Choreographers are no more immortal than anyone else. So, wisely, single-choreographer modern dance companies have increasingly opted to address the issue of planning for the future—a future without their founders—before the crisis comes.
The solutions have been many. The Merce Cunningham Dance Company decided to shut down but preserve a Trust, which licenses his dances and holds regular workshops. Paul Taylor Dance Company has begun commissioning new works from other choreographers, even as Taylor continues to make dances. Tanztheater Wuppertal has been touring Pina Bausch's works for almost a decade, and is only now looking to outside choreographers.
The Mark Morris Dance Group has come up with a very different approach, as idiosyncratic as Mark Morris himself.
When Beatlemania swept through the U.S. in the 1960s, Mark Morris was one of millions of young Americans who fell head over heels for the revolutionary group. "I was not immune," the choreographer says. "My sisters were mad about The Beatles and so was I. At age 12 I had a crush on Paul, of course."
Flash forward 50 years and he is still rocking to the British band, but this time with a new Beatles-inspired dance work his company is touring across North America, starting this month with scheduled stops in Seattle, Toronto, Portland, Oregon, and another 25 cities before the end of 2019.
As soon as we started putting together a list of the most influential people in dance today, we knew two things. By the very nature of the topic we were tackling, our final list was going to be:
1. Entirely subjective, and
2. By no means comprehensive.
We wanted to get your input and hear who else you felt should be on the list. So we asked you who we missed, and here's what you told us through email, Facebook and Twitter:
How choreographers decide
Jessica Lang sought advice from Mark Morris before launching her company. Photo by Takao Komaru, Courtesy Jessica Lang Dance.
Jessica Lang succeeded as an independent choreographer for 15 years, creating many works on ballet troupes such as Joffrey Ballet and Pennsylvania Ballet. But she began to wonder how the benefits of having a company would change the quality of her dances. “I wanted to know what it would be like to work with the same group of dancers, who were willing to embody my vision,” says Lang. She got exactly that in 2010 when she won a residency at The Joyce Theater, where she was given time, space and $25,000 to just play. After gathering a group of six dancers, Lang went to work. “I gave all of the money to the dancers, and had 240 hours to pretend to have a dance company,” she quips.
Dancemakers today have endless possibilities for how to structure their careers. The company model still works best for some, and companies now come in all forms, from full-time to pickup, project-based and loosely organized. Other artists prefer to come and go without the added administration of an organization. Understanding the challenges and benefits of each option can help you decide what’s right for you and your work.
Today, Jessica Lang Dance boasts 10 dancers with 30-week contracts, a full-time executive director, part-time staff and a robust touring schedule, which includes a two-week stint at Jacob’s Pillow this August. Recently, they had their Brooklyn Academy of Music debut, performed at the Kennedy Center and traveled to Istanbul. “It’s surreal, and still daunting,” admits Lang, who also continues to work as a freelance choreographer. “At 40, I have the experience as a choreographer. I could not have done this when I was 24.”
Before making the company leap, Lang sought advice from Mark Morris and Nancy Umanoff, executive director of Mark Morris Dance Group. “I knew they created such an incredible organization and I went to them seeking insight,” she recalls. Having and keeping a mentor has proven critical to Lang’s success, but you need more than mentorship to make it work. “You have to enjoy the business end,” she says. “Also, be up on your state laws.”
Philadelphia- and New York-based Gabrielle Revlock, 34, considers herself part of a generation of dancemakers who never seriously considered starting a company. “The trend is to stay independent,” she says. “I want to work on a small scale, keep a light footprint and be available to take on projects that interest me.”
Revlock leads a busy life as a dance artist that includes dancing with Jane Comfort and Leah Stein, in addition to her own work and her collaborative choreographic projects with Nicole Bindler and others. “I apply for a ton of opportunities, because I know that most I won’t get,” she says. Her attention to sustainability permeates the way she structures her rehearsals. For instance, in the past she’s created sections of work that could be rehearsed separately. “Things are always changing in the dance world,” she says. “I want the freedom to jump on whatever is best for me.”
She’s the first to admit that it’s a juggling act, dancing for other people and doing her own shows while managing touring, grants and residencies. “You can’t guarantee how much work you will have, so I made sure early on to establish some savings,” she says. “I also try to not take a job unless I really want to do it. It’s important to keep commitments because many projects lead to other projects.”
For Danielle Agami, launching Ate9 dANCEcOMPANY was about giving her devoted dancers a professional setting and access to a long-term process. “It had a lot to do with the need of local dancers to have a home for their dancing,” she says. She settled in Seattle at first, and after half a year relocated to Los Angeles with six dancers in tow. “Location is key. L.A. has so many opportunities,” she says. “Yet, it’s not overcrowded with dance, either.”
Today, with eight committed dancers, Agami operates with no paid staff and the grace of brave presenters who are willing to give her a chance. Even though the company is project-based, it has remained busy in its hometown, and toured to Moscow, Atlanta, Houston, Portland and Seattle.
Agami is frank about the difficulties of maintaining a company in today’s money-scarce environment. “The lack of staff and funds are problems, but still the hardest task is to sell the tickets,” she says. But for her, the decision to become a professional company came before the funds. “We are like a family,” she says. “It feels natural, yet it’s demanding to run a company. There have been some amazing and maddening moments.”
NEW YORK CITY
Endless repetition can drive audiences out of the theater, but a gifted choreographer can make watching the same phrase over and over with subtle changes fascinating. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker is one of those rare ones. Four of her early works from the 1980s are coming to Lincoln Center Festival for a De Keersmaeker marathon that will make her fans deliriously happy: Fase, Elena’s Aria and Rosas danst Rosas—the work that Beyoncé borrowed from for her “Countdown” music video—and Bartók/Mikrokosmos. As a bonus, the Belgian choreographer herself will perform in the first three of these evening-length works. She dances with a poetic inner focus as though immersed in a rhythmic dream. July 8–16, John Jay College. lincolncenterfestival.org.
Above: De Keersmaeker’s Bartók/Mikrokosmos. Photo by Herman Sorgeloos, Courtesy Lincoln Center Festival.
A Change for Sascha
NEW YORK CITY
He is dashing on the Metropolitan Opera House stage, has written eloquently for Dance Magazine and was charismatic on the silver screen in Center Stage. On July 3, when beloved soloist Sascha Radetsky performs the role of Franz in Coppélia, it will be his last dance as a member of American Ballet Theatre. But the innately likeable dancer will keep busy: He’s currently in production as a main character in the TV show “Flesh and Bone,” to air on Starz in 2015. He and his wife, ABT soloist Stella Abrera, will also serve as répétiteurs for the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust. abt.org.
At right: Radetsky in Fancy Free. Photo by Marty Sohl, Courtesy ABT.
Straight From the Horse’s Mouth
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA
When choreographers perform their own work, we’re getting an undiluted product—from mind to body to stage. That’s the reward of the On Their Bodies program, July 22–23, at American Dance Festival. Ronald K. Brown, Stephen Petronio, Doug Varone and Shen Wei, who have each carved out their own unique movement languages, will perform self-choreographed solos. (If only there was a woman in the mix, too!) americandancefestival.org.
At left: Ronald K. Brown. Photo by Kurt H. Leggard, Courtesy Evidence.
It’s a simple but compelling experiment: Commission a piece of music, have two choreographers create their own works to it and present them on the same bill. Audiences will be hearing double during the SKETCH 4 | Music Mirror program at ODC Theater, in which Amy Seiwert and Adam Hougland will offer separate interpretations of Kevin Keller’s score. Seiwert, known for her quirky, angular movement, and Hougland, for his innovative narratives, have been housed at ODC for five weeks to prepare. July 24–27. odcdance.org.
At right: Weston Krukow and Sarah Griffin of Amy Seiwert Imagery. Photo by David DeSilva, Courtesy Amy Seiwert Imagery.
See the Music
Mark Morris is a master of translating a musical score into lush dancing. This summer’s Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival will offer a full week of events that dive into his obsession with melody. Morris himself will lead music seminars, discussions and open company classes. And there will be plenty of performances, too: The Mark Morris Dance Group Music Ensemble will have its own concert and will accompany MMDG in seven programs of newer Morris works—Festival Dance, A Wooden Tree, Crosswalk and Jenn and Spencer. July 21–27. jacobspillow.org.
At left: Domingo Estrada and Michelle Yard in Festival Dance. Photo by Stephanie Berger, Courtesy MMDG.