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Even Big Companies Are Getting Into Site-Specific Work These Days
Donning sneakers, 24 dancers performed the rapid, rhythmic contemporary movement of Benjamin Millepied's Counterpoint for Philip Johnson during American Ballet Theatre's fall season. Using members of the ABT Studio Company and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, the commission was an unusual late addition to the program. But even more unusual was its setting: The work was danced not behind the proscenium, but as an intermission interlude on the tiered balconies of the David H. Koch Theater promenade, with the dancers looking down on the patrons from above.
With pieces like Counterpoint at ABT and Peter Chu's Space, In Perspective at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and Paris Opéra Ballet looking to set work in the public spaces of the Palais Garnier this spring, in-theater site-specific works are trending among companies whose seasoned patrons are more used to sitting comfortably in the dark.
Site-specific work isn't new, particularly among contemporary dance circles. (Case in point: Space, In Perspective was not the first work to take advantage of the Harris Theater for Music and Dance's non-theatrical spaces.) The scale, however, of these recent efforts from companies who customarily present work in big, proscenium settings is notable. Choreographers are looking to every corner of their home venues, getting off the stage and changing the rules about how theatrical spaces are used.
Similarly to Counterpoint, Chu's Space, In Perspective used members of the new Hubbard Street Professional Program. The evening-length work asked patrons to "follow a dancer" on unmapped tours through the Harris' lesser-known spaces, like the loading dock and dressing rooms. The work culminated onstage, with the dancers' backs to an empty house, audience members close enough to feel their breath.
What patrons couldn't see or experience were all the logistics: union regulations; safety and security; accessibility and traffic flow; and, of course, the budget. Hubbard Street may have been a bit ambitious about how many patrons they could handle per show; the 400-person attendance cap led to some inevitable chaos. The audience members who got stuck in crowded stairwells (which included this reporter) or standing for long periods of time with an obstructed view of the work may have felt unlucky, or disappointed by the experience.
Indeed, feedback from dance critics ran the gamut, their reactions ranging from enjoyment to frustration. Chu says he would encourage companies to manage the expectations of their audiences beforehand—Do they need to wear comfortable shoes? Should they be prepared to sit on the ground? Edgerton offers, "Underestimate the number of people you can transport through a space."
But neither is discouraged. Edgerton maintains that challenging Hubbard Street's audiences is part of the point, and the company is considering touring Space, In Perspective to venues across the country. Millepied, too, has talked of revisiting Counterpoint, perhaps adding to it and making a longer piece out of the original version. "I feel people are playing it safe a lot. If anything, I think it's the choreographers and the directors who need to make an effort for these dancers who have made this art form their passion," says Millepied. "There are these environments that are beautiful and theatrical, and with a little bit of work you can create something in them."
A few weeks ago, American Ballet Theatre announced the A.B.T. Women's Movement, a new program that will support three women choreographers per season, one of whom will make work on the main company.
"The ABT Women's Movement takes inspiration from the groundbreaking female choreographers who have left a lasting impact on ABT's legacy, including Agnes de Mille and Twyla Tharp," said artistic director Kevin McKenzie in a press release.
Hypothetically, this is a great idea. We're all for more ballet commissions for women. But the way ABT has promoted the initiative is problematic.
Some dancers move to New York City with their sights set on a dream job: that one choreographer or company they have to dance for. But when Maggie Cloud graduated from Florida State University in 2010, she envisioned herself on a less straightforward path.
"I always had in mind that I would be dancing for different people," she says. "I knew I had some kind of range that I wanted to tap into."
On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba tours the U.S. this spring with the resolute Cuban prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso a the helm. Named a National Hero of Labor in Cuba, Alonso, 97, has weathered strained international relations and devastating fiscal challenges to have BNC emerge as a world-class dance company. Her dancers are some of ballet's best. On offer this time are Alonso's Giselle and Don Quixote. The profoundly Cuban company performs in Chicago May 18–20, Tampa May 23, Washington, D.C., May 29–June 3 and Saratoga, New York June 6–8.
We all know that the general population's knowledge of ballet is sometimes...a bit skewed. (See: people touching their fingertips to the top of their head, and Kendall Jenner hopping around at the barre.)
Would your average Joe know how to do ballet's most basic step: a plié? Or, more to the point, even know what it is?
SELF decided to find out.
New York City Ballet is celebrating the Jerome Robbins Centennial with twenty (20!) ballets. The great American choreographer died in 1998, so very few of today's dancers have actually worked with him. There are plenty of stories about how demanding (at times brutally so) he could be in rehearsal. But Peter Boal has written about Robbins in a more balanced, loving way. In this post he writes about how Robbins' crystal clear imagery helped him approach a role with clarity and purpose.
Who says you need fancy equipment to make a festival-worthy dance film? Right now, two New York City–based dance film festivals are calling for aspiring filmmakers to show their stuff—and you don't need anything more cumbersome than a smartphone to get in on the action.
Here's everything you need to know about how to submit:
When Lisset Santander bourréed onstage as Myrtha in BalletMet's Giselle this past February, her consummate portrayal of the Queen of the Wilis was marked by steely grace and litheness. The former Cuban National Ballet dancer had defected to the U.S. at 21, and after two years with the Ohio company, she's now closer to the dance career she says she always wanted: one of limitless possibilities.
For 17 years, James Samson has been the model Paul Taylor dancer. There is something fundamentally decent about his stage persona. He's a tall dancer—six feet—but never imposes himself. He's muscular, but gentle. And when he moves, it is his humanity that shines through, even more than his technique.
But all dancing careers come to an end, and James Samson's is no exception; now 43, he'll be retiring in August, after a final performance at the Teatro Romano in Verona, where he'll be dancing in Cloven Kingdom, Piazzolla Caldera and Promethean Fire.
The wait for Alexei Ratmansky's restaging of Petipa's Harlequinade is almost over! But if you can't wait until American Ballet Theatre officially debuts the ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House on June 6, we've got you covered. ABT brought the Harlequinade characters to life (and to the Alder Mansion in Yonkers, NY) in a short film by Ezra Hurwitz, and it's a guaranteed to make you laugh.
When an anonymous letter accused former New York City Ballet leader Peter Martins of sexual harassment last year, it felt like what had long been an open secret—the prevalence of harassment in the dance world—was finally coming to the surface. But the momentum of the #MeToo movement, at least in dance, has since died down.
Martins has retired, though an investigation did not corroborate any of the claims against him. He and former American Ballet Theatre star Marcelo Gomes, who suddenly resigned in December, were the only cases to make national headlines in the U.S. We've barely scratched the surface of the dance world's harassment problem.