When George Balanchine's full-length Don Quixote premiered in 1965, critics and audiences alike viewed the ballet as a failure. Elaborate scenery and costumes framed mawkish mime passages, like one in which the ballerina washed the Don's feet and dried them with her hair. Its revival in 2005 by Suzanne Farrell, the ballerina on whom it was made and to whom Balanchine left the work, did little to alter its reputation.
Yet at New York City Center's Balanchine festival last fall, some regretted its absence.
"I'd want to see Balanchine's Don Quixote," says Apollinaire Scherr, dance critic for the Financial Times. "It was a labor of love on his part, and a love letter as well. And you want to know what that looks like in his work."
Even great choreographers make mistakes. Sometimes they fail on a grand scale, like Don Quixote; other times it may be a minor misstep. Experiment and risk help choreographers grow, but what happens when a choreographer of stature misfires? Should the work remain in the repertory? And what about a work that fails on some levels but not others?
Lately I've been having recurring dreams: I'm in an audition and I can't remember the combination. Or, I'm rehearsing for an upcoming show, onstage, and I don't know what comes next. Each time I wake up relieved that it was only a dream.
However, this is the reality of how I often felt throughout my dance career. Once I knew the steps, there was no undoing it. It was the process of getting there that haunts me to this day.
Choreography & Creative Direction by Zoe Rappaport Dancers: Zen Waterford & Micah Moch Director of Photography: Sam Gostnell Music: "Unspoken Words" by The Soil Filmed at LA Center Studios The Studio School Los Angeles, CA
David Hallberg wants to give choreographers a place to experiment. Photo by Patrick Frenette, courtesy ABT
The Metropolitan Opera House is a stadium; an ornately lush stadium, but one nonetheless. The 3,800-seat challenge that American Ballet Theatre readily tackles is typically filled to capacity because of the stalwarts: Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, the classics that, without doubt, have stood the test of time and have brought people in droves to the Met.
A new commission is a risk best handled by the choreographers who can produce works that offer seasoned polish and dependability. Rarely is it given to an "unknown." And although, in the history of large commissions, there inevitably exists a freedom of creative impulse, that freedom must not reach too deep, for the fall off the cliff is steep and far. There is simply too much at stake: time, money, reputation.
When Michael Jackson turned into a bunny in the "Speed Demon" video—that's what did it for me. My older sister and I spent hours watching his tapes, trying to learn the choreography. I was 10 years old, growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, and whenever the music came on, I was moving.
I remember the first time I saw Memphis jookin in its true form. It was at the Crystal Palace skating rink in Memphis, and I saw a dancer named Bobo—he was incredible.
In its 70-year history, NYCB has only commissioned four black choreographers—all men: John Alleyne and Ulysses Dove in 1994, Dance Theatre of Harlem's Robert Garland in collaboration with Robert LaFosse in 2000, and Albert Evans in 2002 and 2005. It's been 11 years since Evans, an NYCB alum, made work for the company and 18 years since a black choreographer outside of NYCB has been invited to choreograph.
She had a varied, flourishing career that included dancing for Lar Lubovitch, touring with the Bad Boys of Dance, and performing at Radio City Musical Hall and in Broadway shows. But Kamille Upshaw really wanted to make Mean Girls happen.
Not because she'd known Reginas or Plastics in high school—at Baltimore School for the Arts, her classmates were too busy pursuing dance, music, or other "artsy things" to form the obnoxious cliques that Lindsay Lohan experiences in the movie. But when the teen comedy by "Saturday Night Live" giants came out in 2004, Upshaw and her friends watched Mean Girls over and over and over. It was "an obsession," she says.
Liz Tenuto's choreography for the artist-In-residence program at CounterPULSE SF. Photo by Robbie Sweeny
As dancers, we all hop on "the track." We attend class every day at 10 am, we go to summer intensives every year, we regularly show up at audition after audition. It's what we think we need to do to achieve our dreams.
But other things come up—maybe we change or what we want out of life evolves. It is up to us to listen, to see if we can let our plan shift and to be brave enough to veer off track. Otherwise, we may not discover what makes us truly unique.
Andy Blankenbuehler rehearsing Bandstand. Photo by Rachel Papo.
While directing and choreographing the Paper Mill Playhouse production of the musical Bandstand, Andy Blankenbuehler found himself tied into knots. After the wild success of the juggernaut Broadway musical Hamilton, for which he would win the 2016 Tony Award for Best Choreography, he began comparing his unsatisfactory rehearsal rut to what he called "the best work of my career."
"I was really struggling," he says. "I knew I wasn't reaching the same bar as I had with Hamilton." Seeing his frustration, his wife reminded him that there would never be another Hamilton—but that didn't mean his other work couldn't be great, too. "She saw how I was beating myself up trying to accomplish a similar thing." Happy ending detour: Blankenbuehler regained his footing and won his third Tony Award for choreography for the Broadway production of Bandstand.
Christopher Gattelli describes his latest cast as "unicorns," because he can't believe they exist. "It blows my mind, what they can do," he says. "They can do everything." They have to. Their characters belong to no species generally known to dance on Broadway—a crab, a squirrel, a starfish, a snail and, you guessed it, a sponge.
Emily Schoen and Houcem Bouakroucha, Photo by TuniStudio
Again and again, dance teaches me that when the filters fall away between people—when the boundaries of geography, religion and politics soften—the beginning and end of our relationships is always human.
In March, I traveled with Keigwin + Company to Cote D'Ivoire, Ethiopia and Tunisia, on a tour sponsored by the US State Department and facilitated by DanceMotion USA/Brooklyn Academy of Music. Our mission was cultural diplomacy: Simply, to share ourselves with diverse communities, to promote common understanding and friendships.
Our last stop was Tunisia. Until that point, we had mostly been learning varieties of traditional African dance, and sharing American modern dance. But Tunisia was different. The dancers already had a solid grasp of contemporary movement invention. Though we didn't speak the same language, we could make movement vocabulary with surprising ease. Everything about our backgrounds was different, but there was this special intersection through dance that seemed to present an open door to collaboration.
To me, dancing is an opportunity to exist in an alternate reality. With my imagination moving galaxies per minute, there's no telling what I will do, when or how—and that's my escape from this world.
It's common for my mind to drift off and borrow ideas from a character in a Disney movie while performing with Wynton Marsalis, or to be thinking about how algorithms work while performing with Mariah Carey on "Good Morning America."
Fall For Dance is always a huge talkabout here in the Dance Media offices. So after all the programs were performed this year, a few of the editors from Dance Magazine, Pointe and Dance Teacher got together on Google Hangouts this morning to share our thoughts. Here are excerpts from our convo:
Ever wondered what happens in those seedy chain motels attached to airports? In the new HBO anthology series Room 104 Room 104 , created by Mark and Jay Duplass,it's everything from the funny and eccentric to the creepy and absurd.
With no connecting story for its characters, each episode takes place in one motel room. Episode 6 titled "Voyeurs" which airs tonight depicts a housekeeper reconnecting with her younger self in a dialogue-free episode of solely dance.