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NYCB's Choreographic Institute Rejected Pam Tanowitz Five Times. Now She's Readying Her Second Commission for the Company.

Pam Tanowitz. Photo by Sara Kerens, Courtesy Tanowitz

In the annals of dance history, 2019 may go down as the year Pam Tanowitz got the attention she deserved. In the past six months the New York City–based artist, 49, has brought her imaginative formalism to the Martha Graham Dance Company, New York City Ballet, the Paul Taylor Dance Company and the Kennedy Center's Ballet Across America festival. The recent recipient of an Alpert Award in the Arts, Tanowitz is not slowing down, with new works on deck for Vail Dance Festival this month and The Royal Ballet's Merce Cunningham celebration in October.


A couple of years ago we were talking about New York City Ballet, and you said something like "I've realized that's just not my world." Having come to that conclusion, how did you feel when they contacted you?

I was shocked. I think it just speaks to their new leadership. Throughout my career I applied to their choreographic institute about five times and got rejected.

In your first work for the company, Bartók Ballet, you experimented with partnering and gender roles in ways I've rarely seen on that stage. Was this a deliberate choice?

Absolutely. I do that a lot, not just at New York City Ballet, but in that framework it becomes more magnified. It's conscious and subconscious at the same time. In the main duet, the adagio, the dancers don't really touch except for one part, and that was done on purpose. I don't need to do a love-story, swooping, male-female duet. There are other ones people can look at if they want.

Your next work for NYCB premieres in April 2020. Have you started thinking about it?

The night of the spring gala I was backstage but came out to watch Balanchine's Theme and Variations, and I got ideas. [Smiles] It was inspiring to see. I already have music—a Ted Hearne orchestral piece. It's crazy music, but it's exciting.

Tanowitz watches NYCB dancers take a bow after the premiere of her Bartók Ballet.

Nina Westervelt, Courtesy Tanowitz

How do you juggle so many projects at once?

I go to the gym every morning and listen to music. And make sure I drink water. If I start the day like that, it's half the battle. I also do Pilates if I can. Other than that, I just try to methodically go through everything. I pick my music, and if I'm not sure what to do with one dance, I'll think about a different dance, and maybe that'll help me go back to the first one. I also have my dancers helping me with things, so if I'm already done choreographing something, I can send one of them to rehearse it.

What advice would you give to young choreographers?

It's hard to give advice because everyone's different. I guess what I would say is: You really have to spend the time in the studio. There's no shortcut.

In Memoriam
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

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 at New York's Metropolitan Opera House, 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.

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William Forsythe is bringing his multi-faceted genius to New York City in stripped down form. His "Quiet Evening of Dance," a mix of new and recycled work now at The Shed until October 25, is co-commissioned with Sadler's Wells in London (and a slew of European presenters).

As always, Forsythe's choreography is a layered experience, both kinetic and intellectual. This North American premiere prompted many thoughts, which I whittled down to seven.

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"Law & Order: SVU" has dominated the crime show genre for 21 seasons with its famous "ripped from the headlines" strategy of taking plot inspiration from real-life crimes.

So viewers would be forgiven for assuming that the new storyline following the son of Mariska Hargitay's character into dance class originated in the news cycle. After all, the mainstream media widely covered the reaction to Lara Spencer's faux pas on "Good Morning America" in August, when she made fun of Prince George for taking ballet class.

But it turns out, the storyline was actually the idea of the 9-year-old actor, Ryan Buggle, who plays Hargitay's son. And he came up with it before Spencer ever giggled at the word ballet.

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As a dietitian specializing in dance nutrition, the most common DM flooding my inbox is "How can I drop pounds (specifically from body fat) and gain muscle?"

The short answer? Not happening.

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