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
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."
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
We knew that Ivo van Hove and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's production of West Side Story would challenge our preconceived notions about the show.
But a recent Vogue story gives us a taste of just how nontraditional the Broadway revival will be. Most notably, van Hove is cutting "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet, condensing the show into one act to better reflect the urgency of the 48-hour plot. (The choice has been approved by the West Side Story estate, including Sondheim, who has "long been uncomfortable" with some of the "I Feel Pretty" lyrics.)
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.