What It Really Takes to Be In An Immersive Show
The fourth wall has come down, and it has opened up a whole new kind of gig for dancers. Since Sleep No More became a hit in 2011, immersive theater experiences have been shattering expectations by inviting audiences to move through the world of the performance as they please. What kind of skill set does this burgeoning art form demand?
The biggest difference between performing on a proscenium stage and dancing in an immersive work is the proximity of the audience. In many cases, spectators will be close enough to literally reach out and touch you. And this brings some unique challenges. First, you can't play to the top of the balcony, says Danielle Rowe, choreographer for FURY, an immersive concert experience inspired by the film Mad Max: Fury Road. "You're more of a screen actor than a stage actor when the audience is that close," she says.
It's not a given that everyone will be standing in front of you, either, says Alison Ingelstrom, who danced in Ryan Heffington's immersive World War II–themed Seeing You before joining the cast of the off-Broadway interactive pop musical Cleopatra. "You can't just project in one direction like you would onstage."
Start a Movement
Another hallmark of Sleep No More–inspired shows is the audience's choose-your-own-adventure journey, where performers are sometimes responsible for initiating the movement of the crowd. "You're not herding cattle and you're not a flight attendant, so finding a way to camouflage the action and handle it creatively is an interesting challenge," says Ingelstrom. "It's better to be clear but to do less—take two people by the arm or put light pressure on someone's back."
Grow with the Flow
Since audiences can be unpredictable, working out the kinks may require making changes in the middle of a run. Keone and Mari Madrid, whose immersive Beyond Babel opened last fall in San Diego, debrief with the cast after every performance and incorporate changes often, so dancers need to be flexible as things shift.
Make It Work
A nontraditional set might be located in a less-than-ideal space, says Ingelstrom, so dancers should be prepared to roll with the punches. "There may not be marley, sprung floors or someone handing you your props," she says.
You will also learn how unpredictable an audience can be once you take away the seats. "You have to be able to recover quickly when the unexpected happens, like if someone sits down when they're not supposed to or you need to make the movement work in a more confined space," says Rowe.
Check Your Gaze
Holding prolonged eye contact with an onlooker might make you uncomfortable at first. To get used to this, Ingelstrom started making intentional eye contact in everyday interactions. Locking eyes with castmates in those first few rehearsals was also good practice because they were still practically strangers. "It's a little embarrassing, but I would try to make eye contact with people on the subway, too," she says.
Remaining absorbed in the world of the performance helps bring the audience along for the ride—and takes incredible focus, says Rowe. "Our performers are onstage for the entire hour-long show, so having physical and mental stamina is a requirement. You have to be completely in it, no matter what happens."
With nonperformers all around you and no way of knowing how they'll react, you're bound to make some missteps and have nights when the audience is not responsive, says Ingelstrom. "I had to learn not to hold things so precious, because if you're punishing yourself for messing up, you're not present for the audience." Besides, Rowe says, if you're fully committed and making choices that are true to your character, how wrong can you be?
Thirty years ago, U.S. Joint Resolution 131, introduced by congressman John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Alphonse D'Amato (R-NY), and signed into law by President G. W. Bush declared:
"Whereas the multifaceted art form of tap dancing is a manifestation of the cultural heritage of our Nation...
Whereas tap dancing is a joyful and powerful aesthetic force providing a source of enjoyment and an outlet for creativity and self-expression...
Whereas it is in the best interest of the people of our Nation to preserve, promote, and celebrate this uniquely American art form...
Whereas May 25, as the anniversary of the birth of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson is an appropriate day on which to refocus the attention of the Nation on American tap dancing: Now therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress that May 25, 1989, be designated "National Tap Dance Day."
Happy National Tap Dance Day!
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.
Over the past 15 years, Gesel Mason has asked 11 choreographers—including legends like Donald McKayle, David Roussève, Bebe Miller, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Rennie Harris and Kyle Abraham—to teach her a solo. She's performed up to seven of them in one evening for her project No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers.
Now, Mason is repackaging the essence of this work into a digital archive. This online offering shares the knowledge of a few with many, and considers how dance can live on as those who create it get older.
When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there's a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can't quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?
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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Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.
The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."
Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.