Congratulations to Dance Magazine Leadership Award Honoree Nigel Redden
General director of Spoleto Festival USA since 1995 and, for two decades (1998-2017), the director of the Lincoln Center Festival, Nigel Redden has an internationalist's point of view on the arts—expansive, curious, informed by the cultural wealth that the world has to offer.
He is the son of an American diplomat and grew up moving from place to place—Cyprus, Israel, Canada, Italy—until eventually setting of for Yale to study Art History. After visiting the Spoleto festival in Italy as a young man, and working there while he was still an undergraduate, he very quickly realized what he wanted to: direct festivals. And that's what he has done for most of the last quarter century.
How did you get drawn into the world of festivals?
I started at Spoleto in 1969, the summer after my freshman year. I had seen a certain number of the companies in other contexts, and I thought it was wonderful to see these performances in juxtaposition, and to see how, to some extent, they informed each other. In the final analysis, every performance is about a kind of human message. By the time I was 20, I knew I wanted to run a festival.
Where does your love of dance come from?
My own interest in dance began when I was in high school. I suppose I saw Nureyev and Fonteyn. My great-grandfather was part owner of Theatre Royal, in Australia. My mother had very vivid memories of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo coming to Australia; she had these wonderful stories of getting to know the dancers. It seemed natural to want to go.
Then, that first year at Spoleto I saw Merce Cunningham. I had read some of John Cage's work and was terrified of meeting him. I saw an "event," and it was totally mystifying. This was 1969. I didn't understand it at all. But then when I started working at BAM in 1973, there was a series of events at the Lepercq Space, and they were absolutely transformational. All of a sudden it made sense.
The wonderful thing about dance is that it's about seeing a body move in a way most of us can't and finding some way in which this means something to you. It's difficult to articulate with words, but you have this strong feeling that something has been revealed to you.
What is special about festivals—what do they provide that a regular season cannot?
I've found the pressure and intensity of a festival brings out the best in performers. A community of artists is being created. And they know the audience isn't just there because it was part of their subscription series. And also the best in audiences. The audiences come with the expectation that they're going to enjoy it. People are more open-minded. They're more prepared to see things they might not usually want to buy tickets for.
For a long time, you directed both Spoleto USA, based in Charleston, and the Lincoln Center Festival in New York. How did they fit together in your mind's eye?
I think they fit together by being different. The Spoleto festival takes over a small town, and the audience comes from all over. So what we have tried to do there is give a kind of wonderful banquet of the arts. In New York, the audience was more local and more aware of what was being performed throughout the year. So there, the idea was to extend the definition of Lincoln Center. I felt it was essential, in New York, to include classical traditions from other parts of the world: Kabuki, Noh, Pansori. And also, to include parts of the broader European tradition that aren't seen here.
What, to you, was the ultimate aim of the Lincoln Center Festival?
I think it was about discovery in the sense that one is discovering classicisms from around the world. The number of people who knew about Kunqu opera prior to our performances of the Peony Pavilion was mostly limited to people who came from that culture. A lot of people found out about it as a result of the Festival. The Japan Society does a great job bringing performing arts from Japan, but the audience tends to be less broad. When we brought over Kanze Noh Theatre last year, there was an intensity about that performance that was possible because Lincoln Center had the resources to build a Noh stage. When you're doing something at Lincoln Center you tend to do it right.
Where did the idea for last year's performances of Balanchine's Jewels by three companies—New York City Ballet, Paris Opéra and the Bolshoi—come from?
I'd been working on the idea for years and years. The idea was that Balanchine had worked in all three countries. Emeralds does seem to be inspired by French dance. And I think it's difficult to look at Diamonds and not think of imperial Russia.
It took a lot of cajoling. There are always logistical problems. The French dancers are usually off that time of year. So the dancers who danced here moved their vacations, which meant they weren't available to the company at the beginning of September. It all happened during the transition between Benjamin Millepied and Aurélie Dupont's directorship of the company. Benjamin had been quite enthusiastic, and fortunately Aurélie was too.
What is lost with the disappearance of a large, eclectic festival like Lincoln Center Festival?
I think inevitably there's going to be less programming at Lincoln Center. We were in discussion with several European companies as well as large Asian companies that now won't have a home in New York. I assume a home will emerge at some point. New York is too important a place for performers not to perform.
Is New York City in danger of slipping behind other cultural capitals?
I think it has already. The fact that there's only one opera company is a pity. But it still seems to be a place choreographers want to come to—there's still a kind of energy here. Even though the costs of studio space and living space are very high. When I first moved to New York I rented an apartment for $40 a month, which meant it really didn't matter how much money I earned, because the expenses were so low.
What is your advice to young festival directors?
I became director of the performing arts program at the Walker Arts Center when I was 25. We did a dance festival called New Dance America there, and the idea was to see if we could get an audience for Trisha Brown and David Gordon and Laura Dean and Lucinda Childs. So I feel that that is what a young festival director should do: find an audience for the people that person believes in.
Are there enough women running big festivals in the US?
I'm not sure there are enough women running things generally. After I left Spoleto my first boss was Ellen Stewart. She was amazing. But over time it became more and more clear that it was difficult for women to get these top leadership positions. I'm sure I've benefited from the fact that I'm male.
It's also an issue of people of a different color than mine. It's a big issue. I'm certainly aware of having white privilege. I didn't have those disadvantages of having to fight stereotypes. I still think they very much exist.
You speak a lot about classicism—what does that word mean to you?
I think it means work that has stood the test of time. That is, that somehow still has a resonance. Classicism has informed the world we live in; it's still a living tradition. On some level it's about a sense of history. I believe history is useful for us. We need to know where we came from. We didn't just invent ourselves. Life is richer if you have a more dynamic sense of the past.
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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.