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These High Schoolers Collaborated with Pina Bausch Dancers for Possibly the Coolest Group Project Ever
Pina Bausch's unique form of German Tanztheater is known for raising questions. Amid water and soil, barstools and balloons, the late choreographer's work contains a distinct tinge of mystery and confrontation. Today, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch's dancers use questions as fuel for creativity. The company's most recent project introduced a new group of performers to the stage: local high school ninth-graders from the Gesamtschule Barmen in Wuppertal, Germany, in an original work-in-progress performance called Veränderung (Change).
Over the course of four weeks, 59 students, ages 14 to 16, worked with adult mentors in six groups—movement, music, costume, lighting, film and management—to conceptualize, stage and execute a live performance at Riedel Communications' black-box theater in Wuppertal. The production included dance and theater, light shows, live music, film segments, and imaginative costumes, all produced by students who are guided by local professionals in each of their fields.
Students had hands-on experience with Tanztheater Wuppertal dancers. Photo by Laszlo Szito, Courtesy Tanztheater Wuppertal.
Tanztheater Wuppertal dancers Rainer Behr and Silvia Farias Heredia, mentors to the movement group, had their work cut out for them: Most students had never seen a dance performance before, let alone had contact with Bausch's work. But the goal was to access students' creativity, not turn them into dancers. Behr compares the process to a gardener carefully digging up the earth to uncover hidden blooms beneath the surface. "It wasn't easy," he says. "The students are discovering so much. Their minds are buzzing jungles that never turn off, and we had to find a way to fit into that noise…to get them to be in their own element, and give structure to the chaos."
Questions that Spark Creativity
A scene from Veränderung. Photo by Laszlo Szito, Courtesy Tanztheater Wuppertal.
The mentors worked their way in by posing questions and developing students' answers into staged scenarios for this month's performance. The first question: What do you do when you're bored at home alone? The answers: A girl sways in front of a full-length mirror in a sequined party skirt and high heels; two boys lounge on a couch tapping their toes and snapping their fingers; a girl in a white coat blows feathers into the air and watches them fall to the ground; one person sketches in a notebook while another paces back and forth. These snapshots accumulated until the whole stage was filled with activity.
The questions, and scenarios, continued: Students staged a runway show where they critiqued each other's walks. They crept behind screens, and crouched among tree branches, their movements masked in shadow. They waded through imaginary water, and even experienced five minutes of lonely stillness in front of their peers. And interspersed throughout, the students danced, performing individual phrases that evoked the capture and release of energy—pushing and sweeping, circling one arm around the other, and dropping hands to the floor as though passing sand through their fingertips.
Students played with dramatic lighting and set pieces. Photo by Laszlo Szito, Courtesy Tanztheater Wuppertal.
Discovery at Any Age
Tanztheater Wuppertal has a history of community outreach. In 2000, Pina Bausch staged her work Kontakthof for a group of people over 60 years old, and again in 2008 for children under 14. Veränderung (Change) is part of the company's latest initiative, called "tanz, tanz …," supported by the Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne, which initiates collaborations with children of all ages. Ruth Amarante, company dancer and program leader, is passionate about this work. "We want to take people out of what they know and give them tools to create their own visions, no matter their ages," she says.
For the people of Wuppertal, discovery never ends. Vanessa Kraffczyk, a 15-year-old student, confirms how working with Tanztheater Wuppertal's dancers encouraged her to trust herself. "We were allowed to try anything we liked, and felt completely safe to experiment," she says. As a mentor, Behr is proud of what they achieved and is already eager for the next project. "In the studio with Pina," he says, "there was always space for us. That room—that level of loving honesty and trust to discover something new—is what our company wants to pass on."
When Rachel Hamrick was in the corps of Universal Ballet in Seoul, her determination to strengthen her flexibility turned into a side hobby that would eventually land her a new career. "I was in La Bayadere for the first time, and I was the first girl out for that arabesque sequence in The Kingdom of the Shades," she says. "I had the flexibility, but I was wobbly because I wasn't stretching in the right way. That's when I first started playing around with the idea of the Flexistretcher. It was tied together then, so it was definitely more makeshift," she says with a laugh, "But I trained with it to help me get the correct alignment so that I would have the strength to sustain the whole act."
Now, Hamrick is running her own business, complete with an ever-growing product line and her FLX training method—all because of her initial need to make it through 38 arabesques.
For the new Broadway season, Ellenore Scott has scored two associate choreographer gigs: For Head Over Heels, which starts previews June 23, Scott is working with choreographer Spencer Liff on an original musical mashing up The Go-Go's punk-rock hits with a narrative based on Sir Philip Sidney's 1590 book, Arcadia. Four days after that show opens, she'll head into rehearsals for this fall's King Kong, collaborating with director/choreographer Drew McOnie and a 20-foot gorilla.
Scott gave us the inside scoop about Head Over Heels, the craziness of her freelance hustle and the most surprising element of working on Broadway.
Dance in movies is a trend as old as time. Movies like The Red Shoes and Singin' in the Rain paved the way for Black Swan and La La Land; dancing stars like Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers led the way for Channing Tatum and Julianne Hough.
Lucky for us, some of Hollywood's most incredible dance scenes have been compiled into this amazing montage, featuring close to 300 films in only seven minutes. So grab the popcorn, cozy on up, and watch the moves that made the movies.
Broadway musicals have been on my mind for more than half a century. I discovered them in grade school, not in a theater but electronically. On the radio, every weeknight an otherwise boring local station would play a cast album in its entirety; on television, periodically Ed Sullivan's Sunday night variety show would feature an excerpt from the latest hit—numbers from Bye Bye Birdie, West Side Story, Camelot, Flower Drum Song.
But theater lives in the here and now, and I was in middle school when I attended my first Broadway musical, Gypsy—based, of all things, on the early life of the famed burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee. I didn't know who Jerome Robbins was, but I recognized genius when I saw it—kids morphing into adults as a dance number progresses, hilarious stripping routines, a pas de deux giving concrete shape to the romantic yearnings of an ugly duckling. It proved the birth of a lifelong habit, indulged for the last 18 years in the pages of this magazine. But all long runs eventually end, and it's time to say good-bye to the "On Broadway" column. It's not the last of our Broadway coverage—there's too much great work being created and performed, and you can count on hearing from me in print and online.
If you want to know how scary the AIDS epidemic was in the 1980s, come see Ishmael Houston-Jones' piece THEM from 1986. This piece reveals the subterranean fears that crept into gay relationships at the time. Houston-Jones is one of downtown's great improvisers, and his six dancers also improvise in response to his suggestions. With Chris Cochrane's edgy guitar riffs and Dennis Cooper's ominous text, there's an unpredictable, near-creepy but epic quality to THEM.
What is the right flooring system for us?
So many choices, companies, claims, endorsements, and recommendations to consider. The more you look, the more confusing it gets. Here is what you need to do. Here is what you need to know to get the flooring system suited to your needs.
This time last year, Catherine Conley was already living a ballet dancer's dream. After an exchange between her home ballet school in Chicago and the Cuban National Ballet School in Havana, she'd been invited to train in Cuba full-time. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and one that was nearly unheard of for an American dancer. Now, though, Conley has even more exciting news: She's a full-fledged member of the National Ballet of Cuba's corps de ballet.
"In the school there were other foreigners, but in the company I'm the only foreigner—not just the only American, but the only non-Cuban," Conley says. But she doesn't feel like an outsider, or like a dancer embarking on a historic journey. "Nobody makes me feel different. They treat me as one of them," she says. Conley has become fluent in Spanish, and Cuba has come to feel like home. "The other day I was watching a movie that was dubbed in Spanish, and I understand absolutely everything now," she says.
Chantel Aguirre may call sunny Los Angeles home, but the Shaping Sound company member and NUVO faculty member spends more time in the air, on a tour bus or in a convention ballroom than she does in the City of Angels.
Aguirre, who is married to fellow Shaping Sound member Michael Keefe, generally only spends one week per month at home. "When I'm not working, I'm exploring," Aguirre says. "Michael and I are total travel junkies."
Akram Khan and Florence Welch (of Florence + The Machine) is not a pairing we ever would have dreamt up. But now that the music video for "Big God" has dropped, with choreography attributed to Khan and Welch, it seems that we just weren't dreaming big enough.
In the video, Welch leads a group of women standing in an eerily reflective pool of water. They seem untouchable, until they begin shedding their colorful veils, movements morphing to become animalistic and aggressive as the song progresses.
Savannah Lowery is about as well acquainted with the inner workings of a hospital as she is with the intricate footwork of Dewdrop.
As a child, the former New York City Ballet soloist would roam the hospital where her parents worked, pushing buttons and probably getting into too much trouble, she says. While other girls her age were clad in tutus playing ballerina, she was playing doctor.
"It just felt like home. I think it made me not scared of medicine, not scared of a hospital," she says. "I thought it was fascinating what they did."
It can be hard to focus when Alice Sheppard dances.
Her recent sold-out run of DESCENT at New York Live Arts, for instance, offered a constellation of stimulation. Onstage was a large architectural ramp with an assortment of peaks and planes. There was an intricate lighting and projection design. There was a musical score that unfolded like an epic poem. There was a live score too: the sounds of Sheppard and fellow dancer Laurel Lawson's bodies interacting with the surfaces beneath them.
And there were wheelchairs. But if you think the wheelchairs are the center of this work, you're missing something vital about what Sheppard creates.
A Jellicle Ball is coming to the big screen, with the unlikeliest of dancemakers on tap to choreograph.
We'll give you some hints: His choreography can aptly be described as "animalistic," though Jellicle cats have never come to mind specifically when watching his hyper-physical work. He's worked on movies before—even one about Beasts. And though contemporary ballet is his genre of choice, his choreography is certainly theatrical enough to lend itself to a musical.