The Choreography Festival That's Boosted the Careers of Danielle Agami, Joshua L. Peugh and Olivier Wevers
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.
Over the last two decades, the festival has attracted 38,118 audience members, placed 679 choreographers in the limelight and awarded over $650,000 in prize money. In recent years it has attracted more sophisticated talent as its reputation has grown globally—artists like Danielle Agami, Joshua L. Peugh and Olivier Wevers. That's what prompted French choreographer Manuel Vignoulle to enter the competition in 2017, when he won the festival's Grand Prize.
Manuel Vignoulle winning the Grand Prize. Jack Hartin Photography, Courtesy McCallum Theatre
Vignoulle was inspired to enter for a second year after having a positive first experience with the festival. "I saw that what I was doing was touching people there," he says. "They are so organized and they treat people really well." Vignoulle won again in 2018, with Earth, a trio tackling the interconnectedness of human relationships through juicy, dynamic partnering.
Vignoulle's EARTH. Jack Hartin Photography, Courtesy McCallum Theatre
He hopes to maintain a connection to the dance community in Palm Desert. "When you connect just once it's just nice, but if you see them several times, you start creating a relationship and it's about what we can share together," he says.
Danielle Rowe, an Australian, San Francisco-based choreographer, took the second place award last year for her pas de deux For Pixie, a turbulent yet poignant tribute to her grandparents."They couldn't live with or without each other, so they actually lived next door to each other most of their married life," she says. Rowe also taught a master class for Coachella Valley dance students during the competition weekend.
Danielle Rowe's For Pixie. Jack Hartin Photography, Courtesy McCallum Theatre
For Vignoulle, the experience has earned him recognition—and confidence. "It gave me self-esteem that pushes me to move forward, to be a bit more bold," he says. "And now I get more attention from bigger dance companies." He has since created a work for Adelphi University dancers, as well as a piece for the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, Texas. He also continues to make work for his own company, M/motions, which specializes in taking physicality to new limits.
Rowe, who acts as associate artistic director for SFDanceworks, has choreographed for San Francisco Ballet and Ballet Idaho since the competition. "It's nice to have validation that your work is liked enough to get an award," she says. "It gives me a little more confidence to keep going."
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
"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.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.
Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"
At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.
Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.