Martha Graham Dance Company in rehearsal for a new work by Bobbi Jene Smith and Maxine Doyle. PC Kelsey Grills.
In a sun-soaked studio in Manhattan, members of the Martha Graham Dance Company (all women) lie on the floor with their feet and heads hovering off the ground. Choreographer Bobbi Jene Smith encourages the dancers to be unapologetic about being looked at as their bodies begin to tremble with exhaustion and they move into a new formation.
The power dynamics and working environments in dance can leave women vulnerable. Photo by Soragrit Wongsa/Unsplash
When an anonymous letter accused former New York City Ballet leader Peter Martins of sexual harassment last year, it felt like what had long been an open secret—the prevalence of harassment in the dance world—was finally coming to the surface. But the momentum of the #MeToo movement, at least in dance, has since died down.
Martins has retired, though an investigation did not corroborate any of the claims against him. He and former American Ballet Theatre star Marcelo Gomes, who suddenly resigned in December, were the only cases to make national headlines in the U.S. We've barely scratched the surface of the dance world's harassment problem.
Last month, Buzzfeed News confirmed 17 instances of groping or sexual misconduct by patrons of the immersive theater show Sleep No More.
Having experienced the show for the first time just a week before the story broke, I can't say I was surprised by the accusations.
No, I'm not bitter because of the more common complaints I've heard from patrons: I didn't get lost in the dark halls of the McKittrick Hotel, and I don't care that I didn't get any of the coveted one-on-one scenes. Instead, at every step of my two and a half hour journey through the show, I felt that the safety of the performers—and of the audience—was being compromised for the sake of an experience that just wasn't worth the risk.
I have always felt a need to communicate and, even more importantly, to be understood. But as a child, I always hit an emotional wall when trying to speak.
Although my great-aunt Rose had no connection to dance, she intuitively saw that I needed an outlet, and recommended that I take a movement class. It was literally life-changing. I realized I could make myself understood without my needing to be verbal.
From dancers to presenters to directors, no one in dance is exempt from the task of building an audience. But keeping up with email, social media and other marketing efforts can chip away at precious time spent honing your craft. Add in the fear of coming across as vain or self-absorbed, and it can be hard to know how to begin.
Few things are more intimidating for a choreographer than redoing a master’s work. Luckily for Joshua Bergasse, when he was first asked to update Jerome Robbins’ choreography for On the Town, he had no idea the production would become a major hit destined for Broadway. It was supposed to be a summer show in Massachusetts. The stakes were low. So he was unafraid to take the risk—and it paid off in a major way: This month On the Town will mark Bergasse’s choreographic Broadway debut. In our cover story, he shares how he’s gone about celebrating Robbins’ movement, while refreshing it with a slightly grittier, more grounded, 21st-century energy.
For this issue’s special focus on Broadway, we also sat down with Steven Hoggett as he choreographed Sting’s new musical, The Last Ship. In many ways, Hoggett’s the furthest thing from your typical Broadway choreographer: He doesn’t do song-and-dance numbers or set routines with kick-ball-changes. But he has an incredible reverence for movement. In his shows, everything—whether a character cracks his knuckles or slides his hands in his pockets—is choreographed with a deliberate intention. “You can’t just make a casual gesture onstage,” he tells writer Zachary Whittenburg. “That’s as mindless as opening your mouth and letting any old words come out.”
Right: “When you give dancers that kind of freedom, watch out! They have an innate creativity that is endless.”—Hubbard Street Dance Chicago artistic director Glenn Edgerton on his company’s anything-goes collaboration with sketch-comedy troupe Second City. Photo by Quinn Wharton.
It’s an artistic philosophy that many dancers know well, but maybe none more so than those who perform in immersive theater. We spoke to dancers in shows like Sleep No More to learn how they juggle choreography with carefully calibrated moments between themselves and audience members. As the interactive trend grows in both popular dance theater productions and downtown postmodern dance pieces, more and more dancers are being asked to fine-tune audience interplay as precisely as they would a pirouette. And many find the experience brings out a whole new side of their artistry. Performances become less about trying to show off virtuosity, and more about sharing something personal—and truly making every movement in every moment their own.