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There Is No One Like Christopher Williams
His imagination is staggering. He pulls you into an ancient world, a mythic world, a dream world, where a woman might have a dragon clinging to her, or a man might have a small solar system above his head.
With other dance artists who have developed a unique sensibility, you can often detect a strain of influence. But Christopher is, and always has been, completely his own artist. Even though he’s worked with Tere O’Connor, Douglas Dunn, Risa Jaroslow, and Basil Twist, his own work is nothing like any of theirs. The images seem to grow full-blown out of his brain. (By the way, I lay no claim to objectivity. I danced in his Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins in 2005 and served as advising mentor on a later work.)
Last year Christopher's concert at DNA Dance had an unfinished feel. The costumes, always gloriously outlandish, overshadowed the thin choreography. (However, the music for Hen’s Teeth, by Gregory Spears, was on my Best of 2010 list.) In this year’s performance at the 92nd Street Y’s Harkness Dance Festival, which was a series of excerpts of mostly past work, each section was fully formed. The scene from Hen’s Teeth ended at the perfect point: The six women-birds bare their chests by tearing at their costumes with their teeth, and then start mewing, squeaking, or squealing. When a man (dressed like Peter Pan) enters, their squealing mounts to a cacophony—caused by desire or fear we’ll never know. Blackout.
Christopher is as extraordinary as a dancer as he is as a choreographer. In the duet he dances with Paul Singh from The Portuguese Suite (2006), he hasn’t lost any of that amazing elasticity or captivating stage presence that he had when I first saw him dance about 10 years ago.
It’s refreshing to see a choreographer who escapes today’s trends. He has no interest in super fast movement or very released movement or clever improvisation or tangled cables all over the floor. When you enter his space, you forget about texting and video and tweeting. The music, usually by Hildegarde Von Bingen or other pre-15th-century religious composer, helps transport you to another zone. It’s really a trip, as ornate and supernatural as a novel by Isabel Allende or a film by Fellini. You have to give yourself over to it.
There is zero sentimentality or cuteness in his dances. But when one figure nudges his head against another’s feet, or when three artificially nubile women (strange nearly-nude costumes with breast and buttock padding) hang their heads in grief or regret, it’s suddenly poignant. Or when a woman in a filmy red dress with six fake breasts speaks as though she cannot open her mouth, or when a gorgeous topless woman curls her bear-fingernails behind her back, these images stay with you.
In the new Mumbo-Jumbo, Williams takes on the tradition of minstrelsy, using two dancers of color to illustrate the ridiculousness of it. Other pieces of his give off a vague whiff literature, but in this duet the story of “Little Black Sambo” is actually narrated. Raja Kelly and Paul Singh are the brave/foolish figures who shuffle, fight, kiss, and jive to Bollywood music. It is a mumbo jumbo of cultural clichés. And it's new territory for Williams in that it touches on political commentary rather than being sheer fantasy. You’re caught in that limbo of not knowing whether to laugh or be indignant.
Hen's Teeth with Kira Blazek in foreground, photo by Julie Lemberger for 92Y
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.