We love The Nutcracker as much as the next person, but that perennial holiday classic isn't the only thing making its way onstage this month. Here are five alternatives that piqued our editors' curiosity.
The fall performance season continues at breakneck speed with everything from an international ballet company making its U.S. debut to a retrospective on one of New York City's most iconic dancemakers—not to mention more than a few intriguing new works. Here's what we've got pencilled in.
Sidra Bell is one of those choreographers whose movement dancers are drawn to. Exploring the juxtaposition of fierce athleticism and pure honesty in something as simple as stillness, her work brings her dancers to the depths of their abilities and the audience to the edge of their seats.
You can count on Mark Dendy to create a wild and crazy piece that eventually cuts to the heart of the matter. In this case, his New York premiere, Elvis Everywhere, is about our obsession with celebrities.
The piece was inspired by a monologue Dendy happened to see from when Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense, met Elvis Presley. He captures the absurdity of the moment and then some. Commissioned by American Dance Festival with further development at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival and UC Santa Barbara, Elvis Everywhere is a collaboration with Dendy's longtime performer, designer and filmmaker, Stephen Donovan.
For Jack Ferver's latest, he's joined by American Ballet Theatre star James Whiteside, Martha Graham Dance Company principal Lloyd Knight, Broadway performer Garen Scribner and dancer-turned-designer Reid Bartelme (who, along with design partner Harriet Jung, also provides the costumes). Everything Is Imaginable juxtaposes these wonderfully different artists to create a portrait of queer community. April 4–7. newyorklivearts.org.
Joanna Kotze can twist and lurch in surprising ways. Her rigorous, vigorous, juicy and slightly zany choreography has been gaining attention in recent years. For What will we be like when we get there, she collaborates with dancer Netta Yerushalmy, visual artist Jonathan Allen and composer Ryan Seaton to explore intimacy and all its accompanying fantasies and flaws. New York Live Arts, March 28–31. newyorklivearts.org.
Contemporary ballet company BalletNext will return to New York Live Arts this spring with four new works by founder Michelle Wiles. Enter below for a chance to win a pair of tickets to a show of your choice.
Get Dance Magazine in your inbox
Award-winning choreographer Preeti Vasudevan has been praised for the juxtaposition of traditional and contemporary elements of Bharatanatyam (classical Indian dance) she implements in her work. We ventured to New York Live Arts where Vasudevan will be performing her new work, titled Stories By Hand, later this week.
Preeti Vasudevan "Stories By Hand" photo by Peter Cunningham
So much of Bharatanatyam is story driven. How do you implement that same communication to your audience when you are doing a non-traditional performance?
I think the biggest difference in this project is actually breaking the boundaries of Bharatanatyam to make it accessible. Because with all the gestures we have and the makeup and costumes we put on as well, there's a distancing that goes on. Even in India, not just here. People who know will sort of get it, but generally not too many people know all the fine layers of it unless you're part of the profession. Over here, the idea of also bringing personal stories is to break that wall. People immediately get access to the gestures. I think that's the difference in communication between this project and if I were to do, say, a traditional Bharatanatyam show.
Preeti Vasudevan "Stories By Hand" photo by Peter Cunningham
What are your thoughts on bringing Bharatanatyam off the proscenium stage and onto more commercial platforms?
When it came out of the temple for the proscenium stage it was a statement -- a nationalistic statement at the time of the independence of India. But now it's been more than 70 years and we're still doing the same thing. I have a big problem about the spaces which Bharatanatyam inhabits. I think it affects the way the dancer responds viscerally to her or his own body. The projection of what they do becomes a performance and then their inner narrative goes away.
Stories By Hand runs November 2-4 at New York Live Arts.
Maybe it's just by chance, but it seems like the upcoming lineup in New York City is designed to remind us of the women giants of our field. What a great welcome to the new season!
• Twyla Tharp brings new and old work to the Joyce. She may be the most prolific living choreographer in any genre. Her movement is always bursting with inventiveness, and she challenges her mighty dancers with impossibly complex and non-stop motion.
It seems like everyone in New York's experimental dance scene is talking about Okwui Okpokwasili right now. Her multidisciplinary work Poor People's TV Room is in the middle of a much buzzed-about two-week run at New York Live Arts.
But although the dance world loves her, Okpokwasili is hesitant to call herself a dancer. In a story about dance theater in Dance Magazine's May issue, she told this to writer Siobhan Burke:
I'll admit it: I've been a Sonya Tayeh fangirl since I was a teen. Like many aspiring dancers from areas of the country where dance is a less appreciated art form, I watched "So You Think You Can Dance?" religiously. Living in a town hundreds of miles from anything remotely resembling contemporary dance, Tayeh's first choreographic outings on the show had me cycling through shock, bewilderment and awe in quick succession. The appreciation I gained for the unexpected and athletic served me well when I later transitioned from being a bunhead to a BFA candidate taking contemporary technique and composition. So when I got an email asking me if I wanted to interview her, I immediately said yes (and fangirled internally for the rest of the day).
Sonya Tayeh. Photo by Maria Baranova.
Tayeh (one of our 2009 "25 to Watch") is perhaps most widely known for her Emmy-nominated work on "So You Think You Can Dance?" In 90-second snippets, viewers are treated to hard-hitting, hyper-physical movement that veers from the hypnotically strange to the delicately, emotionally raw, her solid concert dance foundation shining through as compositional clarity. Since moving to New York, the choreographer has been steadily building a body of work for such disparate destinations as off-Broadway musicals and the Martha Graham Dance Company. Now, she's raising funds for her first self-produced, evening-length concert piece that will premiere in December through a commission from New York Live Arts. I spoke to Tayeh about the project and the experience of self-producing her work.
You're at work on your first evening-length dance piece, you'll still call me by name. Can you talk a bit about what you're exploring with it?
It's about the desire and need for acceptance and mutual respect in your family, and the barriers that it causes when you don't have that. I think it's such a universal, ageless idea. I've been working on it for about a year and a half.
Did it start as an evening length, or did it evolve?
It definitely evolved. The Bengsons, Joanna Lampert and I were in the midst of recording these conversations about our family, and we were asked to do this works in progress show. We got into the space the first time and were just spewing ideas—it was crazy how fast it came about. So we did about 12 minutes, and the crowd really took to it. It was such personal responses that I knew there was something there.
Photo by Shervin Lainez
How has your success on "So You Think You Can Dance?" impacted your work in concert dance?
It's been amazing and challenging. SYTYCD changed my life, but they're really short pieces, so the concert world questions whether you can do a full length work. It just takes people getting to know me and understanding my story. I didn't start on SYTYCD—I was immersed in other forms of dance prior to that. I have my degree in dance, I was in concert pieces, I took Graham. I'm knowledgeable in that sense, it's just a matter of people understanding the root of who you are, and showing them that you're going to do the work. At NYLA I'm under the direction of Janet Wong and Bill T. Jones, so I better have my stuff together!
You self-produced this work. Was there anything that surprised you about that process?
Raising money is really difficult! Any time I do a project I do everything in my power to pay who is helping feed this project. It's never easy, and it's not always possible. The beauty of getting a commission is that they give you an amazing amount of space to rehearse and then a show in their theater. But they give you a small portion of money and then you raise the rest. I promised myself that I was going to use the people that I dreamed of using, and that I would do anything in my power to raise the money. We're 75 percent funded on Kickstarter, which is exciting, but with Kickstarter, if you don't raise all of the money you don't get the money, so I'm hoping we make it. My goal is to pay the designers and dancers what their fee is, as opposed to paying them whatever we can pay them.
Funding is always a challenge, isn't it?
I haven't slept in a month, honestly. But it's also been really inspiring; it made me remember how human I am. Sometimes in this industry people think you're invincible. Especially the way I look and speak, people think I'm just this beast of a person that doesn't carry vulnerability, and it's frustrating. I am, I'm nervous, and to share that with my students really has put us into an even playing field that I'm really enjoying.
Do you have any advice for up-and-coming choreographers who want to self-produce?
When you have a big dream, do the work. Be honest about what you need, be demanding about who you want in your team and your crew. Don't lower your abilities, really strive for it. In terms of raising money, it takes bravery to talk about yourself, to talk about why this piece is important. It takes a lot of work.