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"I Choreograph Because My Own Story is Untold; I Need to Dance it Into Being"
I love being transgender. It's an important part of the story of why I choreograph. Although I loved dance from a very young age, I grew up never seeing a single person like me in dance. So how could I imagine a future for myself there?
The enormous barriers I had to overcome weren't internal: I didn't struggle with feelings of dysphoria, and I wasn't locked down by shame.
The largest obstacles placed in my path were gendered expectations—bathrooms and changing rooms at dance schools, studios and theaters; binary-gendered dance roles and costumes; strictly-and-only-ever heterosexual partnering; and never having a single trans dance teacher, role model or mentor.
We all have a deep need to hear our story told and to see ourselves reflected back to us. This is why I choreograph dances rooted in trans and queer experience. I choreograph because my own story is untold–and so I need to dance it into being.
I choreograph because I am in love with movement and language. I am a choreographer; I am also a writer and a storyteller. My dances spin together full-throttle movement, text-based sound scores, luscious queer partnering and original music.
I choreograph to bring forward missing stories. I created my most recent full-evening work, THE MISSING GENERATION, after recording 75 hours of oral-history interviews with trans and queer longtime survivors of the early AIDS epidemic.
As we perform the work on its 20-city tour, we also host intergenerational LGBTQ community forums on HIV/AIDS, and teach free trans-friendly workshops.
This year, I launched a new national program through my trans arts nonprofit Fresh Meat Productions: TRANSform Dance. It responds to the crisis of the almost-total absence of transgender and gender-nonconforming bodies, voices and leadership in contemporary dance through our performances, workshops, trainings, leadership development and education of the field.
It all comes back to the body. Love, fear, trauma, loneliness, awe, rage, joy, delight … these parts of the human experience live in the body, and so I believe that they are best reflected back to us through the body.Telling stories through dance crumbles our defenses, opens our hearts and allows us to connect deeply. Gorgeous, glorious, spinning, sweaty trans and queer bodies in motion are an exquisite revolution the world needs.
Rebecca Warthen was on a year-long assignment with the Peace Corps in Dominica last fall when a storm started brewing. A former dancer with North Carolina Dance Theatre (now Charlotte Ballet) and Columbia City Ballet, she'd been sent to the Caribbean island nation to teach ballet at the Dominica Institute of the Arts and in outreach classes at public schools.
But nine and a half months into her assignment, a tropical storm grew into what would become Hurricane Maria—the worst national disaster in Dominica's history.
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.
Ever wonder why some dancers' port de bras appears to be disconnected from their body? It typically comes down to how they stabilize their shoulder blades, says Marimba Gold-Watts, Pilates instructor to dancers like Robert Fairchild.
"Dancers often hear the cue to pull down on their latissimus,"—the biggest muscle in the back—"which doesn't allow the shoulder blades to lie flat," she says. "It makes the bottom tips of the shoulder blades wing, or flare out, off the rib cage."
Sidra Bell is one of those choreographers whose movement dancers are drawn to. Exploring the juxtaposition of fierce athleticism and pure honesty in something as simple as stillness, her work brings her dancers to the depths of their abilities and the audience to the edge of their seats.
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."
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.