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On the Rise: Natasha Sheehan
With her delicate movement quality and a silken jump, at age 17 Natasha Sheehan became the youngest winner of the International Competition for the Erik Bruhn Prize this past November. The rookie San Francisco Ballet corps dancer flawlessly embodied the ghostly Giselle, and her emotional performance stood out in an arena typically showcasing athletic prowess. The spellbound audience and judges agreed: Sheehan's profound artistry and self-assurance belie her years.
Company: San Francisco Ballet
Hometown: San Francisco
Training: SFB School since age 11, nine months after her first dance lesson
Accolades: 2016 female winner of the Erik Bruhn Prize, Dizzy Feet Foundation's Angelina Ballerina scholarship recipient
Here and above: Sheehan with Angelo Greco at the Erik Bruhn Competition. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic, Courtesy SFB.
Breakout moment: Last season, while still an SFB trainee, Sheehan danced one of the Four Little Swans in Swan Lake. "After that, I felt I could accomplish anything," she says, "because it required so much precision, focus and strength to dance as one." Soon after, artistic director Helgi Tomasson hired her full-time. He later chose her to be the company's female representative at the Erik Bruhn Prize, despite her not meeting the competition's usual minimum age requirement of 18.
"She really does seem born to dance. I am
completely fascinated by her." —Helgi Tomasson
A budding artist: "She's not just focused on the technique but the meaning behind it," says SFB School associate director Patrick Armand. "She's a very sensitive person and what you see is the emotion she can put through her dancing. You can't teach that."
Juggling high school with a company job: Presently in 12th grade, Sheehan takes online courses, often studying before class and between rehearsals. "With the kind of family I've got, not doing school is not an option." (Her mom is a writer, her dad is a content tech strategist and both paternal grandparents are history professors.)
Embracing her roles: Sheehan confesses that she sometimes overintellectualizes her dancing. "Getting my head around the storyline or concept of the choreography without overthinking is my biggest artistic challenge," she says.
Photo by Karolina Kuras, Courtesy SFB
Fueling her dancing: Sheehan plans to become a nutritionist once she finishes dancing. She steers clear of processed foods and snacks on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, probiotic yogurt, hummus and avocados. Each morning, she sips kombucha and a cup of green tea with lemon.
What Tomasson says: "I watched her doing Snowflakes during Nutcracker, serene and confident onstage despite the chaos around her. She's the calm at the middle of the storm. A dancer like this comes along only so rarely. I think she's a major talent."
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.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
What is an acceptable request from a choreographer in terms of nudity? On the first day of shooting All That Jazz in the 1970s, Bob Fosse asked us men to remove everything but our jock straps and the women to remove their tops. His rationale was to shock us in order to build character, and it felt disloyal to refuse. Would this behavior be considered okay today?
As much as audiences might flock to Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, ballet can't only rely on old war horses if it wants to remain relevant. But building new full-lengths from scratch isn't exactly cheap.
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.
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.