Every dancer knows that how you fuel your body affects how you feel in the studio. Of course, while breakfast is no more magical than any other meal (despite the enduring myth that it's the most important one of the day), showing up to class hangry is a recipe for unproductive studio time.
So what do your favorite dancers eat in the morning to set themselves up for a busy rehearsal or performance day?
You know compelling musicality when you see it. But how do you cultivate it? It's not as elusive as it might seem. Musicality, like any facet of dance, can be developed and honed over time—with dedicated, detailed practice. At its most fundamental, it's "respect for the music, that this is your partner," says Kate Linsley, academy principal of the School of Nashville Ballet.
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.
Sarah Haarmann stands out without trying to. There is a precision and lack of affectation in her dancing that is very Merce Cunningham. Her movement quality is sharp and clear; her stage presence utterly focused. It's no wonder she caught Mark Morris' eye. Even though she still considers herself "very much the new girl" at Mark Morris Dance Group (she became a full-time member in August 2017), in a recent performance of Layla and Majnun, Haarmann seemed completely in her element.
Company: Mark Morris Dance Group
Hometown: Macungie, Pennsylvania
Training: Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts and Marymount Manhattan College
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.
Yes, you read that right. The man who brought us The Hard Nut (among many other brilliant works) is creating Pepperland in honor of the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album.
The original score by Ethan Iverson will be based on some of our favorite Beatles classics, like "With A Little Help From My Friends," "A Day in the Life" and "Penny Lane," and will be performed live for a cast of 15 dancers. It will premiere in Liverpool (the Beatles' birthplace, of course) in May, and is set to tour the US at some point.
What should you eat before a performance? It can be challenging to find foods that give you the right amount of energy without weighing you down. But what's perfect for one person won't necessarily work for another. Every dancer has to experiment to find their own ideal pre-performance menu.
Dancer, Mark Morris Dance Group
Start strong: “I always start a show day with a great breakfast. I love steel-cut oats because they provide sustained energy. The night before, I'll boil the oats, then turn the heat off and let everything steep overnight. In the morning, I'll reheat them and add coconut oil, bananas, cinnamon and high-quality cultured butter or grass-fed whole milk."
Throughout the day: “After breakfast, I stick to smaller meals: a few unsalted pistachios or a little whole-milk yogurt for bursts of protein."
Advice: “Once when I was 16, before dancing Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, I only ate a bowl of Raisin Bran and lost steam by the end of the Rose Adagio. But there were also times early in my professional career when I ate too much—you don't want your body trying to digest onstage. Smaller, calculated, nourishing meals throughout the day are better."
Principal dancer, San Francisco Ballet
Pre-show meal and snacks: “If the ballet starts at 8 pm, I'll eat a meal that includes bread or cereal around 4 pm. After that, I'll keep my blood sugar up using something I discovered when I ran half-marathons: GU Energy Gel. It has minerals, vitamins, a little caffeine and some sugar. I also have drinks with electrolytes to avoid cramps or getting dizzy or tired."
Post-show dinner: “When I've had a good performance, I like to celebrate after with a nice salad, cheese and red wine."
Feeding the soul: “I always have a little dark chocolate before a show."
Advice: “It can be taboo in ballet to talk about food. If it's hard for you to find a balance between staying thin and fit but also having enough energy, speak to a nutritionist or a doctor. There's no shame in asking for help to be better onstage."
Principal dancer, American Ballet Theatre
Favorite pre-show meal: “A ham or turkey sandwich—something plain that will give me protein and lasting energy."
Dressing-room snacks: “I often get a banana and a chocolate chip cookie in case I need a bite during the performance. I drink Gatorade or, if it's a particularly difficult show, these electrolyte drinks called Sqwinchers, which keep cramps away and give me extra energy."
Timing: “If I'm dancing something I'm anxious about, I'll eat no later than two hours before—two and a half hours is perfect. Otherwise, I can eat within an hour of the show."
Nutrition inspiration: “After once dancing with a huge weight in my stomach from eating half a cheese quesadilla and some tomato soup, I started researching how tennis players eat. Tennis is comparable to ballet—it's anaerobic, with intense bursts of activity. I use their eating habits for inspiration."
Ensemble, Broadway's On Your Feet!
Vegan values: “I've been vegan for six years. I've learned that even if I eat something small, I need to make sure it has nutritional value."
Favorite pre-show meal: “A quinoa bowl with black beans, spinach, red cabbage, corn and avocado. It's delicious and light, and gives me energy."
Dressing-room snacks: “Raw almonds, a banana with peanut butter or almond butter, or green juices with fruit."
Tip: “When it's a two-show day, I need a good breakfast—scrambled tofu with avocado in a gluten-free wrap, or oatmeal with bananas, walnuts, maple syrup and raisins. The biggest thing I've learned is to not eat a big meal in between the shows."
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Martorana in Morris' Crosswalk. Photo by Stephanie Berger, courtesy MMDG.
Stacy Martorana began running as a way to escape the pressures of dance. As a freshman ballet major at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, she went from being one of the strongest dancers in her studio to one of the least advanced in class (she happily switched to a contemporary major sophomore year). “I wasn’t in many pieces and being away from home was emotionally difficult,” she says. She used running as an excuse to get out of the studio, building up slowly by alternating five minutes running with five minutes walking.
Now, as a Mark Morris Dance Group company member, she still finds time to run every morning, between 3.5 and 4.5 miles in 30 to 40 minutes. To avoid getting too comfortable, Martorana changes up her focus regularly, with intervals, distance goals or speed training. “I try to go faster than I want, get my heart pumping and really get out of breath,” she says. She prefers running indoors on a treadmill—it’s gentler on her joints and more predictable than outdoor terrain—in her lightweight, thin-soled Nikes.
The physical benefits of running are undeniable. “I recover faster from strenuous dancing, and have more energy throughout the day after my morning run,” Martorana says. Even while touring she keeps her routine, which helps her body adjust to time changes. Luckily, the exercise agrees with her body, but she keeps her mileage reasonable to avoid wear and tear. Although her IT bands and hips get tight, stretching helps to keep it at bay. Her favorite post-run stretch is downward dog (she’s also a certified yoga instructor), to release her hamstrings and calves.
Most importantly, running clarifies her mental state. She uses the time for personal reflection, and would rather not review choreography unless she’s prepping to go into a new piece. “I need running to be non-competitive, to be on my own ‘Stacy time,’ ” she says. “I can be compulsive about it because I know how good I feel after a run—I’ll find a way to fit it in no matter what!”
The Music Man
Mark Morris Dance Group is plenty busy this month, headlining Luminato, Toronto’s annual arts festival, with Morris’ masterwork L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato in its Canadian premiere June 21–23. Morris directs this year’s Ojai Music Festival (the first choreographer to do so), where his dancers will perform; and at Ojai North!, a collaboration with Cal Performances in Berkeley, MMDG will premiere Morris’ Rite of Spring, danced to a new arrangement of Stravinsky’s music by The Bad Plus jazz trio. www.luminato.com and www.ojaifestival.org.
MMDG in L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato. Photo by Elaine Mayson, Courtesy Luminato.
Adventures in Action
Two daring dancemakers return to this year’s Festival TransAmériques in Montreal. Lemi Ponifasio brings Birds with Skymirrors, in which frenetic limbs contrast with intense stillness. At 54, the indomitable Louise Lecavalier performs So Blue, a whirlwind solo and duet for which she receives her first sole choreographic credit. May 29–June 7. www.fta.qc.ca.
Lecavalier in So Blue. Photo by André Cornellier, Courtesy FTA.
Feast for 40
This year marks John Neumeier’s 40th anniversary at the helm of Hamburg Ballet. To celebrate, the company has expanded its annual summer festival Hamburg Ballet-Days. HB will dance in 16 productions over the three weeks, joined by its school and two guest troupes led by former company dancers: Ivan Liska of Bavarian State Ballet and Jean-Christophe Maillot of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo. While companies all over the world have been feting the centennial of The Rite of Spring, Neumeier, whose personal collection of Nijinsky memorabilia is legendary, has dedicated several evenings to his idol/muse. June 9–30. www.hamburgballett.de.
Neumeier rehearsing Carsten Jung in his Liliom. Photo by Holger Badekow, Courtesy HB.
Swiftly but Gently
A free series of site-specific performances around San Francisco, presented by Dancers’ Group/ONSITE, honors a local pioneer this month. Amara Tabor-Smith, a former associate artistic director of Urban Bush Women who now directs Oakland-based Deep Waters Dance Theater, pays tribute to her mentor, choreographer Ed Mock, an AIDS casualty in the 1980s. June 15–23. www.dancersgroup.org.
Amara Tabor-Smith. Photo by Alan Kimara Dixon, Courtesy Tabor-Smith.
Twenty years after his death (and 75 after his birth), Rudolf Nureyev’s impact on ballet is still felt worldwide. Tributes to the unrelentingly charismatic star have been happening all year, and this summer brings still more. In addition to a gala at the Vienna State Opera Ballet at the end of the month and a production of his Swan Lake at Teatro alla Scala later this summer, Le Palais des Congrès de Paris hosts the Noureev and Friends gala May 31–June 1. The fabulous lineup of today’s stars come from companies like the Bolshoi (Obraztsova), the Mariinsky (Kondaurova and Somova), and English National Ballet (Rojo). www.viparis.com.
Nureyev in costume for Don Quixote. Photo by Serge Lido, DM Archives.
Three enduring goddesses of downtown dance—Sara Rudner, Vicky Shick, and Jodi Melnick—come together at The Yard June 22–30. Each one alone is glorious to behold, but together they’ll be an irresistible pileup of brainy female sensuality. Also on the agenda at Martha’s Vineyard’s largest dance festival: Faye Driscoll (see “Word Play,” April), Doug Elkins, Everett Dance Theatre, and Deborah Lohse (see “Nine Who Dared,” Nov. 2012). Without a doubt, The Yard, now helmed by former DTW chief David White, is undergoing a major revitalization. www.dancetheyard.org.
Melnick. Photo by Matthew Karas.
Forsythe: Former and Future
William Forsythe’s approach to ballet technique was revolutionary in the 1980s. His style is still often imitated, never matched. In recent years, with his own Forsythe Company, he has moved into the realm of dance theater—where whimsy and crazily delicious dancing play equal roles. His latest piece, which comes to Sadler’s Wells this month, aims to cover it all. Study #3 incorporates movement sequences, choreographic methods, music, costumes, and technical effects from 30 works spanning the last 30 years. www.sadlerswells.com.
The Forsythe Company in Study #3. Photo by Dominik Mentzos, Courtesy Sadler’s Wells.
Contributors: Suzannah Friscia, Wendy Perron, Kina Poon