Career Advice

Inside the Rising Trend of Self-Made Summer Tours

Sara Mearns' #arabesqueseries captures her in the iconic pose as she tours to festivals and galas around the world. Photo via Instagram

For many of today's top dance artists, summer layoff has turned into series of solo tours. We can often catch a peek on their Instagram posts, where their candor about the long hours, sore bodies and early morning flights to and from festivals does nothing to diminish the glamor of leaping through some of the most breathtaking venues. But these summer appearances are a feat of determination.

The dancers themselves meticulously organize these tours. They are in charge of fielding requests aligning schedules and flight itineraries, securing their own costumes and music, and then rehearsing for their guest roles—sometimes with an entirely new partner.

What Goes Into Planning a Summer Tour

"I don't have an agent for ballet, so it's actually a lot easier for me to manage my own things because it's very direct," says Boston Ballet principal Misa Kuranaga. Her summer lineup included Roberto Bolle and Friends, a quick trip to Tokyo to rehearse for an upcoming performance of Swan Lake, Malaysia to perform two shows of the full-length Giselle, then off to the Panama Ballet Festival, back to Italy for Roberto Bolle and Friends, and finally back to the States for the Vail Dance Festival.

However, it's not just a matter of organizing travel. She must also carefully consider the rehearsal time required for each appearance. "The schedule gets very hard at the end of the spring season. It's a lot of dancing, and at the same time you're exhausted from the entire season and you need to manage guesting on your own. I had to do seven or 10 different ballets this summer. So, I had to personally prepare things in Boston, physically, but also emailing, coordinating costumes, music, who I'm dancing with, flights and timing."

Why Creating Your Own Tour Is So Satisfying

The larger-scale festivals, with dancers from a variety of companies, different styles and repertoire, reinforce the community of dance and create a nurturing, inspiring space. "Meeting other people, and working with them, and having conversations with them…it's great for us because of the amount work we have," says Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Samuel Lee Roberts, who performed in the Fire Island Dance Festival and the Cape Dance Festival during his three weeks off this summer.

For Kuranaga, performing in front of different audiences is almost a spiritual experience. "For me I need to be dancing," she says. "When I don't dance I get very depressed. I meet so many different artists in the world that I wouldn't get to meet if I'm just in Boston. I get inspired by watching other dancers or working with different ballet masters, teachers or coaches and directors. It's something that opens me up. It changes me as a dancer, as a person."

New York City Ballet's Sara Mearns began her summer touring just one day after the spring season ended and made guest appearances at seven different festivals and galas over eight weeks, including the Spoleto Festival, the Iván Nagy Ballet Gala in Budapest, the Jerome Robbins Festival in Paris and the Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival. "What I enjoy most is the opportunity to do different dance techniques, other than ballet," she says. "I don't restrict myself to only ballet galas. I like to explore different parts of my dancing, and these festivals are great for allowing me to do that."

Juggling the Demands of Multiple Projects

The hardest part is having enough time to fit it all in, says Roberts. "If I can create a schedule that allows me to still rest and be prepared for what it is I have to do at Ailey—because that is my primary job, and I have to make sure I'm my best for Ailey—I'm down to do it."

Gig Life Challenges

"I had to carry seven tutus around the world this summer," Kuranaga says with a laugh. "Thankfully I got to come home twice within the seven weeks so I could unpack and repack myself. But the first big trip was about four to five weeks and I needed to pack six tutus. I couldn't really pack my regular clothes so I was wearing the same thing every day, almost."

Deciding Which Appearances Are The Right Fit

"I am very particular about which gigs I take on, and which I turn down," says Mearns, who begins planning more than a year in advance. "I feel it is important to branch out and do different things, instead of the same thing over and over again."

How Touring Alone Compares To Traveling With Your Company

As part of Ailey since 2009, Roberts has toured extensively with the company, and he's about to begin the fall season with performances taking him from Athens to Zürich through September. "There's no way to do the scale that we do with Ailey anywhere else," says Roberts. But when he's planning a smaller tour himself, he says, "it gives us a greater avenue of networking and being with our peers, being with other people that are doing what we're doing. It gives us a different perspective."

When traveling with the company you're part of a bigger entity, Mearns says. "On your own, you make your own schedule and have a little more freedom to prepare and do things on your own terms. You can also gather different people who you want to work with who are special to you. On the flipside, it can be hard being in charge of your own scheduling and managing everything on your own. When we tour with the company it can sometimes be a relief."

Opening a Door to New Opportunties

While performing as guest artists, Roberts and his fiancé (fellow Ailey dancer) Michael Francis McBride worked with new choreographers, which then presented possibilities for future collaboration. "We met a couple of choreographers that are interested in creating work on us, which couldn't happen otherwise. It just creates another avenue for us to do more work."

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