Eri Nakamura and Adi Zlatin in Sadeh21 (2011). Photo by Gadi Dagon.
Last year Ohad Naharin celebrated two decades at the helm of Batsheva, a short time considering the huge impact his work has had on the local and international dance community. Prior to Naharin’s triumphant return from New York in 1990, contemporary dance in Israel was an amalgamation of styles and trends adopted from Europe and the United States. Though a generation of choreographers was growing within the country, the overall scene had failed to coalesce.
Naharin’s arrival as artistic director of Batsheva set the wheels in motion for a monumental change in the country, one that would place Israel in the center of the international dance map and bring contemporary dance into the forefront of Israeli culture.
His approach was, at the time, radically at odds with the cookie-cutter expectations placed on company dancers. Naharin asked his dancers to expose their vulnerability, sexuality, and intensity both in the studio and onstage. Batsheva’s performances presented individuality in its most raw form. His dances provided a window into the turmoil of daily life, inspiring his Israeli peers to match his candidness.
For the past 22 years, dance in Israel has been represented globally by Naharin’s artistic sensibility, and Israeli dance companies are defined by their relationship to his style either in their similarity to it or their divergence from it. His influence can also be identified in the works of leading choreographers around the world, including former Batsheva dancers Inbal Pinto (Tel Aviv), Hofesh Shechter (London), and Andrea Miller (Gallim Dance/New York).
The Batsheva company is now synonymous with unimaginably free limbs, a flow that connects disjunctive movements, and piercing stares into the audience. Navigating between charged stillness and vibrant explosions of arms and legs, Naharin’s choreographies are dynamic, engaging, and insightful. An example of this winning blend took audiences by storm in 1993, when Naharin unveiled Anaphaza. The piece, which includes the famous section “Echad Mi Yodea” (originally from Kyr, 1990), where dancers burst out of their chairs, sloughing off layers of their black suits and hats, has become a staple for the company and a calling card for the volatile, in-your-face Israeli dance aesthetic. This section is also part of Naharin’s collage Minus 16, which is now in the repertoires of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Nederlands Dans Theater II, and Barcelona’s IT Dansa.
Today, about half of the company’s performances each year are given outside of Israel. Their deluxe facility in the Suzanne Dellal Center in South Tel Aviv serves as a beacon for foreign performers hungry to study with or audition for Naharin.
Naharin’s offstage revolution, Gaga, which offers dancers an alternative to morning technique classes, has caught on like wildfire, changing the way dancers warm up. In New York City, Gaga classes are offered regularly at Mark Morris Dance Center, The Ailey Extension, and Peridance Capezio Center. (Juilliard, Harvard University, and other schools have also held Gaga classes.) The growing list of studios and companies seeking the deliciousness of Gaga led Naharin to establish a one-year Gaga teacher-training course in Tel Aviv last year.
The first moments of a Gaga session look more like a tai chi practice than a dance class. For one, there are no mirrors in the studio. The participants, whether they are “people” or “dancers” (Gaga classes are divided into two categories: “people,” or those with no prior dance experience, and professionals) stand facing their teacher, doing something called “floating” (moving as if in water) for about 10 minutes. The participants are in constant motion. They are not taught sequences or exercises; rather each student embarks upon a journey of personal research. They explore a series of images and sensations such as moving from their “moons” (the joints at the base of the fingers and toes) or harnessing their “lena” (the energy source in the lower abdomen).
Any company that learns a Naharin piece is required to prepare by practicing Gaga. This encourages the dancers to forgo the strict lines of ballet in favor of finding pleasurable, free, and authentic movement. The effects of this individualistic training can also be seen in the subtle but immediately noticeable change in the performance of dancers in companies such as Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet (New York), Cullberg Ballet (Sweden), or Hubbard Street (Chicago) in Naharin’s pieces—where highly trained dancers step out of prescribed moves and offer gutsier, groovier, more exposed sides of themselves.
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.
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.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
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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Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
It can be hard to imagine life without—or just after—dance. Perhaps that's why we find it so fascinating to hear what our favorite dancers think they'd be doing if they weren't performing for a living.
We've been asking stars about the alternate career they'd like to try in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and their answers—from the unexpected to the predictable—do not disappoint:
"New York City Ballet star appears in a Keanu Reeves action movie" is not a sentence we ever thought we'd write. But moviegoers seeing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be treated to two scenes featuring soloist Unity Phelan dancing choreography by colleague Tiler Peck. The guns-blazing popcorn flick cast Phelan as a ballerina who also happens to be training to become an elite assassin. Opens in theaters May 17.
The Brooklyn-based choreographer Gillian Walsh is both obsessed with and deeply conflicted about dance. With her latest work, Fame Notions, May 17–19 at Performance Space New York, she seeks to understand what she calls the "fundamentally pessimistic or alienating pursuit" of being a dancer. Noting that the piece is "quiet and introverted," like much of her other work, she sees Fame Notions as one step in a larger project examining why dancers dance.
What does Mikhail Baryshnikov have to say to dancers starting their careers today? On Friday, he gave the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
The heart of his message: Be generous.
Launching a dancewear line seems like a great way for professional dancers to flex new artistic muscles and make side money. Several direct-to-consumer brands founded by current or former professional dancers, like Elevé and Luckleo, currently compete with bigger retailers, like Capezio.
But turning your brand into the next Yumiko is more challenging than some budding designers may realize.
When I first came to dance criticism in the 1970s, the professional critics were predominantly much older than me. I didn't know them personally and, as the wide-eyed new kid on the block, I assumed most had little or no physical training in the art.
As slightly intimidated as I felt at the time—you try sitting around a conference room table with Dance Magazine heavy hitters like Tobi Tobias and David Vaughan—I smugly gave myself props for at least having had recent brushes with ballet, Graham, Duncan and Ailey and more substantial engagement with jazz and belly dance. Watching dancers onstage, I enjoyed memories of steps and moves I knew in my own bones. If the music was right, my shoulders would wriggle. I wasn't just coolly judging things from my neck up.