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.
From the angles of your feet to the size of your head, it can sometimes seem like there is no part of a dancer's body that is not under scrutiny. It's easy to get obsessed when you are constantly in front of a mirror, trying to fit a mold.
Yet the traditional ideals seem to be exploding every day. "The days of carbon-copy dancers are over," says BalletX dancer Caili Quan. "Only when you're confident in your own body can you start truly working with what you have."
While the striving may never end, there can be unexpected benefits to what you may think of as your "imperfections."
It's the second week of Miami City Ballet School's Choreographic Intensive, and the students stand in a light-drenched studio watching as choreographer Durante Verzola sets a pas de trois. "Don't be afraid to look at the ceiling—look that high," Verzola shows one student as she holds an arabesque. "That gives so much more dimension to your dancing." Other students try the same movement from the sidelines.
When Arantxa Ochoa took over as MCB School's director of faculty and curriculum two years ago, she decided to add a second part to the summer intensive: five weeks focused on technique would be followed by a new two-week choreography session. The technique intensive is not a requirement, but students audition for both at the same time and many attend the two back-to-back.
On a summer afternoon at The Ailey School's studios, a group of students go through a sequence of Horton exercises, radiating concentration and strength as they tilt to one side, arms outstretched and leg parallel to the ground. Later, in a studio down the hall, a theater dance class rehearses a lively medley of Broadway show tunes. With giant smiles and bouncy energy, students run through steps to "The Nicest Kids in Town" from Hairspray.
"You gotta really scream!" teacher Judine Somerville calls out as they mime their excitement. "This is live theater!" They segue into the audition number from A Chorus Line, "I Hope I Get It," their expressions becoming purposeful and slightly nervous. "Center stage is wherever I am," Somerville tells them when the music stops, making them repeat the words back to her. "Take that wherever you go."
Dance artists, as a rule, are a resilient bunch. But working in a studio in New York City without heat or electricity in the middle of winter? That's not just crazy; it's unhealthy, and too much to ask of anyone.
Unfortunately, Brooklyn Studios for Dance hasn't had heat since mid-November, making it impossible for classes or performances to take place in the community-oriented center.
So what's a studio to do? Throw a massive dance party, of course.
As winter sets in, your muscles may feel tighter than they did in warmer weather. You're not imagining it: Cold weather can cause muscles to lose heat and contract, resulting in a more limited range of motion and muscle soreness or stiffness.
But dancers need their muscles to be supple and fresh, no matter the weather outside. Here's how to maintain your mobility during the colder months so your dancing isn't affected:
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A newly launched initiative hopes to change the face of ballet, both onstage and behind the scenes. Called "The Equity Project: Increasing the Presence of Blacks in Ballet," the three-year initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is a partnership between Dance Theatre of Harlem, the International Association of Blacks in Dance and Dance/USA.
"We've seen huge amounts of change in the years since 1969, when Dance Theatre of Harlem was founded," says Virginia Johnson, artistic director of DTH. "But change is happening much too slowly, and it will continue to be too slow until we come to a little bit more of an awareness of what the underlying issues are and what needs to be done to address them."
From the outside, it seemed like the worst of New York City Ballet's problems were behind them last winter, when ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired amid accusations of abuse and sexual harassment, and an internal investigation did not substantiate those claims.
But further troubles were revealed in August when a scandal broke that led to dancer Chase Finlay's abrupt resignation and the firing of fellow principals Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro. All three were accused of "inappropriate communications" and violating "norms of conduct."
The artistic director sets the tone for a dance company and leads by example. But regardless of whether Martins, and George Balanchine before him, established a healthy organization, the issues at NYCB bespeak an industry-wide problem, says Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, founding artistic director of Urban Bush Women. "From New York City Ballet to emerging artists, we've just done what's been handed down," she observes. "That has not necessarily led to great practices."
If you've ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at Dance Magazine, now's your chance to find out. Dance Magazine is seeking an editorial intern who's equally passionate about dance and journalism.
Through March 1, we are accepting applications for a summer intern to assist our staff onsite in New York City from June to August. The internship includes an hourly stipend and requires a minimum two-day-a-week commitment. (We do not provide assistance securing housing.)
For the past few months, the dance world has been holding its collective breath, waiting for New York City Ballet to announce who will take over the helm as artistic director.
Though former ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired over a year ago after accusations of sexual harassment and abuse (an internal investigation did not corroborate the accusations), the search for a new leader didn't begin until last May.
Nine months later, the new director's name could be released any day now. And we have some theories about who it might be:
Some people take this profession as just a chapter of their life. They feel like dance is a job—a fun job, but a job. Other people live their life through dance. I never considered being a ballerina a profession. It's a lifestyle.
If I don't have a performance, I feel like a tiger trapped in a cage. I have so many emotions, I feel I need to give them to somebody, to exhaust myself—I need to cry or laugh, or else it's suffocating. Other people might scream or throw bottles into the wall. We dancers scream onstage through our movement. For me, it's like sweeping off the dust in my soul.
Back in 2011, Yale University's dean of science was thinking about refreshing the program's offerings for non-majors when he happened upon a Pilobolus performance. A light bulb went off: Dance is full of physics.
That realization led to what has become an eight-year collaboration between particle physicist Sarah Demers and former New York City Ballet dancer Emily Coates, both professors at Yale who were brought together to co-teach a course called The Physics of Dance. Their partnership has involved everything from directing a short film to presenting a TedX Talk and performing a piece that Coates created, commissioned by Danspace Project. This month, they're publishing a book about what they've discovered by dialoging across two seemingly disparate disciplines.
Sebastian Abarbanell remembers being asked as an undergrad at Trinity Laban in London to perform wearing only a dance belt. "I said no," he says, "because I felt uncomfortable." Now a performer with Sidra Bell Dance New York, he's performed partially nude several times, without reservation. The difference? "It comes with more experience and maturing as a dancer," he says. "When you see a dancer living in their skin, you don't need to put anything else on them. When I said no in college, I wasn't in my skin yet."
Getting in your skin—and getting comfortable wearing only your skin onstage—requires a particular alchemy of vulnerability, agency, preparation and practice.
What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.
Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
Though Polunin has long had a reputation for behaving inappropriately, in the last month his posts have been somewhat unhinged. In one, Polunin, who is Ukrainian, shows off his new tattoo of Vladimir Putin:
Just before retiring in 2015, Sylvie Guillem appeared on "HARDtalk with Zeinab Badawi," the BBC's hard-hitting interview program. Badawi told Guillem,
"Clement Crisp of the Financial Times, 14 years ago, described your dancing as vulgar."
"Yeah, well, he said that. But at the same time, when they asked Margot Fonteyn what she thought about lifting the leg like this she said, 'Well, if I could have done it, I would have done it.' "
They were discussing Guillem's signature stroke—her 180-degree leg extension à la seconde. Ballet legs had often flashed about in the higher zones between 135 and 160 degrees before. But it wasn't until the virtuoso French ballerina regularly
extended her leg beside her ear with immaculate poise in the 1980s that leg extensions for ballet dancers in classical roles reached their zenith. Traditionalists like Clement Crisp were not taken with it.
Birmingham Royal Ballet announced today that international star Carlos Acosta will be taking over as director in January of 2020. Current BRB director David Bintley will be stepping down this summer, at the end of the company's 2019 season, after a 24-year tenure. "It is a tremendous honor and privilege to have been appointed to lead Birmingham Royal Ballet," Acosta said in a statement.
Since retiring from The Royal Ballet in 2015, Acosta has focused much of his attention on his native Cuba, where he's proven his directorial abilities at the helm of Acosta Danza, the contemporary company that he founded in 2016. In 2017 Acosta also opened his first Dance Academy through his foundation, which provides free training to students. We don't yet know how Acosta will balance his time between his projects in Cuba and his new role at BRB.
My personal life has taken a nosedive since I broke up with my boyfriend. He's in the same show and is now dating one of my colleagues. It's heartbreaking to see them together, and I'm determined never to date a fellow dancer again. But it's challenging to find someone outside, as I practically live in the theater. Do you have any advice?
—Loveless, New York, NY
The inimitable Carol Channing, best known for her role as the titular Hello, Dolly!, passed away today at 97.
Though she became a three-time Tony winner, Channing was born in Seattle, far from the Great White Way, in 1921. After growing up in San Francisco, she attended the famed Bennington College, studying dance and drama. She later told the university, "What Bennington allows you to do is develop the thing you're going to do anyway, over everybody's dead body." For Channing, that meant decades of fiery, comical performances, bursting with energy.
Something's coming, I don't know when
But it's soon...maybe tonight?
Those iconic lyrics have basically been our #mood ever since we first heard a remake of the West Side Story film, directed by Steven Spielberg and choreographed by Justin Peck, was in the works. THE CASTING. THE CASTING WAS COMING.
Well, last night—after an extensive search process that focused on finding the best actors within the Puerto Rican/Latinx community—the WSS team finally revealed who'll be playing Maria, Anita, Bernardo, and Chino (joining Ansel Elgort, who was cast as Tony last fall). And you guys: It is a truly epic group.
Rehearsal is in full swing, and Leta Biasucci, Pacific Northwest Ballet's newest principal dancer, finds herself in unfamiliar territory. Biasucci is always game for a challenge, but choreographer Kyle Davis wants her to lift fellow dancer Clara Ruf Maldonado. Repeatedly. While she's known for her technical prowess, lifting another dancer off the floor is a bit daunting for Biasucci, who stands all of 5' 3". She eyes Maldonado skeptically, then breaks into a grin.
"It's absolutely given me a new appreciation for the partner standing behind me!" Biasucci says with a laugh.
Looking at Biasucci, 29, with her wide smile and eager curiosity, you think you see the quintessential extrovert. In reality, she's anything but. "I was an introverted kid," Biasucci says. "That's part of the reason I fell in love with dance—I didn't have to be talkative."
It's only one of the seeming contradictions in Biasucci's life: She's a short, muscular ballerina in a company known for its fleet of tall, long-legged women; she's also most comfortable with classical ballet, while taking on a growing repertoire of contemporary work.
Sergei Polunin, whose recent homophobic and sexist Instagram posts have sparked international outrage, will not be appearing with the Paris Opéra Ballet as previously announced.
POB artistic director Aurélie Dupont sent an internal email to company staff and dancers on Sunday, explaining that she did not share Polunin's values and that the Russian-based dancer would not be guesting with the company during the upcoming run of Rudolf Nureyev's Swan Lake in February.