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The Best of London In Four Days
I was lucky to hit London town in time to see three amazing dance concerts, a rehearsal of a terrific cabaret act and two hallowed centers of dance.
First up was Woolf Works, Wayne McGregor’s new extravaganza for The Royal Ballet. Based on three of Virginia Woolf’s novels, it’s really an ode to Woolf, as well as an ode to the great dramatic ballerina Alessandra Ferri in the first and third sections. (For more about the ravishing Ferri in this work, click here.) The middle section is McGregor as we’ve come to know him: wild partnering, innovative lighting and extravagantly contemporary sets. He succeeded in producing a stark and startling ballet that challenges the dancers, and also succeeding in puzzling viewers who expected a linear plotline. Luckily, I had read Dance Magazine’s interview with him in which he says that a linear story is “not the only way you can deal with complex emotional situations or multiple narratives. I thought this was a good moment to flex the opera house’s muscles in a new way.” The pristinely beautiful Royal Opera House has probably been getting a good flex from McGregor since he made Chroma there in 2006.
I saw two Sadler’s Wells productions that were dead opposites, each satisfying in its own way: Partita 2 and Titanium. The first, a collaboration between Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Boris Charmatz and violinist Amandine Beyer, was dry in tone but completely involving. Without any shred of story to keep track of, I paid alert attention to Bach’s notes on the violin, the artfully deployed cracks of light and how inventively De Keersmaeker and Charmatz recycled their phrases and gestures.
The second, Titanium, was a boisterous production at the Peacock Theatre that melds hip-hop, flamenco and acrobatic break dancing. An all-male group from Spain, it included nine dancers and four musicians—though the musicians were sometimes drowned out by a cheesy sound design of amplified growls and reverse booming. The macho taunting and sparring eventually morphed into camaraderie, and finally into a display of technical fireworks like head spins and crazy fast heel work. The audience went wild, making me think this production could go the commercial route of Riverdance.
I was able to visit the Royal Ballet School and observe master teacher Anita Young’s loving yet strict instruction of a girls’ class. The training is very reverential, and they were asked to give this visitor (me) a formal reverence even before class started. At the barre, Young corrected the head positions, telling the girls that Sir Frederick Ashton always wanted a softly titled head, never a flat-out profile. In center, she emphasized musicality, femininity and movement quality. When doing tendues, she told them to use pressure through space, saying "It's not just dry bones." I also got to see a rehearsal of the advanced students in Christopher Wheeldon’s tricky Rush, which they had performed so well in NYC in a shared program with ABT’s Studio Company last month.
At The Place, London’s hub of contemporary dance, the director and choreographer Richard Alston along with chief executive Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp took me around to see some of the 11 studios, cafeteria and rehab room. Apparently it’s similar in training to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts dance program. Alston’s excellent company is in residence there, so I was treated to a viewing of a rehearsal of his piece Nomadic, with gypsy music pulling the dancers into dynamic torso movement and joyous momentum. (See our “Choreography in Focus” with Alston here.)
One of the Joffrey Ballet’s star dancers of an earlier time and a beloved teacher at Steps on Broadway, Christian Holder now lives in London. He invited me to a run-through of his cabaret act, "At Home and Abroad." It was pure magic, and if any of you are in London June 5 and 6, I urge you to catch it at Crazy Coqs. Christian is a naturally theatrical creature, and his exuberant soul bursts through his singing, storytelling and bits of dance. Hearing about his life as a dancer/designer/choreographer is an education, and watching him reminisce is a lovely entertainment.
From top: Ferri and Bonelli in Woolf Works, by Tristram Kenton. Wendy Perron at The Place, by Kenneth Tharp.
New York City–based dancers know Gibney. It's a performance venue, a dance company, a rehearsal space, an internship possibility—a Rubik's Cube of resources bundled into two sites at 280 and 890 Broadway. And in March of this year, Gibney (having officially dropped "Dance" from its name) announced a major expansion of its space and programming; it now operates a total of 52,000 square feet, 23 studios and five performance spaces across the two locations.
Six of those studios and one performance space are brand-new at the 280 Broadway location, along with several programs. EMERGE will commission new works by emerging choreographic voices for the resident Gibney Dance Company each year; Making Space+ is an extension of Gibney's Making Space commissioning and presenting program, focused on early-career artists. For the next three years, the Joyce Theater Foundation's artist residency programs will be run out of one of the new Gibney studios, helping to fill the gap left by the closing of the Joyce's DANY Studios in 2016.
What is the right flooring system for us?
So many choices, companies, claims, endorsements, and recommendations to consider. The more you look, the more confusing it gets. Here is what you need to do. Here is what you need to know to get the flooring system suited to your needs.
"I'm sorry, but I just can't possibly give you the amount of money you're asking for."
My heart sinks at my director's final response to my salary proposal. She insists it's not me or my work, there is just no money in the budget. My disappointment grows when handed the calendar for Grand Rapids Ballet's next season with five fewer weeks of work.
"It just...always looks better in my head."
While that might not be something any of us would want to hear from a choreographer, it's a brilliant introduction to "Off Kilter" and the odd, insecure character at its center, Milton Frank. The ballet mockumentary (think "The Office" or "Parks and Recreation," but with pointe shoes) follows Frank (dancer-turned-filmmaker Alejandro Alvarez Cadilla) as he comes back to the studio to try his hand at choreographing for the first time since a plagiarism scandal derailed his fledgling career back in the '90s.
We've been pretty excited about the series for a while, and now the wait is finally over. The first episode of the show, "The Denial," went live earlier today, and it's every bit as awkward, hilarious and relatable as we hoped.
Dancers crossing over into the fitness realm may be increasingly popular, but it was never part of French-born Julie Granger's plan. Though Granger grew up a serious ballet student, taking yoga classes on the side eventually led to a whole new career. Creating her own rules along the way, Granger shares how combining the skills she learned in ballet with certifications in yoga, barre and personal training allowed her to become her own boss (and a rising fitness influencer).
Travis Wall draws inspiration from dancers Tate McCrae, Timmy Blankenship and more.
One often-overlooked relationship that exists in dance is the relationship between choreographer and muse. Recently two-time Emmy Award Winner Travis Wall opened up about his experience working with dancers he considers to be his muses.
"My muses in choreography have evolved over the years," says Wall. "When I'm creating on Shaping Sound, our company members, my friends, are my muses. But at this current stage of my career, I'm definitely inspired by new, fresh talent."
Wall adds, "I'm so inspired by this new generation of dancers. Their teachers have done such incredible jobs, and I've seen these kids grown up. For many of them, I've had a hand in their exposure to choreography."
José Greco popularized Spanish dance in 1950s and '60s America through his work onstage and on screen. Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater's American Spanish Dance & Music Festival is honoring the icon in recognition of what would have been his 100th birthday. As part of the tribute, Greco's three dancing children are reuniting to perform together for the first time since their father's death in 2000. Also on the program is the premiere of contemporary flamenco choreographer Carlos Rodriguez's Mar de Fuego (Sea of Fire). June 15–17, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. ensembleespanol.org.
Dance Theatre of Harlem dancers Christopher McDaniel and Crystal Serrano were working on Nacho Duato's Coming Together in rehearsal when McDaniel's foot hit a slippery spot on the marley. As they attempted a swinging lift, both dancers went tumbling, injuring Serrano as they fell. She ended up being out for a week with a badly bruised knee.
"I immediately felt, This is my fault," says McDaniel. "I broke my friend."
What's on the minds of college students today?
I recently had the honor of adjudicating at the American College Dance Association's National College Dance Festival, along with choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess and former National Endowment for the Arts dance specialist Douglas C. Sonntag. We chose three winners—one for Outstanding Choreography and two for Outstanding Performance—from 30 pieces representing schools throughout the country. It was a great opportunity to see what college dance students are up to—from the issues they care about to the kinds movement they're interested in exploring.
Here were the biggest trends and takeaways:
It's summer festival season! If you're feeling overwhelmed by the dizzying array of offerings, never fear: We've combed through the usual suspects to highlight the shows we most want to catch.
Subscription box services have quickly gained a dedicated following among the fashion and fitness set. And while we'd never say no to a box with new jewelry or workout wear to try, we've been waiting for the subscription model to make its way to the dance world.
Enter barre + bag, a new service that sends a curated set of items to your door each season. Created by Faye Morrow Bell and her daughter Tyler, a student in the pre-professional ballet program at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, this just-launched service offers dance, lifestyle and wellness finds in four themed bags each year: Spring Performance, Summer Study, Back-to-Studio and Nutcracker. Since all the products are specifically made for dancers, everything barre + bag sends you is something you'll actually use, (Plus, it all comes in a bag instead of a box—because what dancer can ever have enough bags?).
barre + bag's Summer Collection
Today, American Ballet Theatre announced a new initiative to foster the development of choreography by company members and freelance dancemakers. Aptly titled ABT Incubator, the program, directed by principal David Hallberg, will give selected choreographers the opportunity to spend two weeks workshopping new dances.
"It has always been my vision to establish a process-oriented hub to explore the directions ballet can forge now and in the future," said Hallberg in a press release from the company. Interested? Here's how you can apply to participate.
Back in January, Chase Johnsey grabbed headlines when he resigned from Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, where his performances had garnered critical acclaim for over a decade, alleging a culture of harassment and discrimination. (An independent investigation launched by the company did not substantiate any legal claims.) Johnsey, who identifies as genderqueer, later told us that he feared his dance career was at an end—where else, as a ballet dancer, would he be allowed to perform traditionally female roles?
But the story didn't end there. After a surprise offer from Tamara Rojo, artistic director of English National Ballet, Johnsey has found a temporary artistic home with the company, joining as a guest at the rank of first artist for its run of The Sleeping Beauty, which continues this week. After weeks of working and rehearsing with the company, last week Johnsey quietly marked a new milestone: He performed with ENB's corps de ballet as one of the ladies in the prince's court.