Veronika Part as Manon in Neumeier's Lady of the Camellias. Photo by Matthew Karas.
In 1999, when the Kirov Ballet brought its reconstruction of the original Sleeping Beauty to Lincoln Center, a young soloist of special radiance kept stealing the show. Her name was Veronika Part, and although she did not dance the role of Aurora she was clearly a ballet princess born and bred. First there was the instrument: even by ballet's perfectionist standards Part's physique was remarkable for its long, sculpted limbs, exquisitely arched feet, and a neck and shoulder line of Renaissance grace. Then there was the technique: correct yet lush, nuanced yet breathtakingly large-scale. And finally her face: Part was a dark-haired, pale-skinned beauty with a smile of sheer enchantment. In that New York engagement, the Kirov unveiled her as the Lilac Fairy, classical dance's supreme expression of divine right.
“It was an open graciousness," says Kevin McKenzie, the artistic director of American Ballet Theatre, when asked what struck him about Part in those Beautys. “It was this warm, embracing presence."
When the Kirov returned to Lincoln Center three years later, in 2002, Part danced a mesmerizing Swan Lake, her “embracing presence" more luminous than ever. McKenzie invited her to join American Ballet Theatre and she said yes.
Part was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1978. Prophetically, the doctor who delivered her said, “Oh, she has pretty legs." Thus Part's mother decided that her new daughter should be a ballerina. For six years, however, starting at age 4, Part studied gymnastics. “I was happy with what I was doing," she says. “I was a professional athlete already, doing all these competitions." At 10, Part was taken to the Vaganova Academy for an audition. “My mom wanted me to have a different life from her, because at that time there was the Iron Curtain. Nobody could go outside the country, or see other cultures." Part passed the rigorous three-part audition and began studying classical dance.
From her first days in the school Part attracted the attention of star ballerinas who had retired and become teachers or coaches. And in a generation that included classmates like Diana Vishneva, Daria Pavlenko, and Svetlana Zakharova, Part was recognized as one of the most exceptional students the Academy had ever seen. “She was unlike any other," says Irina Kolpakova, the legendary Kirov ballerina who coaches her at ABT.
Part joined the Kirov Ballet at 18. Her first coach in the company was the versatile Gabriella Komleva, and then she worked with Ninel Kurgapkina and Yelena Yevteyeva. “Kurgapkina was more bravura," Part says. “Yevteyeva had a Romantic style. Every person can give you something different. Later, I worked most of the time with Lubov Kunakova. She's like my second family." At 20, and while still a Kirov soloist, Part danced Odette/Odile and Raymonda. When the company mounted Balanchine's Jewels in 1999, she danced the lead in “Diamonds" and the second lead in “Emeralds." So the big roles were coming. Yet the offer from ABT meant that Part could experience another country, could test herself in a new environment with new choreographers. She made the leap.
That said, the transition from a state-supported company in her own hometown to an American company in noisy New York City was not easy. And Part was shy. She arrived in Manhattan in August of 2002, with “just two suitcases. I didn't even have toe shoes, just clothes. I was completely alone. I didn't have any friends. I had a job, but that was pretty much it."
“She appeared on our doorstep," recalls McKenzie, “this fabulous dancer who didn't have a lot of English, didn't know how to deal with a bank account or even write a check. Once the living thing was confronted, there was the professional etiquette she needed to assimilate. She went from the careful preparation that comes from the Soviet system to ABT, where you do everything all the time all at once. So it was a big adjustment."
It became clear that McKenzie was going to bring Part along slowly. Ranked a soloist, she was cast in supporting roles—Queen of the Dryads in Don Quixote, Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet—and each season she received more leads: Mozartiana, Ballet Imperial, Swan Lake, Raymonda, La Bayadère. To every role Part brought a clarity that read as poetry. The cathedral spaces in her port de bras, the strong extensions elegantly placed, an extremely deep plié, and an arabesque to die for—here was Imperial style in its purest form.
“Her great gift is the line of her body," says Kolpakova. “Her arms and eyes and neck. And she understands music. She always listens."
Indeed, Part's listening is visible in phrasing that is sensitive and soulful. In describing the quality of her dancing, critics have reached for words like “creamy," “cantilena," “sensuous," and “singing." In her years at ABT, Part has proved herself to be the great adagio artist of our time.
Nevertheless, we live in the fast-paced era of allegro. Part, at 5' 8", had to strive for the speed and attack that is so valued in America. “I have a very specific body that makes my life onstage more difficult," Part explains. “Long legs, flexible and hyper-extended. A big arch and a very thin ankle."
“Because Veronika's feet are so long and thin," says Kolpakova, “they're not strong. Her leg—it's beautiful but not straight. She works very hard to understand each position."
To watch Kolpakova coaching Part in Aurora's wedding variation is to witness the tiny and seemingly endless calibrations of hip and shoulder that are required to keep her pirouettes plumb and her pointe work lively. It's like watching two scientists in a lab, where even facial expression is discussed. Part remembers that in Russia they were told to wear a serene expression like that of the Mona Lisa. Kolpakova retorts, “You are Veronika Part—as Aurora in this moment! Not a Mona Lisa for all ages."
Of her early years at ABT, Part says, “You see yourself in the mirror every day, and you see how imperfect you are and it makes you afraid. I always raised the bar too high. I had to learn to change my attitude from 'Oh, no, I can't do this' to 'Yes, I can.' I had to learn how to condition my body and mind to go onstage no matter what."
With the conditioning of her body, the control of her emotions, and a growing ability to relax and roll with the punches, everything came together in 2009 and Part was promoted to principal. She danced brilliantly, fearlessly, ravishing Swan Lakes, high-flying Mozartianas, transcendent Lilac Fairys. Last year saw a New York performance of Aurora that was the most tenderly musical and stylistically expressive that this writer has ever seen. And last December, in Alexei Ratmansky's new Nutcracker, Part's performances were ecstatically received.
“Her Nutcracker, my god, it was out of this world," says McKenzie. “She's done Swan Lakes that are just amazing, some Queen of the Wilis that are chilling. Mercedes in Don Q—it's like, Holy Shomoly, clear the decks!"
Add to this Part's trusting and ever-deepening onstage partnership with Marcelo Gomes—a pairing one might describe as tall, dark, and glamorous—and you have stage magic.
“When Veronika is really being Veronika," says Gomes, “and we are out there onstage and everything is going well and she is at her ultimate peak, for me it's such a joy as a partner to see that and to be able to feel it in my own hands. Partnering is about coordination between you and your partner, and Veronika really helps you. She's got that jump, that ballon. And she surprises me in a really good way. She's got a great, great imagination."
Part has roles she's eager to try. Giselle is one of them: “I want to find a more dramatic side of myself," she says. Don Q's Kitri is another, “because I want to challenge my technique, I want to be stronger, and there's only one way to do it: to go through hard stuff that's not natural for you." Still, Part feels happiness in everything she dances. “Every role I'm doing, I'm living it. I never think who I am, I just know. I feel."
“She's a very different dancer than when she came to ABT," reflects Gomes. “She has matured as a woman and as an artist. Veronika was a ballerina when she got here, but I think she's gone on to become much bigger—a very grand lyrical ballerina."
“I think that what struck me initially," McKenzie says, “and what has continued to fascinate me, is she's got an inner strength to want to adapt. She wants to learn, to keep adding not only to her repertoire but to her knowledge. She loves the art form, and she's got this wonderful gift that works for the art form. But that's somehow not good enough for Veronika, she wants to go further."
And where Veronika goes, the ballet follows.
Laura Jacobs is the dance critic at The New Criterion and a staff writer at Vanity Fair.
Pictured inset: In rehearsal for a piece by Avi Scher. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
"Is everyone okay?" was my most used sentence during my time with American Ballet Theatre. There I was, leading world-class ABT dancers through my own choreographic process. I knew that it was unlike anything they'd ever experienced, but I think half of the time I was asking that question, it was really directed to myself.ABT Incubator is a two-week choreographic program created by principal dancer David Hallberg. Supported by The Howard Hughes Corporation, this process-oriented lab gave me and four other choreographers the opportunity to generate ideas for the work we have been inspired to create.
It's contest time! You could win your choice of Apolla Shocks (up to 100 pairs) for your whole studio! Apolla Performance believes dancers are artists AND athletes—wearing Apolla Shocks helps you be both! Apolla Shocks are footwear for dancers infused with sports science technology while maintaining a dancer's traditions and lines. They provide support, protection and traction that doesn't exist anywhere else for dancers, helping them dance longer and stronger. Apolla wants to get your ENTIRE studio protected and supported in Apolla Shocks! How? Follow these steps:
Ilaria Guerra only joined Alonzo King LINES Ballet in January, but she's already a towering presence in the San Francisco company—and not just because she's 6' tall. Guerra employs her seemingly infinite limbs with luscious fluidity and propulsive power, instinctive musicality and a self-assured presence. And as exquisitely as she embodies King's choreography, she also makes it entirely her own.
So you're on layoff—or, let's be real, you just don't feel like going to the studio—and you decide you're going to take class from home. Easy enough, right? All you need is an empty room and some music tracks on your iPhone, right?
Wrong. Anyone who has attempted this feat can tell you that taking class at home—or even just giving yourself class in general—is easier said than done. But with the right tools, it's totally doable—and can be totally rewarding.
Today, we are thrilled to announce the honorees of the 2018 Dance Magazine Awards. A tradition dating back to 1954, the Dance Magazine Awards celebrate the living legends who have made a lasting impact on dance. This year's honorees include:
How do you honor a comedian lauded for her physical humor and awkward dancing? Commission a contemporary dance, of course. Better yet, have the stars of HBO's "Broad City," Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer—physical comedians and awkward dancers in their own right—star in a contemporary dance.
Last month, comedian Julia Louis-Dreyfus was awarded the 2018 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at The Kennedy Center. (The ceremony airs tonight on PBS.) Most known for her role as Elaine on "Seinfeld," Louis-Dreyfus has had a long career of tickling funny bones, from her start at Chicago's Second City, then on "Saturday Night Live," CBS's "The New Adventures of the Old Christine" and now as foul-mouthed Vice President Selina Meyer on "Veep."
The "Broad City" gals determined that the best way to honor their idol was to dance, an appropriate choice considering "The Elaine," the dance that became Louis-Dreyfus' piece de resistance on "Seinfeld." (Not to mention her other go-to physical comedy moments as Elaine, like "The Shove"—hands on the chest, forcefully pushing one's companion back, sometimes with the exclamation "Get out!"—or the twitchy forefinger devil horns.)
What makes big-time music artists and their collaborators think they can directly plagiarize the work of concert dance choreographers?
And, no, this time we're not talking about Beyoncé.
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.
When it comes to flexibility, more isn't always better. Donna Flagg says that many of the dancers who show up at her Lastics Stretch Technique classes at studios like Broadway Dance Center and Steps on Broadway are already hypermobile.
"They're so loose," she says, "they just yank their legs as far as they can." That's not to say that hypermobile dancers shouldn't stretch—they just need to take extra care to keep their joints safe. Flagg recommends a few guidelines:
Many choreographers use spoken word to enhance their dance performances. But the Campfire Poetry Movement video series has found success with a reverse scenario: Monticello Park Productions creates short art films that often use dance to illustrate iconic poems.
When I was just a little peanut, my siblings and I used to find scrap paper and use them as tickets to our makeshift dance performances at family gatherings. They were more like circus shows, really, where my brother was the ringmaster, and my sisters and I were animals; we dove through imaginary flaming hoops and showcased our best tightrope acts with the suspense of plummeting into an endless pit of sorrows. This was my first introduction to the beauty of movement as a way of communicating.
Photo by Lindsay Linton
Choreographer Ronald K. Brown sees himself as a weaver—of movement, but more importantly, of stories. "When I started my company Evidence 33 years ago, I needed to make a space for what I thought of as evidence—work that tells stories, so that when people saw the work, they would see a reflection or evidence of themselves onstage," says Brown, now 51. "That was my mission, my purpose."
Fast-forward to today: Evidence has become a mainstay in the modern dance world and Brown is now considered a vanguard among choreographers fusing Western contemporary dance with movement from the African diaspora, including popular dance and traditions from West African cultures like Senegalese sabar.
She may not be the first choreographer to claim that movement is her first language, but when Crystal Pite says it, it's no caveat: She's as effective and nuanced a communicator as the writers who often inspire her dances.
Her globally popular Emergence, for instance, was provoked in part by science writer Steven Johnson's hypotheses; The Tempest Replica refracts and reimagines Shakespeare. Recently, her reading list includes essays by fellow Canadian Robert Bringhurst, likewise driven by a ravenous, wide-ranging curiosity.
General director of Spoleto Festival USA since 1995 and, for two decades (1998-2017), the director of the Lincoln Center Festival, Nigel Redden has an internationalist's point of view on the arts—expansive, curious, informed by the cultural wealth that the world has to offer.
He is the son of an American diplomat and grew up moving from place to place—Cyprus, Israel, Canada, Italy—until eventually setting of for Yale to study Art History. After visiting the Spoleto festival in Italy as a young man, and working there while he was still an undergraduate, he very quickly realized what he wanted to: direct festivals. And that's what he has done for most of the last quarter century.
No, she isn't like other artistic directors, and that's not just because she's a woman. Lourdes Lopez, who's led Miami City Ballet since 2012, doesn't want this to be taken the wrong way, but as for her vision? She doesn't really have one.
"I just want good dancers and a good company and good rep and an audience and a theater—let us do what the art form is supposed to be doing," she says. "I don't mean that in a flippant way. It's just how I've always approached it."
Dancers are human, which means they're bound to make mistakes from time to time, both on and off the stage. But what happens when those mistakes burn bridges? In an industry so small, is it possible for choreographers and performers to recover?In a moment of vulnerability, three-time Emmy Award winning choreographer Mia Michaels opened up to Dance Magazine about some of the bridges she herself has burned, the lengths she's gone to in order to rebuild and the peace she's made with the new direction her career has taken because of them. —Haley Hilton
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?
New York City Ballet fired principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro on Saturday. Both had initially been suspended until 2019 for engaging in "inappropriate communications," while principal Chase Finlay, who was the instigator of those communications, resigned. (Although, in a statement on Saturday, NYCB made it clear they had decided to terminate Finlay prior to his resignation.)
The New York Times reports that NYCB says the change from suspension to termination resulted from hearing the concerns of dancers, staff members and others in the NYCB community. Yet it's hard to ignore the fact that a lawsuit against NYCB had been filed in the meantime. A statement from NYCB executive director Katherine Brown and interim artistic team leader Jonathan Stafford stated:
"We have no higher obligation than to ensure that our dancers and staff have a workplace where they feel respected and valued, and we are committed to providing that environment for all employees of New York City Ballet."
Since the news was announced, both Catazaro and Ramasar have spoken out publicly about being fired.
Paul Taylor cultivated many brilliant dancers during his 60-plus-year career, but seldom have any commanded such a place of authority and artistry as Michael Trusnovec. He models what it takes to become a great Taylor dancer: weight of movement, thorough grasp of style, deep concentration, steadfast partnering, complete dedication to the choreography and a nuanced response to the music.
Trusnovec can simultaneously make choreography sexy and enlightened, and he can do it within one phrase of movement. Refusing to be pigeonholed, he has excelled in roles as diverse as the tormented and tormenting preacher in Speaking in Tongues; the lyrical central figure—one of Taylor's own sacred roles—in Aureole; the dogged detective in Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal); and the corporate devil in Banquet of Vultures.
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:
Update: Raffaella Stroik's body was found near a boat ramp in Florida, Missouri on Wednesday morning. No information about what led to the death is currently available. Our thoughts are with her friends and family.
Raffaella Stroik, a 23-year-old dancer with the Saint Louis Ballet, went missing on Monday.
Her car was found with her phone inside in a parking lot near a boat ramp in Mark Twain Lake State Park—130 miles away from St. Louis. On Tuesday, the police began an investigation into her whereabouts.
Stroik was last seen at 10:30 am on Monday at a Whole Foods Market in Town and Country, a suburb of St. Louis. She was wearing an olive green jacket, a pink skirt, navy pants with white zippers and white tennis shoes.
Whether or not you see yourself choreographing in your future, you can gain a lot from studying dance composition. "Many companies ask you to generate your own content. Choreography is more collaborative now," says Autumn Eckman, a faculty member at the University of Arizona.
Look beyond the rehearsal studio, and you'll find even more benefits to having dancemaking skills. "Being a thinker as well as a mover is what creates a sustainable career," says Iyun Ashani Harrison, who teaches at Goucher College. "Viewing dance with a developed eye and being able to speak about what you're seeing is valuable whether you're a dancer, a choreographer, an artistic director or a curator."
Succeeding in composition class often has more to do with attitude than aptitude. Above all, you need "a willingness to play along and explore," says Kevin Predmore, who teaches at the Ailey/Fordham BFA program. "You have to let go of the desire to create something extraordinary, and instead be curious."
Egg Drop Soup's "Partying Alone" video turns a run-of-the-mill dance team audition on its head with a vision of female power from a mature woman. The panel is stunned when a gray-haired, red-lipsticked 80-something tosses aside her cane and lets loose, flipping her hair—and the bird.
Egg Drop Soup - Partying Alone (Official music video)
Take a second look at that head-banging grandma—she is none other than renowned dance researcher and anthropologist Judith Lynne Hanna. An affiliate research professor in anthropology at the University of Maryland, College Park, the author of numerous scholarly books and an expert witness in trials for exotic dancers, she has spent her career getting us to think about dance's relationship to society. Hanna, 82, said she hadn't performed since college when she got a call from a music video producer, who caught a video of her dancing with her 13-year-old grandson. The rockers of Egg Drop Soup loved her energy and flew her out to Los Angeles for a day-long video shoot. We spoke to Hanna about the experience.
Tired of the typical turkey and stuffing? For Thanksgiving this year, try something different with these personal recipes that dancers have shared with Dance Magazine. The ingredients are packed with dancer-friendly nutrients to help you recover from rehearsals and fuel up for the holiday performances ahead.
If anyone raises an eyebrow at your unconventional choices, just remind them that dancers are allowed to take some artistic license!