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Spotlight: Emma Portner On The Surprisingly Bad Advice She Once Received

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It's easy to feel whiplashed thinking about everything Emma Portner has achieved in such a short amount of time. Last fall, the 23-year-old was the youngest woman ever to choreograph a West End production (it was based on Meat Loaf's greatest hits). This was, of course, after she already choreographed and starred in Justin Bieber's viral hit "Life is Worth Living," and before she charmed major media outlets when she secretly married actress Ellen Page. Now, she's L.A. Dance Project's first-ever artist in residence, and she's working on a commission for Toronto's Fall for Dance North Festival.

We caught up with her for our "Spotlight" series:


What do you think is the most common misconception about dancers?

When I meet new people and tell them that I am a dancer, their first questions are usually something like "Where do you dance?" or "What's your company called?" As a freelance dance artist and choreographer, it's a little more difficult to respond to that.

What was the last dance performance you saw?

Malpaso Dance Company at The Music Center in Los Angeles

What other career would you like to try?

Film directing or real estate

What's the most-played song on your phone?

Pool Party by Julia Jacklin

What's the first item on your bucket list?

Write a screenplay

Do you have a pre-performance ritual?

Arrive hours early for mental preparation, abdominals, push-ups, caffeine and "save it for the stage."

Where can you be found two hours after a performance ends?

In this phase of my life, sitting in my backyard with anyone who came to support the performance.

What's your favorite book?

Any book by Rebecca Solnit

Where did you last vacation?

Joshua Tree, California

What app do you spend the most time on?

Instagram

Who is the person you most want to dance with—living or dead?

To name a few: Ian Eastwood, Crystal Pite, Alexander Ekman, Justin Peck, and I always love dancing with my wife, Dana Wilson, Patrick Cook, Bobbi Jene Smith, Ajani Johnson-Goffe and Aidan Carberry

What's your go-to cross-training routine?

Hiking

What's the worst advice you've ever received?

That I shouldn't move to New York

If you could relive one performance, what would it be?

Michelle Dorrance's first Myelination premiere for the Fall For Dance Festival at New York City Center or my Capezio Ace Awards piece "Let Go or Be Dragged" with some of my best friends in the world

In Memoriam
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Alicia has died. I walked around my apartment feeling her spirit, but knowing something had changed utterly.

My father, the late conductor Benjamin Steinberg, was the first music director of the Ballet de Cuba, as it was called then. I grew up in Vedado on la Calle 1ra y doce in a building called Vista al Mar. My family lived there from 1959 to 1963. My days were filled with watching Alicia teach class, rehearse and dance. She was everything: hilarious, serious, dramatic, passionate and elegiac. You lost yourself and found yourself when you loved her.

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Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

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In 2017, as a result of a growing list of letters from audience members, to New York City Ballet's ballet master in chief Peter Martins reached out to us asking for assistance on how to modify the elements of Chinese caricature in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. Following that conversation, we founded the Final Bow for Yellowface pledge that states, "I love ballet as an art form, and acknowledge that to achieve a diversity amongst our artists, audiences, donors, students, volunteers, and staff, I am committed to eliminating outdated and offensive stereotypes of Asians (Yellowface) on our stages."

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Allegra Bautista in Nevertheless, by ka·nei·see | collective. Photo by Robbie Sweeny

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"I got angry when I saw that email, wrote my angry response, deleted it, and then went back and explained to him that that's exactly why I should be making those works," says Peugh.

With the current political climate as polarized as it is, many artists today feel compelled to use their work to speak out on issues they care deeply about. But touring with a message is not for the faint of heart. From considerations about how to market the work to concerns about safety, touring to cities where, in general, that message may not be so welcome, requires companies to figure out how they'll respond to opposition.

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