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Moving On, But Still Moving
Directing a top-notch dance program for a quarter century would be success enough for almost anyone. Not for Daniel Lewis. His soon-to-conclude tenure as founding dean of dance at Miami’s New World School of the Arts is just one among his many notable professional incarnations. And, dancer to the core, he plans to keep on moving.
“I’m proud of leaving something really good behind in New World: a strong foundation for students that’s well-respected and recognized,” says Lewis, who was honored by the National Dance Education Organization last year with their Lifetime Achievement Award. “We—and I prefer using the plural given the remarkable efforts of my faculty—have made a lasting mark.”
The program Lewis developed has grown from a single studio, a couple of teachers, and under 40 students in 1987, to its current enrollment of almost 200 students who, guided by 17 faculty members, enjoy ample facilities, including four studios and a 250-seat theater. Quality has shot up with quantity. New World graduates have joined the ranks of the Martha Graham Dance Company, Urban Bush Women, and H.T. Chen & Dancers, among other noteworthy institutions. Whenever Lewis walks down Manhattan streets, his old stomping grounds, he can point to a musical here, a dance company there, and note with satisfaction how many of these feature NWSA graduates on their rosters. Still, his mind is set on all the miles he wants to travel, to conferences and teaching assignments, spreading the gospel of arts education. “Creativity,” he asserts, “is what makes us different from other animals.”
In Miami last February, during an evening of performances paying tribute to Lewis, Robert Battle (Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s artistic director designate) joked about the dean’s transition: “Retirement? I’m just not buying it.” Perhaps NWSA’s most distinguished alumnus, Battle extolled the school’s inspiring education, which also helped mold Jamar Roberts and Amos Machanic, Jr., stellar performers in Ailey.
Staying creatively active fulfills a deep-seated craving for Lewis. It also obeys a basic tenet of his: to take gains from the past and invest them, refreshed and expanded, in the future of others, continuing the mission of his own mentors. As a kid from Brooklyn, already a step-happy hoofer, Lewis nurtured his talent at New York’s LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts. Yet it was at Juilliard, under the tutelage of modern dance luminary José Limón, that his artistic impulses fully blossomed.
“Limón taught me a reverence for the stage and a love for the art form,” Lewis says. And that’s what his direction at New World has always encouraged. In his authoritative book The Illustrated Dance Technique of José Limón, Lewis describes his stance in the studio, a recommendation for all educators: “I think of myself not so much as a teacher but as an artist, sharing my knowledge with other artists.”
Even before graduating from Juilliard in 1967, Lewis had commanded the stage with the Limón company. For 12 years he originated roles in A Choreographic Offering, Psalm, and The Unsung, among other landmark Limón works. As assistant to the choreographer, he also got a close-up view of how to run a troupe. That proved invaluable when he took over as artistic director for a year after Limón died and later led his own projects. The repertory group, Daniel Lewis Dance, became a haven for thought-provoking commissions, including works by Anna Sokolow. “From her,” says Lewis, “I learned how to make sure dances got done, then to step back, letting others enjoy their glory.”
Lewis never distanced himself from Juilliard, where he taught Limón technique, composition, and production, now all integral to the NWSA curriculum. There also came a chance for him to serve as assistant to Martha Hill, then Juilliard’s indefatigable director of dance. When she learned of a deanship opening at a brand-new arts school in South Florida, she recommended Lewis, knowing he yearned for a new challenge.
“I had been just about everywhere except Miami,” says Lewis. NWSA organizers drew him by offering a great deal of leeway in curriculum design while advocating an innovative high school-through-BFA course of study. This unique setup required Lewis to coordinate three degree-granting bodies that work in partnership with NWSA: the Miami-Dade County school system, Miami Dade College, and the University of Florida. “Our students can start earning college credit in high school, going on to get their bachelor’s in just three years,” Lewis explains. “That saves both time and money.”
Under Lewis’ guidance, the NWSA dance program has fostered a progressive understanding of “how to keep the body in shape, with all the necessary science behind it,” Lewis says. A respect for world traditions, including different styles of Spanish and African dance, further enhances the curriculum. As Lewis points out, eclectic training allows for “a proficiency that makes getting jobs easier.”
Tina Santos-Wahl, a ballet teacher at New World, concurs. Her own background stretching from classical ballet to Luigi, she comments, “Danny gives me the freedom to teach in a style of my own, incorporating different dance forms.”
Santos appreciates how Lewis upholds tradition (“he’s a walking history book,” she says), while championing the latest digital media in dance education and production. As a member of the International Digital Media & Arts Association’s advisory board, Lewis has arranged to bring their conference to Miami in 2012. And, as an ongoing resource for New World, he’ll continue to campaign for the establishment of an MFA in Dance and Technology at the school. “Kids in this generation are amazingly attuned to new media,” Lewis says, “and colleges have to be up on this to meet their changing needs.”
Guillermo Perez is a South Florida–based performing arts writer.
Photo by Rose Eichenbaum, Courtesy Dance Teacher
New York City Ballet is celebrating the Jerome Robbins Centennial with twenty (20!) ballets. The great American choreographer died in 1998, so very few of today's dancers have actually worked with him. There are plenty of stories about how demanding (at times brutally so) he could be in rehearsal. But Peter Boal has written about Robbins in a more balanced, loving way. In this post he writes about how Robbins' crystal clear imagery helped him approach a role with clarity and purpose.
Who says you need fancy equipment to make a festival-worthy dance film? Right now, two New York City–based dance film festivals are calling for aspiring filmmakers to show their stuff—and you don't need anything more cumbersome than a smartphone to get in on the action.
Here's everything you need to know about how to submit:
On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba tours the U.S. this spring with the resolute Cuban prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso a the helm. Named a National Hero of Labor in Cuba, Alonso, 97, has weathered strained international relations and devastating fiscal challenges to have BNC emerge as a world-class dance company. Her dancers are some of ballet's best. On offer this time are Alonso's Giselle and Don Quixote. The profoundly Cuban company performs in Chicago May 18–20, Tampa May 23, Washington, D.C., May 29–June 3 and Saratoga, New York June 6–8.
We all know that the general population's knowledge of ballet is sometimes...a bit skewed. (See: people touching their fingertips to the top of their head, and Kendall Jenner hopping around at the barre.)
Would your average Joe know how to do ballet's most basic step: a plié? Or, more to the point, even know what it is?
SELF decided to find out.
When Lisset Santander bourréed onstage as Myrtha in BalletMet's Giselle this past February, her consummate portrayal of the Queen of the Wilis was marked by steely grace and litheness. The former Cuban National Ballet dancer had defected to the U.S. at 21, and after two years with the Ohio company, she's now closer to the dance career she says she always wanted: one of limitless possibilities.
For 17 years, James Samson has been the model Paul Taylor dancer. There is something fundamentally decent about his stage persona. He's a tall dancer—six feet—but never imposes himself. He's muscular, but gentle. And when he moves, it is his humanity that shines through, even more than his technique.
But all dancing careers come to an end, and James Samson's is no exception; now 43, he'll be retiring in August, after a final performance at the Teatro Romano in Verona, where he'll be dancing in Cloven Kingdom, Piazzolla Caldera and Promethean Fire.
The wait for Alexei Ratmansky's restaging of Petipa's Harlequinade is almost over! But if you can't wait until American Ballet Theatre officially debuts the ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House on June 6, we've got you covered. ABT brought the Harlequinade characters to life (and to the Alder Mansion in Yonkers, NY) in a short film by Ezra Hurwitz, and it's a guaranteed to make you laugh.
When an anonymous letter accused former New York City Ballet leader Peter Martins of sexual harassment last year, it felt like what had long been an open secret—the prevalence of harassment in the dance world—was finally coming to the surface. But the momentum of the #MeToo movement, at least in dance, has since died down.
Martins has retired, though an investigation did not corroborate any of the claims against him. He and former American Ballet Theatre star Marcelo Gomes, who suddenly resigned in December, were the only cases to make national headlines in the U.S. We've barely scratched the surface of the dance world's harassment problem.
Many choreographers have been defeated by Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. However, one dancemaker whose stridency, rhythmic daring and sheer inventiveness could possibly match Stravinsky's is Wayne McGregor. For his first commission from American Ballet Theatre, McGregor has taken on this earth-cracking music in AFTERITE, to premiere at ABT's Spring Gala. Also on the May 21 gala program are excerpts from Alexei Ratmansky's restaging of the comic ballet Harlequinade, the full version of which will premiere next month, and a pièce d'occasion by tapper Michelle Dorrance. May 21–26. abt.org.
If diamonds are a girl's best friend, it's safe to say that faux-diamond earrings are a dancer's best friend. A fixture onstage at just about every competition weekend, these blinged-out baubles are also the surest sign that recital season is upon us again. And what better way to get into the sparkly spirit than by drooling over these 5 diamonds in the rough? (Sorry not sorry!)