The United States has never had a strong tradition of government support for the arts. But we take what we can get and, since its founding in 1965, American artists have gratefully accepted whatever the National Endowment for the Arts is willing and able to give. Though the NEA has at times been aggressively politicized, for the most part, we have maintained a delicate separation of art and state.
What did our readers care about most in 2018? Judging by our top-clicked stories, topics as broad as confronting a bullying teacher, investigating how Instagram has impacted the dance world and advocating for dance as an intellectual pursuit were the biggest stories in dance this year.
But our biggest hit, published just earlier this month, already has us looking to the new year: Our annual "25 to Watch" list for 2019, profiling the artists we think will be taking the dance world by storm sooner than later.
These are our 10 most-read stories of the year, and why we think they struck a chord with readers:
The first piece that Ohad Naharin brought to New York City after taking over Batsheva Dance Company exploded onto the Brooklyn Academy of Music stage in 2002. The NYC dance audience knew immediately that something big was happening in Tel Aviv. The piece was Naharin's Virus, and it seemed to embody both rage and a Zen acceptance of the unique strangeness of every human body. Now it's back in NYC until July 22, danced by the second company, known as Batsheva — The Young Ensemble, which ranges in age from 20 to 28.
The choreography has the ferocity yet humanity we've come to expect from Batsheva, plus a text from Peter Handke's agitating play, Offending the Audience. The dancers speak Handke's accusations, saying one minute that we, the audience, have a private part of our minds that no one can touch, and then in the next breath that they are invading that part of our brains.
Los Angeles-based choreographer Danielle Agami is taking on a new role in New York City: performer. While her company Ate9 is on a "vacation," she is in residency at The Center for Ballet and the Arts at New York University.
We sat down with Agami to discuss creating her first solo titled framed, which she will perform May 6 at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and why she is excited to get back to her company.
When a new director began transforming Atlanta Ballet a couple of years ago, longtime dancer Alessa Rogers decided to finally explore her dream of dancing in Europe. "I always had this wanderlust," she says. She wasn't set on a particular city or company, but thought learning French would be fun. She began her research that September, making note of repertoire and the number of dancers as well as which companies employed foreign, non–European Union dancers. "I saw that Ballet du Rhin was looking for dancers," says Rogers. "They also had a new director coming in, so I thought it could be an opportunity." After sending a video, Rogers traveled during her layoff week to take company class. She was offered a job on the spot.
Uprooting and moving out of the country, far away from your support system, language and customs, is not something to take lightly. While it can push you as an artist and be an exciting opportunity for personal growth, working as a dancer in a foreign country comes with its challenges. Lots of research and an adventurous spirit are required.
A newcomer to Batsheva's main company, 23-year-old Amalia Smith is quickly learning how to keep her body safe and supple during Ohad Naharin's rigorous rehearsals and world tours. Fatigue has become both a hurdle and a teacher.
"Decadance is pretty much a marathon, and the new piece Venezuela is such crazy cardio I nearly had an asthma attack!" says Smith. Fortunately, the new discoveries she's made through Gaga have helped her handle its intense demands.
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With artistic director Andrea Miller as the Metropolitan Museum of Art's artist in residence this year, Gallim Dance will be debuting a new site-specific work exploring the museum's iconic Temple of Dendur October 28-29. We sat down with Miller to get a deeper look into her creative process and the challenges she's faced creating this piece.
What struck you the most about the Temple of Dendur?
I was really affected when I walked into the space where the temple is. It's impressive to see the way that they've placed this 2000-year-old temple so beautifully in a home in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. But it's also striking to understand that instead of a backdrop of the Nile, it's Central Park. So I felt like I became really sensitive that the temple had to go through a transition from being a temple in its home in front of the Nile to becoming an artifact in New York.
This work is extremely physical. What about the temple drove you to create a more abstract piece?
I don't want to be too heavy-handed in a narrative because I think what's really happening is this invisible momentum—something we can't even recognize or understand that's happening to us, or that maybe happened to the temple. As powerful as it is and as loud as it is. I'm trying to keep it more abstract so that it is more felt than told.
How much do you rely on your dancers input when it comes to the creative process?
It's very collaborative. We really depend on each other. We have complimentary roles and I'm most excited when I'm collaborating with my dancers and when we're speaking together about it and they're responding with movement to the ideas that I'm bringing to them. They also tell me from the inside what's working, what's missing.
Elvira Lind's documentary Bobbi Jene took the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival by surprise last spring, sweeping the awards for Best Documentary, Best Editing and Best Cinematography. For those of us who have watched Batsheva and Bobbi Jene Smith's career, the film's success is not unexpected. It is a validation of what we already know: Bobbi Jene is absolutely fascinating.
She is the dance equivalent of a method actor, like a Daniel Day Lewis who lives inside his characters for months or years. Seeing her choreographic process first-hand reveals there is no trying to portray emotion through dance, what we see is true emotion as a result of dance.
It's difficult to imagine a Batsheva Dance Company without Ohad Naharin at the helm. The provocative choreographer has been the Israeli troupe's artistic director since 1990, during which time the company, its lead choreographer and his movement language, Gaga, have become more or less synonymous. But changes are afoot.
Go to almost any contemporary dance performance in the U.S. and you'll see the influence of Ohad Naharin.
Since taking the helm of Batsheva Dance Company in 1990, Naharin has transformed the group into a global force in dance. His contagious movement practice, Gaga, has spread far and wide, changing the way many choreographers think about creating work—and how dancers relate to their own bodies.
Danielle Agami's edgy sensibility and intoxicating movement quality have made her troupe, Ate9 dANCE cOMPANY, one of the most sought-after on the West Coast. We spent a day with the former Batsheva dancer to see how she runs her rehearsals, what she looks for in dancers and what she does in her downtime (spoiler alert: it involves her adorable dog).
"Start with less." Those are the first words that Keren Lurie Pardes says as she guides her fellow dancers through a pre-rehearsal class in New York City. They have recently arrived to make their debut at The Joyce Theater as members of L-E-V, the small, intriguing company founded in 2013 by Israeli artists Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar. Eyal is a former star dancer and choreographer-in-residence at Israel's renowned Batsheva Dance Company, and Behar is a former party producer.
Keren Lurie Pardes with Mariko Kakizaki. Photo by Jim Lafferty.
The new documentary, Mr. Gaga, portrays the life and work of Ohad Naharin, director of Israel's Batsheva Dance Company and one of the most influential choreographers of our time. The film, directed by Tomer Heymann and produced by his brother Barak, is full of humor, pathos and swatches of startling choreography. Brilliantly edited to reveal connections between family and profession, hard dancing and playfulness, it shows clips from recent works like Hora (2009), Sadeh21 (2011), The Hole (2013) and Last Work (2015) as well as earlier works like Tabula Rasa (1986), Sinking of the Titanic (1989) and Anaphase (1993). We hear insights from choreographers Reggie Wilson and Gina Buntz and one of Naharin's early teachers, Judith Brin Ingber (former Dance Magazine editor and author of Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance.)
The rehearsal process is sometimes harsh, but the film is ultimately very moving. The glue that holds it together is Naharin's voice and the scenes where he's coaching the dancers. Anyone who has taken a Gaga class from Naharin will recognize some of these bon mots from the film:
- "The more you let go of everything in your body all at once, the softness of your flesh will protect you."
The Hole, a site specific work
- "The idea of physical pleasure from physical activity was totally part of how I conceive myself as being alive."
- "I was lucky that I started my formal dance training so late—at the age of 22— so I was a lot more connected to the animal I am."
- "Many times when I dance, I connect to feminine forces, forces that create availability to both yielding and explosiveness, to both delicacy and aggressiveness."
Naharin with daughter Noga
- "What is unique about gaga is the demand to listen to our body before we tell it what to do and the understanding that we must go beyond the familiar limits on a daily basis."
- "Now I don't separate any more the interpretation of the dancers from the act of choreographing. The act of choreography is also the act of helping my dancers to interpret my work."
- "To mourn a big loss and to dance—they don't contradict each other. It's like they live in the same space. I really believe in the power of dance to heal."
Breakfast Philosophy: “Mornings have always been important to me. I can remember watching my mom busy in the kitchen, talking about how it would be a great day because we were sitting down together and eating good food. It's a tradition, but it's also legit—as an athlete, it certainly helps health-wise."
When: “I'm up at 6, because my baby's up. Around 7 or 7:30, my husband, son and I all have breakfast before I go to the studios for our 9:45 class. It's such a lovely time together before we start the day."
Her Go-Tos: “We always have fruit, like pineapple or berries or melon—whatever's seasonal. They're packed with vitamins and just feel fresh before a hard day at work. And protein—eggs or yogurt. Or sometimes oatmeal."
To Drink: “I always have some orange juice, even if it's just a few sips."
Victoria Jaiani's Sunny Side Up Eggs in Pepper
“This is my favorite breakfast. The first time we tried it was in Vienna. It's yummy, brings good memories, and you're getting vegetables and protein—all the good stuff."
• 1 bell pepper, sliced into 1/2" circles
• 1 egg per pepper slice
• salt and pepper to taste
• 1 oz. feta and a few olives
1. Slice a bell pepper into a circle, and place it on a hot, greased pan and crack an egg inside of it.
2. Season with salt and pepper and cook sunny side up until the egg white is cooked through but the yolk is still runny.
3. Serve with feta cheese and olives on
Photo by Erin Baiano for Dance Spirit.
Beyoncé's lead dancer and dance captain
Breakfast Philosophy: “I'm not the biggest morning person—but I always eat something before I dance, even if I'm not hungry, because as soon as we start I'll be starving."
When: “Around an hour or so after I get up—about 10:30 or 11."
Her Go-To: “I make a lot of smoothies. They satisfy me but leave me feeling light."
If She's On Set: “I'll do an egg white omelet with vegetables and maybe a piece of toast."
Ashley Everett's Green Smoothie
“When I was growing up, my dad used to always cook french toast and waffles and pancakes, but it was hard for my body to process all that and it would weigh me down. Smoothies have been really helpful, because they're liquid but really filling with all these nutrients in them."
• a handful of kale or spinach
• 1 banana
• 1 apple (green)
• 1/2 an avocado
• 1 orange (or orange juice)
• a splash of almond milk
• optional: cucumber or other veggies
Blend in a high-power blender until smooth, and enjoy!
Sturm performing In Your Arms. Photo by Carol Rosegg, Courtesy In Your Arms.
Breakfast Philosophy: “I usually get tossed around a lot in rehearsals, so I have to make sure I have energy but won't feel sick."
When: “Breakfast tends to be the last thing I do as I'm getting ready, but I try to eat at least an hour before I dance."
Her Go-To: “I'll top an English muffin with ricotta cheese, avocado and red pepper flakes. It's perfect for energy in the morning. You get protein, fiber, carbs—everything you really need to sustain energy."
If Her Boyfriend's Cooking: “He'll make me an omelet—they're his specialty—with two or two and a half eggs, onion, tomato and sometimes avocado."
To Drink: “I have flavored coffee, like hazelnut with almond milk."
Paul Taylor Dance Company
Khobdeh in Brandenburgs. Photo by Paul B. Goode, courtesy PTDC.
Breakfast Philosophy: “I find food to be almost ritualistic—eating and creating the space to eat so that I can really enjoy it."
When: “On rehearsal days, I'll wake up, have coffee and go to the gym. I don't like to dance on a full stomach, so I break my fast after rehearsal around noon."
Her Go-Tos: “I like Siggi's yogurt because it's high in protein and has a good ratio of carbs to fat. I'll add everything I can possibly fit into that cup—banana, berries, chia seeds, maybe peanut butter. Or I'll do a rice cake with peanut butter and top that with chia seeds or fresh fruit. Sometimes I'll start with a raspberry chia kombucha."
If She's Performing: “Even though I'm not hungry when I wake up, I'll eat early in the morning so that my body has time to digest before I dance. I'll have protein for muscle maintenance—egg whites with spinach, cheddar, salt and pepper, and green leaves on the side with a little bit of oil and vinegar, or a smoothie with berries, banana and yogurt or milk."
To Drink: “Coffee when I wake up, with a little bit of whole milk."
Photo by Gadi Dagon, courtesy Batsheva
Batsheva Dance Company
Breakfast Philosophy: “Plain and simple does the job for me in the morning. Especially if I'm in a rush, which is usually the case."
When: “Around 9 am, before class
His Go-To: “When I was in high school
I would commute to Manhattan, and my dad taught me how to make a quick and easy omelet, so the habit has stuck with me: Most mornings I'll make a two- or three-egg omelet with pepper, onion and tomato."
If He's in a Rush: “I'll have a bowl of Cheerios and pick up a salmon, lettuce and cream cheese sandwich on the way to the studio and have it after class at 11:30."
To Drink: “I make a pretty large mug of coffee at the studio after class."
Kremlin Ballet Theatre
Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe.
Breakfast Philosophy: “I used to skip breakfast to avoid the feeling of being weighed down. I learned the hard way that was a bad idea."
Her Go-To: “After I wake up, I drink water and a special blend of Russian herb tea for cleansing and hormonal stability. Then I'll have two of my own energy bars, Prima Bar Minis. Each has 10 grams of protein, 9 grams of carbs and 6 grams of natural sugars."
When: “My breakfast is usually on the go—I like to work out right after I wake up. If it's a light workout day, I'll eat after the gym and before I head to class. If it's a 'push it' kind of workout day, then I have one Prima Bar Mini to fuel me through my session, and one after."B
To Drink: “I drink coffee with lemon. When I'm in the States I enjoy having coffee with almond or coconut milk, but unfortunately that's not available in Russia. Lemon is healthy, tasty, and now I prefer my coffee like this. It's kind of like a coffee lemonade." n
Ashley Rivers, a writer and dancer in Boston, once read that Ginger Rogers ate two eggs and toast for breakfast, so that's what she's eaten ever since.
It's been nearly a year since I first heard rumblings of a new documentary about modern dance genius Ohad Naharin. (Though it turns out the film had already been a whopping seven years in the making at the time.)
Batsheva on our February 2012 cover
And now, finally, Mr. Gaga is here! The Film explores Naharin's work through countless rehearsals, performances and interviews. The footage is beautiful—it's always a treat to watch his superhuman dancers. But what's more interesting is seeing Naharin give cues, and his ensemble take them on without any hesitation. His troupe is more than 100 percent committed to his vision (as we learned when we went into a rehearsal during Batsheva's recent U.S. tour), and because of that, he's able to pull anything out of them.
Currently, Mr. Gaga is only being screened overseas. We're crossing our fingers that it will be distributed in the U.S. soon, and of course, we will update you if we learn more. Until then, you can watch the trailer below.