Each month at Dance Magazine, we zero in on budding talent in our "On the Rise" department. Our writers across the country and beyond are continually on the lookout for the dancers and choreographers who are bound to be majors names in the years to come.
With 2018 coming to a close, what better time to check in with some of our former "On the Rise" artists? We hate to say we told you so, but these dancers—like Michelle Dorrance and Sara Mearns—have since hit it big.
A good personal trainer can coach you through a challenging, safe workout. A great one understands the unique demands dance places on your body and helps you correct specific weaknesses to make you an even stronger performer. Enter Joel Prouty.
For many of today's top dance artists, summer layoff has turned into series of solo tours. We can often catch a peek on their Instagram posts, where their candor about the long hours, sore bodies and early morning flights to and from festivals does nothing to diminish the glamor of leaping through some of the most breathtaking venues. But these summer appearances are a feat of determination.
The dancers themselves meticulously organize these tours. They are in charge of fielding requests aligning schedules and flight itineraries, securing their own costumes and music, and then rehearsing for their guest roles—sometimes with an entirely new partner.
We'll admit it: As excited as we are for fall performance season to start, we are in deep, deep denial that the end of summer is in sight. And we're also experiencing some serious FOMO looking at the vacation photos flooding our Instagram feeds from some of our favorite dancers and choreographers. So where in the world do they go to unwind before gifting us with yet another season of incredible dance?
New York City Center just announced programming for the 2018-19 season, and we're frantically marking our calendars for all the must-see dance. This year is the venue's 75th anniversary, and they're pulling out all the stops—from the reliable fan favorite Fall for Dance to the most epic Balanchine celebration and more:
Ah, the quest for the perfect, foot-flattering, technique-enhancing pointe shoe: It can feel like a never-ending saga. Still on the hunt for that ideal pair? Then you won't want to miss The School at Steps' annual Pointe Shoe Workshop and Fair, happening this Sunday, April 22nd, at 6:30 pm in NYC.
As always, the event—which is sponsored by our friends at Pointe—will feature an impressive panel of experts. This year's lineup includes orthopedist Dr. Andrew Price, professional fitter Mary Carpenter, master teacher Linda Gelinas, Pointe style editor Marissa DeSantis, and New York City Ballet star Sara Mearns (eee!).
One of New York City Ballet's most adventurous ballerinas will be a special guest of Paul Taylor American Modern Dance for its annual season at the Koch Theater. Sara Mearns is performing solos created by early modern dance icon Isadora Duncan as staged by Lori Belilove. Also on the menu: Paul Taylor Dance Company members in 13 classic Taylor works and world premieres from Doug Varone, Bryan Arias and Mr. Taylor himself (his 147th!), plus the resurgent Trisha Brown Dance Company in her iconic Set and Reset. March 7–25. ptamd.org.
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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.
Fall For Dance is always a huge talkabout here in the Dance Media offices. So after all the programs were performed this year, a few of the editors from Dance Magazine, Pointe and Dance Teacher got together on Google Hangouts this morning to share our thoughts. Here are excerpts from our convo:
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.
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.
It makes perfect sense that Só Dança would team up with New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns for a brand new collection—after all, she spends most of her day in a leotard and tights. "I love the materials and quality of Só Dança's products, so when they asked if I was interested in designing my own, I immediately said 'yes'," Mearns says.
Between her performances at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center with NYCB and rehearsals for Matthew Bourne's production of The Red Shoes, Mearns is spending her downtime researching materials and designing leotards and warm-ups. "The hardest part is narrowing down what is necessary—what's just fashionable and what's truly needed," she says. "I am going for durability, performing enhancement and warmth over fashion right now. I of course want the product to look good, but that's not my main objective with these particular warm-up designs," she says.
Gilda Squire got her first lessons in branding at the investment firm Goldman Sachs. Today she manages ballet's most visible star: Misty Copeland. Squire's approach to Copeland's endorsements and outside commitments, carefully crafted with the ballerina, has established a new professional framework for dancers, one that straddles a range of media platforms and opportunities.
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.
The NYCB principal uses cross-training to lengthen and support her body without wearing it out.
Mearns, here in Allegro Brillante, starts her warm-up with a hot shower. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB.
A few years ago, Sara Mearns’ weeks were packed with gym visits and Gyrotonic training. But as her schedule at New York City Ballet became more intense, she found the additional strength training only made her asymmetrical body (Mearns’ spine has both a scoliosis curve and a twist) tighter and more muscle-bound. Then, after landing from a jump during rehearsal in 2012, she severely strained the back muscles on the right side of her body. It took eight months for her to fully recover, and the jarring injury forced her to pay more attention to the very particular needs of her own body.
“Ever since my back injury, I had to stop doing all that,” Mearns says of her intense cross-training regimen. “Through physical therapy I developed my own daily ritual of preparation and stretching.”
Her 45-minute warm-up now consists mostly of rolling out and stretching, though she also does standard core exercises to make sure her back remains supported. After a hot shower, she spends 15 minutes on the roller, focusing on her trigger points. Once she’s loosened up, she performs a series of stretches to target her psoas, glutes, hamstrings and back. “I have to lengthen those things before the day starts,” explains Mearns, “and then I return to them continually throughout the day on my breaks.”
But Mearns is quick to point out that she is not doing the kind of extreme overstretching that strains the joints. When she puts her leg on the barre, she keeps it no higher than 90 degrees and adds in a side cambré to get at her quadratus lumborum muscle in her lower back which sometimes gets tight. During lunging psoas stretches, she also makes sure to perform them both turned in and turned out. “You get weak if you only stretch one way,” says Mearns, who has learned to complement instead of compound the demands of her ballet career. When she began private Gyrotonic training five years ago, her repertoire wasn’t as demanding. “We would practice barre together and talk about how to be grounded, how to stand, where my shoulders should be,” says Mearns, “and I still think about all those things I learned. I just don’t do it as a separate workout.”
Fueling for Performance
“I’m not into big meals or overly sweet stuff—it just makes me thirsty and shaky,” says Mearns, who instead opts for cashews, Greek yogurt and bananas pre-show and saves her dinner of veggies, pasta and protein for post-curtain.
Photo by Nathan Sayers.
Psoas Stretching, Two Ways
The psoas is one of the primary hip-flexor muscles and in ballet, it is often overworked from daily battements and développés. Here are two ways Mearns lengthens this hard-to-stretch muscle.
Sit on the floor in a fourth position, with one leg turned out and bent at a 90-degree angle in front of you and the other leg completely turned-in and bent to the side. From this position, try to get the sitz bone of the back leg to be as heavy on the floor as the sitz bone of the front leg.
Take a lunge stance with one foot forward and one back. Bend your front knee so that it is above your ankle and press your back foot into the floor. Focus on lengthening the tailbone down and lifting the front of the hips up. Mearns suggests trying this with the back leg turned in, as well as with a slight turnout.
Left: Sara Mearns rehearsing Karole Armitage’s A Dancer’s Dream. Photo by Chris Lee.
In the case of breakout choreographer Kyle Abraham, the appeal of his work lies in its power to surprise. A rippling hip-hop duet might melt into a pair of smiles and an unexpected hug, which somehow unfolds into an upsetting scene of police violence. He can skillfully pair smart humor with disturbing observations about racism, or a romantic tutu with a 1980s boom box. This agility has helped him rack up an impressive collection of commissions, tours, grants and awards over the past two years, seemingly coming out of nowhere to become the new darling of the dance world. Now with a MacArthur “genius grant” worth $625,000, Abraham has the resources to take his vision even further. (Are you a choreographer looking for your own opportunities? Be sure to check out “Choreography Knocks,” a detailed list of workshops, festivals, residencies and more, at dancemagazine.com.)
Our annual choreography issue also talks to a handful of today’s most interesting dancemakers about one of the boldest tools they can use onstage: nudity. In “Baring It All,” Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Jonah Bokaer and others talk about what goes into their decisions to present dancers naked. We also hear a performer’s view of what that experience is like. And in “A Muse’s Vision,” New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns shares her perspective on the creative process, and talks about the magic—and pressure—of stringing together series of movements until they become something more. Because ultimately, choreographers’ number-one tools are their dancers.
Editor in Chief
Headshot by Nathan Sayers
Sara Mearns working with Karole Armitage on A Dancer’s Dream
It’s not always discussed, but dancers are as integral to the creative process as choreographers. That notion gives Sara Mearns, the fearless and ravishing principal at New York City Ballet, reason to pause: “I think I’ve had maybe two questions before about my point of view.” Yet with her plush, go-for-broke dancing and spontaneous phrasing, Mearns is a muse to many, from Alexei Ratmansky (Namouna, A Grand Divertissement) to Justin Peck, who highlighted her in The Bright Motion at the most recent Fall for Dance festival. During NYCB’s winter season, she graced Liam Scarlett’s premiere, Acheron. As Mearns explores new ways to enrich her dancing, she’s branching out: Last year, she starred in A Dancer’s Dream, featuring choreography by Karole Armitage, and she has more projects planned for the future. Recently, she spoke about choreography from a dancer’s perspective.
Do you do anything special before going into the studio with a choreographer for the first time?
You want to be as prepared as possible. You want to be as warmed-up as possible. And it’s funny: I always think about what shoes to wear. You don’t want to have too-new shoes, and you don’t want to have too-old shoes; you want the perfect shoes that you could do anything in. Of course, you think about your outfit. You put yourself together a little bit more than you normally would because you want to make a great first impression. And then as the process goes along, you don’t put makeup on. Your hair is a mess, and you have sweatpants on. [Laughs] That’s because you’re just trying to make it work.
Right: Partnering with Amar Ramasar
Would you talk about the process for Acheron?
It was a little weird for me because I had an injury when Liam came. My part was made on somebody else, and then I had to learn it. We had to rethink it and redo it for my partner, Adrian Danchig-Waring, and me.
Did you have much give and take with Liam?
I did. He was very open to changing things and making each couple feel comfortable. He’s very quiet in a way; he lets you figure it out and talk to your partner about it. He doesn’t get upset with you, which is kind of refreshing. Also, Liam was here and then he left and then he came back and left again, so Adrian and I had time to work on it ourselves, to rough it out, break it down. Why isn’t this working? Let’s figure this out. Sometimes it’s embarrassing. You feel stupid doing that in front of the choreographer because you want to make it look good for him.
How does it affect you when a choreographer is upset or impatient?
I kind of close down. I can’t compete with that. You don’t want to compete with that, and probably a lot of that is anxiety; they need to get that out. So I get upset, but I’m just like, I can’t do anything about it, tomorrow’s a new day, we’ll come in here and try it again. I’m doing my best for you. That’s all that you can really do, because it’s their job to make it work on you—if they can do that, if they’re intelligent enough to do that.
What do you bring to the studio that makes you a good muse?
I like to think that I have a really good personality. I dance big, and I’ll do everything full-out, the biggest, until they tell me, “Don’t do that,” or they have to tame it down. I’d rather that than them telling me, “Do more.” People mostly choreograph really big dancing and very emotional dancing on me, so I guess that’s an advantage because I can dive into things. One time, Liam was trying to get Sara Adams to not think about what she was doing and just be with her partner in the moment. He said, “Do it like Sara does. Sara Mearns—she just closes her eyes. She just stands there and lets it happen.” It’s easy for me to go to that dreamy, mysterious place in the studio. And I like to work on things. I like to do them over and over again and see if I can make them work. I like to laugh in rehearsal. That’s a huge thing—obviously, you’re going to have those dramatic moments and those really tense and stressful moments, but you have to be able to laugh in rehearsal, too. You know, we’re just people. We’re not robots. We’re not perfection.
Above: "I think of it as two visions molding together" —Sara Mearns
How do you mold yourself to someone else’s vision?
I think of it as two visions molding together. It can’t be just their vision. There have to be multiple visions coming together, multiple talents, multiple inspirations, imaginations.
Do you blame yourself when it’s not going well?
Oh, yeah. Because you feel like it’s your job to bring his creation to life. And your creation to life. You want to make the best of this because someone picked you to do something completely new. It’s a moment in time that you might not ever get again. And it’s self-worth. You want to feel important, to feel like no one else could do this. No one could ever look like this.
What was the reason behind your wanting to branch out and work with Karole Armitage and others?
I’m still doing that. In April, I’m dancing one of Mauro Bigonzetti’s works for the Youth America Grand Prix gala. It’s just different movement. No pointe shoes. No walls, no boundaries. Sometimes it’s tough here at New York City Ballet because we don’t get the very modern-modern choreographers. Sometimes we do, but most of the time I don’t get picked for that stuff. So I want to look elsewhere for that on my off time. Just to see how it feels and see how my body reacts to it. I want to see if I can do it.
Gia Kourlas is the dance editor for Time Out New York and writes about dance for The New York Times.
All photos by Chris Lee