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Become a Better Partner: Tips for Men
In ballet partnering, the male dancer has important responsibilities beyond technically supporting his ballerina. My partnerships with New York City Ballet principal dancers Kyra Nichols, Jenifer Ringer and Wendy Whelan gave me years of experience in adapting to their different needs to create more effective onstage collaborations. Here are some tips for male ballet dancers to consider As they advance in their training and career.
(For tips for female dancers, click here.)
Learn Her Sense of Musicality
Philip Neal and Kyra Nichols in Balanchine's Serenade, photo by Paul Kolnik
A great partner tunes into a ballerina's sense of music, tempo, timing. It's vital to adapt to her needs in the moment without losing yourself. "For me, a partner needed to be intuitive, to understand my musicality. It's a live art and things happen. You can't rehearse away spontaneity," says Kyra Nichols. I learned all of Kyra's choreography to anticipate how she may interpret any given step, especially with a change in conductor. We didn't practice any combinations before the curtain rose, but rather trusted in our unspoken, visceral bond.
Develop Emotional Sensitivity
Philip Neal with Jenifer Ringer. Photo by Paul Kolnik
One must also develop an emotional awareness to what his partner is currently feeling. Ballet requires the dancer to tap into an authentic emotional place. Sensitively responding to one's partner respects the dynamics of the interpersonal relationship.
"There is an element of sacrifice that the best partners have where they will do what must be done to help the ballerina be successful in her step," says Jenifer Ringer. "No matter how much you rehearse, emotions in the moment could change how two individuals dancing together might execute any step."
Shepherd Each Other through Vulnerability
Philip Neal with Wendy Whelan. Photo by Paul Kolnik
Throughout the rehearsal process and performance, dancers are vulnerable, subject to criticism and injury. An exceptional partner always has his ballerina's back. She must trust you, not only with her physical safety, but also for emotional support. Often in larger companies, there can be an onus on dancers to prepare without extensive supervision. Dancers may have to rely on each other for another set of compassionate eyes.
"I've always worked best with a partner when I have felt an energetic chemistry—a creative chemistry," says Wendy Whelan. "It certainly always helped for me to have a musical partner, but more than anything else I had to be able to share myself with that person in order to work through challenges with honesty and have fun with them." My rehearsals with Wendy could be a riotously good time. We shared a similar sense of humor and our banter sometimes resembled an episode of "Will & Grace." But we always remained focused, helping each other through some challenging circumstances.
Know When to Get Out of the Way
Philip Neal and Kyra Nichols, photo by Kyle Froman
Even though it's called a partnership, sometimes you'll have to step back and give her breathing room. Partnering is also no place for grandstanding. I personally searched for a balance between self-display and deferential modesty. "For me, a partner needed to be there when I needed him and not intrusive when I didn't," says Nichols. I partnered Kyra by her fingertips, often maneuvering her wrists instead of her hands. I kept quite a distance between our bodies to magnify the illusion of her self-sufficiency. And I didn't touch her waist until after she started her own turns (but I credit Mr. Balanchine for that bit of ingenuity).
Find Mutual Camaraderie
Philip Neal and Wendy Whelan. Photo by Paul Kolnik
Building a great partnership is like any successful relationship. You grow in it together and you change together. Support each other in your solo work. Dancers should become technically and emotionally available to each other, deepening the sense of camaraderie. There's a partnership beyond the pas de deux.
Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!
While Solange was busy helping big sis Beyoncé give Coachella its best performances of all time, an equally compelling project was quietly circulating on Instagram:
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
In his final bow at New York City Ballet, during what should have been a heroic conclusion to a celebrated ballet career, Robert Fairchild slipped and fell. His reaction? To lie down flat on his back like he meant to do it. Then start cracking up at himself.
"He's such a ham," says his sister Megan Fairchild, with a laugh. "He's really good at selling whatever his body is doing that day. He'll turn a moment that I would totally go home and cry about into something where the audience is like, 'That's the most amazing thing ever!' "
New York City Ballet continues its first year without Peter Martins at the helm as our spring season opens tonight.
When he retired at the start of the new year, we plunged headfirst into unknown, murky waters. Who would the new director be? When would we know? Would we dancers get some say in the decision? Who would oversee the Balanchine ballets? Who would be in charge of casting? Would a new director bring along huge upheaval? Could some of us be out of a job?
In the world of ballet, Arcadian Broad is a one-stop shop: He'll come up with a story, compose its music, choreograph the movement and dance it himself. But then Broad has always been a master of versatility. As a teenager he juggled school, dance and—after the departure of his father—financial responsibility. It was Broad's income from dancing that kept his family afloat. Fast-forward six years and things are far more stable. Broad now lives on his own in an apartment, but you can usually find him in the studio.
Bales of hay, black umbrellas, bicycles—this Midsummer Night's Dream would be unrecognizable to the Bard. Alexander Ekman's full-length, inspired by Scandinavian solstice traditions and set to music by Mikael Karlsson, is a madcap celebration of the longest day of the year, when the veil between our world and that of the supernatural is said to be at its thinnest. The Joffrey Ballet's performances mark the seductively surreal work's North American premiere. April 25–May 6. joffrey.org.
"There's an ancient energy in Fana's movement, a deep and trusted knowing," says Jeff, director of the Chicago-based Deeply Rooted Dance Theater. "Because I witnessed the raw humanity of his dancer's souls, I wanted my dancers to have that experience."
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.