On the Rise: John & Leo Manzari
When John and Leo Manzari tear up the floor, their old-school rhythm tapping recalls brother acts of a time gone by—the Nicholas, Condos, and Hines brothers. Though the brothers may need a few years to catch up to their predecessors (Leo isn’t old enough to vote), the Manzaris recently blew the roof off Duke Ellington’s old stomping grounds, the Lincoln Theatre in Washington, DC. The brothers brought audiences to their feet in a flashy, record-breaking revival of Sophisticated Ladies, choreographed by Maurice Hines for the Arena Stage. Spiffy in their tuxedo pants and striped vests, the brothers playfully snagged the limelight from their mentor Hines. When they performed “Ko-Ko,” a rhythmic conversation that flitted, fluttered, and pounded before subsiding in an easy final handshake, The Washington Post called it one of the show’s highlights.
Hines first glimpsed 15-year-old Leo, with his riot of curls and shy smile, in a jazz master class a year ago at Washington’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts. “First I saw all this hair pop up, then I looked out and I thought, ‘Wow, who’s that?’ Later, he was sitting out so I went over to ask if he was OK. John spoke up: ‘Yeah, my brother’s OK.’”
When Hines heard the word “brother,” a chill went up his back. Ever since he picked out a young Savion Glover at another dance class and then passed the tap prodigy on to his own brother Gregory to mentor, Hines has been itching for a prodigy—or two—of his own. After class, Hines casually asked the boys if they could tap. “Uh huh,” John answered. It didn’t take long to demonstrate what he meant. Hines urged the brothers to try out for the Arena Stage production he was mounting. After the audition, Hines remembers, “I looked up to my brother Gregory and just said, ‘Thank you.’”
In performance, John, 18, has elegance and refinement, his arms as fluid as a ballet dancer’s, his head cocked slightly, expression serious, upper body floating atop nimble beat-emitting feet. Leo’s improvisations, in contrast, burst with bubbling foot syncopations, his hair tumbling, his arms akimbo, displaying an easy physicality as suited to the basketball court he also loves as much as to the dance floor.
The pair, born and raised in Washington, DC, has been dancing practically since they could toddle. Their mother Mary Manzari, a legal secretary, says that before they were even in preschool, strangers would stop to ask if her sons studied dance because the boys seemed like natural movers—and were always moving. They began dance lessons at age 3 (John) and 2 (Leo). Over the years they danced at several DC-area studios, building a solid foundation in tap, ballet, jazz, and hip hop. They also competed frequently, winning awards at New York City Dance Alliance, Onstage New York, Hall of Fame Dance Challenge, and a host of other competitions. These days the boys study ballet privately with Troy Brown in Washington, DC, and travel to New York for private tap classes with Anthony Morigerato, who has choreographed some of their numbers. “The fact is,” says John, “if you stay at one studio, you don’t get as many of the experiences from different teachers and different training that we’ve had.”
The brothers have started getting offers. This past summer they performed on the National Mall at the Kennedy Center with Branford Marsalis on a program that included the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, A Dance Company and on Fox TV’s So You Think You Can Dance and The Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. John has deferred his freshman year at Marymount Manhattan, depending on their dance commitments.
Both brothers turn to past greats for their tap inspiration. While Hines’ link to generations of tap dancers was the basement of New York’s Apollo Theater, inhaling the buck and wing, time steps, Maxie Fords and friendly but competitive banter from the likes of Fayard Nicholas, “Baby Laurence,” Teddy Hale, Charles “Honi” Coles and a slew of others, YouTube is the Manzaris’ new theater basement.
After he finishes classes at the private Field School, Leo goes home to surf the web with his brother looking for old black-and-white clips. “Watching videos has given both of us a lot of material,” said Leo. “I look at other people’s styles and try to make it my own. Like Gregory Hines said in one video, ‘You take it and then you try to shape it.’ ” Leo names some of 20th-century tap’s greatest stars as influences: the Nicholas brothers, “Buck and Bubbles,” Sammy Davis, Jr., and the Hines brothers, whom he and John first saw on Sesame Street.
Hines notes that an old-school show like Sophisticated Ladies demands triple-threat dancers who can sing, act, and dance everything from jitterbug to Ailey-style contemporary in addition to tap. “When these boys came to me, they were raw, but they had that something,” said Hines, 66, who has taken the pair under his wing. The boys’ mother, who serves as her sons’ manager, uses Hines as a sounding board, calling him to seek advice about potential performance opportunities. And when the boys see Hines in New York, he checks out their latest routines and gives them the nod.
“What John and Leo have is above charisma,” Hines says. “The audience adores them the minute they see them. And they are growing and getting better and better. Right now my job is to guide them the way I was guided.”
Lisa Traiger writes on theater, dance and the arts from Rockville, MD.
Photo by Scott Suchman, courtesy Arena Stage
Choosing music for your first-ever choreography commission can feel daunting enough. But when you're asked to create a ballet using the vast discography of the Rolling Stones—and you happen to be dating Stones frontman Mick Jagger—the stakes are even higher.
So it's understandable that as of Monday, American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Melanie Hamrick, whose Port Rouge will have its U.S. premiere tonight at the Youth America Grand Prix gala, was still torn about which songs to include.
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So where can companies find the money?
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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Today—April 16, 2019—marks what would have been Merce Cunningham's 100th birthday. As dancers from Los Angeles to New York City to London gear up for Night of 100 Solos (the marathon performance event being livestreamed today), and as companies and presenters worldwide continue to celebrate the Cunningham Centennial through their programming, we searched through the Dance Magazine Archives to unearth our favorite images of the groundbreaking dancemaker.
A bright disposition with a dab of astringent charm is how I remember Brock Hayhoe, a National Ballet School of Canada schoolmate. Because we were a couple years apart, we barely brushed shoulders, except at the odd Toronto dance party where we could dance all night with mutual friends letting our inhibitions subside through the music. Dancing always allows a deeper look.
But, as my late great ballet teacher Pyotr Pestov told me when I interviewed him for Dance Magazine in 2009, "You never know what a flower is going to look like until it opens up."
One night. Three cities. Seventy-five dancers. And three unique sets of 100 solos, all choreographed by Merce Cunningham.
This incredible evening of dance will honor Cunningham's 100th birthday on April 16. The Merce Cunningham Trust has teamed up with The Barbican in London, the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City and the Center for the Art of Performance in Los Angeles for a tri-city celebration.
The best part? You don't have to be in those cities to watch—Night of 100 Solos is being live-streamed in its entirety for free.
When George Balanchine's full-length Don Quixote premiered in 1965, critics and audiences alike viewed the ballet as a failure. Elaborate scenery and costumes framed mawkish mime passages, like one in which the ballerina washed the Don's feet and dried them with her hair. Its revival in 2005 by Suzanne Farrell, the ballerina on whom it was made and to whom Balanchine left the work, did little to alter its reputation.
Yet at New York City Center's Balanchine festival last fall, some regretted its absence.
"I'd want to see Balanchine's Don Quixote," says Apollinaire Scherr, dance critic for the Financial Times. "It was a labor of love on his part, and a love letter as well. And you want to know what that looks like in his work."
Even great choreographers make mistakes. Sometimes they fail on a grand scale, like Don Quixote; other times it may be a minor misstep. Experiment and risk help choreographers grow, but what happens when a choreographer of stature misfires? Should the work remain in the repertory? And what about a work that fails on some levels but not others?
After the horrific March 15 terrorist attacks at two New Zealand mosques, the music and arts community sprang into action to plan a way to help victims and their families. A series of resulting concerts, titled "You Are Us/Aroha Nui," will take place in New Zealand (April 13 and 17), Jersey City, New Jersey (April 17) and Los Angeles (April 18). Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Our People, Our City Fund, which was established by the Christchurch Foundation to aid those affected by the attacks.
Throughout 2019, the Merce Cunningham Trust continues a global celebration that will be one of the largest tributes to a dance artist ever. Under the umbrella of the Merce Cunningham Centennial are classes and workshops, film screenings and festivals, art exhibitions and symposia, and revivals and premieres of original works inspired by the dancemaker's ideas. The fever peaks on April 16, which would have been the pioneering choreographer's 100th birthday, with Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event, featuring a total of 75 dancers in three performances live-streamed from London, Los Angeles and New York City.
Cloud & Victory gets dancers. The dancewear brand's social media drools over Roberto Bolle's abs, sets classical variations to Beyoncé and moans over Mondays and long adagios. And it all comes from the mind of founder Tan Li Min, the boss lady who takes on everything from designs to inventory to shipping orders.
Known simply (and affectionately) to the brand's 41K Instagram followers as Min, she's used her wry, winking sense of humor to give the Singapore-based C&V international cachet.
She recently spoke with Dance Magazine about building the brand, overcoming insecurity and using pizza as inspiration.
The Ballet Memphis New American Dance Residency, which welcomes selected choreographers for its inaugural iteration next week, goes a step beyond granting space, time and dancers for the development of new work.
This is huge news, so we'll get straight to it:
We now (finally!) know who'll be appearing onscreen alongside Ariana DeBose and the other previously announced leads in Steven Spielberg's remake of West Side Story, choreographed by Justin Peck. Unsurprisingly, the Sharks/Jets cast list includes some of the best dancers in the industry.
The pleasure of watching prodigies perform technical feats on Instagram can be tinged with a sense of trepidation. Impressive tricks, you think, but do they have what it takes for an actual career?
Just look at 18-year-old Maria Khoreva, who has more followers than most seasoned principals; in videos, her lines and attention to detail suggested a precocious talent, and led to a Nike ambassador contract before she even graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Still, when she joined the Mariinsky Ballet last summer, there was no guarantee any of it would translate to stage prowess.
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.
At six feet tall, Jesse Obremski dances as though he's investigating each movement for the first time. His quiet transitional moments are as astounding as his long lines, bounding jumps and seamless floorwork. Add in his versatility and work ethic, and it's clear why he's an invaluable asset to New York City choreographers. Currently a freelance artist with multiple contemporary groups, including Gibney Dance Company and Limón Dance Company, Obremski also choreographs for his recently formed troupe, Obremski/Works.
Last night at Parsons Dance's 2019 gala, the company celebrated one of our own: DanceMedia owner Frederic M. Seegal.
In a speech, artistic director David Parsons said that he wanted to honor Seegal for the way he devotes his energy to supporting premier art organizations, "making sure that the arts are part of who we are," he said.
It's a bit of an understatement to say that Bob Fosse was challenging to work with. He was irritable, inappropriate and often clashed with his collaborators in front of all his dancers. Fosse/Verdon, which premieres on FX tonight, doesn't sugarcoat any of this.
But for Sasha Hutchings, who danced in the first episode's rendition of "Big Spender," the mood on set was quite opposite from the one that Fosse created. Hutchings had already worked with choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, who she calls "a dancer's dream," director Tommy Kail and music director Alex Lacamoire as a original cast member in Hamilton, and she says the collaborators' calm energy made the experience a pleasant one for the dancers.
"Television can be really stressful," she says. "There's so many moving parts and everyone has to work in sync. With Tommy, Andy and Lac I never felt the stress of that as a performer."