What Melanie Hamrick Learned From Collaborating on A Ballet With Boyfriend Mick Jagger
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.
"Yesterday I was like, Can I add one more song?" she says. (The full piece recently premiered in St. Petersburg at the Mariinsky Theatre; the YAGP performance will be a slightly shortened version.) Hamrick originally planned to cut "Sympathy for the Devil," but on Monday changed her mind and called YAGP's artistic director Larissa Saveliev to ask if she could swap out "You Can't Always Get What You Want" instead. "Just now I called her again and asked if I can just do the full program," she says. "So don't be surprised if you come on Thursday and see 'Always.' "
Jagger helped Hamrick curate the songs, and added an orchestral score behind the rock classics to lend them a custom ballet feel.
While the Russian premiere included a mix of Mariinsky dancers and current and former New York City Ballet members—along with Hamrick herself, who had to fill in for an injured performer at the last minute—the New York version will feature ABT dancers Herman Cornejo, Thomas Forster, Calvin Royal III, Skylar Brandt, Christine Shevchenko and Sung Woo Han, and NYCB principal Daniel Ulbricht, the only dancer to perform in both shows.
Most of the New York cast competed at YAGP as students, as did Hamrick's co-choreographer, Joanna DeFelice: "I wanted people who appreciate the competition and love it as much as I do," says Hamrick.
What She Learned From Her First Choreographic Experience
"I was questioning constantly at the beginning. I was trying to be too perfect," she says. "I didn't feel like it was my place to tell these incredible artists what to do."
Especially at the Mariinsky, Hamrick says, she was overwhelmed by the history of the institution. "I was like, I can't believe I'm in this building. To be a guest and to also demand what I need for my piece...it was hard at first to make those requests, but slowly I managed to get out of that."
"I learned that it's not about doing something that's already been done," she says. "It's about making something new."
The Adorable Story of How Port Rouge Got Its Name
"I've been listening to this music for so many years, and sometimes you have the lyrics a little off," she says. "So 'red door' is a joke between Mick and I about some of the lyrics I had wrong...you can probably guess which ones." ("I see a red door and I want it painted black.")
On Coming Back to Choreographing
Around 10 years ago, Hamrick applied for an ABT choreographic initiative (an early precursor to what was launched last year as the ABT Incubator.) She presented a "wacky" idea, and didn't make the cut. "I was like, 'I'm never choreographing again!' " she says.
But when she talked to ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie about her Rolling Stones idea more recently, he was encouraging, and told her he was glad that she was taking another stab at choreography.
"I was never super into choreographing because I was too unsure of myself and I cared too much what people thought," she says. "This helped me to be like, it's okay. Do you, and if people like it, that's okay. Now I find myself listening to music and thinking, this would be really cool to dance to! I love that I'm already looking for new things."
The Choreographers Who Inspired Her
Though this was Hamrick's first time choreographing, she's had years of experience working with world-class choreographers at ABT. "I looked to Twyla Tharp and Alexei Ratmansky," she says. "They know what they want, and you know their look when you see it. I don't think I have a style yet, but they gave me confidence to try to find one."
Her Hopes for the Piece
"I want the piece to keep growing. I have a whole list of songs I want to add to it," she says. "I wasn't setting out to make the best new ballet the world has even seen. I'm setting out to make people smile and enjoy themselves, to shut off their brains for eight minutes and come away feeling good."
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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.
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.
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?
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."
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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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.
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.