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Teacher's Wisdom: Ann Reinking
Best known as the leading interpreter of Bob Fosse's style of musical theater dance, Anne Reinking made famous her Broadway leads in Dancin’, Sweet Charity, and Chicago. Reinking has worked with many legendary artists, including Katherine Hepburn, Gwen Verdon, Tommy Tune, Joel Grey, Ben Vereen and choreographers Jerome Robbins and Fosse. She won the 1997 Tony Award for Best Choreography (in the style of Bob Fosse) for the revival of Chicago, and in 1999, Fosse, which she directed and co-choreographed, won the Tony for Best Musical. A 2000 Dance Magazine Award recipient, Reinking has appeared in the films All That Jazz, Annie, and Micki and Maude, and has choreographed for the Pacific Northwest Ballet, Ballet Hispanico, and American Ballet Theatre. Reinking founded the Broadway Theatre Dance Project, a summer program for aspiring dancers, and teaches master classes all over the U.S. This past March, she was a master teacher and adjudicator for the southeast region American College Dance Festival, where fellow adjudicator Steve Rooks, associate professor and resident choreographer at Vassar (and former member of the Martha Graham Dance Company) observed her class.
Fosse technique has sometimes been classified as being a bit too sensual and risqué for some tastes, yet it clearly has a style and clarity that is trans-generational. What do you say to those detractors?
Certainly the style can be sensual but elegant, and no more sensual than what you might see in sections of works by Robbins or other Broadway choreographers. The hip isolation in Fosse’s work is given the same reverence that you would give to the art of an East Indian or Balinese dancer. Bob never wanted a “hard bump”—he always wanted it dainty, very controlled. Sensuality must be done with intelligence or wit or both. Students in my class should be bound to the earth, but attached to the heavens. That paradox is so marvelous. All this history from legends like Fosse goes into what each student experiences in the class.
What is the primary foundation in your teaching approach?
One of my greatest goals is to instill trust in my students. They want to know that they can trust you, and they want you to know that they will do their homework. In addition to their technical development, I want my students to be the best dancer they can become that day. I know the pressure that dancers face in every class—they have to be careful not to judge the work that they do each day, and as a teacher it is important that I support them and create this trust.
Who were some of your greatest influences?
I was very fortunate to have some legendary teachers, including Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. However, it was Robert Joffrey who, after hearing me sing, suggested that I might consider musical theater over ballet as a career. He told me, “It really would be fantastic if you did Broadway.” His counsel was pivotal to the direction of my career, and just as when I began to teach, once I began I knew what I wanted to do.
Aside from the great movement in your combinations, there is a distinct focus on clarity of line and detail.
If I have the students long enough, I like them to work on little sections with specific goals. I think that the students should pick up things quickly, and be good at pinpointing certain aspects of the dance. These nuggets can really help fine-tune the dancers’ craft. As a dancer, you have to like repetition, and be aware of the subtext of your work. I really want to create in the student a need to become involved. As an artist, everything has to be created inside your being—you must ask, how do I get myself into the piece?
What challenges do you face as you teach our 21st-century dancers?
Our dancers are technique-bound. They often feel that by simply doing the step they’ve “done it.” There isn’t often the work of dancing from the human soul. I believe that the student should be an inventive and contributing interpreter in the class. They should have a full-size view of what they want to do beyond pointing the feet and working on turnout.
At the American College Dance Festival, you spoke of your love for great music. Can you talk about the importance of music in your classes?
When I teach a repertory class, I use music that is specific to the work. However, I love live music, and I have enjoyed some wonderful class collaborations with Philip Hamilton. Live music really makes students grow. The studio becomes a “bouillabaisse” of creativity when everyone comes to class as a contributor—the great music, the pieces of repertory, and the student’s experience.
As a teacher, what are some of your pet focal points?
I want my students to work on good alignment, but I also want them to be able to explore “different lines,” especially for those dancers with strong balletic training. Their lines tend to be there automatically, but dancers often need to just let it go. I try to go to the need of the student at their appropriate level.
As you observe today’s dancers, what would you say are the greatest needs for teachers to impart in our students?
I think that teachers should help today’s students become specialists, but I also feel that dancers should be able to integrate all styles. They should learn to communicate to their audience that what they do is good, right, and wonderful! As instructors, we need to continue to teach dancers to be creatively obliged, to be interested in all approaches to dance.
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While Solange was busy helping big sis Beyoncé give Coachella its best performances of all time, an equally compelling project was quietly circulating on Instagram:
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
In his final bow at New York City Ballet, during what should have been a heroic conclusion to a celebrated ballet career, Robert Fairchild slipped and fell. His reaction? To lie down flat on his back like he meant to do it. Then start cracking up at himself.
"He's such a ham," says his sister Megan Fairchild, with a laugh. "He's really good at selling whatever his body is doing that day. He'll turn a moment that I would totally go home and cry about into something where the audience is like, 'That's the most amazing thing ever!' "
New York City Ballet continues its first year without Peter Martins at the helm as our spring season opens tonight.
When he retired at the start of the new year, we plunged headfirst into unknown, murky waters. Who would the new director be? When would we know? Would we dancers get some say in the decision? Who would oversee the Balanchine ballets? Who would be in charge of casting? Would a new director bring along huge upheaval? Could some of us be out of a job?
In the world of ballet, Arcadian Broad is a one-stop shop: He'll come up with a story, compose its music, choreograph the movement and dance it himself. But then Broad has always been a master of versatility. As a teenager he juggled school, dance and—after the departure of his father—financial responsibility. It was Broad's income from dancing that kept his family afloat. Fast-forward six years and things are far more stable. Broad now lives on his own in an apartment, but you can usually find him in the studio.
Bales of hay, black umbrellas, bicycles—this Midsummer Night's Dream would be unrecognizable to the Bard. Alexander Ekman's full-length, inspired by Scandinavian solstice traditions and set to music by Mikael Karlsson, is a madcap celebration of the longest day of the year, when the veil between our world and that of the supernatural is said to be at its thinnest. The Joffrey Ballet's performances mark the seductively surreal work's North American premiere. April 25–May 6. joffrey.org.
"There's an ancient energy in Fana's movement, a deep and trusted knowing," says Jeff, director of the Chicago-based Deeply Rooted Dance Theater. "Because I witnessed the raw humanity of his dancer's souls, I wanted my dancers to have that experience."
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.