This summer, the Petronio Residency Center at Crow's Nest welcomes its first three artists in residence: Nora Chipaumire, Will Rawls and Kathy Westwater. The center, located in the Catskill Mountains, about two and a half hours north of New York City, is idyllic: The 2,500-square-foot studio has radiant floor-heat and a sprung floor, and the 6,500-square-foot house sleeps up to 10 people and has soaring views of the mountains. "As a creator, I understand the power of a residency," says Stephen Petronio. "I want the dancers to feel like they have gone to heaven when they pull up to the gate."
Stephen Petronio brings a bracing season to New York City's Joyce Theater, where he has performed almost every year for 24 years. His work is exciting to the subscription audience as well as to many dance artists. He delves into movement invention at the same time as creating complex postmodern forms. The new work, Hardness 10, is his third collaboration with composer Nico Muhly. The costumes are by Patricia Field ARTFASHION, hand-painted by Iris Bonner/These Pink Lips. Petronio's work still practically defines the word contemporary.
Stephen Petronio Company also continues with its Bloodlines series. That's where he pays homage to landmark works of the past that have influenced his own edgy aesthetics. This season he's chosen Merce Cunningham's playful trio Signals (1970), which will be performed with live music from Composers Inside Electronics.
Completing the program is an excerpt from Petronio's Underland (2003), with music by Nick Cave. Video footage courtesy of Stephen Petronio Company, filmed by Blake Martin.
For the past 3 years, choreographer Stephen Petronio has been reviving groundbreaking works of postmodern dance through his BLOODLINES project. This season, although his company will be performing a work by Merce Cunningham, his own choreography moves in a more luxurious direction. We stepped into the studio with Petronio and his dancers where they were busy creating a new work, Hardness 10, named for the categorization of diamonds.
Dancers love Kickstarter. Over the past eight years, more than 2,300 dance projects have brought in more than $12 million through campaigns on the site. Even traditional companies like Martha Graham Dance Company and MacArthur "genius" award-winning choreographers like Michelle Dorrance have gotten in on the action.
But starting today, the site is announcing a new platform called Drip that aims to be even more useful for artists. Rather than having to set up a new campaign for each project, artists can build a community of support for their ongoing creative practice. Supporters pay a monthly "subscription" fee for perks like exclusive behind-the-scenes footage, ticket discounts, in-person meet-and-greets with the artists—whatever artists want to offer. And that means the artists can count on a regular pool of funds from fans paying as little as $2 a month.
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."
The Radical Bodies evening broke all attendance records at Hunter College's Kaye Playhouse on May 31. People were lining up in the courtyard almost two hours before curtain, and the mood was festive. All 650 seats were filled, more than 100 people were turned away and about 60 went across the street to watch the live stream.
Why such a hubbub? The admission was free and the event was historic: It had been 50 years since Anna Halprin caused a scandal when she brought her Parades and Changes to Hunter. The "Paper Dance," which involves disrobing calmly, methodically and completely, was labeled "indecent exposure" in 1967 and led to a warrant for Halprin's arrest.
Joshua Tuason and Melissa Toogood in Petronio’s Locomotor / Non Locomotor. Photo by Yi-Chun Wu, Courtesy Stephen Petronio Company.
Stephen Petronio’s residency program
Stephen Petronio Company spent much of 2015 looking back, performing works by Merce Cunningham and Trisha Brown. Now, it’s looking forward. Petronio is creating a residency for choreographers in Pawling, New York, two hours north of New York City and near the artistic director’s home. The program will likely start in the summer of 2017. “I wanted to create a place where dancers could be removed from the pressures of New York City, and separate themselves from the daily grind,” says Petronio. For now, it’s a closed selection process: Petronio will choose artists he’s interested in for the inaugural residency.
Urban Bush Women in Zollar’s Walking with ‘Trane. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
Urban Bush Women Choreographic Center
Don’t let the name fool you: Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s plan for the Urban Bush Women Choreographic Center doesn’t include a physical center. Instead, Zollar plans on partnering with individuals and organizations in different U.S. cities to help support local artists—more specifically, female choreographers of color—across all stages of their careers. At this time, there is no public start date or list of collaborators. But Zollar, who has been known to encourage her company dancers’ choreographic talents, is sure to bring more attention to talented artists who can add new voices to the field.
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Commissioning work from a composer
Choreographers often think of their tools as space, time, shape and motion. But as choreographer Stephen Petronio puts it, music rules: “You can shut your eyes, but you have to put your fingers in your ears to stop listening.” He regularly commissions composers whose work he admires—like Laurie Anderson and Rufus Wainwright. “The more different brains work on something, the more exciting it is,” he says.
For any choreographer, commissioning music can open your mind to new artistic possibilities. But no two composers work the same way and each collaborative relationship is unique. It’s essential to understand how to find the right composer for the project and approach the process.
Choosing a Composer
In today’s digital age, we benefit from the abundance of music at our fingertips. There’s no harm in blindly contacting a composer, but Petronio thinks it’s wiser, especially in the early stages of your career, to work with artists you know. “Start with people you can screw up in front of,” he jests. Cultivate a network of collaborators by attending local music concerts, festivals and social events.
When you approach a composer, discuss any connections the dance has to his or her music, the venue it will be performed in and how the project will be mutually beneficial. In addition to diversifying the audience and increasing exposure for both parties, collaborating could open up other funding opportunities, says Scott Winship, director of grantmaking programs at New Music USA, which provides grants to support the creation and performance of new music.
Composers rarely enjoy working on a project when the choreographer dictates every detail of the music. “Always give the composer the freedom to move. You can’t work in a box,” says Andy Teirstein, a composer who has worked with Petronio, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange and Buglisi Dance Theatre, among others. Successful collaborations encourage the music to develop as part of the choreographic process. “You have to be willing to wrestle around with it. Let go of control, but don’t let go of your vision,” says Petronio.
Communication is crucial. It helps to know some basic music terminology and to discuss the expressive aspects of the work, such as color, temperature and emotional dynamics, suggests Teirstein. While composing music for Locomotor, Mike Volpe/Clams Casino used words from Petronio’s choreographic notebook to generate sounds. Feed the composer’s creative needs and stay open to how your ideas take root in the music.
Also invite the composer to rehearsals. Watching dancers enact your ideas is often the simplest way for composers to translate your musical motives. The music may change, so avoid becoming attached to a specific draft. Teirstein finds it useful to create four or five short music samples and have the choreographer choose one to develop. Try new music during rehearsal before rushing to judgment. “As a dancer you hear differently when you’re moving to music than you do just sitting and imagining,” says Teirstein.
Terms of Agreement
Have a written contract signed by both parties before a single note is written. Once when Petronio commissioned a composer to create 20 minutes of music for a new piece, the composer initially created a score that Petronio describes as “perfect the way it was.” But it was only eight minutes long. What could have been a collaborative nightmare was easily resolved by referring to the contract.
According to Winship, there are three main types of agreements. The collaborative agreement may establish a timeline for the project and specifies the artists’ responsibilities and details pertaining to the score, such as length and instrumentation. The commissioning agreement spells out when the composer will deliver the work and the terms and breakdown of payment, “which can be split up into multiple payments based on different developmental stages of the piece,” says Winship. Composer fees do not necessarily include expenses like hiring live musicians, contracting a sound engineer and renting a recording studio. Lastly, the licensing agreement addresses copyright issues: Is the composer associated with a publishing house that collects royalties? Do you have permission to use the music only for live performance, or can you use it for promotional purposes, like a video on your website?
Reap the Benefits
Working with a composer is an opportunity to step beyond your comfort zone and traverse new choreographic territory. “I collaborate to shake myself up, to bleed the boundaries of what I’m doing and to have fun with people,” says Petronio. “Otherwise life is very lonely in the theater.”
For more guidelines, read “Commissioning Music: A Basic Guide” and “Music for Dance: Composer-Choreographer Collaboration” at newmusicusa.org/about/resources.
NEW YORK CITY
Endless repetition can drive audiences out of the theater, but a gifted choreographer can make watching the same phrase over and over with subtle changes fascinating. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker is one of those rare ones. Four of her early works from the 1980s are coming to Lincoln Center Festival for a De Keersmaeker marathon that will make her fans deliriously happy: Fase, Elena’s Aria and Rosas danst Rosas—the work that Beyoncé borrowed from for her “Countdown” music video—and Bartók/Mikrokosmos. As a bonus, the Belgian choreographer herself will perform in the first three of these evening-length works. She dances with a poetic inner focus as though immersed in a rhythmic dream. July 8–16, John Jay College. lincolncenterfestival.org.
Above: De Keersmaeker’s Bartók/Mikrokosmos. Photo by Herman Sorgeloos, Courtesy Lincoln Center Festival.
A Change for Sascha
NEW YORK CITY
He is dashing on the Metropolitan Opera House stage, has written eloquently for Dance Magazine and was charismatic on the silver screen in Center Stage. On July 3, when beloved soloist Sascha Radetsky performs the role of Franz in Coppélia, it will be his last dance as a member of American Ballet Theatre. But the innately likeable dancer will keep busy: He’s currently in production as a main character in the TV show “Flesh and Bone,” to air on Starz in 2015. He and his wife, ABT soloist Stella Abrera, will also serve as répétiteurs for the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust. abt.org.
At right: Radetsky in Fancy Free. Photo by Marty Sohl, Courtesy ABT.
Straight From the Horse’s Mouth
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA
When choreographers perform their own work, we’re getting an undiluted product—from mind to body to stage. That’s the reward of the On Their Bodies program, July 22–23, at American Dance Festival. Ronald K. Brown, Stephen Petronio, Doug Varone and Shen Wei, who have each carved out their own unique movement languages, will perform self-choreographed solos. (If only there was a woman in the mix, too!) americandancefestival.org.
At left: Ronald K. Brown. Photo by Kurt H. Leggard, Courtesy Evidence.
It’s a simple but compelling experiment: Commission a piece of music, have two choreographers create their own works to it and present them on the same bill. Audiences will be hearing double during the SKETCH 4 | Music Mirror program at ODC Theater, in which Amy Seiwert and Adam Hougland will offer separate interpretations of Kevin Keller’s score. Seiwert, known for her quirky, angular movement, and Hougland, for his innovative narratives, have been housed at ODC for five weeks to prepare. July 24–27. odcdance.org.
At right: Weston Krukow and Sarah Griffin of Amy Seiwert Imagery. Photo by David DeSilva, Courtesy Amy Seiwert Imagery.
See the Music
Mark Morris is a master of translating a musical score into lush dancing. This summer’s Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival will offer a full week of events that dive into his obsession with melody. Morris himself will lead music seminars, discussions and open company classes. And there will be plenty of performances, too: The Mark Morris Dance Group Music Ensemble will have its own concert and will accompany MMDG in seven programs of newer Morris works—Festival Dance, A Wooden Tree, Crosswalk and Jenn and Spencer. July 21–27. jacobspillow.org.
At left: Domingo Estrada and Michelle Yard in Festival Dance. Photo by Stephanie Berger, Courtesy MMDG.
World premieres and stellar festivals fill April's calendar.
Burgess’ dancers in Homage. Photo by Mary Noble Ours, Courtesy Burgess.
Science, history and research are the pride of the Smithsonian. Now, the world’s largest museum complex is also gaining a foothold in dance with its first artist in residence, Dana Tai Soon Burgess. The DC-based choreographer has created a site-specific program to coincide with the National Portrait Gallery’s first American dance exhibition, “Dancing the Dream”—a collection of images picturing celebrated dancers and choreographers, from Isadora Duncan to Michael Jackson. On the program is Homage, which borrows from the works of pioneers in the exhibition, as well as a premiere that honors this generation’s choreographers. Performance on April 19; exhibition runs through July 13. npg.si.edu.
Ballets by a Brit
Sir Frederick Ashton’s quintessentially English work may have its devotees at home, but some critics claim that Sarasota Ballet’s restagings top even those of The Royal Ballet. The Florida company, which boasts one of the largest samplings of Ashton repertoire, will salute the choreographer with 10 of his dances, including the partnering delight Symphonic Variations; Birthday Offering, originally choreographed to celebrate The Royal’s 25th year; and the ice-skating–inspired Les Patineurs. The Ashton Festival, a Sarasota-wide event, will also feature films and panel discussions. April 30–May 3. sarasotaballet.org.
Above: Also on the program, Ashton’s Façade. Photo by Frank Atura, Courtesy Sarasota Ballet.
NEW YORK CITY
Renowned for his wildly flinging, pretzelly movement language, Stephen Petronio is an avid collaborator with artists of other disciplines. Highlighting his interest in new music, his 30th-anniversary program includes scores by Michael Nyman and hip-hop producer Michael Volpe, aka Clams Casino. An extra bonus will be a new solo for Petronio himself to music by Philip Glass. April 8–13 at The Joyce Theater. stephenpetronio.com.
Above: Davalois Fearon and Gino Grenek. Photo by Sarah Silver, Courtesy SPC.
Duking It Out, Through Dance
Bring your boxing gloves: Amsterdam company Emio Greco | PC’s theatrical work ROCCO is staged inside a boxing ring, putting audiences just feet away from Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten’s dark, combative choreography. During the piece’s creation, the company worked with boxers to intertwine throws and feints with dance. The product shows that the sport has more in common with our world than you might think: swift physicality, a rhythmic pulse and intuitive yet calculated abandon. April 4–5 at Vancouver’s DanceHouse; U.S. premiere, April 10–12, at White Bird in Portland, Oregon; April 17–19 at REDCAT in Los Angeles. ickamsterdam.com.
Above: Dancer Christian Guerematchi takes his corner of the ring. Photo by Laurent Ziegler, Courtesy ICKamsterdam.
Heaven & Harlem
NEW YORK CITY
When the new Dance Theatre of Harlem made its Lincoln Center debut last year, the young dancers impressed more through spirit than technical mastery. This year, artistic director Virginia Johnson is testing her dancers with Ulysses Dove’s sharply dramatic Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven (1993) and a piece that Thaddeus Davis and Tanya Wideman-Davis made for the company, past-carry-forward, about the great migration from the South that led to the Harlem Renaissance. In tribute to the late Frederic Franklin, the season also includes his version of Petipa’s “Pas de Dix” from Raymonda. April 23–27, Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater. dancetheatreofharlem.org.
Above: Gabrielle Salvatto in past-carry-forward. Photo by Rachel Neville, Courtesy DTH.
Everything but the Kitchen Sink
One city, three days, seven U.S. premieres. International artists will invade Houston for the 2014 Dance Salad Festival, April 17–19. Among the diverse set are Paris Opéra Ballet étoiles Manuel Legris and Laetitia Pujol in works by John Neumeier and Angelin Preljocaj. Other offerings include the Dresden Semperoper and Royal Danish Ballets, a tango-laced Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui work and Beijing troupes Beijing Dance/LDTX and Contemporary Dragon KungFu—the latter established by martial arts legend Jackie Chan. dancesalad.org.
Above: Contemporary Dragon KungFu will perform Liu Lu’s Gateway. Photo by Li Huimin, Courtesy Dance Salad.
When a dancer walks in the room it’s obvious. They are unusually glowing and fit, wearing telltale comfortable clothes and sensible, if not fashion-forward shoes. Their body and posture stand out from the crowd as somehow “more right” and confident than the people around them.
But each of our bodies also holds a map charting a history of preferences, patterns, and injuries from our journey in dance. The high right shoulder, the bruised ribs, the scar at the inside of the knee, the bunions, calluses, and endless splits all tell a story of time and place, of wear and use, of pride in accomplishment and the trauma of injury.
Every injury is an opportunity. It might be emotional and inconvenient (not to mention painful), preventing work for a while. But in the long term one can learn about the limb or joint in question: how it is built, how it operates, and how it works in harmony with the rest of the body. The healing process can bring an awareness of your body at the doctorate level!
Every injury asks two questions: How did this happen, and how will I approach caring for and healing it? Healing comes first. From the common mandate for a simple sprain—rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE)—to the use of anti-inflammatory medication; to when to apply heat; to working through pain; to chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, or surgery, there is a world of choice and you alone are the master of these choices.
Injury is a time of vulnerability and stress. You just want it fixed—now! For every piece of advice saying, “You must do xyz for this injury,” it can be asked, “What is the alternative?” The type of medical professional you’re asking will determine the point of view. Doctors are trained to medicate, surgeons to operate, chiropractors to manipulate, masseurs to dig and rub. Physical therapists work muscles mechanically, physiotherapists can repattern muscle habits that are harmful. Other therapists who work on “energetic levels” move energy.
For each injury, choose your weapon from an informed place, not from one of panic. If you can, find a dancer who has been through a similar injury and assess their results.
Remedies in response to a specific injury—a sprain, tear, or spasm—often address only the emergency. The focus is on the part rather than the whole. I’ve found excellent, often startling results with therapies that take into account the whole system of the body and not just the site of trauma. Here, the why of the injury may be found.
Every body is a system that operates uniquely in the world, with its own way of navigating physics. We have habits, inclinations, and preferences. Are we left- or right-handed? Do we turn better to the left or right? Are we quick and light, or bound and strong? We are whole when we are dancing, so it seems logical to look at our whole system when injured. (Eastern medicine has assumed this for centuries.)
We have daily experience of the connectedness of our physical and emotional body. Why is it still a surprise when knee pain is traced back to an origin in the pelvis/hip? Yes, we are a connected whole! But we head for the eternal manifestation of the pain for treatment (should I brace my knee?), ignoring the patterns that might be the cause (perhaps a pelvic adjustment from the chiropractor?).
When a prognosis leads quickly to a solution as definitive as surgery, wait and look again! There is a cult of glamour around extreme treatment for injuries sustained during extreme activity. I have found that 95 percent of the time, a little curiosity, patience, and research go a long way. Often, as in the creative process, when you think you are up against an impenetrable wall, a small chink of light opens up and another path is revealed.
In 1995 I tore the cartilage in my right knee (medial meniscus). First ice, elevation, and rest, followed by a trip to the doctor for an MRI to image “the damage.” A week later, armed with my films in hand, I showed up at the orthopedic surgeon for a consultation. After a quick viewing, he told me that he would schedule surgery immediately “to clean up the ragged cartilage.” Then we would discuss “eventual replacement of the joint.” Replacement?! Still in my dancing prime, I thanked him, took my films, and walked out. My knee pain miraculously disappeared in a matter of days, and 15 years later my knee is functioning better than ever.
I am not saying that all surgery is avoidable. Perhaps the fear of it had a placebo effect on me. But in my search for alternatives, I discovered ways to reduce inflammation, keep my hamstrings long and supple (they govern the alignment of the knee), and keep my alignment as a whole in enhanced, functioning order. My knee now operates beautifully with careful practice of a regime that is both gentle and effective.
I was fortunate in many ways to begin dancing as a conscious adult at 18. I first entered the world of dance through improvisation. This included an association with body awareness and alternative approaches to how the body functions. Anatomical information became integral to my investigation of dance. This launched me on a journey to the cutting edge of thought on how to care for the instrument of my craft—my body.
I’ve been involved with numerous paths to enhance the efficiency, form, and function of the body through the incredible work of leaders like Susan Klein/Klein Technique, Bonnie Cohen/School for Body-Mind Centering, Irmgard Bartenieff/Bartenieff Fundamentals, and F. M. Alexander/The Alexander Technique. They all developed sophisticated approaches to moving with power and grace. Zero Balancing, Feldenkrais,
Craniosacral Therapy, Myofascial Release, Reiki and Pilates are also invaluable systems to tune the body for optimum use (see sidebar).
Waiting for an injury to learn about the body isn’t the ideal way to treat the instrument we depend on to make our art. A car gets regular checkups, but so often I hear from dancers, “I can’t afford to get treatment.” Even as a young and poor dancer, I insisted on regular bodywork. I saved, bartered, and swept studios if I needed to in order to continue my treatments—and it paid off enormously.
My craft and art would never be as rich without this ongoing maintenance, research, and repair. One characteristic common to all these techniques is their potential to break through limits previously experienced as the body’s maximum range. When my body is not working optimally, it’s a mechanical limitation. When there’s energy flowing freely through it, the impossible becomes possible. A plié is just an exercise. How you execute it will determine the difference between a mundane career and a magical one.
Tuning the Body
Alexander Technique is a tool for identifying harmful movement patterns that have developed over time. Practice includes learning how to release unnecessary tension, reeducating the body.
Bartenieff Fundamentals applies Rudolf Laban’s movement theory to the progression of human development. Concepts include alignment, breath and core support, initiation and sequencing, spatial intent, and weight transference.
Body-Mind Centering is a creative process using movement re-education and hands-on repatterning. Developed by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, it applies anatomical, physiological, and developmental principles through movement, touch, voice, and mind.
Craniosacral Therapy aims to stimulate the body’s self-healing capabilities through the craniosacral system—the membranes, cerebrospinal fluid, and related structures that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord.
The Feldenkrais Method reconnects the body to its natural movements, focusing on the relationship between motion and thought. It works with the nervous system, rather than the muscles or bones, to improve everyday motion.
Klein Technique helps align the bones using the muscles that support posture (psoas, hamstrings, external rotators, and pelvic floor).
Myofascial Release uses soft-tissue therapy to treat chronic pain and rehabilitate injuries. This is accomplished by relaxing contracted tissue, increasing circulation, and stimulating the stretch reflex of muscles.
Physiotherapy helps develop, maintain, and restore movement range and function, especially in the face of aging, injury, disease, or environmental factors.
Reiki therapy is a Japanese technique for stress reduction. It uses the power of energy transferred from the hands of the practitioner to the patient, generally without touch.
Zero Balancing is a body-mind system that focuses on the body’s key joints. The practitioner uses finger pressure and gentle traction to engage the energy and create relaxation, internal re-organization, and improved function.
—compiled by Stephen Petronio and Kristin Schwab
Stephen Petronio is the artistic director of the Stephen Petronio Company.