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2017 felt like we were living the Upside Down of the popular Netflix series "Stranger Things." From Donald Trump becoming president, to the sexual harassment scandals that ricocheted into the ballet world, everything we thought we knew was turned on its head.
Yet while the deconstruction of institutional paradigms is frightening, it also presents an unprecedented opportunity for redesign.
Ballet, much like our political parties, seems to be stuck in an antiquated format that's long overdue for a makeover. With the world changing at lightning speed, if ballet wants to survive it will have to undergo a radical reimagining. But what would that look like?
We are back at New York City Center for The Red Shoes. Matthew Bourne's sumptuous version sticks with the story told in the wildly popular 1948 film. I have to admit I'm not crazy about the idea that Victoria Page, a beautiful young dancer, must choose between work and love. Plus, it uses ballet, once again in popular culture, as a destructive force. But this production is by Matthew Bourne's New Adventures, so the sets and costumes are (ahem) to die for.
For New Yorkers, a special indulgence: On select nights, New York City Ballet's Sara Mearns plays Victoria Page, and American Ballet Theatre's Marcelo Gomes (a 2015 Dance Magazine Awardee) plays the composer who falls for her.
The Red Shoes is up at NY City Center until Nov. 5. Click here for more information.
And if that statement rubs you the wrong way—particularly coming from a highly acclaimed white male choreographer—you're not alone.
On Sunday, American Ballet Theatre artist in residence and international ballet choreographer Alexei Ratmansky posted this on his Facebook page:
Obviously, there's a lot to unpack here. And many of the comments did the unpacking for us:
On the cusp of a new performance season, our calendars are chock full with shows we're dying to see. But it can be hard to know where to start with a season filled to bursting with promising premieres, tours and revivals. We've picked 12 shows that should definitely be on your radar.
The Olivier Awards were this weekend, and (though you might not have noticed with all of the hubbub over Harry Potter and the Cursed Child practically sweeping) three of our dance world faves snagged well-deserved awards for some very diverse programming.
From Stage to Stage
November is a busy month for Minneapolis’ resident jack-of-all-trades, Zenon Dance Company. Nov. 1–8, it will join in Minnesota Opera’s new Hansel and Gretel, choreographed by Doug Varone. Then, the company will try on the athletic, yet silky-smooth contemporary work of rising Cuban choreographer Osnel Delgado in his first piece for a U.S. company, at the Cowles Center, Nov. 21–30. zenondance.org.
Above: Alyssa Mann rehearsing Delgado’s Coming Home. Photo by William Cameron, Courtesy Zenon.
Vishneva As Impresario
Always up for an artistic challenge, ballet superstar Diana Vishneva is producing a festival of contemporary dance in Moscow, where classical ballet reigns. Last year, the event’s first, CONTEXT. Diana Vishneva brought together artists as far apart in style and distance as Cunningham-influenced Richard Alston from London and Israeli/American Barak Marshall. This year the festival introduces L.A.–based contemporary Ate9 dANCE cOMPANY, led by the wildly imaginative Danielle Agami, plus Nederlands Dans Theater 2, Ballet Preljocaj and Germany’s Gauthier Dance. CONTEXT, curated by Holland Dance Festival’s Samuel Wuersten, also aims to cultivate emerging choreographic talent. The festival includes a dance film program and provides a smaller, modern venue for young Russian dance artists to show their work and interact with more established choreographers. “Today there exists a hunger for new things in Russia,” says Vishneva. “We are still missing a choreographer of the Ratmansky caliber.” Fear not: The ravishing Vishneva isn’t just staying behind the scenes. She plans to perform works by Hans van Manen and Paul Lightfoot and Sol León—along with some surprises. Mossoveta Theatre. Nov. 26–29. vishnevafest.com.
Right: Vishneva in Carolyn Carlson’s Woman in a Room. Photo by Jerry Metellus, Courtesy Vishneva.
Elo at X
BalletX is getting Jorma Elo’s European touch with a premiere at the Wilma Theater, Nov. 19–23. Audiences can catch the troupe’s new hires from Miami City Ballet and Complexions Contemporary Ballet tackling his ooey, gooey choreography. balletx.org.
Left: BalletX in Elo’s Scenes View 2. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy BalletX.
Sashaying with Scissors
Matthew Bourne first showed his Edward Scissorhands, based on the 1990 Tim Burton film, back in 2005. Nearly 10 years later, the storyteller revisits the production, touring this November through March 2015. new-adventures.net.
Right: A scene from the original production. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy Raw PR.
NEW YORK CITY
What do dancers love most about Broadway? The dancing, of course! That’s the bread and butter of American Dance Machine for the 21st Century, a new troupe with a rotating cast of professional ballet and Broadway dancers, led by artistic producer and founder Nikki Feirt Atkins. The company will stage numbers of pure dancing that run musical theater’s gamut—from Jack Cole’s Someone to Watch Over Me to Michael Bennett’s A Chorus Line to Andy Blankenbuehler’s In the Heights. The Joyce Theater, Nov. 11–16. adm21.org.
Above: ADM21’s Stephen Hanna and Naomi Kakuk in Susan Stroman’s Contact. Photo by Christopher Duggan, Courtesy ADM21.
A Different Kind of Rainbow
When you hear “Over the Rainbow,” you probably imagine a utopian place. So does Heidi Latsky. Her poignant piece Somewhere creates a world that accepts difference with grace and gravitas: One dancer has Parkinson’s, another is deaf and a third has cerebral palsy. Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago, Nov. 6–8. colum.edu/dance-center.
Right: Saki Masuda and Jillian Hollis in Somewhere. Photo by Darial Sneed, Courtesy Latsky.
The Trocks in Swan Lake. Photo by Sascha Vaughn, Courtesy Les Ballets Trockadero.
En Travesti, A Treat
Sometimes it’s hard to know whether to laugh or marvel at the Trocks. So why not do both? Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo bourrée into Philly’s Annenberg Center Dec. 13–15, then post up to NYC’s Joyce Theater Dec. 18–Jan. 6. Among the company’s various interpretations of the classical canon, Ida Nevasayneva’s Dying Swan still stands alone as the ultimate send-up of an aging diva. www.trockadero.org.
While the Kennedy Center has been overflowing with great dance for over 40 years, it has yet to host a full-length tap concert in its main theaters—until now. On Dec. 7, the Chicago Human Rhythm Project presents JUBA! Masters of Tap and Percussive Dance in the Eisenhower Theater. Stars include 2012 Dance Magazine Award recipient Dianne “Lady Di” Walker (see “Awards”), Derick K. Grant, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, and Michelle Dorrance, as well as CHRP’s BAM! Ensemble, D.C.’s Step Afrika!, and Rasta Thomas’ TAP STARS. Members of youth tap companies from across the country will also get their chance to sound off. www.kennedy-center.org.
Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards. Photo by Eduardo Patino, Courtesy CHRP.
A Constant Flame
For 25 years, Prometheus Dance has been performing its theatrical, highly physical works that address hard-hitting issues—refugee displacement, oppressed women, and those afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome, among others. Co-directors Diane Arvanites and Tommy Neblett have made the company a resolute presence in Cambridge, MA, through its performances and educational programs—as well as its Elders Ensemble of dancers 60–85 years old. On Dec. 15, the company throws itself a birthday party/gala at the Multicultural Arts Center. Visit www.prometheusdance.org to view the company’s virtual retrospective, with images, videos, and interviews commemorating its quarter-century milestone.
Jennifer Kelble in Arvanites and Neblett’s Desiderare. Photo by Donny Zaltzberg, Courtesy Prometheus.
About Comedy, By Camille
White Bird, celebrating its 15th anniversary as the Pacific Northwest’s leading dance-only presenter, has several big-name choreographers coming through Portland, OR, this season. But they’ve also saved room for smaller groups that pack a big punch, like Camille A. Brown & Dancers, which performs her latest work, Mr. TOL E. RAncE, Dec. 6–8. In its West Coast debut, the company tackles the history of African-American comedic performance—both the humor and underlying darkness—with Brown’s characteristic theatricality. www.whitebird.org.
Camille A. Brown. Photo by Matthew Karas, Courtesy White Bird.
No Rest for Bourne
It’s been 25 years since Matthew Bourne made his first piece for his company, now known as New Adventures. His latest work, Sleeping Beauty, the pièce de résistance of NA’s 25th-anniversary season, runs Dec. 4–Jan. 26 at Sadler’s Wells, and will tour internationally next year. Like his most famous work, the homoerotic Swan Lake (also set to Tchaikovsky), this Beauty is a modern-day production, as Aurora awakes from her century-long slumber to the present. www.sadlerswells.com.
Keith Brazil and Matthew Bourne in Bourne’s Spitfire, his first hit, in 1988. Photo by Chris Nash, Courtesy Sadler’s Wells.
A party scene gone awry in Texas Ballet Theatre’s Nutty Nutcracker. Photo by Ellen Appel, Courtesy TBT.
You can’t turn right in December without running into a Nutcracker—also known as the bread and butter of companies around the country. After weeks of glittering snowflakes, some troupes switch it up with a “Nutty Nutcracker”—a one (or few)-night-only pop-culture parody that leaves some choreography intact and basically follows the story, but with unexpected cameos. On Dec. 21, the dancers of Texas Ballet Theater will take a break from Nutcracker as usual (which they will have been performing since Nov. 23), for their Nutty Nutcracker. Last year’s production (put together in a mere week) reportedly featured then-newlyweds Prince William and Kate Middleton, characters from The Wizard of Oz, and (obviously) Black Swan’s Black Swan. Expect more of the same this year. www.texasballettheater.org.
Like individual snowflakes, every Nutcracker production is unique. Here are three more done with a twist:
The Jewish Nutcracker in San Francisco, which tells the story of Hanukkah and incorporates world dance styles into its production. Dec. 18–23. www.jewishnutcracker.com.
Of Mice & Music: A Jazz Nutcracker in Austin, presented by the hard-hitting tappers of Tapestry Dance Company. Dec. 6–16. www.tapestry.org.
Boston’s Urban Nutcracker adds Duke Ellington to the Tchaikovsky score, along with hip-hop, ballroom, and Bollywood. Dec. 8–23. www.urbannutcrackerboston.com.