"Dancers can do everything these days," I announced to whoever was in earshot at the Jacob's Pillow Archives during a recent summer. I had just been dazzled by footage of a ballet dancer performing hip hop, remarkably well. But my very next thought was, What if that isn't always a good thing? What if what one can't do is the very thing that lends character?
Angelica Escoto, courtesy Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana
Irene Rodriguez's recent Dance Magazine interview—which mentions only a few of the many flamenco companies in the U.S. and claims a lack of innovation in American flamenco, and has already drawn criticism in a letter to the editor penned by Ensemble Español—brings to the forefront a deeper problem surrounding flamenco in the United States.
Why are so many flamenco dance companies and dancers in the U.S.—especially those pushing the form forward—overlooked and undervalued? Why do we constantly have to defend our work?
Last week, I attended a show I'd been eagerly anticipating: Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise at The Shed, a brand-new performance venue in New York City. Not only was I looking forward to Akram Khan's choreography (not to mention a sword-wielding PeiJu Chien-Pott and remixes of Sia's music), but I was anxious to get a taste of The Shed's ambitious inaugural season.
Despite the slick marketing and big names involved, Dragon Spring fell short, with its cheesy dialogue, disjointed pacing and problematic narrative.
But something that evening bothered me far more than what was happening onstage.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine attended a professional contemporary class one morning, and later that evening perused Facebook to find that the teacher had shared a video of her dancing a phrase from class. A successful and professional working dancer, she was horrified to see a video of herself online that she had never given permission to be used, or even been approached about.
Devon Teuscher performing the titular role in Jane Eyre. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT
Story ballets that debut during American Ballet Theatre's spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House are always the subject of much curiosity—and, sometimes, much debate. Cathy Marston's Jane Eyre was no different. The ballet follows the eponymous heroine of Charlotte Brönte's novel as she grows from a willful orphan to a self-possessed governess, charting her romance with the haughty Mr. Rochester and the social forces that threaten to tear them apart.
While the ballet was warmly received in the UK when Northern Ballet premiered it in 2016, its reception from New York City–based critics has been far less welcoming. A group of editors from Dance Magazine and two of our sister publications, Dance Spirit and Pointe, sat down to discuss our own reactions.
A recent trip I tookto Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
Not an outsider? No worries. Train yourself to see and think like one. Let go of preconceived notions and old habits of mind. Let dance take you by surprise! Photo by Getty Images
When I first came to dance criticism in the 1970s, the professional critics were predominantly much older than me. I didn't know them personally and, as the wide-eyed new kid on the block, I assumed most had little or no physical training in the art.
As slightly intimidated as I felt at the time—you try sitting around a conference room table with Dance Magazine heavy hitters like Tobi Tobias and David Vaughan—I smugly gave myself props for at least having had recent brushes with ballet, Graham, Duncan and Ailey and more substantial engagement with jazz and belly dance. Watching dancers onstage, I enjoyed memories of steps and moves I knew in my own bones. If the music was right, my shoulders would wriggle. I wasn't just coolly judging things from my neck up.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in Fancy Free. Photo via pbt.org
A woman passes three men in the street. The men pursue her. They thrust their pelvises at her. They continue to pursue her after she slaps one's hand and walks away. They surround her. She glances around at them in alarm. One snatches her purse (to review the Freudian significance of purses, click here) and saunters off with it, mocking her. She tries to take the purse back, and the three men toss it over her head among each other. They make her dance with them. Each time she indicates "No," the men try harder to force her submission to their advances.
This is all within the first 10 minutes of Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free, a 1944 ballet about three sailors frolicking on shore leave during World War II, beloved by many and still regularly performed (especially during the last year, since 2018 was the centennial celebration of Robbins's birth). Critic Edwin Denby, after the premiere with Ballet Theatre, called it "a remarkable comedy piece" and "a direct, manly piece."
My best running buddy was on my left. To my right, a total stranger with whom I'd suddenly become competitive. As the 15-person group headed into a two-minute push, the instructor got hyped, and the remix blasting Rihanna's "We Found Love" transitioned to "Smooth Criminal."
And he has been relatively quiet for the past two months, at least on social media. (In one interview he says that he deleted his Instagram; in another he says it was hacked and shut down.) We hoped he was taking time for a much-needed intervention—some of his posts were truly disturbing and suggested deeper issues at play.
Camille A. Brown (top) in her BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play. Photo by Sharen Bradford, The Dancing Image; Courtesy Brown
Compare the gestation of new works across the performing arts and you'll find an ingredient mostly missing in concert dance that's occasionally used in opera and relatively common with plays and musical theater: the preview period. Ranging from a few days to, in the case of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, a record-breaking 182 performances, previews provide extra time for fine-tuning shows after tech and dress rehearsals but before critics can review. (Previews are open to the general public, often at discounted prices.)
Camille Sturdivant, a former member of the Blue Valley Northwest High School dance team is suing the school district, alleging that she was barred from performing in a dance because her skin was "too dark."
The suit states that during Sturdivant's senior year, the Dazzlers' choreographer, Kevin Murakami, would not allow her to perform in a contemporary dance because he said her skin would clash with the costumes, and that she would steal focus from the other dancers because of her skin color.
I write this letter knowing full well and first-hand the financial challenges of running an arts organization. I also write this letter on behalf of dancers auditioning for your companies. Lastly, I write this letter as a member of society at large and as someone who cares deeply about the culture we are leading and the climate we create in the performing arts.
Clockwise from top left: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Ohad Naharin's Minus 16, photo by Pierre Wachholder via alvinailey.org; Photo by David Hoffman/Unsplash; Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro, photos via Instagram; Boris Charmatz's 10000 Gestures, photo by Ursula Kaufmann via nyuskirball.org
What did our readers care about most in 2018? Judging by our top-clicked stories, topics as broad as confronting a bullying teacher, investigating how Instagram has impacted the dance world and advocating for dance as an intellectual pursuit were the biggest stories in dance this year.
But our biggest hit, published just earlier this month, already has us looking to the new year: Our annual "25 to Watch" list for 2019, profiling the artists we think will be taking the dance world by storm sooner than later.
These are our 10 most-read stories of the year, and why we think they struck a chord with readers:
Precious Adams is not cast as Odette/Odile, but is the face of ENB's marketing campaign. Screenshot via English National Ballet's website
Fans of the sublime English National Ballet first artist Precious Adams were probably excited to see her image splashed across the company's website in a promotional image for an upcoming production of Swan Lake.
But those who took a closer look were met with a disappointing reality: Adams, who is the only black woman in the company, is not listed on the principal casting sheet for the production.
Jessica Lang Dance in Lang's Thousand Yard Stare. Photo by Todd Rosenberg
When I read last month that Jessica Lang Dance had announced its farewell, I'm sure I wasn't the only dancer surprised. In the same way that many of us, when reading an obituary, instinctively look for the cause of death, I searched for a reason for the company's unexpected folding. It was buried in the fifth paragraph of The New York Times article:
Her manager, Margaret Selby, said in an interview that Jessica Lang Dance's closing showed how difficult it is to keep a small dance company running these days. "You have to raise so much money, the smaller companies don't have enough staff, and Jessica was running the company for the last seven years without a day off," she said. "She wants to focus on creative work."
Whereas the announcement itself may have come as a shock, the root cause certainly doesn't. All of us in the field are familiar with the conditions to which Selby refers. But that these problems can topple the success of a company like Lang's, which boasts seven years of national and international touring that include commissions from Jacob's Pillow and The Joyce, among others, is sobering.
New York City Ballet soloist Georgina Pazcoguin. Photo by Nick Nakahara, Courtesy Pazcoguin.
As conversations in the ballet world about race and representation have opened up in the past few years, its most beloved holiday tradition, The Nutcracker, has come under scrutiny as well. Last year New York City Ballet made changes to its second act Chinese Tea variation, removing elements of racial caricature from both the costume and makeup and the choreography.
NYCB soloist Georgina Pazcoguin, who is part Filipino, was one of the voices fighting for that change. This year, as companies and schools worldwide are gearing up for Nutcracker season, Pazcoguin, along with former dancer and arts administrator Phil Chan, is back with a new campaign. Final Bow For Yellowface is an online platform dedicated to educating companies and schools on how to veer away from offensive Asian stereotypes (yellowface) and providing resources on how to make those changes. The site also lets readers join dance world luminaries including Virginia Johnson, Julie Kent, Adam Sklute, Troy Schumacher and Christopher Wheeldon in signing a pledge to end the practice of yellowface onstage. We touched base with Pazcoguin to hear about how this initiative came to be, and what she and Chan have in the works for the future.
Last Wednesday, country artist Kelsea Ballerini performed her song "Miss Me More" at the Country Music Awards. The choreography by Nick Florez and R.J. Durell—which Taste of Country said "stole the show" and Billboard lauded as "elaborate"—features a group of dancers in white shirts and black pants performing with chairs onstage, often arranged in a semicircle. They move in quick canons, throw their heads back, and fling themselves in and out of their chairs.
Did The Tenant unintentionally conflate transness and mental illness? Photo by Matthew Murphy, courtesy The Joyce Theater
Last week, Arthur Pita's much-anticipated The Tenant, featuring American Ballet Theatre principal James Whiteside, had its New York City premiere at The Joyce Theater.
Based on the novel by Roland Topor and the 1976 Roman Polanski film, The Tenant follows a man who moves into an apartment that's haunted by its previous occupant (Simone, played by ABT's Cassandra Trenary) who committed suicide. Throughout the show, the man—Trelkovsky, played by Whiteside—slowly transforms into Simone, eventually committing suicide himself.
But some found the show's depiction of a trans-femme character to be troubling. Whether the issues stem from the source material or the production's treatment of it, many thought the end result reinforced transphobic stereotypes about mental illness. We gathered some of the responses from the dance community: