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Socializing with your company's donors
When patrons linger at an after-party to celebrate a performance of the Mark Morris Dance Group, Lauren Grant, who’s been dancing with the company for almost 20 years, shows up to greet them. “I really like meeting donors because they obviously like the work enough to pledge some of their money,” she says. “Not every dancer in this group does that, and we are not asked to do that.”
Once upon a time, dancers were required to schmooze—and more. The dark side of ballet history in particular reeks with century-old accounts of ballerinas who were expected to sleep with their male patrons. Although this extreme policy no longer exists, the uncomfortable “pay for play” idea still lingers in corners of the dance world.
As a professional dancer, you will be invited to social functions where you can interact with donors. While these events are not mandatory, you might feel obligated to volunteer your time and celebrity to cultivate sponsorship. Some artists, like Grant, enjoy these parties. But newer dancers might wonder if they have to go, what to say when they’re there and how to handle inappropriate behavior if a patron crosses the line.
To Go Or Not To Go
When you sign a contract with a professional company, the agreement focuses on your responsibilities in the studio and onstage. But because American dance companies receive little government funding and rely on private sources for financial stability, they market you—the dancer—to help drive interest and contributions. “Dancers are an organization’s most potent resource,” says Janis Goodman, former chairperson of Pennsylvania Ballet. “Funding has become so difficult that companies focus their efforts on individual donors and how to seduce them.”
While dancers are not obligated to help raise money, you might be concerned that refusing to schmooze could negatively affect your career. That’s not entirely so, says Atlanta Ballet executive director Arturo Jacobus. “It could be hurtful if you are aloof and reluctant to engage. But it’s a gray area,” he says. “At the end of the day, the dancer’s career is made by how they dance.” Performers are hired for their talent, but companies want to work with people who are also friendly and willing to go above and beyond to help the organization. Companies cannot overtly criticize dancers for refusing to do so, and the day-to-day consequences for dancers remain unclear. But, the big picture is easy to see: Unsatisfied donors means unhealthy companies, and unhealthy companies means no places to dance. It’s a risk that’s on everyone’s mind.
Perks and Dangers
There are great advantages to attending donor functions. “Connecting with people could lead to future opportunities,” says Vanessa Zahorian, principal at San Francisco Ballet. Through her friendships with longtime donors, Zahorian has broadened her network, met Olympic athletes and posed for a sketch artist whose designs might be used in a future SFB collaboration. Grant has also had positive experiences, exchanging ideas with people who are enthusiastic about her work. “It can be isolating being stuck in the studio all day,” she says. “Donors can give an outside perspective about the pieces you’ve been slaving over.”
But there are times to be wary. “There’s a definite line between donors and dancers,” says Zahorian. “I’ve always been cautious not to tell everyone about my personal life.” Grant knows of a dancer who received excessive, unwanted attention. “It’s tricky because a donor might have access to the people who work within an organization,” she says. “Contact information has to stay private so that dancers are not hounded in any way.”
Be aware of situations that could become extreme, such as stalking or sexual advances. It is okay for patrons to follow your career at the theater and presence on social media; it is not okay for them to smother you or make inappropriate comments. Jacobus remembers an incident in which a dancer reported that a board member was singling her out at events, and he addressed the situation right away. “If you ever feel uncomfortable, tell someone immediately,” he advises. “Go to human resources. It’s management’s responsibility to do something about it.”
Keep Your Eyes Open
Mingling with strangers might be the last thing you want to do at the end of a show or in the midst of a grueling season. Socializing can often feel like another performance. But recognizing the people who support you could be win-win: They appreciate your efforts, and you are showered with flattery.
When Rachel Hamrick was in the corps of Universal Ballet in Seoul, her determination to strengthen her flexibility turned into a side hobby that would eventually land her a new career. "I was in La Bayadere for the first time, and I was the first girl out for that arabesque sequence in The Kingdom of the Shades," she says. "I had the flexibility, but I was wobbly because I wasn't stretching in the right way. That's when I first started playing around with the idea of the Flexistretcher. It was tied together then, so it was definitely more makeshift," she says with a laugh, "But I trained with it to help me get the correct alignment so that I would have the strength to sustain the whole act."
Now, Hamrick is running her own business, complete with an ever-growing product line and her FLX training method—all because of her initial need to make it through 38 arabesques.
For the new Broadway season, Ellenore Scott has scored two associate choreographer gigs: For Head Over Heels, which starts previews June 23, Scott is working with choreographer Spencer Liff on an original musical mashing up The Go-Go's punk-rock hits with a narrative based on Sir Philip Sidney's 1590 book, Arcadia. Four days after that show opens, she'll head into rehearsals for this fall's King Kong, collaborating with director/choreographer Drew McOnie and a 20-foot gorilla.
Scott gave us the inside scoop about Head Over Heels, the craziness of her freelance hustle and the most surprising element of working on Broadway.
Dance in movies is a trend as old as time. Movies like The Red Shoes and Singin' in the Rain paved the way for Black Swan and La La Land; dancing stars like Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers led the way for Channing Tatum and Julianne Hough.
Lucky for us, some of Hollywood's most incredible dance scenes have been compiled into this amazing montage, featuring close to 300 films in only seven minutes. So grab the popcorn, cozy on up, and watch the moves that made the movies.
Broadway musicals have been on my mind for more than half a century. I discovered them in grade school, not in a theater but electronically. On the radio, every weeknight an otherwise boring local station would play a cast album in its entirety; on television, periodically Ed Sullivan's Sunday night variety show would feature an excerpt from the latest hit—numbers from Bye Bye Birdie, West Side Story, Camelot, Flower Drum Song.
But theater lives in the here and now, and I was in middle school when I attended my first Broadway musical, Gypsy—based, of all things, on the early life of the famed burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee. I didn't know who Jerome Robbins was, but I recognized genius when I saw it—kids morphing into adults as a dance number progresses, hilarious stripping routines, a pas de deux giving concrete shape to the romantic yearnings of an ugly duckling. It proved the birth of a lifelong habit, indulged for the last 18 years in the pages of this magazine. But all long runs eventually end, and it's time to say good-bye to the "On Broadway" column. It's not the last of our Broadway coverage—there's too much great work being created and performed, and you can count on hearing from me in print and online.
If you want to know how scary the AIDS epidemic was in the 1980s, come see Ishmael Houston-Jones' piece THEM from 1986. This piece reveals the subterranean fears that crept into gay relationships at the time. Houston-Jones is one of downtown's great improvisers, and his six dancers also improvise in response to his suggestions. With Chris Cochrane's edgy guitar riffs and Dennis Cooper's ominous text, there's an unpredictable, near-creepy but epic quality to THEM.
What is the right flooring system for us?
So many choices, companies, claims, endorsements, and recommendations to consider. The more you look, the more confusing it gets. Here is what you need to do. Here is what you need to know to get the flooring system suited to your needs.
This time last year, Catherine Conley was already living a ballet dancer's dream. After an exchange between her home ballet school in Chicago and the Cuban National Ballet School in Havana, she'd been invited to train in Cuba full-time. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and one that was nearly unheard of for an American dancer. Now, though, Conley has even more exciting news: She's a full-fledged member of the National Ballet of Cuba's corps de ballet.
"In the school there were other foreigners, but in the company I'm the only foreigner—not just the only American, but the only non-Cuban," Conley says. But she doesn't feel like an outsider, or like a dancer embarking on a historic journey. "Nobody makes me feel different. They treat me as one of them," she says. Conley has become fluent in Spanish, and Cuba has come to feel like home. "The other day I was watching a movie that was dubbed in Spanish, and I understand absolutely everything now," she says.
Chantel Aguirre may call sunny Los Angeles home, but the Shaping Sound company member and NUVO faculty member spends more time in the air, on a tour bus or in a convention ballroom than she does in the City of Angels.
Aguirre, who is married to fellow Shaping Sound member Michael Keefe, generally only spends one week per month at home. "When I'm not working, I'm exploring," Aguirre says. "Michael and I are total travel junkies."
Akram Khan and Florence Welch (of Florence + The Machine) is not a pairing we ever would have dreamt up. But now that the music video for "Big God" has dropped, with choreography attributed to Khan and Welch, it seems that we just weren't dreaming big enough.
In the video, Welch leads a group of women standing in an eerily reflective pool of water. They seem untouchable, until they begin shedding their colorful veils, movements morphing to become animalistic and aggressive as the song progresses.
Savannah Lowery is about as well acquainted with the inner workings of a hospital as she is with the intricate footwork of Dewdrop.
As a child, the former New York City Ballet soloist would roam the hospital where her parents worked, pushing buttons and probably getting into too much trouble, she says. While other girls her age were clad in tutus playing ballerina, she was playing doctor.
"It just felt like home. I think it made me not scared of medicine, not scared of a hospital," she says. "I thought it was fascinating what they did."
It can be hard to focus when Alice Sheppard dances.
Her recent sold-out run of DESCENT at New York Live Arts, for instance, offered a constellation of stimulation. Onstage was a large architectural ramp with an assortment of peaks and planes. There was an intricate lighting and projection design. There was a musical score that unfolded like an epic poem. There was a live score too: the sounds of Sheppard and fellow dancer Laurel Lawson's bodies interacting with the surfaces beneath them.
And there were wheelchairs. But if you think the wheelchairs are the center of this work, you're missing something vital about what Sheppard creates.
A Jellicle Ball is coming to the big screen, with the unlikeliest of dancemakers on tap to choreograph.
We'll give you some hints: His choreography can aptly be described as "animalistic," though Jellicle cats have never come to mind specifically when watching his hyper-physical work. He's worked on movies before—even one about Beasts. And though contemporary ballet is his genre of choice, his choreography is certainly theatrical enough to lend itself to a musical.