A Broadway luminary and a postmodern darling bring their talents to ballet, a music video maven turns to the concert stage, and a contemporary choreographer gets soulful with Aretha Franklin. Our editors' must-sees this May are all about the unexpected.
For all of its historic sites, the pulse of London can be found in its diversity, and the constant collision of the new with the old. Hofesh Shechter Company and East London Dance are pulling this dichotomy into the spotlight with East Wall, the culmination of a three-year collaboration celebrating the communities of East London. Directed by Hofesh Shechter, four young, London-based choreographers—Becky Namgauds, Duwane Taylor, James Finnemore and Joseph Toonga—weave together their wildly disparate styles for an outdoor spectacle featuring more than 150 dancers and musicians performing at one of the city's most iconic structures: the Tower of London. July 18–22. eastwall.org.
The first time I saw a Hofesh Shechter work, the usher handed me a program and a pair of earplugs as I walked up to the theater door. I was running late so I stuffed the tiny foam pieces in my pocket. I could not imagine in what universe I would ever need such things if I didn't even use them at rock concerts. And then I walked into the theater. I was pleasantly surprised to be accosted by the decibel level of what appeared to be a death metal band playing live for Shechter's Political Mother. I never used the earplugs, but perhaps the usual concert dance audience was grateful for the gesture.
In 2012, the show was a surprise even by the standards of Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival. In the years since, the Israeli choreographer has continued to shock and awe American audiences with his powerful, raw dance theater. His latest creation, Grand Finale, is a mature study in the contrasts and contradictions, the violence and the transcendence, that mark the modern human condition. I caught up with Shechter, now based in London, ahead of the work's appearance at BAM Next Wave November 9–11.
Grand Finale. Photo by Rahi Rezvani, Courtesy Danse Danse
What was your inspiration for Grand Finale? Is it purely abstract or is there a story in it for you?
I try to make work that is like a real night dream: You feel a lot of things and kind of know where you are are, and you kind of understand what is happening. It is an opportunity to express and digest a lot of emotions in the world today and in my life. And the responses are subjective; some people speak to me about the absolute despair in it and some speak of the hope they see, a shining star in the dark or a celebration of life. I think these two powers just exist together. There is a feeling of celebrating life regardless of how difficult it is, and, perhaps new to me, the feeling that there is beauty in the horrifying truth of our world, in what people are and how they behave. I was trying to make poetry with atrocities around me.
We're not saying that we called it, but...okay we did. The 2016 Tony Awards were last night, and Hamilton swept up 11 of 13 possible awards, including Best Musical and Best Choreography for Andy Blankenbuehler. The smash hit was nominated for 16 awards, but with multiple nods in some categories.
However, even though it was inarguably Hamilton's night, other dance-heavy shows got to have their say in performances throughout the evening. Here are some of our favorite moments.
The infectious energy brought by On Your Feet! Choreographer Sergio Trujillo had the ensemble moving nonstop to a medley of Gloria Estafan's pop hits that feature in the musical. The dancers were fantastic in the high-speed, Cuban inspired partnering, but a pair of young boys absolutely stole the show with huge smiles that were not at all affected by their absurdly quick footwork. They even managed to get Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda on his feet down in the first row.
Fiddler on the Roof reminding us of why Hofesh Shechter was nominated. If anyone still had doubts about the contemporary choreographer taking on a Broadway show, they were erased last night. The dancing in the wedding celebrations is fantastic—rhythmically surprising, beautifully detailed, exciting to watch and seamlessly fitting into the world of Fiddler.
The entire cast of Shuffle Along showing off their tap skills. Honestly, how can you pick just one favorite moment from this performance? Savion Glover took home a Drama Desk Award for his choreography, and any other year he probably would have snagged the Tony as well. From a line of chorus girls to a series of jaw-dropping soloists to the rest of the ensemble, every single person onstage brought fantastic energy and technical chops to the floor. Do yourself a favor and watch the entire performance.
The cast of Spring Awakening making us wonder why Spencer Liff wasn't nominated for Best Choreography. It takes a considerable amount of skill to sign a song using American Sign Language in a way that reflects not just the words but the meaning and emotion behind them (while being musical, to boot), and the hearing and deaf actors in the cast of Spring Awakening have talent in spades. Major kudos to Liff for integrating choreography and sign language in such a way that the signing was perfectly legible while feeling like a natural extension of the choreography and music.
Hamilton. Really, what else is there to say? It's no secret that we—and pretty much everyone we know—love this musical, even though this live broadcast is probably the closest most of us will get to seeing it. The cast is phenomenal, doing battle with invisible bayonets (they nixed the usual prop guns in light of the events that took place in Orlando yesterday) or falling into formation, changing qualities at the drop of a hat without losing an ounce of the determined conviction that characterizes the show.
If you want to hear from the fantastic ensemble of Hamilton about how they pull it off, grab our June issue!
It's anyone's guess as to what shape next year's biggest Broadway hits will take, but with works as stylistically different and undeniably innovative as these currently calling the Great White Way home, it seems like absolutely anything is possible.
We all know why this year could very well be the most watched Tony Awards of all time. Not only has Hamilton converted the unlikeliest of people into musical theater lovers, but its tickets are so hard to come by that a live television performance may be the closest most of us get to seeing the revolutionary show. Though the Tonys, hosted by James Corden of "The Late Late Show," will likely be a Hamilton love-fest, there's still lots more to look out for this Sunday when the show airs—including one of the strongest, most diverse choreography line-ups in recent years.
Five shows are nominated for the Best Choreography award, each of them featuring completely different styles:
Audra McDonald and the cast of Shuffle Along in rehearsal. Photo by Devin Alberda, Courtesy Shuffle Along.
The legendary hoofer has another show on Broadway, and, as to be expected, the tapping is out of this world. What's unique about this show is that it isn't only the ensemble that's shuffling away—all the leads tap just as much and with just as much confidence. Though it seems like Shuffle Along isn't going to be as big as Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk, which won Glover a Tony, it's still a strong contender. Plus, the choreographer will be joining the cast soon!
Hofesh Shechter teaching choreography at a Fiddler rehearsal. Photo by Kyle Froman.
Who would have thought that modern dance giant Hofesh Shechter would choreograph a Broadway show—and be really good at it?! The Israeli-born choreographer's reinvention of Jerome Robbins' dances references and upholds the "Traditions" so integral to the show, and innovates them in exciting ways. Any other year, this would be my pick for Best Choreography.
Dames at Sea—Randy Skinner
Skinner's choreography for Dames at Sea (which closed in November) is classic show tap. It's fun and serves the show well, but among the other standout nominees, it lacks that sense of innovation and excitement. (Go "Behind the Curtain" with Mara Davi to get a peek at the moves.) This feels especially true when you consider who wasn't nominated for this category—notably the revival of Spring Awakening, which featured Spencer Liff's breathtaking fusion of sign language and dance.
Sergio Trujillo tapped into authentic Cuban rhythms to tell the story of pop sensation Gloria Estefan, and the result is a high-energy, nonstop dance party. It's a style we haven't seen much of on the Great White Way, and Trujillo seamlessly integrates it into the plot.
Hamilton ensemble members Sasha Hutchings, Voltaire Wade-Greene and Ariana DeBose at our June cover shoot. Photo by Jayme Thornton.
Surprise, surprise. Blankenbuehler's hip-hop driven, style-bending magnum opus is the strongest contender for the Best Choreography prize—and the likely winner. No, Hamilton doesn't need to win in all the 13 categories it's nominated in. But the choreography—along with Lin-Manuel Miranda's book and score—are definitely aspects of the show that deserve extra recognition.
This brings me to only disappointing part of the Tony Awards—the fact that the Best Choreography award usually isn't aired on the live broadcast. How is it that the Tonys uses dances from various shows (including all those mentioned above except for Dames at Sea) to pump up viewers, but the choreographers who made the moves don't get to be recognized in front of the television audience? Come on, Tonys.
On the bright side, it seems like the dance lineup on Broadway just keeps getting better. Tune in to CBS at 8pm on Sunday for 10 exciting performances.
Whether you're flying solo or in a relationship, these nine supremely talented—and, ahem, hunky—male dancers wanted you to know they'll be thinking of you this Valentine's Day. Gift these for Galentine's Day or just consider them a gift from us to you. (You're welcome.)
Alex Wong (and his abs) wish you a fantastic day.
Photo by Nathan Sayers
Carlos Acosta may be retired from The Royal Ballet, but he still wants to dance with you.
Photo by Kristie Kahns
Master choreographer Hofesh Shechter has offered to share his craft.
Photo by Lucas Chilczuk
Tony Yazbeck, here in costume for On the Town, took a short break from Finding Neverland to say hi.
Photo by Nathan Sayers
American Ballet Theatre corps dancer Sterling Baca is looking for a partner on the dance floor.
Photo by Nathan Sayers
Downtown dancers Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener know how to play it cool.
Photo by Jayme Thornton
New York City Ballet's Justin Peck thinks that you could be The Most Incredible Thing.
Photo by Jayme Thornton.
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Ethnic dances transport audiences to new worlds.
Hofesh Shechter mixed Israeli folk and modern dance in Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy Fiddler on the Roof.
This has been the season of ethnic dance on Broadway. Of course, you can find your standard tap routines and kick lines, too. But there’s nothing standard about Andrew Palermo’s bon odori dance, straight out of Japanese tradition, in Allegiance; nor are we accustomed to seeing the Cuban folk steps Sergio Trujillo has adapted for On Your Feet! or the Eastern European accents in Hofesh Shechter’s choreography for the revival of Fiddler on the Roof.
Broadway musicals have been drawing on traditional forms and plunging performers and audiences into distant worlds for decades. Jerome Robbins incorporated the dance rituals of Thailand into The King and I and the vernacular dances of New York’s Puerto Ricans into West Side Story. Going back even further, there’s a sailors’ hornpipe in Carousel, a square dance in Oklahoma! and Irish step-dancing in Finian’s Rainbow. To explore the world of Broadway musicals is to explore the world, and this is no accident, given the roots of the form in immigrant entertainments. And whether or not today’s Broadway choreographers come from the communities they bring to the stage, they make it their business to burrow into the world of the shows they’re working on.
With Fiddler, Hofesh Shechter arrives as a decided insider. Having started his career performing with an Israeli folk dance ensemble, he didn’t have to go far for moves that would suit Anatevka, the Russian village at the heart and soul of Fiddler. “Cossack dance, Hassidic dance, Balkan—so many different kinds of Jewish dances from around the world are completely available to me,” Shechter says.
Coming as an outsider to Allegiance and its Japanese Americans caught up in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, Andrew Palermo managed to choreograph a kabuki-based fan dance and an age-old bon odori dance. He and his associate choreographer, Jenny Parsinen, studied with Miyako Tachibana, the daughter of the Japanese dance master Fujima Kansuma. For the opening song, “Wishes on the Wind,” he says, “I worked closely with Rumi Oyama, who is an expert in traditional Japanese forms, to create a short work that interprets the lyrics—something that felt authentic, yet specific to that moment in the show.”
For the Gloria Estefan musical On Your Feet!, Sergio Trujillo was an outsider with something of a head start. A Colombian reared in Canada, Trujillo already had a feel for Latin rhythms. But he wanted a specifically Cuban flavor. “The more authentic you are,” he says, “the more the audience is going to feel that they are witnessing something that has never been seen onstage before.” So he went to Havana to take classes. For the song “Tradición,” he turned to a time-honored Cuban handkerchief dance, the pañuelo; for the up-tempo “Cuba Libre,” he accentuated the percussion with the wood-soled slippers called chancletas. But it’s not just a matter of finding an appropriate slot for a slice of folklore, he says. In Cuba, such dances take place in bars or homes or “an environment that feels a little bit more intimate.” They have to evolve to fit into the theatrical space of a show.
Palermo echoes the idea. Because the bon odori is typically danced at festivals and parades, he says, his initial approach was to choreograph for a circle. “It felt very authentic and non-presentational. But at the end of the day, we have a thousand people who paid a lot of money, who want to see people’s faces! So, you have to turn out. You have to acknowledge that though a lot of traditional forms are inward-facing, danced to and for partners and the participatory group in general, you need to include the audience.”
For the most part, that audience doesn’t know or care how accurately the choreography reflects a culture. But good choreographers do. In 1999, when Trujillo was enlisted to choreograph a production of The Sound of Music, he found a teacher who could coach him in Austrian folk dance. For Invisible Thread, the recent off-Broadway musical set in Uganda, he recruited a co-choreographer, the African-dance specialist Darrell Grand Moultrie, to ensure verisimilitude. But fidelity can take you only so far, Trujillo notes. “You can’t insulate yourself with authenticity,” he says. “You have to give it pizzazz. If you stay too puritanical, I don’t think you’re servicing the piece as a whole.”
Shechter says he tries to “strike a balance,” because you can add so much pizzazz that the original material is denatured. “I think it’s important to leave some element of authenticity there,” he says, “so it doesn’t feel completely remote from the story of where we are.” The key to retaining the essence of the source material while accommodating the audience’s desire to be entertained, Shechter suggests, is “just putting the volume up on the elements that are more exciting and easy to watch.”
Still, Trujillo says, you need to entertain. “Always and forever,” he adds emphatically. So in the end, all those exotic cultures that Broadway musicals invite us to visit are assimilated into the mainstream—just like the immigrants who brought them here to begin with. n
Hofesh Shechter marries the old and new in the Fiddler on the Roof revival.
Photo by Kyle Froman
Even if you didn’t know that a hot new choreographer has taken the reins at the latest Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof—the fifth in as many decades—the show’s movement-heavy marketing materials would tip you off. The television commercial is a montage of flailing limbs, swirling torsos and flying clothing, accompanied by the thumping rhythms of the song “Tradition.” The print ads feature an image of a speed-blurred, animated Tevye with one hand on a hip and the other in the air, as dynamic as the Nike swoosh. The artwork is even emblazoned in lights on the marquee of the Broadway Theatre, where the beloved show is likely to be dancing for a good long time. Tony-winning director Bartlett Sher, whose revivals of South Pacific and The King and I both honored and refreshed those classics, enlisted the iconoclastic Hofesh Shechter to help him do the same with Fiddler.
Photo by Kyle Froman
It’s been more than half a century since director/choreographer Jerome Robbins nurtured a mega-hit musical from the Yiddish tales of Sholem Aleichem, and many things have changed. But one thing hasn’t: The newest Fiddler will still feature the iconic bottle dance. “I’m taking the lead from Mr. Robbins,” Shechter says. “Everything he did is great, but not everything is up-to-date.”
In general, productions of Fiddler are contractually required to reproduce the original choreography; but Shechter has been granted permission to make alterations in both the dance steps and the dance music. When asked if he will be doing the show-stopping Act One finale, in which bottles of wine sit precariously atop the traditional hats of men dancing at a Jewish wedding in Czarist Russia, he exclaims, “Oh, yeah”—in a tone that implies he would have to be a madman to leave it out. “But I’m trying to take it into my own world,” he adds. “I don’t think about it too much, to be honest. It’s not the kind of thing that I think is healthy to think about. I have this great group of dancers, and we’re doing something that happens now, in our world....Dance is energy, it is about sort of purifying an energy.”
Photo by Kyle Froman
The Israeli-born Shechter, descended from Eastern European Jews like those memorialized in Fiddler, knew the show only from the 1971 Norman Jewison film. Shechter never pictured himself choreographing a Broadway musical. In fact, choreography of any kind was in no sense an obvious path for him. Switching his allegiance between music and dance, performing with a youth folk dance group and the celebrated Batsheva Dance Company, moving among Israel, France and England, he was, he says, “like a lost particle. I was searching for what I actually wanted to do in this life.” With the Hofesh Shechter Company, which he formed in England in 2008, he managed to combine his love for music and for dancing—composing his own scores for his own choreography. Although Fiddler is not the first time he’s been constrained by a ready-made score, he admits that it presents him with “a very different challenge.” And it’s a challenge he welcomes. “When I put my own show together,” he says, “the responsibility is huge. The music, the concept, the structure, the content, the movement—it’s a lot. It’s kind of nice sometimes to have to work in a context where the structure and the music, the story and the content, are all there, and I’m trying to fit into it. From my world, but fit into it. It’s a different type of creation.”
The thread that runs through his freelance choreography projects, whether theater or opera, is his passion for music. “If I don’t have that connection,” he says, “then it’s not gonna work.” But with Fiddler, there were connections on other levels as well. First, of course, the score—“so beautiful, so good.” And, he adds, “I felt that something about my movement material really gels with it.” Shechter also connected with the narrative: “It’s a story about Jewish people that are not living in their own land,” he says, “so there was a lot of natural connection that I felt very quickly.” In addition, the show’s driving theme, the tension between generations, between tradition and innovation, resonated deeply for a choreographer who entered the dance world through the timeless conventions of folk dance only to land amid the upheaval of contemporary dance. As for his initial hesitation about Broadway, he says, he realized very quickly that if he was ever to do a musical, Fiddler had to be the one. “It took me not more than five seconds to say yes.”
We've Been Waiting for This
ON TOUR: When Akram Khan premiered DESH in England two years ago, our reviewer, Donald Hutera, wrote that “Khan’s stunning production feels like a culmination of everything this gifted British-Bangladeshi choreographer has been striving for.” Fascinating for his kathak-infused movement, whether helicopter-fast or mesmerizingly slow, Khan time-travels in this solo through his life from being a rebellious young man to becoming the global artist he is today. With striking visuals by Tim Yip, DESH comes to Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival Nov. 6–7, then goes to Canada’s National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Nov. 14–16. www.lincolncenter.org or www.nac-cna.ca/en/dance.
Akram Khan in a scene from his solo DESH. Photo by Tim Yip, Courtesy Khan.
From Farm to Stage
ATLANTA: Tanz Farm, a performance series co-curated by glo, under director Lauri Stallings, and the Goat Farm Arts Center, Atlanta’s hip artist community sitting on a 12-acre property, begins its second year of programming with Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor. The Israeli artists perform their Two Room Apartment from Nov. 1–3 at Goat Farm’s Goodson Yard Performance Hall, a converted factory space. As partners in art and life, Sheinfeld and Laor’s interpretation of this seminal 1987 work by Liat Dror and Nir Ben Gal explores personal and artistic boundaries on a neatly divided stage. The pair will also give a free workshop on Nov. 2. A free talk—what Tanz Farm dubs a TanzFEED—titled “If we had a conversation about performance, what would it look like,” kicks things off on Oct. 29. www.tanzfarm.com.
Virginia Coleman in Stallings' Hippodrome at Goodson Yard. Photo by John Ramspott, Courtesy Tanz Farm.
A Cornucopia from ABT
NEW YORK CITY: American Ballet Theatre’s fall season at the Koch Theater in Lincoln Center is packed to the brim with a varied rep. Alexei Ratmansky is premiering The Tempest with Marcelo Gomes, Daniil Simkin, and Herman Cornejo in lead roles. Tharp’s Bach Partita (1983), a lovingly complex ballet, is being revived for Polina Semionova, Gillian Murphy, and Stella Abrera. For those of us who adore Fokine’s dreamy Les Sylphides, it is coming back into the rep with debuts for Hee Seo, Isabella Boylston, Sarah Lane, Cory Stearns, and Semionova. National Ballet of Canada’s romantic lead Guillaume Coté (we loved his Romeo), will guest with the company, partnering Julie Kent in Ashton’s A Month in the Country. As if that’s not enough, Stanton Welch’s bracing Clear, Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, Mark Morris’ Gong, and Limón’s The Moor’s Pavane complete the two-week season. Oct. 30–Nov. 10. www.abt.org.
Stanton Welch's Clear. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT.
CHICAGO: On Nov. 16, Chicago Dancemakers Forum celebrates its 10th anniversary with a big homecoming bash at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Thirty choreographers who have received support from CDF, including Carrie Hanson (The Seldoms), Margi Cole (The Dance COLEctive), and current CDF Lab Artist—and 2013 “25 to Watch”—Victor Alexander, will show pieces or films throughout the museum all day. At that evening’s benefit performance, alumni such as Jan Bartoszek of Hedwig Dances, Darrell Jones, and Lucky Plush’s Julia Rhoads, who recently became one of the few choreographers in the heartland to receive the Alpert Award, present their work. Here’s to another 10 years of helping Chicago’s incredible dancemakers create on! www.chicagodancemakers.org.
Cassandra Porter and Benjamin Wardell in CDF alumna Julia Rhoads' Cinderbox 2.0. Photo by Benjamin Wardell, Courtesy Lucky Plush.
Light from a Dark One
NEW YORK CITY: Hofesh Shechter’s work is so raw and brutal that one doesn’t usually think of it as sunny. But his new piece, Sun, promises to bring “light from chaos.” With its rock-concert lighting and Shechter’s own percussive sound score, it’s bound to have all the signatures of this Israeli choreographer’s work. Sun comes to BAM’s Next Wave Festival after its world premiere at the Melbourne Festival in October. The company also offers a master class at the Mark Morris Dance Center the morning after the opening. Nov. 14–16. www.bam.org
Political Mother, Shechter's previous piece at BAM. Photo by Julieta Cervantes, Courtesy BAM.
East Meets West
LONDON: Though Yuan Yuan Tan hails from Shanghai and Fang-Yi Sheu from Taiwan, these two Asian women couldn’t be more different. Tan’s ethereality makes the San Francisco Ballet principal one of the world’s most breathtaking ballerinas, while Sheu is all grounded Graham power. From Nov. 14–16, audiences can see their gifts side by side at Sadler’s Wells, in pieces by Sadler’s Wells’ associate artists Russell Maliphant (Two x Two) and Christopher Wheeldon (Five Movements, Three Repeats). The evening also includes a duet for Tan and SFB’s Damian Smith by Edwaard Liang, a solo for Sheu by Maliphant, and Wheeldon’s contemporary classic After the Rain. www.sadlerswells.com.
Fang-Yi Sheu and Yuan Yuan Tan in Maliphant's Two x Two. Photo by Belinda Lawley, Courtesy Sadler's Wells.
PALM DESERT, CA: The McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, CA, which has hosted an annual choreography competition for 15 years, expands its dance offerings with the first Palm Desert International Dance Festival Nov. 9–16. Hip-hop crew I.aM.mE (as seen on the late "America’s Best Dance Crew"), Lula Washington Dance Theatre, and Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal will each give one-night-only performances. As part of the choreography competition, the legendary Jacques d’Amboise, now the indefatigable director of the National Dance Institute and author of I Was a Dancer, will receive a lifetime achievement award. www.mccallumtheatre.com.
Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal in Cayetano Soto's Fuel. Photo by Benjamin Von Wong, Courtesy PDIDF.
Does Paradis Belong to the Downtrodden?
NEW YORK CITY: No one deconstructs stereotypes as hilariously as Patricia Hoffbauer. A Brazilian-born, NYU-trained dance tinkerer, she can boomerang any racial or gender profiling. In Para-Dice (Stage 2) she “instructs” five straitlaced white dancers in white clothes (the colonists) with an overbearing grin, à la the Joker. Two people of color (the colonized) enact lounging in the sun or hiding out in a favela-like shack. One of them is Hoffbauer’s longtime collaborator, George Emilio Sanchez, who knows how to flaunt glorious bad taste in performance. (He also contributed to the writing.) The duality of white vs. color is echoed in the duality of restraint vs. pleasure. Nov. 21–23 at Danspace. www.danspaceproject.org.
Hoffbauer with Peggy Gould in front of image of Balanchine and Arthur Mitchell. Photo by Bryan Foxx, Courtesy Hoffbauer.
SAN FRANCISCO: SF-based Flyaway Productions is back with another death-defying performance in Give a Woman a Lift. With an all-female cast, the politically charged work, created by choreographer Jo Kreiter and visual designer Sean Riley, looks at determination and self-sufficiency. For Lift, Kreiter, who has choreographed dances that swing through space on building sides, giant ramps, fire escapes, and billboards, works with Riley’s steel creations and moving light elements to make a piece both highly physical and aesthetically formal. Kreiter doesn’t just talk the talk about women moving up, she does something about it: For Lift, she is using an original score by Jewlia Eisenberg, the company’s 20th collaboration with a female composer. Nov. 8–9, 13–16. www.flyawayproductions.com.
Christine Cali. Photo by Nathan Weyland, Courtesy Flyaway