When coming up with phrases of movement, choreographers all have their habits: certain patterns they return to again and again, tendencies that repeat themselves whether they mean for them to or not.
What if artificial intelligence could be used to help choreographers mix things up by suggesting thousands of other options—and ones that still fit their choreographic style, no less?
It's the 60th anniversary of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and their season at New York City Center is going strong with more than 20 works—including world premieres and company premieres.
Ronald K. Brown, who just received a Dance Magazine Award, has made his seventh work for Ailey, The Call. It's a gorgeous pastiche of three different types of music: Bach, jazz by singer Mary Lou Williams and Malian music by Asase Yaa Entertainment Group.
If the news about the upcoming CATS movie has your head spinning, we're right there with you. It seems like every week we have a bit more to share about the new film adaptation, which is set to release in December 2019. So, in order to keep it all straight, we present you with our master list of everything we know—our version of "The Naming of Cats," if you will. We'll add updates as they emerge.
It looks like Wayne McGregor won't be dancing at the Jellicle Ball after all.
According to Deadline, the British choreographer has stepped away from the upcoming film adaptation of CATS after scheduling conflicts with The Royal Ballet arose. Though principal dancers Francesca Hayward and Steven McRae are taking brief hiatuses from performing with The Royal to allow for their filming obligations, we're guessing that the full-length McGregor is working on for the company (the first part of which is slated to premiere July 2019 in Los Angeles) needed to take priority.
And who is stepping in to replace him? None other than Tony Award–winning choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler.
It's the casting news we didn't know we needed until we heard it. Ever since it was announced that Wayne McGregor would be choreographing the new film adaptation of CATS, we've been anxiously waiting to hear whether any recognizable names from the dance world would be joining the A-list cast (which, in case you missed it, already includes Jennifer Hudson, Sir Ian McKellan, Taylor Swift and James Corden). But never in our wildest dreams did we think that a Royal Ballet principal would be the first dancer to sign on.
Summer's end is in sight, and while it might seem like everyone is on layoff (or at Jacob's Pillow or Vail), there's still plenty of dance to see before the fall season starts in earnest. Here are our top five performance picks for August.
This time last month, we were wigging out when news broke that Wayne McGregor had been named choreographer for the upcoming CATS movie. Sure, it made us scratch our heads, since the original dances by the late Gillian Lynne are as iconic as the Jellicle cats themselves. (There was even a stir when Andy Blankenbuehler was chosen to choreograph the 2016 Broadway revival based on Lynne's original moves.) But we definitely want to see what the abstract mind of McGregor can bring to this reboot.
But our biggest question is, Who will be stepping into the catsuits?
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A Jellicle Ball is coming to the big screen, with the unlikeliest of dancemakers on tap to choreograph.
We'll give you some hints: His choreography can aptly be described as "animalistic," though Jellicle cats have never come to mind specifically when watching his hyper-physical work. He's worked on movies before—even one about Beasts. And though contemporary ballet is his genre of choice, his choreography is certainly theatrical enough to lend itself to a musical.
Many choreographers have been defeated by Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. However, one dancemaker whose stridency, rhythmic daring and sheer inventiveness could possibly match Stravinsky's is Wayne McGregor. For his first commission from American Ballet Theatre, McGregor has taken on this earth-cracking music in AFTERITE, to premiere at ABT's Spring Gala. Also on the May 21 gala program are excerpts from Alexei Ratmansky's restaging of the comic ballet Harlequinade, the full version of which will premiere next month, and a pièce d'occasion by tapper Michelle Dorrance. May 21–26. abt.org.
Wayne McGregor is known for his extreme partnering—limbs pushed, pulled and flung in all directions. While his choreography may seem wild and crazy, he's very thoughtful about the creative process. In our 2013 cover story, he talked about understanding your individual filters as choreographic thinking tools.
In his current work, Autobiography, he applies a scientific filter: using his own genome sequencing as a score for the choreography.
What's the biggest barrier preventing dancers and non-dancers alike from seeing more performances? We think it's safe to say the answer is cost.
New York City's Joyce Theater, known for presenting acclaimed international and domestic companies representing a variety of genres, just launched two ticket initiatives that will offer $10 tickets for dance professionals, and allow all audiences to choose their own ticket price for select shows.
As a kid, I often had trouble getting any words out the way I really wanted to. I developed a fantasy where I could find each character from each story I read within myself, and use them to communicate. I was always "Evan," but embodying different characters broadened the way I could connect with people. I felt that each character was like an instrument and that communicating effectively required the whole orchestra.
Then, when I was 8, I saw John Cranko's Onegin. I hadn't known that dance could develop characters in a way that would resonate so strongly. It was the first ballet that made me want to dive into this life of expressing the human condition through the body. The role of Onegin ended up following me through my career, and it taught me to rely on my humanness.
Whatever your feelings about Wayne McGregor's heady, hyper-physical choreography, we can all probably agree on one thing: We'd really, really love to pick his brain. And tomorrow, Dance Umbrella, a UK-based dance festival, is giving everyone the chance to do exactly that.
According to The New York Times, American Ballet Theatre has a big surprise up its sleeve for its 2018 spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House.
+/- Human, a three-week series curated by Wayne McGregor, is taking over the Roundhouse. By day, it features a new installation by artist collective Random International (a previous McGregor collaborator, not to be confused with Random Dance, the former name of McGregor's company). On Friday and Saturday nights, a new immersive dance work performed by members of Company Wayne McGregor and The Royal Ballet (the first such crossover since 2001) probes the relationship between human bodies and technological entities. Also on tap: pop-up performances, one-off immersive live-music events and a two-week intensive course for youngsters from Queens Crescent Community Association and the Roundhouse Street Circus Collective. Aug. 10–28. roundhouse.org.uk.
Wayne McGregor has a new home, and he intends to share it. In March, the British choreographer and his company moved into Studio Wayne McGregor, a new, state-of-the-art venue in London. They have since announced two ambitious initiatives: FreeSpace, a program gifting studio time to other artists, and PEER, a mentorship program for final-year dance students and recent graduates.
Choreographers often don't ask for much to create their work. Their primary needs are pretty simple:
- Studio space
Now, Wayne McGregor is helping out London's dance community with the second of those two resources.
His new multi-million dollar studio in east London's Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park just opened on Friday. And he's pledged to give away 5000 hours of rehearsal time there for free every year.
When it came out in 2014, few would have guessed Sia's “Chandelier" had the makings of a viral video. There was just a single performer—not even Sia herself—on a small, modest set, with no flashy cuts or gimmicks. But it went viral anyway, its simple-yet-strange, entirely dance-focused concept captivating viewers and rendering dancer Maddie Ziegler a household name.
“It wasn't premeditated—I didn't expect it to be that huge and change the course of music videos," says the video's choreographer, Ryan Heffington. “But 'Chandelier' opened up a new world of possibilities in a big way."
Melissa Hamilton's late start should have prevented a ballet career. Instead, it pushed her to unthinkable heights.
Photo by Nathan Sayers
The first thing you notice about Melissa Hamilton is the classical beauty of her lines: the dainty features, the long arms, the sinewy legs and gorgeously arched feet. Yet The Royal Ballet first soloist burst onto the ballet scene as the embodiment of Wayne McGregor’s alien-like appeal. In Infra, she created one of the choreographer’s most distinctive pas de deux, rippling on pointe, extending and folding her legs around her partner, her cool sensuality mixed with a sense of loneliness.
As a late starter, it has taken Hamilton years of dogged work to gain that kind of control over her body. After joining The Royal Ballet in 2007, she soon established herself as one of McGregor’s muses, as well as the heiress apparent to the great MacMillan roles, though the jury was out on her ability to tackle the classics. Now 26, Hamilton isn’t done proving others wrong—and is maturing into the beguiling artist her performances long hinted at.
Hamilton grew up in Northern Ireland, which has no professional ballet companies or schools, and until age 16 her sole training consisted of taking one class a week. “I had no concept of what the ballet world was,” she says. Her parents, a teacher and a builders’ merchant, insisted she stay home until she had basic academic qualifications. By the time she auditioned for serious training, she was far behind, and the Royal Ballet School declined to take her.
Fortunately, the UK’s Elmhurst School for Dance awarded her a full scholarship based on her raw physical potential. Yet at the end of the first year, she was told she would never be able to catch up. Hamilton stubbornly returned, and in a stroke of luck, former Bolshoi first soloist Masha Mukhamedov took over her class. “There was a trust with her,” Hamilton says. “I remember instantly thinking: Ballet is fun. Up until that point, it had just been torture.”
Hamilton in Christopher Wheeldon's DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy ROH.
When Masha’s husband, Irek Mukhamedov, was appointed director of the Greek National Opera Ballet the next year, Hamilton bravely decided to move to Athens and threw herself into daily four-hour private classes. “Masha told me I was crazy, but I knew she was the only way I would ever have a career,” Hamilton explains. “Her eye was focused on the quickest way to give me a crash course in ballet.”
After seven months, Mukhamedov took her to Youth America Grand Prix to test the waters. Hamilton walked away with the Grand Prix—and an offer to join ABT II. Hamilton didn’t want to move to New York at that time, so Mukhamedov called Royal Ballet director Monica Mason. After a company class audition, Hamilton got a contract. “Everybody could see the body, this very special tool that she has,” remembers Mason’s successor, Kevin O’Hare.
For Hamilton, it was a “traumatic” leap into the unknown. “I was in love with the work, but I had no stage experience. I’d been trained Russian, and all of a sudden my wrists had to be become much less broken, my arms had to come forward.”
Photo by Nathan Sayers
She worked ferociously to catch up. Her big break came from a throwaway encounter in The Royal Ballet rest area. When friends introduced her to Wayne McGregor, she struck a few poses for him as a joke. The next season, she found her name on the cast list for Infra. “I love that he pushes his dancers to the maximum. It’s so quick, so fast-powered, you come out shell-shocked after an hour with him.” Infra earned her a Critics’ Circle award, and Hamilton has been in nearly every ballet McGregor has created for The Royal since, including his recent Woolf Works.
As the company noticed her dramatic potential, other roles soon followed, from Juliet to Mary Vetsera in Mayerling. To challenge herself, Hamilton also took part in international competitions from Varna to Seoul (where she won gold in 2011), preparing with Mukhamedov via Skype. “It was purely to try to improve, to give myself a chance to do classical repertoire I knew would help me.”
In 2013, she was promoted to first soloist, but the classics remained a struggle. Neither her flexibility nor her all-out Russian manner quite fit within the British style, and Hamilton worked obsessively on her own after hours. “My biggest problem is coordination. I see myself as a puzzle to try to fix. I’m the only one that has patience for myself.”
Last spring, however, the punishing routine backfired. “Mentally, I just hit a brick wall. I lived in Covent Garden, literally across the street, for over six years, and I would come in on Sundays. I wouldn’t take mid-season break. I didn’t even appreciate the roles I was getting; I’d lost sight of everything.”
Hamilton in Alastair Marriott's Trespass. Photo by Tristram Kenton, Courtesy ROH.
So Hamilton moved out of central London, and taught herself to work with fresh intention. “I’ve found a love of reading, and I’m seeing London differently—I love galleries now. I was inside a bubble before.” The new approach has paid off. “To develop as an artist, I think she needed to let go a little bit of that determination,” says O’Hare. “She’s become more confident. There’s an aura around her now when she comes on, a softness that focuses you in.”
Hamilton’s reward was MacMillan’s Manon, long her dream role. Her debut last fall won her plaudits from observers and O’Hare; Hamilton says the difference came from letting go of other people’s expectations. “It became about exploring my own personality,” she says. “I did it for myself, and it paid back everything.”
Outside the studio, Hamilton is now looking to build up ballet in Northern Ireland. Insurance company Allianz made her a cultural ambassador for the country, and Hamilton is in talks to bring galas and possibly help expand a Royal Ballet outreach program there.
In the meantime, Hamilton’s expectations for herself haven’t diminished. “I feel like I have just finished my schooling. I’ve been in the company for eight years, and that’s what students normally have in school.” In characteristically bold fashion, after being asked to guest with Dresden Semperoper Ballett in Manon, she approached artistic director Aaron S. Watkin about a longer collaboration; next season, she will take a leave of absence from The Royal to join the German company as a principal, and tackle roles like Aurora and Nikiya. “I saw opportunities throughout their season, including ballets I had long craved to dance,” Hamilton explains. “Strengths have a limit as long as weaknesses are left without adequate chance to be developed and improved.”
Laura Cappelle is a frequent contributor to Dance Magazine.
His newest ballet is inspired by an unusual source—writer Virginia Woolf.
McGregor’s work for The Royal will tackle one Woolf novel per act. Photo by Johan Persson, Courtesy ROH.
Though Wayne McGregor’s work is danced by classical companies all over the world, the maverick British choreographer continues to play by his own rules. For Woolf Works, based on the life and work of writer Virginia Woolf, to premiere at The Royal Ballet May 11–26, McGregor has a different kind of three-act ballet in mind—an abstract one. And he’s asked former Royal Ballet and American Ballet Theatre principal Alessandra Ferri, who turns 52 this month, to play the lead.
Will this be a narrative ballet, as many seem to be expecting?
It’s funny, because I never said I was making a narrative ballet! There has been a big resurgence in full-length narrative ballets, and I think we got obsessed with this particular way of telling stories. It’s a brilliant one, but it’s not the only way you can deal with complex emotional situations or multiple narratives. I thought this was a good moment to flex the opera house’s muscles in a new way.
You’re weaving Virginia Woolf’s life and several of her novels together into one evening.
Yes, partly because her biography is so intrinsically linked to some of her seminal works. I’m looking at three novels, in chronological order: Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves. I want a section for each, so the three acts will feel different. But many scenes reoccur in Woolf’s work: She writes about her novels being haunted by the presence of something else.
How will the movement relate to her style?
The wonderful thing about Virginia Woolf’s work is its sense of incompleteness. Everything isn’t tied together perfectly. She didn’t write conventional narratives, so it would be a bit perverse to try and stage her works as one. There is a connection between her stream of consciousness and the way we, in dance, work with images. And she was herself inspired by dance.
What was her relationship with dance?
She wrote a huge amount about it in her diaries and writings, including critical essays. She was part of the modern group that was influenced by the Ballets Russes in London. She saw works like Nijinska’s Les Noces, which challenged the way people thought about life, and she tried to emulate those experiments of dance in her writing, in terms of rhythm, for instance.
Why did you opt for a new score by Max Richter, who also composed Infra?
I like working with living artists, because they’re solving the problems as you go. For Woolf Works, we will have a very rich orchestral score and a strong, aggressive electronic language. A lot of Woolf’s writing speaks to the senses, so I wanted to catch that spirit—it might be the sound of waves, for instance, coming from various places in the auditorium.
Why Alessandra Ferri?
I’ve always loved her. She has such a knowing body, that synthesis of amazing acting talent and brilliant physicality. I knew I would learn a lot from her.
Random Dance in Wayne McGregor’s FAR. Photo by From top: Ravi Deepres, Courtesy Random Dance.
To find Nashville’s latest spot for dance, you have to drive out to a nondescript warehouse sandwiched between a small airport and a prison. In what was once a cigar factory, the new venue, OZ, will host its premiere performance, Wayne McGregor’s FAR, on February 13. “Wayne McGregor signifies the caliber of work we’ll present here,” says artistic director Lauren Snelling, who hopes the space will become a magnet for contemporary dance in a city where classical ballet remains dominant. “Our mission is to bring in artists who are shifting the landscape of their field. We want Nashville audiences to view dance in a different way.”
While there are several collegiate black-box theaters and studios in the city, OZ will provide Nashville with a venue that presents contemporary dance to a larger audience. Inspired by New York City’s Park Avenue Armory and MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, the 10,000-square-foot flexible-use space seats up to 500 people. Snelling says the wide-open stage will encourage bold, multimedia-heavy projects; she mentions particular interest in how a small-scale choreographer, like Kyle Abraham, might maneuver the space, or how the Trisha Brown Dance Company would use its expansiveness to reimagine her earlier works that use ropes and pulleys.
Above: OZ’s cavernous space. Photo by Anthony Matula, Courtesy OZ.
OZ will also focus on developing local artists. The third Thursday of each month will feature artistic collaborations between Nashville-based artists. And several companies, such as Nashville Ballet, have expressed interest in the space. “We want to support the creation of new work in a region where contemporary dance hasn’t had a major impact,” says Snelling. “You walk into this space and there’s nothing there—choreographers can shape their own vision.”