From the minute my journey as a dancer began at age 4, there were no other options of what I might do with my life.
Sure, I tried other "after-school activities." I tried desperately to master The Phantom of the Opera with my squeaky violin rental—a headache for my parents who paid for private Suzuki method lessons at our house. Constantly attempting famous show tunes on my violin, the effort was completely futile. I actually remember thinking, 'Surely this sheet music is wrong, this sounds nothing like the Phantom of the Opera.'
I even tried my hand at gymnastics. But when my mom's brilliant bribery of $100 for my first mastery of a kip or a back handspring didn't produce any results, we quickly threw in the towel.
One of my favorite parts of working with Wendy Perron over the past 12 years has been listening to her talk about dance. More than anyone I know, Wendy can explain a piece of choreography or a dancer's approach in the most visceral, compelling way. She doesn't even always use words—sometimes she turns to sounds or body language to fully describe something she loves.
Having a casual chat with her can be like getting a master class in the most interesting dance going on right now. And as Dance Magazine's editor at large, she sees a lot. She's one of the most well-connected people I know in the dance world, so more often than not she's got juicy insights, strong opinions and fascinating background info.
We decided to share this with you by filming a short video clip each week, capturing Wendy talking about the dance events she's most looking forward to in our new series, "What Wendy's Watching." Or, as she puts it: "Just wind me up and make me talk dance."
We're less than a week away from New York City Ballet's Fall season, and the only people more excited than us might just be the dancers themselves. It officially kicks off on Tuesday, Sept. 19 with Swan Lake, and the dancers have been hard at work perfecting their swan arms. And with some major debuts—Tiler Peck and Megan Fairchild as Odette/Odile and Zachary Catazaro, Gonzalo Garcia and Chase Finlay as Siegfried—there's even more buzz than usual around the ballet classic.
But if you can't wait until the season starts, we've been keeping an eye on the dancers' Instagram accounts for all of the behind-the-scenes action.
Last month, members of New York City Ballet teamed up with designer Cole Haan to create a comfy, yet stylish line of shoes that are wearable from the stage to the streets. Because in a career where you're almost constantly working on your feet, it's vital for dancers to have supportive and safe footwear, even when you're not in the studio.
To ensure your feet are always feeling performance-ready, we asked two podiatrists who've worked with dancers what to look for—and what to avoid—when shopping for new springtime kicks.
Dancers are using new media to get closer to audiences.
Social media maven: NYCB’s Megan Fairchild. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB.
In a world of online over-sharing, it may not come as a surprise that dancers are using visual platforms like Instagram for personal expression. But some are turning to even more intimate forms of media like Viber chats, vlogs and Periscope live streams to give audiences an honest look into their lives. In many cases, social networking is the first step toward attracting fans and marketing their skills.
Helping young dancers is the primary goal of New York City Ballet principal Megan Fairchild’s weekly “Ask Megan” series on the Balancing Pointe podcast, in which she talks about everything from leaving home for the School of American Ballet to how she prepares her pointe shoes. Fairchild also participates in “A Ballerina’s Life,” a live public chat on Viber. Through the app, users can follow a conversation between Fairchild and Sara Mearns, Ashley Bouder and Stella Abrera, among other dancers. “This world is confusing and stressful, and I want to dispel ideas that in dance you’ve got to deal with a life of drama,” she says. “I like letting people see us as regular people—that after a long day we need a glass of wine and talk about stuff other than ballet.”
Barry Kerollis, a former Pacific Northwest Ballet corps member, has a similar goal. His blog, Life of a Freelance Dancer, candidly recounts the ups and downs of his current career as a freelance dancer and choreographer in Philadelphia. Since 2012, he’s penned more than 140 posts on topics such as doing taxes, life on tour and auditioning. Most of his 100,000-plus views have come from dancers themselves. He also has an online video series, “Core-ography,” in which a dancer shares a personal experience on film, and then creates a piece inspired by the story with Kerollis. “Pennsylvania Ballet’s Lauren Fadeley was my first Core-Artist,” says Kerollis. “She talked about suffering from clinical depression. She was nervous to share, but ultimately found it liberating because she didn’t have to hide anymore.” In another episode, a dancer talks about his struggle with drug use. “I hope this series can be helpful to others who may be in similar situations,” he says.
Through these platforms, Kerollis has bolstered his social media following. But he’s seen more tangible benefits, too. The blog gave him a product to show while he was raising money for “Core-ography.” And talking about being a freelance choreographer has actually helped him book more dancemaking gigs—employers can watch videos and familiarize themselves with his work ethic and personality.
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On the Town returns to Broadway—with a choreographic makeover.
On the Town leads Megan Fairchild and Tony Yazbeck. Photo by Nathan Sayers.
At first, On the Town's charm seems far too retro and its storyline a little too thin to make a 21st-century comeback. Take our three wide-eyed sailors, whose ship has docked in New York City, leaving them 24 hours to find a date—“maybe seven or eight." Their dream woman is an exhausting list of perfection: a homemaker who has your pipe and tobacco waiting upon your return, a high-society girl, the perfect arm candy to take to the ball. “She's a frail and flower-like creature. But, oh boy, what an athlete!" You know, just your average girl.
Joshua Bergasse working with the dancers. Photos by Jenny Anderson, Courtesy On the Town.
It soon becomes clear, though, that there's substance hidden within this cheeky story. It's 1944, World War II is raging and these men have been given one day of freedom. Why shouldn't they spend their short time on land living carefree? When the sun rises, they'll have to load back onto their ship and head into battle—who knows what's waiting for them there.
When director John Rando's revival of On the Town hits Broadway this month, those themes that resonated with audiences in 1944 will again take center stage. Rando has kept most of the score and script true to the original version of the musical, which grew out of the runaway popularity of Jerome Robbins' ballet Fancy Free, and introduced Robbins to Broadway. Yet despite that history, Rando's made one major change: updating Robbins' choreography to give it a 21st-century flavor, courtesy of Joshua Bergasse.
Unlike the musical's beginnings, today's On the Town didn't begin with dance. It didn't begin with Bergasse or Broadway in mind, either. In 2008, Rando produced a concert version for City Center Encores! to celebrate Leonard Bernstein's 90th birthday. It had less dancing than the full production, and what was included was Robbins' original choreography. But it got people talking. Soon, Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, asked Rando to do the musical for its 2013 season.
From the start, his vision was to follow the original music and book—unlike the 1949 film, which had thrown out much of Bernstein's score—because those elements “just couldn't be better." But he felt the production needed a touch-up to make it relevant to today's audience. Rando approached Bergasse, who, though best known for his work on NBC's “Smash," had performed Robbins' West Side Story and is certified by the Jerome Robbins Foundation to teach it. “Josh is so wonderfully in tune with the tradition of dance and how to make it seem new, relevant and alive," says Rando, who had collaborated with Bergasse on several projects, including Guys and Dolls and Little Me. “He works with a great admiration for the creators, in celebration of them. I needed that sense of invention to build on the storytelling in the script."
It would seem that following in Robbins' footsteps would put an immense amount of pressure on a choreographer—especially given this will be Bergasse's choreographic debut on Broadway (though he has two other musicals, Gigi and Bull Durham, opening within the next year). But mounting the production in Barrington allowed Bergasse to take the risk. “I was lucky. Of course I wanted to do a great job, but there weren't supposed to be a lot of critics there," says Bergasse. “I didn't get into my head too much."
Joshua Bergasse working with the dancers. Photos by Jenny Anderson, Courtesy On the Town.
Once it opened, however, the Broadway community got word that something special was brewing. People were driving up to Massachusetts to get a look. There was talk of a transfer to the Great White Way. The New York Times even dubbed it “one of those rare revivals that remind us what a hit show from long ago was originally all about."
Bergasse's take relishes old-Broadway nostalgia. “We kept asking, 'How would this have been done in the original production?' " he says. “Well, none of the sets would have been on tracks." So he had the actors push scenery onstage themselves. He and Rando also redeveloped the number “Gabey's Comin'," which was cut from the original show. And “Do Re Do" was redone to reference a Robbins scene from a different musical of the same era, High Button Shoes, where the choreography involves a lot of mystery doors.
Bergasse has been criticized by some for choreographing too close to Robbins' style—the movement is rooted in classic jazz that consciously echoes the original's robust steps. But it's clear he's added a refreshing touch. “Josh's choreography is a little more down in the dirt, a little grittier," says Tony Yazbeck, who has been playing the main character, Gabey, since the show's City Center beginnings. “There's an energy onstage that has become very Josh." Somehow, Bergasse has a way of making completely opposite textures melt together: His choreography is undeniably charming, but also steaming with sensuality. It's light and airy, with a muscular punch. It's filled with “real" dancing, but has gestures and quirks that make it so very personable.
Megan Fairchild, who plays Gabey's love interest, Ivy, and has performed many Robbins ballets at New York City Ballet, feels Bergasse has successfully maintained what was great about the original. At NYCB, “we're told stories that Jerry used to say 'Just mark it,' so the choreography didn't look forced," she says. “Josh's work is perfect in that way: Nothing is overdone, but the syncopations and style are in there."
His objective was to put dance at the heart of this story. “You fall in love with these characters through dance," says Bergasse. “It's the way you really get to know them. There's something to be said for the feeling you get when these three sailors come off the ship and start dancing."
It's those feelings that make this musical still so compelling. When Gabey sings “Lonely Town," you sympathize with the isolation war brings, and perhaps realize that those struggles are no different for service members today. There's pride to be found in watching the three spunky, forward-thinking women, at a time when women's rights were taking a great turn. And when Bernstein's “New York, New York" comes crashing in, you feel the sailors' big city wonderment, so bright and naïve. “It's an embrace and celebration of New York," says Rando. “What an amazing and complicated place to be here, to be in love here."
Kristin Schwab is Dance Magazine's associate editor.