Pioneer Winter in rehearsal

Brett Hufziger, Courtesy Winter

Pioneer Winter's New Project Mines the Experiences of Underrepresented Queer People

Focusing, as always, on beauty outside the mainstream, Pioneer Winter has mobilized his "tropical militia"—a recently expanded group of collaborators—to document the trajectory of overlooked queer people. As the director-choreographer's most ambitious project to date, Birds of Paradise comes with an original score by Juraj Kojš and costume design by Chaplin Tyler—both firsts for Pioneer Winter Collective, one of our 2019 "25 to Watch." The dance-theater work, which stems from intimate LGBTQ+ experiences, embraces both rage and exultation. Commissioned by the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, which named Winter artist in residence for two years, the work's Miami premiere shifted due to COVID-19 from this October to September 2021, with touring to follow.


Describe the basis for Birds of Paradise.

For queer folk underrepresented even within the queer community—elders, people of color, those of transgender experience or with disability—erasure is prominent. But finding dance in all bodies is what I love. Our identities intersect and become affected. We complicate but also restore each other.

I thought at first this would be about great queer deeds, but really it's about the moment before the act. The self-talk that makes it happen. The desire to revel in but also transform our bodies. How we endure collapse and turn falling into flight.

A dancer in a black bra top and shorts uses their arms to angularly frame their face, which is obscured by a mass of red and blue feathers.

Winter describes his collaborators as a "tropical militia."

Karloz Torres, Courtesy Winter

Why did you want your collaborators to explore antiracist resources?

"Allied bodies" for us isn't just a tagline. We strive to dismantle the elitism pervasive in dance and explore those excluded from gay liberation's domination by white, able-bodied men. Discussions about systemic racism speak to what's made this project necessary.

In the Black Lives Matter protests I attended, there was also something incredibly powerful about the taking up of a space. We were walking down a street, and another group would meet us, and there would be a merger, a familiarization with each other. And celebration became as authentic as resistance. In a way we'd already been doing that in rehearsals. We need joy more than ever to keep thriving.

How will you move towards performance?

Shifting our practice from the physical to the virtual was jarring. Because we've since tiptoed back into physical meetings, starting on my backyard deck to rehearse one-on-one, I'm adding 8 to 10 film choreo-portraits, each focusing on a collaborator, to be projected in the live work or as installations.

What has this project taught you?

A lot about leadership—in the current climate, that it's okay not to be okay. And patience. Our situation got me wondering about the importance of dance. The voices of artists can now ring louder than the gatekeepers.

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Stark Photo Productions, Courtesy Harlequin

Why Your Barre Can Make or Break Your At-Home Dance Training

Throughout the pandemic, Shelby Williams, of Royal Ballet of Flanders (aka "Biscuit Ballerina"), has been sharing videos that capture the pitfalls of dancers working from home: slipping on linoleum, kicking over lamps and even taking windows apart at the "barre." "Dancers aren't known to be graceful all of the time," says Mandy Blackmon, PT, DPT, OSC, CMTPT, head physical therapist/medical director for Atlanta Ballet. "They tend to fall and trip."

Many dancers have tried to make their home spaces as safe as possible for class and rehearsal by setting up a piece of marley, like Harlequin's Dance Mat, to work on. But there's another element needed for taking thorough ballet classes at home: a portable barre.

"Using a barre is kinda Ballet 101," says 16-year-old Haley Dale, a student in her second year at American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. She'd bought a portable barre from Harlequin to use at her parents' home in Northern Virginia even before the pandemic hit. "Before I got it, honestly I would stay away from doing barre work at home. Now I'm able to do it all the time."

Blackmon bought her 15-year-old stepdaughter a freestanding Professional Series Ballet Barre from Harlequin early on in quarantine. "I was worried about her injuring herself without one," she admits.

What exactly makes Harlequin's barres an at-home must-have, and hanging on to a chair or countertop so risky? Here are five major differences dancers will notice right away.

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December 2020