What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.
A Broadway luminary and a postmodern darling bring their talents to ballet, a music video maven turns to the concert stage, and a contemporary choreographer gets soulful with Aretha Franklin. Our editors' must-sees this May are all about the unexpected.
"The art was telling me that things had to change. And they had to change big. Something I created needed to die off. When the company was at its height, when it was at its most successful, I closed it down."
These puzzling words are spoken by choreographer Trey McIntyre in Gravity Hero, his new documentary, which unpacks the rise and fall of his wildly successful dance company, Trey McIntyre Project. When he disbanded the troupe in 2014, the dance world couldn't quite wrap their heads around it. Why stop when you're touring 22 weeks a year? Why stop when you've done the seemingly impossible by creating a thriving company in the dance desert of Boise, Idaho?
The ballet world will converge on San Francisco this month for San Francisco Ballet's Unbound: A Festival of New Works, a 17-day event featuring 12 world premieres, a symposium, original dance films and pop-up events.
"Ballet is going through changes," says artistic director Helgi Tomasson. "I thought, What would it be like to bring all these choreographers together in one place? Would I discover some trends in movement, or in how they are thinking?"
Starting and sustaining a dance company is not for the faint of heart. It often takes tremendous sacrifice in terms of time, energy and money. But it's not a life sentence. Arts organizations, like everything else, come to an end, and nothing could be more important to an artist's vitality than knowing when to call it quits. Even as the founder of a company, there is a graceful way to move on.
A year and a half after closing his company, the choreographer continues to bring dance to film, photography and the stage.
Photo from McIntyre’s upcoming book, Private Idaho. Photo by McIntyre.
The dance world gasped when Trey McIntyre announced in 2014 that he was shutting down his company, Trey McIntyre Project, after six wildly successful years as a full-time troupe. The dashing dancemaker, currently traveling around the country, always had a hand in other projects, such as film and photography, so his next chapter as an independent choreographer/filmmaker/photographer was already in motion. As McIntyre works on both books and a film, he’s also making new dances: The latest, for BalletX, is slated for a February 10–14 premiere at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia.
What is the new work for BalletX about?
I am using music by Amy Winehouse. Usually, I don’t focus on biographical info, but I am interested in Amy’s story. I identify with portions of her process as an artist, and her death really affected me. It was so tragic. The ballet explores parts of her life that I resonate with. She had a different way of bringing herself and her art into the world; her struggle with that was her eventual undoing. She was miserable, inconsolable until it was right. The world was terrible until she figured out how to make it into art.
What’s the best part of your life now that your company has closed?
I’m able to return my focus to being an artist, and make that the principal activity of my life. It feels like I’m getting back to myself.
What’s been most difficult?
I was always so proud of how nimble TMP was, and I had an amazing staff that made that possible. Now, if something needs to be done, it has to be me doing it.
Tell us about the film you’ve been working on.
This Used to Be My House is about the life and death of a dance company, and my personal journey through that process. This is my first long-form documentary, so I am learning so much every day. As with most documentaries, you learn what it is about after you shoot it. It’s turning out to be autobiographical, with a big focus on the dances I made during the course of the company, especially the two ballets using the music of Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans, The Sweeter End and Ma Maison. Those pieces examined the unique culture around death in that community, and the film draws metaphorical parallels to the life and death of TMP.
And I understand there are book projects underway as well.
Yes, two, actually! Private Idaho includes nude photos of athletes in the gorgeous terrain of Idaho, with my essays and an intro by actor Alan Cumming. It should be out in a year or so. The second book is about how dancers relate to the place they call home. You can get an idea of my photography from my Instagram, @treymcintyrephoto.
2010 USA IBC contemporary competitors. Photo by Richard Finkelstein, Courtesy USA IBC.
In the contemporary round at ballet competitions, dancers often perform wildly varying styles—it’s not uncommon to see neoclassical pointework followed by barefooted modern dance. But the USA International Ballet Competition, which runs every four years and returns June 14–29 to Jackson, Mississippi, hopes to standardize its contemporary category to make judging less subjective. This year, competitors who advance to Round II will work directly with choreographers Trey McIntyre and Matthew Neenan. “We decided it would be beneficial to the dancers if they not only get to learn pieces by highly acclaimed choreographers, but also have the choreographers work with them,” says executive director Sue Lobrano. “And the jury and audience will be able to see how well each dancer grasps the requisite contemporary choreography.”
In March, the competitors were given online access to videos of the selected works. Soloists will perform excerpts of pieces by McIntyre, who contributed one dance to each division (Junior Men, Junior Women, Senior Men and Senior Women); pairs chose one of two Neenan works per division. Dancers were responsible for learning the choreography on their own. Once the 99 competitors arrive in Jackson, McIntyre and Neenan will lead one-hour group coaching sessions before the judges, chaired by former Miami City Ballet artistic director Edward Villella, evaluate.
Dancers who move on to Round III will also perform a prepared contemporary solo or duet of their choice, choreographed in 2010 or later so that the works, says Lobrano, are “truly contemporary.”
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McIntyre rehearsing his Mercury Half-Life. Photo by Kyle Morck, Courtesy TMP.
Following the troupe’s performances at Jacob’s Pillow next month, Trey McIntyre Project’s dancers will disband to allow artistic director Trey McIntyre to focus on freelance choreography, photography and film under the TMP name. “I’ve been craving creating something more tangible than the experience onstage,” says McIntyre.
Though he will remain in Boise, McIntyre will close the company’s headquarters and make cuts to his eight-person administrative staff. Some of his 10 dancers, including Chanel DaSilva, Brett Perry and Travis Walker, will be contracted on a project basis for freelance engagements and to restage TMP’s 30-plus McIntyre ballets on companies and schools.
Co-founded in 2005 by McIntyre, John Michael Schert and Anne Mueller, Trey McIntyre Project became a full-time company in 2008. In 2013, Schert resigned following a CNNMoney report, in which he was quoted, that claimed TMP and Hewlett-Packard’s Boise offices had formed a unique business collaboration; CNNMoney later amended the story after learning it wasn’t accurate.
McIntyre already has experience in other artistic mediums. In 2009, he directed video footage for The Sun Road, a multimedia ballet filmed in Glacier National Park. (The piece will be shown in Fayetteville, Arkansas, this month.) Since then, his passion for filmmaking has grown: He is currently developing documentaries about two of his most applauded works, Ma Maison and The Sweeter End, which were inspired by post–Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, as well as one that follows TMP’s 10-year history. (Timelines had not been announced as of press time.) This summer, he will stage his Peter Pan (2002) on Queensland Ballet and has been commissioned to create an installation at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California. “The perpetuity of a single-vision company doesn’t appeal to me,” says McIntyre. “Not having to maintain the structure of a full-time company will allow me more freedom as an artist.” Still, he adds that he’s not ruling out having another dance troupe in the future.
Final TMP Performances
Des Moines, IA: Des Moines Civic Center, May 1
Lexington, VA: The Route 11 Dance Festival, May 10
Fayetteville, AR: Walton Arts Center, May 16
Kansas City, MO: Muriel Kauffman Theatre, May 22
Vienna, VA: Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, June 11
Jackson, MS: USA International Ballet Competition, June 19
Becket, MA: Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, June 25–29
Something Fresh in Edinburgh
The Edinburgh International Festival brings a handful of dance front-runners to Scotland this year. Brazil-based Deborah Colker Dance Company has taken Onegin (see “Turning Into Tatiana,” p. 30) and transported it onto a huge geometric tree in Colker’s European premiere of her Tatyana. The Mariinsky Ballet also jumps on the “updated classic” bandwagon with Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella. Ballet Preljocaj’s vertiginous Helikopter and Batsheva’s idiosyncratic Hora will provide plenty of edge. And the Juilliard students present a triple bill that includes Alexander Ekman’s Episode 31, a tribally influenced piece with balletic lines. Aug. 9–Sept. 2. www.eif.co.uk.
Deborah Colker’s Tatyana. Photo by Leo Aversa, Courtesy Colker.
Dance Drops into Düsseldorf
Germany’s Internationale Tanzmesse NRW welcomes about 60 companies over four days of performances Aug. 29–Sept. 1. In addition to open studio showings, panels, and installations, the festival’s performances, from troupes representing over 20 nations, will include Cloud Gate 2 of Taiwan in Wicked Fish by Huang Yi, a 2011 “25 to Watch.” Two companies perform their own spins on familiar stories: Korea’s Dance Theater Chang’s Crazy Swan Lake has the central swan dying from pollution, and U.K.-based Phoenix Dance Theatre does a modern-day retelling of Adam and Eve. Representing the U.S. is Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater, in whose Ways to Be Hold, dancers wrap themselves in coats—and other dancers. Sweden’s Göteborg Ballet, BeijingDance/LTDX, and Jasmine Vardimon Company will also perform. www.tanzmesse-nrw.com.
Blake Nellis and Brian Evans in Stuart Pimsler’s Ways to Be Hold. Photo by V. Paul Virtucio, Courtesy SPDT.
Trey McIntyre Project returns to Jacob’s Pillow with some favorite works, including 2008’s homage to childhood, Leatherwing Bat, and 2012’s Bad Winter, an exploration of love based on a trio of popular songs, which premiered this past February. TMP also speeds forward with a premiere based on Marlo Thomas’ innovative television and audio series Free to Be… You and Me. Aug. 8–12. www.jacobspillow.org.
Travis Walker, Ashley Werhun, and John Michael Schert. Photo by Lois Greenfield, Courtesy Pillow.
In place of a scrim, Arizona’s real-life landscape served as a backdrop to Ballet Arizona’s performances last May. Director Ib Andersen’s world premiere Topia fused nature and dance at Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden. On a custom-crafted 80-foot-wide performance space, the dancers emulated the wide expanse of the desert stage for 17 evenings, with starting times adjusted to the setting sun. www.balletaz.org.
Michal Wozniak warming up onstage. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy BAZ.
Between a Rock & a Dance Place
The premieres at this year’s Vail International Dance Festival include Brian Brooks’ duet for himself and Wendy Whelan and a new Wheeldon work. NYCB MOVES opens the festival with a mixed bill, including Justin Peck’s new work to Philip Glass music. To even out such ballet riches, Fang-Yi Sheu & Artists—Sheu, a former Martha Graham superstar and frequent festival performer—will make its debut. The Martha Graham Dance Company will perform for the first time at the festival, including a performance of Appalachian Spring—fitting for the venue, albeit a different set of mountains. July 29–Aug. 11. www.vaildance.org.
Joaquín De Luz and Tyler Angle of NYCB MOVES in Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering at the 2011 VIDF. Photo © Erin Baiano, Courtesy VIDF.
Community—and Talent—in Chicago
Presenting six evenings of free programming, Chicago Dancing Festival co-producers Lar Lubovitch and Jay Franke have outdone themselves this year. Larry Keigwin will spend two weeks in the Windy City making Bolero Chicago for his Keigwin + Company dancers and as many as 75 other people who want to participate—no performance experience necessary. High school students who dance in the enrichment program After School Matters will work with Nicholas Leichter in a CDF commission honoring Chicago’s former First Lady (and champion of the arts) Maggie Daley. Both works will be performed on the “Chicago Dancing” program opening night at the Harris Theater, joined by Hubbard Street, The Joffrey, and the festival debut of Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago. Other highlights include a day of film screenings; a lec/dem on the state of Chicago dance, moderated by DM contributing writer Zachary Whittenburg; and a chance to see dancers from San Francisco Ballet, New York City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Ballet Arizona (the latter two in debuts) on the same program. Aug. 20–25. www.chicagodancingfestival.com.
River North Dance Chicago rehearsing Charlie Moulton’s 9-Person Precision Ball Passing at the 2011 CDF. Photo by Cheryl Mann, Courtesy CDF.
Tap All Over
Five tap festivals across North America sound off this month. Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s Rhythm World (July 23–Aug. 5) will honor master teacher Yukiko Misumi, whose ARTN Company will perform with FootworKINGz and Nico Rubio, up-and-coming artists on the Windy City scene. www.chicagotap.org. At the Bay Area Tap Festival (Aug. 14–19), Terry Brock, Channing Cook Holmes, John Kloss, and Mark Mendonca perform in a 10th-anniversary celebration. www.stepology.com. The Motor City Tap Fest (Aug. 16–18) honors Harold Cromer, with instructors including Claudia Rahardjanoto and Sarah Reich, both “25 to Watch” dancers. www.motorcitytapfest.com. Michelle Dorrance, Maurice Chestnut, and festival founder Hillary-Marie Michael will teach and perform at the Jersey Tap Fest (Aug. 23–26).
www.jerseytapfest.com. And catch Dianne Walker, Acia Gray, and Chloe Arnold in the “Women in Tap” performance at the Vancouver International Tap Dance Festival (which runs Aug. 31–Sept. 2). www.vantapdance.com.
Michelle Dorrance. Photo by Matthew Murphy, Courtesy Dance Teacher.