Barak Marshall's Monger, which appears at the Walking Distance Dance Festival this month. Photo by Rose Eichenbaum, Courtesy John Hill PR

6 Premieres and Programs on Our Editors' Must-See List This Month

A Broadway luminary and a postmodern darling bring their talents to ballet, a music video maven turns to the concert stage, and a contemporary choreographer gets soulful with Aretha Franklin. Our editors' must-sees this May are all about the unexpected.


A Late Commission

Tanowitz in rehearsal at NYCB

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

NEW YORK CITY When it was announced that Pam Tanowitz would be creating a new work for New York City Ballet (to replace an on-hold commission from Emma Portner), the reaction was largely: It's about time! Tanowitz has long been a critical darling for her intellectually rigorous, postmodern application of the classical vocabulary. So what can she do with seven women and four men from NYCB at her disposal? The new work is set to Bartok (expanding upon a piece she workshopped with American Ballet Theatre in 2017) and features costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung. It debuts on May 2 at the company's spring gala, on a program with Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3 and an additional premiere by Justin Peck. Catch it again May 4, 9, 11 and 12. nycballet.com. —Courtney Escoyne

Blankenbuehler at the Ballet

TULSA Tulsa Ballet's artistic director, Marcello Angelini, says he offered Andy Blankenbuehler a commission "before he became so famous." With Hamilton beckoning, Blankenbuehler gave him a rain check. This month Angelini cashes it in, presenting Blankenbuehler's first-ever ballet, set on a submarine during World War II. Remember Our Song runs May 9–12 at Tulsa's Lorton Performance Center, in a Ballet to Broadway triple bill with Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free and George Balanchine's Who Cares? tulsaballet.org. —Sylviane Gold

Must Love Dogs

ODC/Dance in Kimi Okada's Canine Comfort

Yvonne M. Portra, Courtesy John Hill PR

SAN FRANCISCO A cast of four-legged friends will join the dancers of ODC/Dance during this year's Walking Distance Dance Festival. Kimi Okada's Canine Comfort celebrates the peace found in nature, family and, yes, the love of dogs. During the weeklong festival, audiences can also catch works by Barak Marshall (performed by students at USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance) and d. Sabela grimes, tune in to the dancers' heartbeats in Kinetech Arts' immersive Resonant Frequencies, and follow Mary Armentrout Dance Theater around the Mission neighborhood for the meditative listening creates an opening. May 12–19. odc.dance. —CE

On the Come Up

Nicholas Guttridge and Benoit Swan Pouffer, Courtesy Rambert

LONDON Asking Marion Motin, who is best known for choreographing music videos for Christine and the Queens and Dua Lipa, to create a concert work for Britain's oldest contemporary dance company could be seen as a risk. But it's just the sort of smart, envelope-pushing choice that's always characterized Benoit Swan Pouffer as a director. Rambert's newly installed artistic leader programmed the French choreographer's premiere alongside revivals of Wayne McGregor's 2002 PreSentient and Hofesh Shechter's 2007 In your rooms—works that presaged those choreographers' ascent to international prominence. May 14–18. sadlerswells.com. —CE

A Natural Woman

NEW YORK CITY Trey McIntyre has something of a magic touch with jukebox ballets; Big Ones, his Amy Winehouse tribute created for BalletX, is a standout example. For his latest, he's going even bigger, turning to the songbook of the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin. In Eight Women, the cast of male and female dancers all portray women—not for the sake of camp, but as a statement of equality. The work gets its U.S. premiere during Parsons Dance's Joyce season this month, May 14–26, alongside classic rep by David Parsons. joyce.org. —CE

I've Got No Strings

National Ballet of Canada in Will Tuckett's Pinocchio

Aleksandar Antonijevic, Courtesy Texas Ballet Theater

DALLAS AND FT. WORTH The wild adventures of a wooden puppet who wishes to be a real boy are familiar to any Disney aficionado. But the creative team behind the Will Tuckett–choreographed Pinocchio are quick to point to the darker undertones of the original tale. The full-length ballet, which debuted at National Ballet of Canada in 2017, journeys stateside for the first time this month under the stewardship of Texas Ballet Theater. Winspear Opera House, Dallas, May 17–19; Bass Performance Hall, Ft. Worth, May 24–26. texasballettheater.org. —CE

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021