Dance in Pop Culture

Seventy one years age today, a new movie hit theaters: The Red Shoes. For a certain generation of dancers, this was the movie—the one that initially inspired them to step inside the studio.

For others, it was the first film they ever saw that finally "got" them. When Moira Shearer's character Victoria Page answers the question "Why do you want to dance?" with the response "Why do you want to live?" she channeled the inexplicable passion of thousands who dedicate their lives to this art.

Of course, many dance movies have followed in The Red Shoes' footsteps. But not all are created equal. We polled some of the Dance Magazine staff to find out what they rate as the G.O.A.T. of dance movies. It turns out, there was a pretty clear favorite in the office.

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Just for Fun
Glenn Allen Sims and Linda Celeste Sims (here in Christopher Wheeldon's After the Rain) are couple goals both onstage and off. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

No matter how much anti–Valentine's Day sentiment I'm feeling in a given year, there's something about dancer couples that still makes me swoon. Here's a collection of wonderful posts from this year, but be warned: Continued scrolling is likely to give you a severe case of the warm fuzzies.

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ABT Studio Company dancers Joseph Markey and Chloe Misseldine in the latest episode of "No Days Off." Screenshot via YouTube.

If you've ever wondered what it's like to be a member of American Ballet Theatre's Studio Company, you're in luck. The latest episode of "No Days Off," a documentary web series profiling young and inspiring athletes, spotlights 17-year-old Joseph Markey, a first-year Studio Company member. The doc not only underscores the physical aspects of Markey's training, but also the artistic refinements he must make on his road to becoming a professional dancer.

17-Year-Old Is The FUTURE of Dance www.youtube.com

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Just for Fun
Yes, the "workshop" ballet was just as life-changing as I'd been told it would be.

I have a confession. Until today, I had never seen the seminal classic Center Stage.

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Just for Fun
Gillian Murphy spent some time in Canada this summer. Image via Instagram @gillianemurphy

We'll admit it: As excited as we are for fall performance season to start, we are in deep, deep denial that the end of summer is in sight. And we're also experiencing some serious FOMO looking at the vacation photos flooding our Instagram feeds from some of our favorite dancers and choreographers. So where in the world do they go to unwind before gifting us with yet another season of incredible dance?

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Dancers Trending
Original photo by Johan Persson.

The Anglophiles in our office (myself included) are pretty chuffed to hear that there's another Royal Wedding in the works now that Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have made it official. And naturally, it got us thinking about that wonderful staple of classical (and not-so-classical) ballet, the wedding pas de deux. To celebrate, here are five of our favorite examples:

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Dancers Trending
Photo by Theo Kossenas, courtesy The Washington Ballet

With her fearless demeanor onstage, it's easy to see how Washington Ballet apprentice Sarah Steele attracted the keen eye of former American Ballet Theatre stars Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. Promoted mid-season from the studio company by artistic director Kent, Steele was cast by Stiefel as the lead in Frontier, his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, this past spring. For the space-themed piece, Steele donned a black-and-white "space suit" onstage, exhibiting dual qualities of strength and grace. Most evocative about Steele's dancing might be her innate intelligence—she was accepted to Harvard on early admission, and plans to resume her studies there in the future. But first, she'll dance.

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Dancers Trending
Photo via metopera.org

I have a guilty pleasure to confess: I kind of really, really love Le Corsaire.

I totally get why many people hate this ballet. Although it's loosely based on a Lord Byron poem, the plot as it exists in ballet form today is absurdly thin. More importantly, it's morally repugnant: Centered around the selling and stealing of sex slaves, it basically portrays women as weak, non-human objects, and Muslims as evil or buffoon-like. (Yep, the last stereotypes that need to be reinforced today.)

Much of the story is silly, unnecessary or nonsensical. Like how the women flirt coquettishly as they're being bought and sold. Or how in the end, the two lead characters survive a sinking ship solely because of "the strength of their love," as American Ballet Theatre's program notes put it.

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Popular
Ethan Stiefel in the studio with Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo by Stephen A'Court, Courtesy RNZB.

Ethan Stiefel's love of motorcycles has been well documented over the years, perhaps most memorably when he played ballet bad boy Cooper Nielsen in the popular 2000 dance movie Center Stage. So it seems fitting that the former American Ballet Theatre star's Harley-Davidson played a role in the creation of his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, which honors the centenary of President John F. Kennedy's birth. New Washington Ballet artistic director Julie Kent called on her longtime ABT colleague for her first commission, Frontier, which premieres May 25–27 at the Kennedy Center Opera House.

Tell us how you and Julie Kent met.

Julie and I first started working together in the late '90s at ABT. I danced some of my first roles and debuts with her. I think my favorite ballet with Julie was Romeo and Juliet. You never forget your first Juliet.

How did she approach you about the Washington Ballet commission?

She contacted me last year in late May and said she wanted me to do a new ballet, specifically one that was connected in some way to President Kennedy. I was obviously very excited, but I needed to take a moment to do some homework, some research. There are many different ways that one could go in making a JFK ballet.

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On choreographing for the upcoming TV show “Flesh and Bone” and taking the Royal New Zealand Ballet on a U.S. tour

 

Photo by Evan Li, Courtesy RNZB

Ethan Stiefel has always been a multitasker. He not only danced with American Ballet Theatre but also played Cooper Nielson in Center Stage, led the University of North Carolina School of the Arts’ dance department and now directs the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Stiefel has two projects rolling at the moment: This month his company tours the U.S. while he also starts work on the Starz ballet drama “Flesh and Bone.” Kate Lydon talked to Stiefel about balancing his roles.

What are you most excited to present to U.S. audiences? I sense a lot of people will enjoy Giselle (choreographed by myself and Johan Kobborg). There is a great deal of new choreography: We gave Hilarion more dancing and created an older Albrecht character—the production is a flashback playing over and over in his head, which leads to a powerful ending. And the mixed-rep program we are bringing reflects the strengths of RNZB, from classical to modern.

It will be the company’s first time in the U.S. since 2005. Where do you usually tour? The company splits in two every other year and tours to a total of about 50 different venues across New Zealand. The purpose is to take ballet to the people, especially in the more remote places of the country. I don’t know of any other company that consistently tours to that many different places in their homeland.

“Flesh and Bone” sounds like an exciting project. What will it entail? I have a pretty cool and challenging opportunity: creating work in a different environment and covering a wide range of vocabulary. The series requires choreographing classroom exercises and stage performances. I am also advising throughout casting to determine if those being considered for roles have the experience to portray a professional dancer.

How will the job fit into your schedule? How much time I actually spend in New York is to be determined. The producers are very sensitive to my responsibilities with RNZB, and the company’s board is very supportive. It’s really not that different from what ADs do while choreographing on other companies—it just so happens that it is for TV instead of the stage, and my location presents a challenging commute.

RNZB ON TOUR:

Giselle

Featuring ABT’s Gillian Murphy

Jan. 31–Feb. 2: The Music Center, L.A.

Feb. 5: Granada Theatre, Santa Barbara, CA

Mixed Bill

Works by Benjamin Millepied, Javier de Frutos, Ethan Stiefel and Andrew Simmons

Feb. 8: Northrop Auditorium, Minneapolis Feb. 12–16: The Joyce Theater, NYC

Susan Jaffe at UNCSA; Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra welcome a daughter

 

 

New Role

 

Last August, former American Ballet Theatre star Susan Jaffe became dean of the School of Dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. “Both ABT and UNCSA will have a deeper relationship, and there will be a crossover between the two schools,” says Jaffe, who danced with ABT for 22 years. “ABT and UNCSA have an exclusive affiliation which will require all of the ballet instructors to take the ABT teacher’s training, Primary through Level 7.” (Jaffe says that some of the UNCSA contemporary faculty have expressed interest in the training as well.) She would also like to host the ABT Studio Company on campus, to work with the ballet and contemporary faculty, and possibly have the contemporary faculty create a new work on the group and UNCSA students.

 

Jaffe’s wish list as an educator demonstrates ambition and imagination: to continually bring the latest discoveries in the field of dance to the school, whether in training, choreography, cross-training, or performance-based outcomes; to expand the training and rehabilitation facilities; to form more bonds with professional troupes; to involve the local community; to work with museums to link dance and art; and to develop graduate and outreach programs at UNCSA.

 

Former ABT principal dancer Ethan Stiefel served as the previous dean from 2008–11 before becoming artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet (see “Transitions,” Sept. 2011). The new dean brings her vast experience of performing, coaching, and teaching to UNCSA, where she currently instructs the upper levels. Jaffe, who was a ballet mistress at ABT before accepting the position at UNCSA, says she misses the dancers and administration at ABT. “Still, I am the kind of person who must always be challenged outside my comfort zone, so taking on the dean of dance at UNCSA seemed to be a good fit,” says Jaffe. “The job has tremendous diversity, and so far I have enjoyed every minute of it.” She occasionally returns as a guest teacher for ABT’s company class.

 

“I miss her every day,” says ABT soloist Isabella Boylston, who was coached by Jaffe in roles like Odette/Odile. “It takes a while to build that kind of coaching relationship. She was always so generous with her time. The way she’s invested in the dancers is unmatched.” No one has yet been named to replace Jaffe as ballet master. —Joseph Carman

 

 

 

Photo of Jaffe by Ramon Estevanell, Courtesy Dance Teacher magazine.

 

 

Birth

 

Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra, principal dancers with Miami City Ballet, welcomed their first child, Eva Carlynn Guerra, in November. Kronenberg, who graced DM’s cover in October 2009, said, “Nurses were amazed how immediately expressive she was. We weren’t so surprised—she had been preparing her grand diva entrance for quite a while!”

 

Photo courtesy MCB 

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