They're Major Names Now, But We Spotted These 9 Dancers When They Were "On the Rise"
Each month at Dance Magazine, we zero in on budding talent in our "On the Rise" department. Our writers across the country and beyond are continually on the lookout for the dancers and choreographers who are bound to be majors names in the years to come.
With 2018 coming to a close, what better time to check in with some of our former "On the Rise" artists? We hate to say we told you so, but these dancers—like Michelle Dorrance and Sara Mearns—have since hit it big.
Then: Back in 2006, Mearns was a New York City Ballet soloist. She told writer Dena Abergel:
"...my goal right now is to grow into my own way of dancing and not to copy anyone else. I want to continue working on articulation and control and make the most of each opportunity."
Now: Currently a principal, Mearns is a true original, and her talents aren't just limited to NYCB. She's also become quite the crossover queen, sharing programs with postmodern choreographer Jodi Melnick and hip-hop duo Company Wang Ramirez. She's even danced the work of Isadora Duncan, and this spring, she'll star in New York City Center's reboot of the musical I Married an Angel, directed and choreographed by Mearns' husband Joshua Bergasse.
Then: In 2005, Dorrance was a sought-after tapper, hoofing it in works by giants like Savion Glover and Barbara Duffy. Though her choreography wasn't quite in the picture yet, Jane Goldberg wrote about Dorrance saying,
...the classes Dorrance teaches at Broadway Dance Center in New York City are filled to the max. As she works out her complex rhythms and phrases to Ani DiFranco or Thelonius Monk, "referencing" her mentors like Glover, Walker, and Medler, Dorrance is showing a new generation of dancers how to hit the floor and carry on the traditions of tap..."My ultimate dream is to give as much as I've been given to."
Now: It's safe to say that Dorrance has accomplished that mission—and that she's continuing it. The genre-bending tap choreographer graced our 90th-anniversary cover and was named one of DM's Most Influential People in Dance Today in 2017. She also received a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship and even created work on American Ballet Theatre.
Then: In 2011, Esty, was turning heads as a Miami City Ballet corps member, dancing under then-director Edward Villella with her twin sister Leigh-Ann. Gullermo Perez wrote:
Her twin believes Sara could shine on Broadway as well. It's no surprise, then, that on Sara's dream list are the lead in Rubies and a chance to light up Robbins' West Side Story Suite. "Anything jazzy is right up my alley," she says.
Now: Esty has fulfilled her Broadway dreams. She danced in the ensemble of Christopher Wheeldon's An American in Paris before starring as Lise Dassin in the touring production. More recently, she was Maggie in New York City Center's reboot of A Chorus Line. You can even spot her on Amazon Prime as an extra in Season 2, Episode 7 of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel."
Then: In 2015, we praised Hayward, then a Royal Ballet soloist. Laura Cappelle wrote:
...Francesca Hayward is fast and fleet, her dainty lines bending with expressive ease...[She's] on the fast track to leading classical roles in London.
Now: Hayward is a beloved principal at The Royal, where she's danced leads such as Juliet, Manon, Titania, and Aurora. She'll soon make the leap to the big screen, where she's reportedly playing Victoria in the new CATS movie. (She has temporarily stepped away from performances at The Royal during filming.)
Then: In 2005, Lane was a promising corps dancer at American Ballet Theatre. Kate Lydon wrote:
Even in corps roles—like the peasants in Swan Lake or the wilis in Giselle—her intensity, stage presence, full ports de bras, and uplift make her stand out.
Now: After 10 years as a soloist, Lane became a principal at ABT in September 2017. Along the way, she was named a Princess Grace Award winner, served as Natalie Portman's dance double in Black Swan and has charmed audiences in numerous lead roles, like Giselle and Princess Praline in Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream.
Then: In 2007, Khobdeh had been with the Paul Taylor Dance Company for less than five seasons. Taylor, however, had already singled her out for a role in his new Lines of Loss. Hanna Rubin wrote:
There's a hint of abandon in the way Parisa Khobdeh dances. Her movement has a free and easy quality. The steps seem to flow effortlessly, as though she'd heard the music for the first time and couldn't stop dancing..."She makes it fun," says Taylor, "which is the way it's supposed to look."
By the end of 2012, Khobdeh was featured on DM's cover.
Now: A senior Taylor dancer, Khobdeh remains an enchanting presence in Taylor's work. Earlier this month, she performed with Michael Trusnovec at the Dance Magazine Awards, where Trusnovec was being honored.
Then: In 2007, Cerrudo was a notable dancer with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. His first work for the company had only premiered a year prior. Hedy Weiss wrote:
When describing the way Alejandro Cerrudo moves onstage, "loose" is the operative word. He's like a silky paintbrush that has been dipped in black ink and then swept, free-form, across a white page... And this lovely looseness carries over to Cerrudo's own work as a choreographer—an area of endeavor in which he also has begun to enjoy success.
Now: The well-known choreographer has created and set contemporary works at numerous companies, and has become a favorite of troupes like Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet.
Then: In 2013, Green was one of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's newer company members and already a standout onstage. Lauren Phoenix Kay wrote:
...in Ailey's trademark Revelations, her unabashed joy, attention to detail, and regal steadiness carried her through with a maturity rare in a relative newcomer.
Now: By August 2015, she was on our cover. Green continues to command the stage in everything from the prominent "umbrella" role in Revelations to Rennie Harris' new full-length Exodus.
Then: In 2005, Matthew Neenan was a dancer at Pennsylania Ballet whose choreographic career was quickly gaining ground at PAB and with commissions elsewhere. One year prior, he'd co-founded BalletX. Brenda Dixon Gottschild wrote:
Choreographically, Neenan creates bilingual works for a multicultural world. His classical grammar is filled with contemporary vocabulary...Roy Kaiser, [then-artistic director of PAB], says that sometimes he has to remind himself "that Matt's a dancer first with PAB. As a choreographer he's kept my attention because of his fertile imagination."
Now: Neenan's name is now known far beyond Pennsylvania. He sets and create works at ballet companies across the country, while remaining choreographer in residence at Pennsylvania Ballet. This year, NYCB commissioned him to create a work for their Fall Fashion Gala.
Alicia Alonso's famed ballet company in Cuba has a new leader: the beloved hometown prima ballerina Viengsay Valdés.
Ballet Nacional of Cuba just named Valdés deputy artistic director, which means she will immediately assume the daily responsibilities of running the company. Alonso, 98, will retain the title of general director, but in practice, Valdés will be the one making all the artistic decisions.
I'm terrified of performing choreography that changes directions. I messed up last year when the stage lights caused me to become disoriented. What can I do to prevent this from happening again? I can perform the combination just fine in the studio with the mirror.
—Scared, San Francisco, CA
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."
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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:
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.
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.
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.
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.