How The Ferryman's Choreography "Shifts the World on Its Axis"
Some of the most vibrant dancing on Broadway this season can be seen in a dark, heart-wrenching drama about a farm family in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, when violent clashes between Protestants and Catholics turned cities into war zones and jails into political arenas. But Scarlett Mackmin says that when she signed on as choreographer for the original 2017 London production of Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman, it didn't seem there would be very much for her to do.
The play, recently extended at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, opens on a couple playing cards in a large rustic kitchen, and, with the Rolling Stones on the boombox, they have a bit of a dance. As the rest of the family drifts in for breakfast, we learn it's going to be a big day for the Carneys: Joined by cousins from the city, they'll be bringing in the barley, then celebrating with their traditional Harvest Feast of roast goose. And, of course, some music and dance.
The company of The Ferryman. Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown
The Ferryman becomes much more than harvest day on Quinn Carney's farm, though, as the stories of several generations are woven into a rich tapestry that encompasses politics, murder, adultery and the whole of Irish history. As they worked on it, Mackmin says, director Sam Mendes realized that "the play needed a shifting moment," and the Harvest Feast dance became that moment. It starts out with traditional Irish clogging and ends up in a frenzy of rock moves to "Teenage Kicks" by the Irish punk band The Undertones, revealing the complex relationships among its characters and forcing Carney's wife and sister-in-law to opposite sides of the stage. "It shifts the world on its axis," says Mackmin, "and I kept saying to the actors, 'I don't mind how you dance, as long as the intention is there and the storyline is being told.' You see the whole status of the family tumbling and tumbling and tumbling."
It took a long time to work it out, she says, "because it was a new play, and there's always tension doing a new play. It's like writing, being a choreographer...The actors have to feel relaxed enough to go with you on that journey, and allow you to edit. Some are more open to that than others." But when the cast reassembled for the move to New York, she says, "It was a joy."
Scarlett Mackmin in rehearsal for The National Theatre's 2013 production of Liolà. Photo by Catherine Ashmore, via BroadwayWorld.com
She never set out to work with actors rather than dancers. Growing up "in the middle of nowhere"—Aylesham, in Norfolk—she attended the local dance academy, did a stint in New York studying at the Martha Graham School, and then went back to England to finish her training at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London. Her early choreography credits were fairly typical, but her career took a turn when her sister, the theater director Anna Mackmin, hired her to choreograph steps for an elderly woman and a plus-size man. Many plays followed, for famed British directors like Mendes, Richard Eyre, Michael Grandage and Nicholas Hytner. And these days, she's also working directly for actors, helping them "use physical transformation to help their characters, as opposed to just doing dances within plays."
She's got several projects coming up, but she can't talk about them yet. Given her diverse résumé, there could be another play, like Ferryman; or another music video, like the award-winning one she did with Rosamund Pike for Massive Attack; a commercial, like the one she did for Chanel; a television series, like The Crown; or a film, like The King's Speech, or the more recent A Private War.
In the latter, she says, "You will not see any dancing, and you would not know that anyone had done any physical work." Rosamund Pike plays the reporter Marie Colvin, who died in 2012 covering the Syrian civil war. Colvin, Mackmin says, "had a very different physicality to Rosamund's, and we did crazy things to find that—down to the details of how she smoked her cigarette." Like the other kind of choreography, it's writing with bodies, and Mackmin says she wants to do more of it.
- Scarlett Mackmin Theatre Credits ›
- Scarlett Mackmin - IMDb ›
- Scarlett Mackmin — People — Royal Opera House ›
- Scarlett Mackmin - Wikipedia ›
- Olivier Awards 2018: Winners in full - BBC News ›
- 'The Ferryman' Review: Jez Butterworth's Play Directed by Sam ... ›
- 'The Ferryman' Review: Jez Butterworth's Play on Broadway – Variety ›
- 'The Ferryman,' an explosive, exhilarating human drama - The ... ›
- Review: A Thrilling 'Ferryman' Serves Up a Glorious Harvest Feast ... ›
- The Ferryman on Broadway | Now on Broadway ›
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to 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?
Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
It can be hard to imagine life without—or just after—dance. Perhaps that's why we find it so fascinating to hear what our favorite dancers think they'd be doing if they weren't performing for a living.
We've been asking stars about the alternate career they'd like to try in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and their answers—from the unexpected to the predictable—do not disappoint:
"New York City Ballet star appears in a Keanu Reeves action movie" is not a sentence we ever thought we'd write. But moviegoers seeing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be treated to two scenes featuring soloist Unity Phelan dancing choreography by colleague Tiler Peck. The guns-blazing popcorn flick cast Phelan as a ballerina who also happens to be training to become an elite assassin. Opens in theaters May 17.
The Brooklyn-based choreographer Gillian Walsh is both obsessed with and deeply conflicted about dance. With her latest work, Fame Notions, May 17–19 at Performance Space New York, she seeks to understand what she calls the "fundamentally pessimistic or alienating pursuit" of being a dancer. Noting that the piece is "quiet and introverted," like much of her other work, she sees Fame Notions as one step in a larger project examining why dancers dance.
What does Mikhail Baryshnikov have to say to dancers starting their careers today? On Friday, he gave the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
The heart of his message: Be generous.