The Most Influential People in Dance Today: Gilda Squire
Gilda Squire got her first lessons in branding at the investment firm Goldman Sachs. Today she manages ballet's most visible star: Misty Copeland. Squire's approach to Copeland's endorsements and outside commitments, carefully crafted with the ballerina, has established a new professional framework for dancers, one that straddles a range of media platforms and opportunities.
After graduating in 1996 from George Mason University, Squire moved to New York City and started as an administrative assistant at Goldman. Moving over to its corporate communications office, Squire realized that she had found her niche. It was there that she learned about the power of branding. "I loved the idea of shaping how you think about something, like the image that MSNBC has created," she says. "It included public relations but put it in a bigger picture."
A book lover, Squire next went to work in Penguin Books' publicity department. She branched out on her own in 2008. At a New Year's Eve party in 2010, friends were talking about an African-American ballerina who appeared with the rock star Prince. Squire found herself inspired and fascinated by Copeland's story. Soon they began working together. But there was a wrinkle: Copeland wanted Squire to be more than a publicist; she was looking for a manager. "I think Misty had started to realize that she could use her voice for good," says Squire. "I knew I could handle the PR end, get her story out there, but to take responsibility for someone's career—I was scared."
At the outset, Copeland set one rule, says Squire: "Ballet will always be in first position. Anything that Misty does has to put ballet first." This means scheduling Copeland's commitments very far out to accommodate ABT's rehearsal and performance schedule. It also means that Copeland chooses opportunities, from an upcoming Disney movie to her Under Armour commercials, that keep her in pointe shoes. Copeland's active social media presence not only promotes her books and performances, but showcases young dancers of color and reinforces the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
What does Squire feel is the key to making all these different elements work? And is it a template for other professional dancers? "These elements are spokes on a wheel," says Squire. "I don't think dancers need endorsement deals, but if they want them, you should think about what you stand for. Ask yourself how something has helped you excel in the art form; those are the brands to consider." However, she cautions dancers to read the fine print on any contract. "And always put your art form first, no matter how glamorous it all gets. At the end of the day, the reason you're being sought out is because of your performance."
We knew that Ivo van Hove and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's production of West Side Story would challenge our preconceived notions about the show.
But a recent Vogue story gives us a taste of just how nontraditional the Broadway revival will be. Most notably, van Hove is cutting "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet, condensing the show into one act to better reflect the urgency of the 48-hour plot. (The choice has been approved by the West Side Story estate, including Sondheim, who has "long been uncomfortable" with some of the "I Feel Pretty" lyrics.)
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
It's a much-repeated part of Francesca Hayward's origin story that she discovered ballet at age 3, when her grandparents bought a video of The Nutcracker to keep her occupied and she immediately started dancing around the room. What's less well-known is that there was another video lined up next to The Nutcracker that Hayward liked to dance along to: Cats. "I really just did the White Cat bit and fast-forwarded the rest," she remembers. "I'd make my friends who came around be the other cats."
Twenty-four years later, she's not only become a Royal Ballet principal, but has been cast as Victoria the White Cat in Tom Hooper's new movie adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, out in theaters on December 20. "I remember the director telling me I'd got the part: 'Just to let you know you're the lead in a Hollywood film,' he said." Hayward laughs. "This is crazy!"
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.