Summer Study Guide 2011: Bound for Broadway
A star-studded week for future triple threats
The bass thuds in Studio 5, a black-box complete with wings and snazzy new marley, where 10 advanced students learn a hip hop routine to Mary J. Blige’s “The One.” Nick Kenkel (“25 to Watch,” p. 48), assistant choreographer of Legally Blonde on Broadway, leads the triple-threats-in-training through the high-energy combination, breaking down the complicated vocabulary. “You can’t walk up here,” he demonstrates, with mincing steps that make the kids crack up. “Use your plié.” He shows the opening walks again with attitude that would put Beyoncé and Missy Elliott (both of whom he’s danced with) to shame.
In the adjacent studio of Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, artistic director Catherine Cox coaches the younger group on solo songs. “It’s not just about the note,” Cox advises a singer learning to belt. The Tony Award–nominated Broadway veteran grabs her own stomach, uttering a sound from deep in her gut. “That joy’s gotta be internal.”
A Google search for “musical theater summer intensive” yields around 40 million results; choosing a triple threat program is by no means easy. If you’re a Broadway-bound dancer looking to gain confidence in singing and acting, the weeklong Broadway Triple Threat program (BTT) might be a perfect match. Cox loves working with strong dancers who arrive with “a certain raw material in singing and acting. They’ll add to their skill level and become more competitive in the real world.” Cox and her all-star faculty coach students in all three disciplines. They also provide a window into the realities of the industry—all in a friendly environment right in the heart of New York City.
Symbiosis & Support
Students Ashley Crimmins and James Ackermann were drawn to the BTT intensive because of its faculty. “We get to work with people that are in there now doing exactly what we want to do,” says 18-year-old Crimmins, from Colorado Springs, CO. With many years of dance training under their belts, she and Ackermann were the unofficial leaders of the dance portion of the intensive, pushing their more singing-oriented peers to excel in hip hop, jazz, tap, and musical theater movement classes. In singing and acting classes, the roles were reversed. Cox describes the students’ relationships as symbiotic. “They challenge each other.”
Personal attention can be rare in New York intensives. But at BTT, teacher-to-student ratio is important, says Cox. She aims to create a safe environment in which to experiment. “My strength is making the students realize that their strength is who they are. It’s always better to be idiosyncratically you than to be something you’ve seen before and are trying to copy.”
Unlike many programs that focus on ensemble pieces, BTT stresses all aspects of solo work: movement, monologues, and songs. “I’ve done a lot of other programs and this one by far has taught me the most,” says 17-year-old Ackermann, of Albuquerque, NM. “I needed to work on my singing and the theatrical part of dancing, and that’s what I learned here.” Based on their auditions, each of the 20 students (divided into two age groups: 13 to 15, and 16 and up) learns a piece selected for them by Cox. By the end of the week, everyone can add a suitable number to their audition repertoire.
Big City Exposure
In addition to its faculty, BTT also boasts master classes and Q&A sessions with guest artists currently active (and influential) in the industry. Students presented songs for Tom Kitt, Tony Award–winning composer of Next to Normal; performer Mandy Gonzalez of In the Heights and Wicked; and David Evans, associate conductor of Wicked. After strutting their stuff for Nora Brennan, the children’s casting director of Billy Elliot: The Musical, and gaining behind-the-scenes insight into the casting process, the students attended the Broadway show.
BTT’s Manhattan location makes access to such resources possible; it also immerses students in the New York vibe. For those with musical theater aspirations, says Cox, “New York City is it. The city has a particular energy that can be intoxicating or a big turnoff. It’s a good time to learn what that is.”
BTT culminates in a final showcase for family and friends. Throughout the week, students do mock auditions for faculty and guest artists. But come Friday, says Cox, the showcase is about “celebrating process,” not an industry audition.
Cox acknowledges that TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance are raising the bar for aspiring Broadway performers. When parents ask if their kids will become stars by the end of BTT, she tells them, “It’s a week. Be realistic and have respect for the arts.” Still, she manages to accomplish a lot within a short period of time. “You can find a glimmer of a belt, a glimmer of a time-step,” she says. “They’ll go back and study with a whole new awareness of what’s out there. In that week, I can get them inspired.”
Debbie Schneider dances and writes in NYC.
BTT students take class with Catherine Cox. Photo by David Evans, courtesy MMAC
It's the 60th anniversary of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and their season at New York City Center is going strong with more than 20 works—including world premieres and company premieres.
Ronald K. Brown, who just received a Dance Magazine Award, has made his seventh work for Ailey, The Call. It's a gorgeous pastiche of three different types of music: Bach, jazz by singer Mary Lou Williams and Malian music by Asase Yaa Entertainment Group.
If a teacher or choreographer has ever commented that your dancing looks stiff, the problem could be that you aren't breathing effectively. "When dancers aren't breathing, their shoulders are up and there's no length in their movement. They start to look like they're just waiting to get to the next thing," says Maria Bai, artistic director of Central Park Dance in New York.
It may seem like a no-brainer—of course you can't move without breathing. But beginning dancers often hold their breath because they are so focused on picking up choreography, says Sarah Skaggs, director of dance at Dickinson College. Even advanced dancers can benefit from focusing more on their breath. "Sometimes they are paying so much attention to what their limbs are doing that they forget about the lungs, the chest, the trunk. Breath is the last thing they're thinking about, but really it should be the first," says Skaggs. The more integrated your breathing is, the more relaxed and present you will feel.
I've been a fan of Jordan Isadore's for about a decade. His gorgeous, spine-contorting renditions of Christopher Williams' repertory are legendary, and for many years I had the privilege of making dances with him and producing his works through DanceNOW[NYC].
Over the last year or so, as he began winding down his performance career, Isadore began making odd, phenomenal objects: dribs of Labanotation scores rendered as hung mobiles, gorgeously crafted in stained glass and metal. The designs are stunning, imbued simultaneously with a hipster-nonsense contemporaneousness and reverence for dance history.
I spoke with Isadore about his retirement from the stage, and transition to crafting full time.
There's always that fateful day each year, usually in February or March, when ballet contracts are renewed. Dancers file into an office one by one, grab an envelope and sign their name on a nearby sheet of paper to signify the receipt of their fate. Inside that envelope is a contract for next season or a letter stating that their artistic contribution will no longer be needed. This yearly ritual is filled with anxiety and is usually followed by either celebratory frolicking or resumé writing.
Whenever I received my contract, I would throw up my hands joyfully knowing that I would get to spend one more year dancing. In 14 years at Boston Ballet, I never once looked at my pay rate when signing a contract. The thought of assessing my work through my salary never crossed my mind.
Watching Bohemian Rhapsody through the eyes of dancer, there's a certain element of the movie that's impossible to ignore: Rami Malek's physical performance of Freddie Mercury. The way he so completely embodies the nuances of the rock star is simply mind-blowing. We had to learn how he did it, so we called up Polly Bennett, the movement director who coached him through the entire process.
In a bit of serendipitous timing, while we were on the phone, she got a text from Malek that he had just been nominated for a Golden Globe. And during our chat, it became quite clear that she had obviously been a major part of that—more than we could have ever imagined.
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What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.
Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
Even if you haven't heard her name, you've almost certainly seen the work of commercial choreographer James Alsop. Though she's made award-winning dances for Beyoncé ("Run the World," anyone?) and worked with stars like Lady GaGa and Janelle Monae, Alsop's most recent project may be her most powerful: A moving music video for Everytown for Gun Safety, directed by Ezra Hurwitz and featuring students from the National Dance Institute.
We caught up with Alsop for our "Spotlight" series:
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:
Each year, The New York Times Magazine shines a spotlight on who they deem to be the best actors of the year in its Great Performers series. But, what we're wondering is, can they dance? Thankfully, the NYT Mag recruited none other than Justin Peck to put them to the test.
Peck choreographed and directed a series of 10 short dance films, placing megastars in everyday situations: riding the subway, getting out of bed in the morning, waiting at a doctor's office.
On busy performance days, international guest artist Joy Womack always makes time for one activity after class and rehearsals: a nap. "I like to feel well-rested when I need to be in the spotlight at night, not dragging at the end of the day," she says. "It helps me recover and refocus."
With her earbuds tuned to a guided meditation app, she can squeeze in a nap wherever she needs to. "One time I even took a nap on the floor of the tour bus in Siberia," she says. "Dancers can sleep anywhere."
Joy Womack prioritizes napping before a show. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe magazine.
As research has revealed the benefits of short daytime naps, power-napping advice has proliferated, and more dancers are choosing to include a nap in their pre-performance routines. Approaching napping strategically will help you get the most out of an afternoon snooze.
On Monday night, a memorial was held at Riverside Church to honor the life and achievements of Dance Theatre of Harlem co-founder Arthur Mitchell. With nearly three months to process and grieve (Mitchell passed away on September 19) the atmosphere was not that of mourning as much as reflection, reverence and admiration for who he was, what he built and what remains. (Watch the full livestream here.)
The church filled with family, artistic friends, fans and admirers. What was most gratifying was the volume of DTH alumni from the school, company and organization who traveled across the globe to pay their respects, from founding members to present dancers and students. The house of worship was filled with the sentiment of a family reunion. As Mitchell was sent home, it was a homecoming for many who have not shared air together in decades. What was palpable was the authentic bonds that Dance Theatre of Harlem and Mitchell fostered in all.
Fans of the sublime English National Ballet first artist Precious Adams were probably excited to see her image splashed across the company's website in a promotional image for an upcoming production of Swan Lake.
But those who took a closer look were met with a disappointing reality: Adams, who is the only black woman in the company, is not listed on the principal casting sheet for the production.
It's become a colloquialism—or, we admit, a cliche—to say that dance can heal.
But with a new initiative launched by British Health Secretary Matt Hancock, doctors in the U.K. will soon be able to prescribe dance classes—along with art, music, sports, gardening and more—for patients suffering from conditions as various as dementia, lung problems and mental health issues.
A list of Clara alumnae from Radio City's Christmas Spectacular reads like a star-studded, international gala program: Tiler Peck and Brittany Pollack of New York City Ballet (and Broadway), Meaghan Grace Hinkis of The Royal Ballet, Whitney Jensen of Norwegian National Ballet and more. Madison Square Garden's casting requirements for the role are simple: The dancer should be 4' 10" and under, appear to be 14 years old or younger and have strong ballet technique and pointework.
The unspoken requisite? They need abundant tenacity at a very young age.
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
Gennadi Nedvigin is not the only early tenure director breaking out a new production of The Nutcracker this season.
We love The Nutcracker as much as the next person, but that perennial holiday classic isn't the only thing making its way onstage this month. Here are five alternatives that piqued our editors' curiosity.
The Nutcracker is synonymous with American ballet. So when Gennadi Nedvigin took the helm at Atlanta Ballet in 2016, a new version of the holiday classic was one of his top priorities. This month, evidence of two years' worth of changes will appear when the company unwraps its latest version at Atlanta's Fox Theatre Dec. 8–24. Choreographed by Yuri Possokhov and produced on a larger-than-ever scale for Atlanta, the new ballet represents Nedvigin's big ambitions.
Ballet Hispánico returns to the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem with its full-length ballet, CARMEN.maquia. Spanish choreographer Gustavo Ramirez Sansano has reenvisioned the story of Carmen to emphasize Don José, the man who falls in love with Carmen, suffers because of her infidelity, then murders her in a "fit of passion." Their duets are filled with all the sensuality, jealousy and violence you could wish for—in a totally contemporary dance language.
Sansano's previous piece for Ballet Hispánico, El Beso, bloomed with a thousand playful and witty ways of expressing desire. He has a knack for splicing humor into romance.
Not being able to attend the in-person audition at your top college can feel like the end of the world. But while it's true that going to the live audition is ideal, you can still make the best out of sending a video. Here are some of the perks: