In a sensual, troubled duet to the music of Amy Winehouse, dancers Chloe Perkes and Zachary Kapeluck channel the late singer's fraught relationship with fame, performance and love. They embody the haunting gravity of her story—while wearing enormous pairs of bunny ears.
On paper, Trey McInytre's Big Ones sounds like it shouldn't work. But risky choices are par for the course at BalletX, and this risk pays off. Founded as a summertime pickup troupe in 2005 by Christine Cox and Matthew Neenan when they were dancers at Pennsylvania Ballet, BalletX is dedicated to performing new work—and lots of it. Its repertory boasts a whopping 76 world premieres in 14 years.
"I'm going to walk through; it's going to be so awkward," says BalletX artistic and executive director Christine Cox, addressing 119 auditionees and acknowledging the ever-intimidating clipboard she holds. The room bursts into laughter, and smiles linger as pliés begin. Cox may have broken the tension, but stakes are high when contracts are up for grabs. At the BalletX company audition in New York City last April, Cox and associate artistic director Tara Keating were looking for one female dancer to fill a summer contract and one or two males to start year-round in the fall. "The core foundation of the company is ballet," Cox says, "but the X is everything. The X is a dancer who can experiment, explore, express themselves." And that's who they're looking for among these hopefuls.
With over 68 new works in its 13-year history, BalletX is known for being an epicenter of creation. The company will outdo itself in its 2018–19 season, treating Philadelphia to seven new works, four of them by women. "We are interested in growing, not cutting costs," says artistic director Christine Cox. "The unknown adventure of new ballets means there is an unknown process and a different learning curve we get to work on every day."
It takes an excellent leader to run a dance company. But Christine Cox, executive and artistic director of Philadelphia's BalletX, knows that it's not only hard work that distinguishes a leader.
Cox started BalletX with Matthew Neenan in 2005, using fellow Pennsylvania Ballet dancers during their summer layoff to populate a startup contemporary ballet troupe. Fast forward 12 years, and BalletX is opening a new $1 million building next month: The Center for World Premiere Choreography. It will not only serve as a home base for BalletX classes and rehearsals, but will also play host to choreographic residencies and community outreach.
Now the sole director of the company, Cox has learned invaluable lessons along the way. Here are seven tips she shares for new and aspiring directors-to-be.
You know Philadanco and Pennsylvania Ballet. But other than those staples, you may not think of Philadelphia as a huge dance hub. We're here to prove that Philly is filled with underrated dance talent—and these six companies are just the start.
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When you're competing against a crowded audition room full of talented dancers, it can feel next to impossible to be the one chosen for the gig. What does it actually take to succeed? Three dancers who recently landed contracts share their keys to success.
From Stage to Stage
November is a busy month for Minneapolis’ resident jack-of-all-trades, Zenon Dance Company. Nov. 1–8, it will join in Minnesota Opera’s new Hansel and Gretel, choreographed by Doug Varone. Then, the company will try on the athletic, yet silky-smooth contemporary work of rising Cuban choreographer Osnel Delgado in his first piece for a U.S. company, at the Cowles Center, Nov. 21–30. zenondance.org.
Above: Alyssa Mann rehearsing Delgado’s Coming Home. Photo by William Cameron, Courtesy Zenon.
Vishneva As Impresario
Always up for an artistic challenge, ballet superstar Diana Vishneva is producing a festival of contemporary dance in Moscow, where classical ballet reigns. Last year, the event’s first, CONTEXT. Diana Vishneva brought together artists as far apart in style and distance as Cunningham-influenced Richard Alston from London and Israeli/American Barak Marshall. This year the festival introduces L.A.–based contemporary Ate9 dANCE cOMPANY, led by the wildly imaginative Danielle Agami, plus Nederlands Dans Theater 2, Ballet Preljocaj and Germany’s Gauthier Dance. CONTEXT, curated by Holland Dance Festival’s Samuel Wuersten, also aims to cultivate emerging choreographic talent. The festival includes a dance film program and provides a smaller, modern venue for young Russian dance artists to show their work and interact with more established choreographers. “Today there exists a hunger for new things in Russia,” says Vishneva. “We are still missing a choreographer of the Ratmansky caliber.” Fear not: The ravishing Vishneva isn’t just staying behind the scenes. She plans to perform works by Hans van Manen and Paul Lightfoot and Sol León—along with some surprises. Mossoveta Theatre. Nov. 26–29. vishnevafest.com.
Right: Vishneva in Carolyn Carlson’s Woman in a Room. Photo by Jerry Metellus, Courtesy Vishneva.
Elo at X
BalletX is getting Jorma Elo’s European touch with a premiere at the Wilma Theater, Nov. 19–23. Audiences can catch the troupe’s new hires from Miami City Ballet and Complexions Contemporary Ballet tackling his ooey, gooey choreography. balletx.org.
Left: BalletX in Elo’s Scenes View 2. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy BalletX.
Sashaying with Scissors
Matthew Bourne first showed his Edward Scissorhands, based on the 1990 Tim Burton film, back in 2005. Nearly 10 years later, the storyteller revisits the production, touring this November through March 2015. new-adventures.net.
Right: A scene from the original production. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy Raw PR.
NEW YORK CITY
What do dancers love most about Broadway? The dancing, of course! That’s the bread and butter of American Dance Machine for the 21st Century, a new troupe with a rotating cast of professional ballet and Broadway dancers, led by artistic producer and founder Nikki Feirt Atkins. The company will stage numbers of pure dancing that run musical theater’s gamut—from Jack Cole’s Someone to Watch Over Me to Michael Bennett’s A Chorus Line to Andy Blankenbuehler’s In the Heights. The Joyce Theater, Nov. 11–16. adm21.org.
Above: ADM21’s Stephen Hanna and Naomi Kakuk in Susan Stroman’s Contact. Photo by Christopher Duggan, Courtesy ADM21.
A Different Kind of Rainbow
When you hear “Over the Rainbow,” you probably imagine a utopian place. So does Heidi Latsky. Her poignant piece Somewhere creates a world that accepts difference with grace and gravitas: One dancer has Parkinson’s, another is deaf and a third has cerebral palsy. Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago, Nov. 6–8. colum.edu/dance-center.
Right: Saki Masuda and Jillian Hollis in Somewhere. Photo by Darial Sneed, Courtesy Latsky.
The city’s ever-expanding dance scene has made it an increasingly appealing––and affordable––option for dancers.
Above: Artistic director Roy Kaiser has expanded PA Ballet’s Balanchine-based repertoire to include modern works by Merce Cunningham and David Parsons, as well as contemporary ballet choreographers like Jirí Kylián, William Forsythe (his Artifact Suite pictured above), and Alexei Ratmansky. He’s also frequently commissioned work from local choreographers. Matthew Neenan, for instance, is the company’s resident choreographer. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy PA Ballet.
When locals talk about Philadelphia, they often say outsiders won’t understand its appeal unless they move there. Tourist sites like the Liberty Bell and Constitution Hall may bring thousands of visitors to the city, but reveal little of its character. Dancers, though, thrive on the city’s vibrancy—its expanding, yet intimate, arts community with its traditional to offbeat voices, plus its wealth of performance spaces and training options. For over 40 years, national companies like Pennsylvania Ballet and Philadanco have anchored the dance scene, while Rennie Harris Puremovement, Koresh Dance Company, and postmodern Headlong Dance Theater shake it up.
Above: Philly is filled with world dance. Pictured here is bharata
natyam group Three Aksha Company. Photo by Johanna Austen, Three Askha
Below: Modern-dance–focused Group Motion Dance Company is a Philly transplant. It started in Berlin in 1962 and immigrated to Philadelphia in the late ‘60s. The founding artistic directors were Mary Wigman followers. Photo by Johanna Austen, Courtesy Group Motion.
It would be too easy to say that the city’s thriving dance scene is a 90-minute Amtrak ride from New York City. While some choreographers like Kun-Yang Lin and Susan Rethorst have relocated to Philly in part to take advantage of its lower cost of living and cheaper studio rentals, the abundance of dance education options plays the biggest role. Dancers come to train and stay to perform. The Pennsylvania Ballet School, which opened last fall, is one testament to the steady expansion of dance education, and schools like University of the Arts and Temple University draw dancers for intensive degree study.
Many dancers from Philadelphia’s companies, as well as higher ed grads, stay on in the city to make their own work. This accounts for the tight-knit community of boutique companies: BalletX started by former PA Ballet dancers Christine Cox and Matthew Neenan, Puremovement alums Brandon “Peace” Albright (Illstyle & Peace Productions) and Raphael Xavier, to name a few. What’s clear is that students and professionals here feel there’s a niche for everyone. Or maybe it’s just that brotherly love.
Right: With 10 dancers, BalletX is a rep company that has premiered over 30 works by cutting-edge contemporary ballet choreographers like Jorma Elo, Helen Pickett, and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. Picture is Nicolo Fonte’s Beautiful Decay. Photo by Bill Hebert, Courtesy BalletX.
Below: Puremovement break-dancing alum Raphael Xavier was awarded a 2013 Pew Fellowship, a prestigious award for local artists. Photo courtesy Raphael Xavier.
Tackling Technique in Philly
Places to take class
The Rock School for Dance Education remains a top training ground for ballet dancers, with a residency program for high school students.
The School of Pennsylvania Ballet opened last fall under the direction of former PA Ballet principal Arantxa Ochoa. Photo at right: Arantxa Ochoa of the new School of PA Ballet. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Headlong Performance Institute’s semester away program, accredited through Bryn Mawr College, offers a range of courses, including improvisation, clowning, composition, and dramaturgy.
Drexel University offers more than a dance minor. The department has a yearly residency program for local choreographers to set work on its students.
Philadanco heads Philadelphia School of Dance Arts, which offers technique classes in ballet to hip-hop.
Koresh School of Dance has a children’s division and open classes
for adults and professionals. Above: Koresh Dance in rehearsal at its studios. Photo by Frank Bickling, Courtesy Koresh.
Choreographer Kun-Yang Lin leads CHI Movement Arts Center, where dancers can take master classes with
the company and other local artists.
From intimate to grand, Philly has a lot to offer. The annual FringeArts festival in September offers a sampler of local, national, and international artists. The Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Pennsylvania draws big-name headliners like MOMIX and Paul Taylor. Head to Bryn Mawr College, just outside the city, to see edgier contemporary work. And Stone Depot Dance Lab, a sort of DIY dance space that’s a live-in loft, serves up unconventional quirk.
Left: Experimentalist Leah Stein sets work in unusual sites and collaborates with live musicians. Photo by Lois Greenfield, Courtesy Leah Stein Dance.
NEW YORK CITY SummerStage is back, offering free outdoor performances in all five boroughs. This month, the Francesca Harper Project performs Harper’s Modo Fusion: Art Prototype, a foray into the world of beauty pageants that fuses dance with music and film in the East River Park, Aug. 16. In a series of theatrical vignettes, the work explores the exploitation of women and the way beauty pageants have evolved over time. The previous week, Aug. 9 & 10, Harlem Dance Caravan brings Illstyle & Peace Productions (a hip-hop based company), Camille A. Brown & Dancers, and Forces of Nature Dance Theatre to Marcus Garvey Park. www.cityparksfoundation.org/summerstage.
Dominique Rosales of Francesca Harper Project. Photo by Lois Greenfield, Courtesy Summerstage.
Russian Stars Come London Calling
LONDON The Bolshoi, that purveyor of bravura, takes over the Royal Opera House for three weeks through Aug. 17. Its most buzzed-about ballerinas, namely Zakharova, Obraztsova, and “25 to Watch” Smirnova, appear in works like Balanchine’s Jewels, La Bayadère, and Swan Lake. It is hoped that director Sergei Filin will be able to join them (see “Dance Matters,” June). Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev make a one-night-only, megawatt guest-star turn in Ratmansky’s Flames of Paris, which has been sold out for months—a housewarming party of sorts for Osipova, who joins The Royal Ballet as a principal dancer for the upcoming season. www.roh.org.uk.
Osipova in Flames of Paris. Photo by Elena Fetisova, Courtesy Bolshoi.
Dreams from My Father
MOUNT TREMPER, NY “This dance honors my past, present, and future family.” The enigmatic Souleymane Badolo shows his Buudou, BADOO, BADOLO, part ecstatic ritual, part seance, at the Mount Tremper Arts Festival on Aug. 3. (Buudou means “family” in Badolo’s mother tongue Gourounsi.) The natural wonder of Mount Tremper’s Catskill Mountains locale only adds to the work’s eeriness. www.mounttremperarts.org.
Badolo in Buudou, BADOO, BADOLO. Photo by Ian Douglas, Courtesy Danspace.
Sounds of Summer
NATIONWIDE Tap festivals for all ages and levels abound in August. Get down with star faculty and performers at workshops across North America:
Rhythm World at Chicago’s American Rhythm Center with Lane Alexander, Derick K. Grant, and Chicago Human Rhythm Project, through Aug. 4. www.chicagotap.org.
L.A. Tap Fest with Jason Samuels Smith and Chloe Arnold, Aug. 5–10. www.latapfest.com.
Bay Area Tap Festival with Channing Cook Holmes and John Kloss. Aug. 13–18. www.stepology.com.
Motor City Tap Fest with Gregg Russell, Claudia Rahardjanoto, and Sarah Reich, Aug. 15–17. www.motorcitytapfest.com.
Tap United at the Collins Center for the Performing Arts in Andover, MA, with Aaron Tolson, Tap Attack, and Sean Fielder, Aug. 16. www.tapunited1.com.
Jersey Tap Fest with Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards and Jason Janas, Aug. 22–25. www.jerseytapfest.com.
Santa Fe Tap Festival with Mark Mendonca and the D’Jeune D’Jeune African Drum and Dance Ensemble. Aug. 29–30. www.stepology.com.
Vancouver International Tap Dance Festival with Dianne Walker, Jumaane Taylor, and Michelle Dorrance, Aug. 30–Sept. 1. www.vantapdance.com.
Charles Renato of Brazil jumps into Rhythm World in Chicago. Photo by Adilson Machado, Courtesy CHRP.
A Rash of Small Ballet Troupes
NEW YORK CITY The Joyce is trying something new this summer. Gathering six small ballet companies from around the country, it is presenting a two-week sampler from Aug. 6–17. New Yorkers don’t often get to see BalletX from Philly, Dominic Walsh Dance Theater from Houston, Company C Contemporary Ballet from the Bay Area, or Whim W’Him from Seattle—though each group has a following in its hometown. Add to this intriguing roster two from NYC—Jessica Lang Dance and BalletCollective (a project of New York City Ballet’s Troy Schumacher)—and you have a mini festival that may lure you away from the beach. www.joyce.org.
Domenico Luciano of Dominic Walsh Dance Theater in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. Photo by Frank Atura, Courtesy DWDT.
Ladies, Start Your Engines
SAN FRANCISCO Eight dance groups—all with women at the helm—perform at San Francisco’s Summer Performance Festival, SPF6. The artists were recent participants in The Garage residency, under the auspices of SAFEhouse, a local incubator for emerging artists with a strong LGBTQ bent. Different movement styles and topics are tackled, from Aura Fischbeck Dance’s Have we all melted yet?, which explores assimilation, to BodiGram’s D.R.U.N.K.S, a satirical look at drinking culture (complete with drinking games). At the ODC Theater Aug. 14–18. www.spf6.org.
The Milissa Payne Project’s Up in the Air. Photo by Lynn Fried, Courtesy SPF6.
Chicago’s Finest, For Free
CHICAGO Where can you see Hubbard Street, Giordano, the Joffrey Ballet, Ensemble Español, Natya Dance Theatre, and Chicago Human Rhythm Project for free? Five times over? Chicago Dancing Festival, of course. These Windy City companies are joined by dancers from Ailey, Brian Brooks Moving Company, Philadanco, Juilliard, and Lar Lubovitch Dance Company (Lubovitch is a CDF co-founder). Performances take place at the Harris Theater, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and the Auditorium Theatre, with an outdoor finale at the vast Pritzker Pavilion of Millennium Park. Aug. 20–24. www.chicagodancingfestival.com.
Krithika Rajagopalan of Natya Dance Theatre. Photo by Eileen Ryan, Courtesy CDF.
VAIL The Vail International Dance Festival this summer, which celebrates its 25th year with a wealth of programs and events, has something for everyone. The anniversary benefit performance presents styles from tango to ballet, with Charles “Lil Buck” Riley (see cover story), Gabriel Missé, Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild, and Herman Cornejo, among others. The festival continues to show its range in two evenings of international dance, a ballroom spectacular, and performances by dancers from popular TV shows. And Damian Woetzel, the festival’s mastermind, hosts an evening of premieres, including works by Paul Taylor, Larry Keigwin, and Fang-Yi Sheu. July 28–Aug. 10. www.vaildance.org.
Kit McDaniel and Brandon Cournay of Keigwin + Company. Photo by Matthew Murphy, Courtesy VIDF.
WASHINGTON, DC “The Ballets Russes changed the way people viewed dance.” So wrote Deborah Jowitt about the legendary company on the occasion of its centenary (see “Russes Revolution,” Feb. 2009). The burst of fauvist color, themes of eroticism, and blockbuster collaborations woke audiences up to the allure of ballet. Now on display at the National Gallery of Art’s Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: When Art Danced with Music in Washington, DC, are costumes, set designs, rare film footage, and drawings (by the likes of Bakst, Matisse, Picasso, and Chanel) from that ground-breaking period. Of special note is Natalia Goncharova’s cubist backdrop for Fokine’s glorious Firebird. Through Sept. 2. www.nga.gov.
Léon Bakst’s costume design for an Odalisque from Schéhérazade, 1911. Photo from Collection of the McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Gift of Robert L. B. Tobin, Courtesy NGA.
A Different Kind of Peace Process
NEW YORK CITY Transplanted Israeli choreographer Zvi Gotheiner takes an ancient Arab line dance for the basis of his dynamic work DABKE, which comes to Lincoln Center Out of Doors Aug. 3. With images of both protest and prayer, the dance unites Israeli and Arab traditions. ZviDance shares the evening with El Gusto, a group of both Jewish and Muslim musicians. (Maybe dancers and musicians can accomplish what Hillary Clinton could not.) Other offerings in the series—which is free—include Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion on Aug. 1, and Dance Heginbotham on Aug. 8. www.lcoutofdoors.org.
Gotheiner’s DABKE. Photo by Jacqueline Chambord, Courtesy Lincoln Center.
Contributors: Suzannah Friscia, Wendy Perron, Kina Poon