The Power of Jerome Robbins' The Cage in the #MeToo Era
The encounter with man-eating female creatures in Jerome Robbins' The Cage never fails to shock audiences. As this tribe of insects initiates the newly-born Novice into their community and prepares her for the attack of the male Intruders, the ballet draws us into a world of survival and instinct.
This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Jerome Robbins' birth, and a number of Robbins programs are celebrating his timeless repertoire. But it especially feels like a prime moment to experience The Cage again. Several companies are performing it: San Francisco Ballet begins performances on March 20, followed by the English National Ballet in April and New York City Ballet in May.
Why it matters: In this time of female empowerment—as women are supporting one another in vocalizing injustices, demanding fair treatment and pay, and advocating for future generations—The Cage's nest of dominant women have new significance.
"It's very empowering with everything that's happening right now in society, and to be able to take on this role I feel like there's a responsibility to bring that into it," says SFB principal Jennifer Stahl, who will make her debut as the Queen this week. "To stand tall and proud, and not holding back, physically, with a strong powerful woman leader of this pack."
Jennifer Stahl, rehearsing The Cage with Yuan Yuan Tan, calls the ballet "empowering." Photo by Erik Tomasson, courtesy SFB
Robbins' hypnotic choreography, and the potent language he created for these fictional creatures through movement that is as aggressive as it is exploratory, reveals the many layers of this ballet: the female as predator and man as prey (which is what partially enraged audiences when the ballet premiered in 1951), their inclusive behavior as they embrace the young Novice, and the acceptance of our instincts—just as the Novice must when faced with killing the second Intruder despite her complex emotions.
Describing the ballet, Balanchine wrote, "The women are content with their own society and relax without fear of intrusion." The precision of these females in kill mode is just one part of the story; the other is the connectedness of this tribe.
When Miami City Ballet performed The Cage in January and February, principal soloist Nathalia Arja danced the Novice for the first time and found the role uncovered another side of her dancing.
"The ladies and I, we talked about it," Arja says of the collective movement toward female recognition we're experiencing today. "We watched the video together and we said it's the woman power ballet. Literally the ballet is led by all these strong women and I get goosebumps talking about it because I remember even when I was in the audience watching the other cast I said, how amazing that Jerome Robbins created a ballet that is just all about women."
Nathalia Arja calls The Cage a "woman power ballet." Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy Miami City Ballet
Robbins was inspired to create the ballet after hearing Stravinsky's Concerto in D for String Orchestra, "Basler," and the dramatic pulse of the score. At first he wanted a ballet of Amazons, the female warriors in Greek mythology, which he then re-cast as insect creatures unleashing the animalistic and contorting movement that makes The Cage so direct and entirely unforgettable.
As Stahl notes, this is not about being "pretty ballet dancers." In a video recording of Robbins coaching Wendy Whelan for the role of the Novice in 1990 (which would become one of Whelan's signature roles because of the authoritative nature and otherworldliness she injected into the young creature) Robbins urged her not to look like a ballet dancer. He wanted her legs to anticipate and strike.
To Robbins these insects examined their world but remained impenetrable to the audience. During that same rehearsal, he mentioned how exciting it was to watch Nora Kaye, who originated the role, because you didn't know what was "going on in that thing."
The sharp and precise angles of the body, suspended movements on pointe, and haunting pauses between steps give these women a powerful presence. The Cage also requires deep artistry and individuality. Even the iconic flick of the Novice's arm and hand, which Robbins described as "a squirrels tale," lasts just an instant and is so full of character.
"It's not a ballet that you look at the other dancer and you go, 'I want to do it like her,'" Arja explains. "I had the freedom to make my own Novice…to bring my Nathalia touch."
In thinking about the significance of this ballet today, as well as in 1951, Stahl says, "There's always been strong women. It's our place in society and how we treat ourselves and treat each other and lift each other up, that's what really changes." Then and now, this work gives women command of the stage as well as their story.
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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.