Pam Tanowitz. Photo by Sara Kerens, Courtesy Tanowitz

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

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.

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Skylar Brandt's Taste in Music Is as Delightful as Her Dancing

American Ballet Theatre soloist Skylar Brandt's dancing is clean, precise and streamlined. It's surprising, then, to learn that her taste in music is "all over the place," she says. (Even more surprising is that Brandt, who has an Instagram following of over 80k, is "in the dark ages" when it comes to her music, and was buying individual songs on iTunes up until a year ago, when her family intervened with an Apple Music plan.)

Though what she's listening to at any given time can vary dramatically, the through-line for Brandt is nostalgia: songs that take her back, whether to childhood, a favorite movie or a piece she's recently performed. Brandt told us about her eclectic taste, and made us a playlist that will keep you guessing:

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Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

NYCDA Is Redefining the Convention Scene Through Life-Changing Opportunities

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:

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Courtesy The Joyce

Dance Magazine Chairman's Award Honoree: Linda Shelton

In an industry that has been clamoring for more female leadership, Linda Shelton, executive director of New York City's The Joyce Theater Foundation since 1993, has been setting an example for decades. As a former general manager of The Joffrey Ballet, U.S. tour manager for the Bolshoi Ballet, National Endowment for the Arts panelist, Dance/NYC board member and Benois de la Danse judge, as well as a current Dance/USA board member, Shelton has served as a global leader in dance. In her tenure at The Joyce, she has not only increased the venue's commissioned programming, but also started presenting beyond The Joyce's walls in locations such as Lincoln Center.

What brought you to The Joyce?

That was many years ago, but it's still the same today: It's a belief in and passion for the mission of the theater, which is to support dance in all of its forms and varieties—every kind of dance that you could imagine.

Diversity is so important in dance leadership today. How do you approach this at The Joyce?

Darren Walker said something interesting at a Dance/NYC Symposium, which was that The Joyce is a disruptor. It was nice to hear in that context, because we don't think of it as something new. We didn't have to change our mission statement to be more diverse. We've been doing this since day one.

Is drawing in new audiences and maintaining longtime supporters ever in conflict?

Of course. I call it the blessing and the curse of our mission. We do present more experimental companies that may attract a younger audience. But it's very tricky. You're not going to tell your long-term audience, "Don't come and see this because you're not going to like the music." We've had people walk out of the theater before, but it's a response. It's important to spark those conversations.

What experimenting have you done?

We've tried a "pay what you decide" ticket the past couple of seasons with some of our more adventurous programming. You would reserve your seat for a dollar and after seeing the show pay what you decide is right for you.

Do you have advice for other dance presenters?

Find opportunities to sit with colleagues from around the country. At Dance/USA there's a presenters' council where we come together and talk about what we're putting in our seasons and what we're passionate about. Maybe there are enough presenters to collaborate and make it possible to bring a company to New York or to do a tour around the country.

Also, remember what it's all about: making that connection between what's onstage and the audience. If we can do that, despite every visa issue and missed flight and injury and changed program and whatever else comes our way, then we should feel good about the job we're doing.

To purchase tickets to the Dance Magazine Awards or become a sponsor, visit dancemediafoundation.org.

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