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Tony Yazbeck on Balancing His Career with Fatherhood—and Squeezing in Exercise at Starbucks
With his debonair charm and fluent feet, Tony Yazbeck seems built for ebullient men like Gabey in On the Town, who earned him a 2015 Tony nomination. But he's riding high at the moment dancing nervous breakdowns. First, there was his fierce, knife-edged tapping in Prince of Broadway, which just won him a Chita Rivera Award. (Full disclosure: I'm a juror.) Now he's giving a tour-de-force performance as a restless womanizer in The Beast in the Jungle, having its world premiere at the off-Broadway Vineyard Theatre through June 24. Both were choreographed for him by Susan Stroman.
Based on a 1903 novella by Henry James, The Beast in the Jungle includes "nothing that is a step just to do a step," Yazbeck says. "I've never understood that kind of choreography…I get excited about making someone feel something deeply." And he values his "mutual admiration" relationship with Stroman because they're both "strong believers in complete collaboration. She knows what I do, and she knows if she's giving me a step, I'm going to put my own stamp on it."
Contrasting Lives Onstage and Off
Seven times a week, dancing opposite former American Ballet Theatre star Irina Dvorovenko, Yazbeck portrays the fleeting joys and wrenching angst of John Marcher. As he surveys his empty life, the choreography ranges from lyrical to tormented. When Marcher's story ends, Yazbeck returns to his own very full life, in a house shared with dancer/choreographer Katie Huff and their 16-month-old son, Leonard.
He calls Marcher "a tough character to try to swallow sometimes," but the tale resonates. "To be able to confront this kind of story every night really puts things in perspective—the choices I made in life that I'm so glad I made. The commitment to my marriage, the commitment to my son, and to know that I'm sticking with this—it makes me relieved and thankful."
Keeping It Together
Juggling a two-career marriage, a baby and seven performances a week isn't easy. "As soon as the show's done, I put my legs into an ice bucket. Then I get in the car and come home, and I just want to pass out. But there's stuff to do."
The morning we spoke, with Huff in Connecticut as associate choreographer on Oliver! at Goodspeed Musicals, Yazbeck had been busy since Leonard's 6:30 wake-up call. "There's joy," he says, "but at the same time you sort of wish your body could be a little more together. But that's just the life we lead as dancers."
His Better-Body Hacks (Including PT at Starbucks)
Still, he says, he feels stronger at 39 than he did during the grueling, year-long run of On the Town. "When you have injuries"—he had a herniated disc throughout Prince of Broadway—"you learn what real health is about," he notes. "There are so many things I didn't think about." Besides watching his vitamins and minerals and hydration—"I know a lot about electrolytes now"—he carries physical therapy tools everywhere, "so even if I'm in a Starbucks, I can go to the bathroom stall and use them, just to make sure that I'm standing up okay." His arsenal includes a lacrosse ball, a muscle roller and a Chinese medicine tool for his neck. He's particular about standing up: "We shouldn't bend over to look at our phones so much," he says. "It just kills our posture and our necks. As dancers, how do we turn like that?"
Finding a Work–Life Balance
Although he brings the dancer's body home with him, the work stays at the theater. Even his show posters and memorabilia are tucked away in his home studio, not on display in the house. "It's the one way I stay sane," he says. Focusing on family makes him a better artist, he adds. "You can go to work every day with a clean palette, ready to create." He even left his Manhattan apartment behind and moved to a Hudson River town because, he says, he was "getting tired of living where I was working."
A Helluva Town
But he has yet to stray from his stage-centered, New York-based existence. "I was always curious about L.A.," he says, "but I never went. There's something about New York City." His first glimpse came as an 11-year-old auditioning for Gypsy with Tyne Daly. Even before he got that job, he recalls, "I just knew this was where I was supposed to be." But, he adds, if someone makes him or Huff an irresistible offer, they'll move. "In this business, nothing stays the same. Nothing."
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.