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The More Things Change...
Five years after Liz Lerman's departure, Dance Exchange continues to forge new initiatives.
Who gets to dance? Where is the dance happening? What is the dancing about? Why does it matter? In the 40 years since then-fledgling dancemaker Liz Lerman founded Dance Exchange, these four simple but profound questions have become not just the multigenerational company's mission, but its raison d'être. “The four questions," Cassie Meador, Dance Exchange's current executive artistic director, says, “are at the core of everything we do." Today, five years after Lerman left the company to work independently, the legacy she created is being reinvented by a new cohort of artists under Meador's direction.
Lerman started the group in 1976 by drawing together a loose collective of artists: “That word 'exchange' grew out of my sensibility that mixing it up would be better. I was interested in getting African dance into the studio, and other forms. The idea was that even in dance we should be in each other's genres."
What has remained a constant at Dance Exchange, even after Lerman's departure in 2011, is the ongoing nature of change in the organization, as well as those four questions. The company is continually evolving, adding and subtracting new programs or communities that it serves. “Those changes are in response to the curiosity of the artists at the core of the organization, but also in response to what we're hearing from outsiders, what the need might be," says Meador. Dance Exchange remains driven by the ideas and processes its resident and associate artists develop. During Lerman's leadership her projects included long-range explorations of topical works—the human genome; genocide and reconciliation; the physics and morality of the first atomic bomb; what is praiseworthy in our lives, to name a few. Today Meador and associate artistic director Matthew Cumbie are delving into their own choreographic interests and evolving new processes that remain true to Dance Exchange's core ethos.
Organizing Artists for Change, a new initiative Meador launched, offers opportunities for dance artists to explore the Dance Exchange methodology through workshops, institutes, residencies and process-oriented collaborative works. Dance Exchange will also begin work on a new multiyear project helmed by Cumbie called Growing Our Own Gardens, a look at queer world-making through dance, spoken word and drag. Off-Site/Insight: Stories from the Great Smoky Mountains, directed by Meador, will bring together artists from Asheville, North Carolina, along with the National Park Service, to dance on and about some of the oldest mountains in the world.
These days Lerman calls herself an alum—the works she now makes and the teaching and consulting positions she takes are independent of the company she founded, but she returns for visits on occasion for special events, like the recent 40th-anniversary celebrations. Lerman began work this fall as institute professor at Arizona State University's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, the largest public arts school in the U.S. She intends to use her teaching to bring together students across departments and break down what she calls “silos" of learning and practice, creating pathways for cross-disciplinary work. Lerman and others will also work on disseminating her popular Critical Response Process, a systematic approach to addressing the development of art works with a critical eye focused on the artist's needs, not the viewer's desires. Though developed from art making, the system now serves dialogue in many fields.
She also has a few choreographic projects in the works; fans can expect deeply researched, compelling topics to emerge. For Lerman, “the idea of exchange means you can spend time in other people's worlds—scientists, historians, painters—and you can maintain and enhance your personal discipline by making sure other people can come in."
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.
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.
The #MeToo movement has made its way to France's biggest ballet company.
An anonymous survey recently leaked to the French press revealed major turbulence at the Paris Opéra Ballet. The Straits Times reports that the survey was conducted by an internal group representing POB's dancers. In it, there are numerous claims of bullying, sexual harassment and management issues.
Nearly all of the dancers (132 out of 154) answered the questionnaire, but they didn't know it would be made public. (Around 100 of them later signed a statement saying they didn't consent to its release.)
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.
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?"
Several weeks ago, Youth America Grand Prix announced that the lineup for tonight's Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow gala at Lincoln Center's Koch Theater would include Bolshoi Ballet principal Olga Smirnova and first soloist Jacopo Tissi. But an article in Page Six published last night states that Smirnova and Tissi were denied visas to enter the US.
YAGP organizers "believe the Department of Homeland Security's decision may be motivated by the myriad tensions between the superpowers," says the piece, noting that "Smirnova is so revered in Moscow that her treatment could create a Russian backlash."
Is it any surprise a world premiere by choreographer Uri Sands and musician Justin Vernon, both renowned for the profound beauty and gorgeous musicality of their work, immediately sold out? We're hungry for creative collaborations that take reflective deep dives into what constitutes our humanity—and then there's the undeniable cool factor. Nine members of TU Dance will perform alongside Bon Iver (Vernon's band) during the evening-length piece. Presented as part of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music Series. April 19–21. The work will also appear at the Hollywood Bowl Aug. 5. tudance.org.