratives and dance practices are considered extraordinary and upheld as successful. Rome and Jewels and Hamilton come to mind. It's like street culture has to keep close proximity to these signifiers of "high art" to gain greater visibility.
Don't get it twisted. I'm not implying that it's that simple. Nor am I saying that Rennie's scheme was to create Rome and Jewels to gain "real" visibility. I'm one of the core collaborators. Rennie invited us in on a passion project that happened to take off. Yet having been a part of Puremovement's previous work, I can't help but speculate about how a Harris + Shakespeare association translates differently.
On Respecting The Culture
Klaymoon: Is it devaluing or disrespecting the culture by bringing street dance to institutionalized Eurocentric spaces? These dances are from a place of "I'm feeling myself" in a country where there is an unseen war on people of color. We see it in the school-to-prison pipeline, police terrorism, thousands of people in Flint who lack safe water—that part of the conversation is important because that pain has played a huge role in the proliferation of these dance traditions.
When you are being exploited, you have to find liberation from within, and that is reflected in street dance. If we don't acknowledge that subjugation of African descended people, that's when we get into cultural appropriation. The cool thing about working in theaters is that there is space to explore and push the dance and what it can do forward.
O'Neal: If you are a white dancer or choreographer, the way you incorporate street styles into your concert-dance work is everything. Are you facilitating space for cultural exchange? Are you working with dancers from the vernaculars that you want to fuse together? Is there reciprocal sharing of power? How will you make yourself vulnerable in the process of bringing different worlds together? How will you hold space for multiple viewpoints and experiences? How much are you willing to study physically and intellectually to stretch your own abilities to become physically multilingual, instead of borrowing a few moves here and there? Are you willing to let go of your own previously held beliefs?
If you are willing to do all of that, then we have the possibility of creating more empathy and innovation through cultural exchange in an authentically powerful way. I didn't understand all of this when I was a younger artist.
Harris: There needs to be a lot more space dedicated to this conversation. This is way bigger than 1,200 words.
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."