The Best Moments from Last Week's YAGP Gala
To hear the screaming throngs of teenagers, you might think this was a Beatles concert in 1964. But no, it's dance students from all over the world joining together for the Youth America Grand Prix's gala at Lincoln Center, excited to see some of the greatest stars in dance today. Their rafter-shaking enthusiasm was heartening to hear, as they will no doubt become the performers, teachers, donors and audiences of tomorrow.
Actually, every single dance was a "best moment." In the first half of the YAGP gala, dubbed the "Stars of Tomorrow," 11 young dancers from the United States, Argentina, Portugal, Czech Republic, Japan and China displayed their outsized talents in solo variations. The young audience responded to the astounding turns and jumps that kept coming and coming.
Tiler Peck and Zachary Catazaro in Wheeldon's "Carousel," all photos Siggul/VAM
But the audience also yelled for Act II: "Stars of Today," with fewer spectacular turns and jumps. When Tiler Peck (a 2016 Dance Magazine Award recipient) appeared onstage in Carousel, one knew instantly that we were in the presence of an artist. As she wound toward and away from her partner, YAGP alum Zachary Catazaro, every corpuscle of her body was expressive. Her head and upper body drifted and swayed beautifully with the Gershwin music, making Christopher Wheeldon's choreography look like it was spun from her heart. Catazaro was the perfect partner for the Carousel narrative—charismatic, a bit dangerous, a bit too close.
Brittany O'Connor and Paul Barris in their "Besame Mucho"
For a complete change of pace, ballroom champions Brittany O'Connor and Paul Barris (both of whom I have co-judged with at YAGP) dazzled with their tango-cum-ballet routine Besame Mucho. To accentuate her leggy versatility, O'Connor wore one ballroom shoe and one pointe shoe. To music played live by Delaney Harter on violin and William Healy on piano, Barris threw O'Connor into some breathtaking corkscrewing spirals.
Marcelo Gomes choreographed a fun solo with bursting leaps called Tous Les Jours II. Xander Parish, the noble Brit at the Mariinsky Ballet, had visa problems, so American Ballet Theatre's James Whiteside stepped in for Parish, learning it in one day. He gave the solo precision, energy, and a goofy sense of humor.
Skylar Brandt and Gabe Stone Shayer in Messerer's "Spring Waters"
Two YAGP alums who are now on the rise at ABT—Skylar Brandt and Gabe Stone Shayer—almost carried off the tricky Spring Waters perfectly. This is a Soviet-era warhorse choreographed by Asaf Messerer with heroic hurling and lifting—including that famous one-handed lift where the guy's arm looks like the stem of a statue. Brandt's reckless hurl was worthy of Plisetskaya, but the one-armed lift got off to a bad start. Brandt seemed to collapse as they prepared for it—but Shayer made a quick save and raised her high up anyway, just in time to rush triumphantly off stage left.
Evan McKie and Svetlana Lunkina in Dawson's "Swan Lake" pas de deux
Evan McKie, the National Ballet of Canada star (and member of Dance Magazine's Advisory Board) blew in backwards in David Dawson's tutu-less remake of the White Swan pas de deux. McKie (last seen in NYC in Wheeldon's Winter's Tale) and Svetlana Lunkina are relatively new stars of National Ballet of Canada, he hailing from the Stuttgart Ballet and she from the Bolshoi. This striking couple brought the complex choreography alive: McKie's open chest, poetic demeanor and breathing arms made this Siegfried as sensitive as his Odette.
David Parson's Caught, with its selective strobe light, is always mindblowing. Ian Spring of Parsons Dance sprang up over and over, creating the illusion he was running or walking on air.
Lucia Lacarra and Marlon Dino in Arpino's "Light Rain"
I always welcome seeing Light Rain (1981), by Gerald Arpino, because it reminds me of the Joffrey Ballet's heyday here in New York. The ballet limns the edges of tastefulness with its hippy-trippy seductive duet, emphasis on the pelvis. I love the tabla-like rhythmic music by Douglas Adamz and Russ Gauthier. Lucia Lacarra has the right kind of exquisite body for this exercise in eroticism-charged flexibility.
For a rousing finale, Tamara Rojo and Cesar Corrales (another YAGP alum) dazzled with gyroscopic turns and leaps in Le Corsaire. (Rojo returned the following night at the Julio Bocca tribute, to show her super-human balances in Don Quixote.)
The Grand Défilé, choreographed by Carlos dos Santos, Jr.
The Grand Défilé, that amazing annual parade of 300 dancers ages 9 to 19, filled the stage with clever patterns and bursts of virtuosity as arranged by the ingenious Carlos dos Santos, Jr.
Completing the first half was a tribute to director/choreographer/mentor Bruce Marks, who was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Nina Ananiashvili, with her usual charm and verve, introduced him, enumerating a few of his many accomplishments. She expressed personal gratitude for his uniting the Boston Ballet and Russian ballet stars in 1990, which gave her a rare opportunity to perform in the United States. Marks spoke about the artistry of dance. Then he raised his voice in defense of the National Endowment for the Arts, which is currently on the chopping block in the latest national budget proposal. He asked us all to stand with him in the effort to keep the NEA up and running and helping the arts. Long live the NEA and YAGP!
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
It can be hard to imagine life without—or just after—dance. Perhaps that's why we find it so fascinating to hear what our favorite dancers think they'd be doing if they weren't performing for a living.
We've been asking stars about the alternate career they'd like to try in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and their answers—from the unexpected to the predictable—do not disappoint:
"New York City Ballet star appears in a Keanu Reeves action movie" is not a sentence we ever thought we'd write. But moviegoers seeing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be treated to two scenes featuring soloist Unity Phelan dancing choreography by colleague Tiler Peck. The guns-blazing popcorn flick cast Phelan as a ballerina who also happens to be training to become an elite assassin. Opens in theaters May 17.
The Brooklyn-based choreographer Gillian Walsh is both obsessed with and deeply conflicted about dance. With her latest work, Fame Notions, May 17–19 at Performance Space New York, she seeks to understand what she calls the "fundamentally pessimistic or alienating pursuit" of being a dancer. Noting that the piece is "quiet and introverted," like much of her other work, she sees Fame Notions as one step in a larger project examining why dancers dance.
What does Mikhail Baryshnikov have to say to dancers starting their careers today? On Friday, he gave the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
The heart of his message: Be generous.
Launching a dancewear line seems like a great way for professional dancers to flex new artistic muscles and make side money. Several direct-to-consumer brands founded by current or former professional dancers, like Elevé and Luckleo, currently compete with bigger retailers, like Capezio.
But turning your brand into the next Yumiko is more challenging than some budding designers may realize.
When I first came to dance criticism in the 1970s, the professional critics were predominantly much older than me. I didn't know them personally and, as the wide-eyed new kid on the block, I assumed most had little or no physical training in the art.
As slightly intimidated as I felt at the time—you try sitting around a conference room table with Dance Magazine heavy hitters like Tobi Tobias and David Vaughan—I smugly gave myself props for at least having had recent brushes with ballet, Graham, Duncan and Ailey and more substantial engagement with jazz and belly dance. Watching dancers onstage, I enjoyed memories of steps and moves I knew in my own bones. If the music was right, my shoulders would wriggle. I wasn't just coolly judging things from my neck up.