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Dancers Are Choreographers, Too. It's Time for Dance Criticism to Reflect That.
Dancers are more than just vessels performing set material. We make contributions to creative processes all the time. Some of these are obvious: We often improvise material or generate entire phrases to be incorporated into a work. Others are more innocuous: Dancers are sometimes asked to give feedback that ends up shaping the composition of a work.
This is choreography.
As working relationships between dancers and choreographers evolve, the dialogue on crediting authorship needs to reflect the collaboration at the heart of so many works. I'm currently performing in Nick Mauss' exhibition "Transmissions" at the Whitney Museum of American Art. From Mauss' prompts, 16 dancers created movement phrases to generate, with Mauss' direction, the choreographed material that appears in the show. During the creative process, the curatorial team and Mauss facilitated the kind of dialogue that should always happen with collaboratively created works: We discussed and workshopped language to accurately credit how the work was made.
Sadly, this doesn't feel like the norm. In other projects I've contributed to or heard about, these conversations never happened. As a result, the creative labor of dancers was erased. Even when the contributions of dancers are outlined in a program, critics sometimes distort the reality of the creative process in their writing. In Alastair Macaulay's review of "Transmissions" in the New York Times he wrote: "Mauss proves, with the cooperation of his dancers, something of a choreographer."
The language created by us and sent by the Whitney's press department read: "The choreography performed in this exhibition has been collectively generated by the following 16 dancers in collaboration with Nick Mauss." The distinction between "collaboration" and"cooperation" might seem nit-picky, but the syntax of Macaulay's sentence gives the insidious impression that dancers were just along for the ride of Mauss' creative vehicle.
It also speaks to the distance from which critics often write about a work. While objectivity is often cited as a goal of critics, nuance too easily gets lost with this remove. But all interpretations are inherently subjective, and filtered through a viewer's history, preferences and biases. Instead of pretending like dance writing can be objective, what if critics embraced subjectivity and used it as an opportunity to delve deeper into the work they're seeing?
Anna Witenberg and Ahmaud Culver in "Transmissions," Photo by Paula Court
Typical dance criticism rarely goes beyond a description and an assessment of what happened on stage. What might dance writing communicate about a work if a writer had more insight into a process? By attending a rehearsal or conversing with the collaborators, for example, dance writers could go further in their reviews. They could shed light on dynamics an average audience member may never discover. Perhaps most importantly, they could accurately acknowledge and credit the creative labor that dancers bring to making a work.
In a world where dancers are already underpaid and at times mistreated, it's essential to recognize the creative contributions we make to a work in addition to our performances. Dancers have been choreographing for a long time. Writers, let's make sure our words capture this.
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!)