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Technique My Way: Maria Chapman
For this PNB principal, injury led the way to better health and a fuller awareness of her body.
Maria Chapman explodes across the stage—her legs stretching into three long jetés, one right after another. She powers through her solo in David Dawson’s A Million Kisses to my Skin, giving the extreme extensions and torso shifts full play. Kisses is about how good it feels to dance, and Chapman gets the point across, showing that every muscle and joint can contribute to the enjoyment. Piqué passé: Did you know how luscious a stretch that can be?
Two years ago, this Pacific Northwest Ballet principal couldn’t have done that passé. A fluke foot injury had her facing two surgeries; her doctor thought she would never dance again. Chapman was back onstage in 10 months.
“Proprioception was really key to my rehabilitation,” says Chapman. (Proprioception is the sense that tells you where your limbs are and how they’re moving in relation to the rest of your body.)
“Since I was on crutches for so long—six months,” continues Chapman, “I developed a real disconnect to my entire right leg, but especially my right foot. It didn’t even feel like it was part of my body. So I really needed to remember to love my foot and reincorporate it back into my body—to take it back.”
Chapman did proprioception exercises to reintegrate her foot, but in the process she tuned in to her entire body, gaining a connected quality that looks great onstage.
The Root of the Problem
Chapman started listening to her body when she was very young. At 15, while at the School of American Ballet, she struggled with a pinched fat pad in her knee, a relatively common injury in that joint. The “ice it/rest it” prescription wasn’t yielding long-term results. Chapman, however, realized that forcing her heels to touch in first position was causing the problem. “It makes my knees angry,” she says. Rather than fussing over a perfect first, she just stopped putting her heels together. Problem solved!
Chapman knows the price of not listening: In 2000, she was sidelined for a season. Her back had given her warnings, she says, but she pushed on—to the point where it spasmed nonstop. She recommends admitting when your body needs attention, rather than just plowing through. Take the time to figure out what’s going on. “I was doing a lot of movement from my back when I should have been using other parts of my body”—specifically her obliques, glutes, and hamstrings.
Fuel and Maintenance
Originally from Macon, Georgia, Chapman grew up eating “everything” cooked in bacon fat. Nowadays, her health-savvy, triathlete husband does much of the cooking for them both. At some point, her canister of bacon fat just…disappeared. She eats three full meals—and snacks. She chooses colorful foods, high in protein and calcium, low in sugar and salt. Nuts, yogurt, a sweet potato (or squash), and an avocado make a daily appearance. Water is key; she also drinks electrolytes and protein shakes. Before a performance? Clif Shot Bloks.
Chapman avoids popping pills like Advil, given their potential long-term-use effects on the kidneys. She opts instead for an occasional homeopathic painkiller. She finds relief for strains with Phiten strips. A hot bath with Epsom salts at night helps, as does massage twice a month.
“My body feels really good,” she says. “But I do take care of myself every minute of the day…making sure I’m doing things that I need to do—the way I need to do them.” Pre-class rituals include 15–20 minutes of cardio (swimming, running, or biking) and 30 minutes of strengthening exercises (including pelvic-floor strengtheners, core stabilizers, and plyometrics). Equipment includes a Bosu ball, Thera-Bands, and weights. Variety is key for Chapman, and she chooses exercises that make her feel good. She has a binder full of favorites. She also works with a trainer twice a week, sometimes on moves specifically created to tackle issues noticed in performance.
Chapman looks ahead to see what the day—and the week—will require of her. She plans for it, considers which morning exercises will help most, and tries to pace herself. She works hard but fights the temptation to work so hard that she might compromise the next day’s dancing. “That’s not what I’m going for,” she says. “The goal is to have the perfectly planned week, dancing the way I want to dance.”
When she started rehearsals for Kisses, Chapman realized this fast piece would take more than just ramping up stamina. “You need strength to move in that bigger range,” she says. She found exercises that would help her safely manage the ballet’s split-second changes in direction and its extreme, full-range flexibility. Her work resulted in performances of power, speed, clarity, grace, and joy—A Million Kisses, inside and out.
Rosie Gaynor writes about dance in Seattle.
In a rehearsal for Dawson’s A Million Kisses to my Skin. Photo © Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB.
Take Care of Your Entire Self—Even Your Toes
Chapman found that she was getting a lot of tightness underneath her foot because two toes were doing all the work. Here’s how she helps her other toes pull their weight.
• Put your foot flat on the floor.
• Wrap the thinnest gauge of exercise tubing around your big toe.
• Pull up on the tubing with your fingers so your toe comes up.
• Keeping the tension in the tubing, try to push your toe down.
• Repeat with each toe. “All the toes want to come up, too,” says Chapman. “The idea is to leave them down and just work the one toe. It’s actually hard!”
• Start with a few repetitions and work your way up to more.
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."
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!' "
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.
Have a scroll through Agnes Muljadi's Instagram feed (@artsyagnes), and you'll notice that in between her ballet shots is a curated mix of lifestyle pics. So what exactly sets her apart from the other influencers you follow? Muljadi has made a conscious effort to only feature natural beauty products, sustainable fashion and vegan foods. With over 500k followers, her social strategy (and commitment to making ethical choices) is clearly a hit. Ahead, learn why Muljadi switched to a vegan lifestyle, and the surprising way it's helped her dance career.
He may not be a household name, but you probably know Brandon Stirling Baker's work. The 30-year-old has designed the lighting for most of Justin Peck's ballets—including Heatscape for Miami City Ballet, and the edgy The Times Are Racing for New York City Ballet—but also Jamar Roberts' new Members Don't Get Weary at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a trio of Martha Graham duets for L.A. Dance Project.
He's been fascinated by lighting ever since he attended a public performing arts middle school in Sherman Oaks, California, where he had his first experiences lighting shows. He also has a background in music (he plays guitar and bass) and in drawing. Both, he says, are central to the way he approaches lighting dance.
Update: Due to an overwhelming response, the in-person audition has been moved to a larger location to accommodate more dancers. See details below.
For the first time in more than 10 years, Janet Jackson is holding an open audition for dancers.
Even better? You could land a spot in her #JTribe simply by posting a video on social media.
What does it take to become an international superstar? Carlos Acosta might have a few ideas.
At the Oxford Literary Festival earlier this month, the BBC sat down with Acosta to ask for his life lessons. His answers—which he says he will pass on to his kids one day—give incredible insight into how he's become such a beloved worldwide success.