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What It's Like To Attend the Rockettes' Summer Intensive
On a humid summer day in midtown Manhattan, construction goes on outside the Church of St. Paul the Apostle. Inside, another type of building goes on: In separate basement studios, two groups of 40 dancers focus their attention on their instructors. It's the Rockettes' summer intensive, a rare chance for students to work with professional Rockettes, not to mention Julie Branam, their director and choreographer.
Rockette Bailey Callahan demonstrates in front of one group. Hers is a classic Rockette story. She attended their intensive every summer from 2009 to 2011; being a Rockette was her dream. Then, in 2012, she was asked to attend the program's invitational week. At the end, she received her Rockette contract.
The invitational week has proved a path to the Radio City stage for more than a few Rockettes. Around 1,200 women ages 14 and up audition each year for the summer intensive. Up to 640 dancers are placed in one of the program's seven repeating weeks, or in the invitational week. That week amps up the intensive's already rigorous pace and is geared toward semi-professional and professional dancers.
The intensive offers a rare chance to learn directly from Julie Branam. Photo courtesy MSG Entertainment
Branam, a former Rockette herself, looks for several elements in all summer intensive students. "We want a strong ballet foundation and the ability to handle many styles. I'm also watching for willingness to take in details. You may want to kick as high as you can and reach your face. But can you do what I ask—kick just to eyeline as the Rockettes do? We need dancers who can be specific and take directions, even if they are used to doing it differently."
For the invitational week, Branam is looking for students with more polish. "Are you comfortable in the room?" she asks. "Are you listening to what I'm saying? Are you executing the signature Rockettes strong arms instead of letting them float?"
Branam notes that neither the invitational week nor the regular intensive is an audition for the troupe, but they can be a great place to demonstrate skill and readiness.
Students learn the challenges of precision dancing. Photo courtesy MSG Entertainment
Each intensive week is run like Rockettes rehearsals, working for 80 minutes at a time, then resting for 10, plus an hour for lunch. Mornings start at 9:30 am with a review of the previous day's choreography, followed by a Rockette-led group warm-up consisting of planks, strength and core work mixed with jazz-flavored sequences.
"We did a tap drawback section across the floor that dancers then used in the 42nd Street number," explains Branam. "We're always working on integrating technique."
Students spend the rest of the day on choreography, with pieces used as workshops for Rockette trademarks: "muscled" arms, whiplash footwork, precise torso angles, and, of course, those kicks.
By Wednesday, students have all the choreography they'll perform at their showcase on Friday. A workshop with the Rockettes' athletic trainer on body care, injuries and maintenance, a Q&A with the Rockette teachers, and a "crazy legging day" round out the week's activities.
Angles are key. Photo courtesy MSG Entertainment
The invitational week has a similar structure, but greater challenges. This year, that included learning "Sleigh Ride," a number featuring the Rockettes as Santa's reindeer. "It's super-stylized and difficult," says Branam. "It has the most details: tilt of the head, where antlers are, where elbows are."
All the choreography the invitational students learn is taught much faster, and some numbers include far more kicks in longer phrases of kicklines, as well as more changes in formation and weight shifts.
During the week, Branam may glean what she needs to make an offer. As it happened, this past summer three dancers proved they were up to all the requirements, and Branam offered them contracts.
All the students, whether in the invitational or the intensive weeks, learn about Rockette teamwork. "Togetherness is an essential part of being a Rockette," says Katelyn Gaffney, a Rockette instructor who also attended summer intensives before finally earning her contract. "It's dancing together, breathing together, having fun together. Most students aren't used to dancing so closely, just two feet apart. It's hard to dance full-out but stay contained. But practicing how to stay together, how to be sharp but not hold back, that's so special."
Rockette Katelyn Gaffney attended summer intensives before earning her contract
A few weeks ago, American Ballet Theatre announced the A.B.T. Women's Movement, a new program that will support three women choreographers per season, one of whom will make work on the main company.
"The ABT Women's Movement takes inspiration from the groundbreaking female choreographers who have left a lasting impact on ABT's legacy, including Agnes de Mille and Twyla Tharp," said artistic director Kevin McKenzie in a press release.
Hypothetically, this is a great idea. We're all for more ballet commissions for women. But the way ABT has promoted the initiative is problematic.
Some dancers move to New York City with their sights set on a dream job: that one choreographer or company they have to dance for. But when Maggie Cloud graduated from Florida State University in 2010, she envisioned herself on a less straightforward path.
"I always had in mind that I would be dancing for different people," she says. "I knew I had some kind of range that I wanted to tap into."
On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba tours the U.S. this spring with the resolute Cuban prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso a the helm. Named a National Hero of Labor in Cuba, Alonso, 97, has weathered strained international relations and devastating fiscal challenges to have BNC emerge as a world-class dance company. Her dancers are some of ballet's best. On offer this time are Alonso's Giselle and Don Quixote. The profoundly Cuban company performs in Chicago May 18–20, Tampa May 23, Washington, D.C., May 29–June 3 and Saratoga, New York June 6–8.
We all know that the general population's knowledge of ballet is sometimes...a bit skewed. (See: people touching their fingertips to the top of their head, and Kendall Jenner hopping around at the barre.)
Would your average Joe know how to do ballet's most basic step: a plié? Or, more to the point, even know what it is?
SELF decided to find out.
New York City Ballet is celebrating the Jerome Robbins Centennial with twenty (20!) ballets. The great American choreographer died in 1998, so very few of today's dancers have actually worked with him. There are plenty of stories about how demanding (at times brutally so) he could be in rehearsal. But Peter Boal has written about Robbins in a more balanced, loving way. In this post he writes about how Robbins' crystal clear imagery helped him approach a role with clarity and purpose.
Who says you need fancy equipment to make a festival-worthy dance film? Right now, two New York City–based dance film festivals are calling for aspiring filmmakers to show their stuff—and you don't need anything more cumbersome than a smartphone to get in on the action.
Here's everything you need to know about how to submit:
When Lisset Santander bourréed onstage as Myrtha in BalletMet's Giselle this past February, her consummate portrayal of the Queen of the Wilis was marked by steely grace and litheness. The former Cuban National Ballet dancer had defected to the U.S. at 21, and after two years with the Ohio company, she's now closer to the dance career she says she always wanted: one of limitless possibilities.
For 17 years, James Samson has been the model Paul Taylor dancer. There is something fundamentally decent about his stage persona. He's a tall dancer—six feet—but never imposes himself. He's muscular, but gentle. And when he moves, it is his humanity that shines through, even more than his technique.
But all dancing careers come to an end, and James Samson's is no exception; now 43, he'll be retiring in August, after a final performance at the Teatro Romano in Verona, where he'll be dancing in Cloven Kingdom, Piazzolla Caldera and Promethean Fire.
The wait for Alexei Ratmansky's restaging of Petipa's Harlequinade is almost over! But if you can't wait until American Ballet Theatre officially debuts the ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House on June 6, we've got you covered. ABT brought the Harlequinade characters to life (and to the Alder Mansion in Yonkers, NY) in a short film by Ezra Hurwitz, and it's a guaranteed to make you laugh.
When an anonymous letter accused former New York City Ballet leader Peter Martins of sexual harassment last year, it felt like what had long been an open secret—the prevalence of harassment in the dance world—was finally coming to the surface. But the momentum of the #MeToo movement, at least in dance, has since died down.
Martins has retired, though an investigation did not corroborate any of the claims against him. He and former American Ballet Theatre star Marcelo Gomes, who suddenly resigned in December, were the only cases to make national headlines in the U.S. We've barely scratched the surface of the dance world's harassment problem.