Janie Taylor's Second Chapter—In Sneakers
Janie Taylor didn't know if she'd ever return to the stage. But that's exactly where the former New York City Ballet principal has found herself: Nearly three years after retiring, she is performing again, as a member of L.A. Dance Project.
Taylor officially debuted with the company at its December 2016 gala in Los Angeles, then performed in Boston, via live stream from Marfa, Texas, and at New York's Joyce Theater before heading off on tour dates in France, Singapore, Dubai and beyond.
"She is wildly interesting to watch—and not conventional," says LADP artistic director Benjamin Millepied. "There are films of Suzanne Farrell dancing, where you feel like the music is coming out of her body," he says. "I think Janie has that same kind of quality."
But dancing is no longer enough for Taylor. At LADP, she has carved out a unique, multifaceted artistic life that ranges from costume design to répétiteur work. "I really love doing and learning all these different things," she says, "and I also still love to dance."
Millepied created some of his first works on Taylor when he was a dancer at NYCB, and he always hoped she would dance for him again. "Even at my retirement party, Benjamin was like, 'Can you come and dance with us?' I was like, 'What are you talking about?' "
Her new artistic life is another step on a journey that has always been unpredictable. In 2004, as she was reaching the peak of her NYCB career, she was sidelined by what turned out to be a rare autoimmune disorder that prevents blood from clotting. She was prescribed steroids and, in 2005, had surgery to remove her spleen.
She struggled with muscle strains as her body was healing slowly and injuring easily. But by 2008 she was dancing full-time again, reclaiming her leading presence in favorite ballets like La Valse, Stravinsky Violin Concerto and La Sonnambula.
And then, at 33, she retired. She and her husband, fellow NYCB principal Sébastien Marcovici, danced their farewell performance together in March 2014. "I loved everything I did, but it was starting to feel predictable," she says, reflecting on the roles she was cast in. "Before you're a principal, everything's new all the time, and it's exciting, and you feel pushed," she says. "That was something I wasn't feeling so much anymore."
At the time, Millepied could see that something was missing. "She didn't dance as much as she should have," he recalls. "Essentially, she grew a little bit uninspired."
Taylor was curious about what opportunities the wider world might offer. She was also adamant about not choosing a new profession right away. "I wanted to find out what I was inspired by," she says. "One thing was clear though: I have to spend most of my time in a theater. It's where I feel happiest."
Millepied invited Marcovici to become ballet master for him at LADP and then Paris Opéra Ballet, so in 2014 the couple began a 21-month adventure in Europe, during which Taylor was teaching and setting ballets but stopped taking regular classes. "I'm pretty particular about what class I want to take, I'm such a Balanchine person," she says of her limited options in Paris. "Plus they have those crazy rakes!"
Time off had unexpected benefits. "You let go of a lot of stresses," she says. "When you're dancing a lot, you're so afraid of getting an injury, or making it through this hard day."
Prior to her retirement Taylor had begun dabbling in costume design, and soon after stepping away from the stage she began receiving commissions from Millepied, Justin Peck, Christopher Wheeldon and Joshua Beamish. "Helping to create a world that exists only onstage in that one piece, through what the dancers wear, is a really fun way to collaborate," she says.
And while she was anchored in Paris, Taylor found herself all over the map when Millepied and Peck called on her to set their works on companies like Staatsballett Berlin, Dutch National Ballet and Miami City Ballet. "It was really cool to see how other companies worked, to see what the dancers were like," she says.
Teaching the ballets she loved, like Peck's Year of the Rabbit, also got her back into dancing in surprising new ways. "I was teaching a boy's solo in one of Justin's pieces, and I would do the whole thing, men's steps, for two hours," she recalls. "I was like, 'Whoa.' I was doing double tours, because there wasn't something I had to get to at the end of the day, or the next day. My mind just wasn't working in that way anymore, and it allowed me to not limit myself." She realized how much she missed the physicality and athleticism of dance.
Carla Körbes, a close friend since they were in the NYCB corps together, describes Taylor's transformation as mental and emotional, as well as physical. "When you are in a big company, you are stuck on this schedule, and also in pain," she says. "Now she gets to decide, 'I'm gonna feel who I am again. I'm gonna be creative.' And guess what? Her body feels better."
When Millepied was winding down at POB and preparing to return to the helm of LADP, Taylor and Marcovici began the process of relocating to Los Angeles—"I love the heat," says Taylor, a Houston native. While setting Millepied's ballets kept her busy, she also decided she was ready to join the company.
"I've always loved doing his movement," she says. So far, she has performed pieces by Millepied and Peck, and she may go back on pointe, as well. "I may also try one of the more contemporary pieces in our rep—I like that there are possibilities."
Taylor thrives on the varied challenges and constantly changing atmosphere of a small, ambitious company, and on Millepied's ever-expanding reach. "He can be really spontaneous," she says, "and that appeals to me, to suddenly have another thing to figure out and do."
Korbes and Taylor. Photo by Patrick Fraser, courtesy The Chinati Foundation
From one day to the next she might be setting dances, performing, or helping with rehearsals or costume fittings. Millepied says he may even have her work on the set of Carmen, a feature film he's directing next year, organizing extras in group movement. "I could totally trust her to help me do that," he says. "She has a really good eye."
He feels that Taylor is coming back into her own. "There is this electricity," he says, "a real passion. I feel like I'm seeing that again."
Körbes sees it too. "Janie is honoring that she's not totally done with it, that she has more to give," she says admiringly. "It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there again. That's the thing about Janie—it's not about what people are gonna say, it's about what she needs to do."
I have a commitment, a romance, a love affair with dance, with the feeling that happens when the music and the steps so perfectly align and I can't help but get chills. That feeling when my partner and I are dancing as one, when everyone onstage feels the same heartbeat, when it's just me alone in my bedroom.
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.
You can see them in "Fosse/Verdon" episode one. Michelle Williams, playing Gwen Verdon, wears them with a cool, retro, forest-green jumpsuit. Tucked beneath a mop top of tousled Gwen Verdon locks, Williams sports a pair of discreet and tasteful onyx drop-earrings—the dancer's favorites. Verdon wore them all her adult life, according to her daughter Nicole Fosse, a co-executive producer of the FX series that puts a spotlight on a great woman of American dance.
"I have very little memory of my mother wearing other earrings. They were her Gwen Verdon earrings," says Fosse, speaking by phone from her home in Vermont. "She's wearing them in 99 percent of the pictures of her performing."
Four years of lectures, exams and classes can feel like a lifetime for college dancers who have their sights set on performing. So when a professional opportunity comes knocking, it can be tempting to step away from your academics. But there are a few things to consider before putting your education on hold.
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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We've all been there: You see the craziest/most beautiful/oddest/wildest clip of a dance on Facebook and you simply have to see more.
But do you actually get yourself to the theater and sit through a 90-minute performance? The consensus, at this point, typically seems to be: No.
There is no clear correlation between a company's social media campaigns and how many seats they fill in the theater. That doesn't mean social media isn't, of course, vital. It simply means that "social media campaigns operating without other marketing campaigns don't cut it," says Rob Bailis, associate director of Cal Performances at UC Berkeley. "But campaigns without social media are far worse off."
Since the project was first announced toward the end of 2017, we've been extremely curious about Yuli. The film, based on Carlos Acosta's memoir No Way Home, promised as much dancing as biography, with Acosta appearing as himself and dance sequences featuring his eponymous Cuba-based company Acosta Danza. Add in filmmaking power couple Icíar Bollaín (director) and Paul Laverty (screenwriter), and you have a recipe for a dance film unlike anything else we've seen recently.
One of the country's top arbitrators has decided to reinstate Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro to New York City Ballet. The former principals were fired last fall for "inappropriate communications," namely graphic text messages.
The dancers' union, American Guild of Musical Artists, fought the termination, arguing that the firings were unjust since they related entirely to non-work activity. After a careful review of the facts, an independent arbitrator determined that while the company was justified in disciplining the two men, suspension was the appropriate action and termination took it too far.
A woman passes three men in the street. The men pursue her. They thrust their pelvises at her. They continue to pursue her after she slaps one's hand and walks away. They surround her. She glances around at them in alarm. One snatches her purse (to review the Freudian significance of purses, click here) and saunters off with it, mocking her. She tries to take the purse back, and the three men toss it over her head among each other. They make her dance with them. Each time she indicates "No," the men try harder to force her submission to their advances.
This is all within the first 10 minutes of Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free, a 1944 ballet about three sailors frolicking on shore leave during World War II, beloved by many and still regularly performed (especially during the last year, since 2018 was the centennial celebration of Robbins's birth). Critic Edwin Denby, after the premiere with Ballet Theatre, called it "a remarkable comedy piece" and "a direct, manly piece."
When you're bouncing between hotel rooms without access to a kitchen, eating a pescatarian diet can be challenging. Stephanie Mincone, who most recently traveled the globe with Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour, told Dance Magazine how she does it—while fueling herself with enough energy to perform for thousands of Taylor fans.
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.
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?
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?
When American Ballet Theatre announced yesterday that it would be adding Jane Eyre to its stable of narrative full-lengths, the English nerds in the DM offices (read: most of us) got pretty excited. Cathy Marston's adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's classic novel was created for England's Northern Ballet in 2016, and, based on the clips that have made their way online, it seems like a perfect fit for ABT's Met Opera season.
It also got us thinking about what other classic novels we'd love to see adapted into ballets—but then we realized just how many there already are. From Russian epics to beloved children's books, here are 10 of our favorites that have already made the leap from page to stage. (Special shoutout to Northern Ballet, the undisputed MVP of turning literature into live performance.)
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.
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.