Christopher Jones, courtesy of Martha Graham Dance Company

On the Rise: Leslie Andrea Williams

Martha Graham said that it takes 10 years to become a Graham dancer. But two years into her job with the Martha Graham Dance Company, Leslie Andrea Williams is well on her way, as luminous in the classics as she is in the troupe's more contemporary repertory. Whether mastering the sculptural specificity of Graham's Diversion of Angels (she's the stately Woman in White) or relishing the droll humor of Annie-B Parson's I used to love you, she's a dancer who can do it all.


Company: Martha Graham Dance Company

Age: 23

Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina

Training: University of North Carolina School of the Arts (high school program, ballet concentration), The Juilliard School

Courtesy of Martha Graham Dance Company

Meeting Martha: Williams studied Graham technique in her first two years at Juilliard, but it was performing in Dark Meadow during her senior year that drew her into the choreographer's imagination. "Actually being involved in a story ballet and getting in touch with a character—that really exposed me to Graham," she says.

"She has nerves of steel. She has absolutely no compunction about standing on one leg for five minutes or taking on a speaking role." —Janet Eilber

Audition adventure: After seeing her dance at Juilliard, Janet Eilber, the Graham company's artistic director, invited Williams to audition. Just minutes from the end of the intense two-day process, Williams strained her shoulder and had to spend the rest of the time icing it. "I was thinking, 'I did the best I could, and this is really unfortunate.' " But that didn't deter Eilber from offering her a contract on the spot. "I was smiling and crying all at the same time," Williams recalls.

Beyond Graham: Williams has also performed in music videos, including two by Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange). "I'm trying to put myself out there as a dancer and find ways to collaborate across art forms—fashion, music, visual art, all of it." She shares her fashion finds at lezandrea.tumblr.com.

What her director is saying: "She has attack and flexibility in her legs, expressive range in her arms. But she also has an innate understanding of character," says Eilber. "She's able to fulfill roles that would usually go to a much more mature dancer, like the Pioneering Woman in Appalachian Spring."

Tuning up and out: For body maintenance, Williams swears by the massages and acupuncture at Fishion Herb Center in Manhattan's Chinatown: "It's so cheap, and they really get in there." Her recipe for relaxation after a long day? "An Epsom salt bath and a glass of wine. I always do that, even on tour."

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Luke Isley, Courtesy Ballet West

How Do Choreographers Bring Something Fresh to Music We've Heard Over and Over?

In 2007, Oregon Ballet Theatre asked Nicolo Fonte to choreograph a ballet to Maurice Ravel's Boléro. "I said, 'No way. I'm not going near it,' " recalls Fonte. "I don't want to compete with the Béjart version, ice skaters or the movie 10. No, no, no!"

But Fonte's husband encouraged him to "just listen and get a visceral reaction." He did. And Bolero turned into one of Fonte's most requested and successful ballets.

Not all dance renditions of similar warhorse scores have worked out so well. Yet the irresistible siren song of pieces like Stravinsky's The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, as well as the perennial Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, seem too magnetic for choreographers to ignore.

And there are reasons for their popularity. Some were commissioned specifically for dance: Rite and Firebird for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes; Boléro for dance diva Ida Rubinstein's post–Ballets Russes troupe. Hypnotic rhythms (Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel) and danceable melodies (Bizet's Carmen) make a case for physical eye candy. Audience familiarity can also help box office receipts. Still, many choreographers have been sabotaged by the formidable nature and Muzak-y overuse of these iconic compositions.

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