Countertechnique and catharsis rule at BODYTRAFFIC's summer intensive.
Guest teacher Chris Evans has danced with Hofesh Shechter. Photo by Guzman Rosado, courtesy BODYTRAFFIC.
As choreographer Rosie Herrera shepherds 25 students through her own brand of warm-up, the campus dance studio at Loyola Marymount University is charged with emotion. Sitting in a circle, the dancers must share three things about themselves: “Where you’re from, if you’ve been in love and if you believe in God.” Things get real quickly, and when the tears start flowing, an animated Herrera quickly puts the dancer at ease: “We love the first person who cries,” she says, prompting a round of applause. “Dance is the language we speak, but I’m most interested in people having experiences. Things are gonna get deep.”
That might well be the mantra for the BODYTRAFFIC intensive. Run by the Los Angeles company’s co-directors Lillian Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett, the program spans three weeks and boasts an impressive lineup of guest choreographers like Herrera. The goal? Not merely achieving technical improvement or expanding a dancer’s repertoire, but sparking artistic transformation.
“In my early training, I was a bunhead, so I did a lot of ballet intensives,” says Barbeito. “I wanted to veer in the opposite direction. We want to cause breakthroughs for the participants—mental, physical and emotional.”
A Different Dynamic
The approach appears to be working. The number of applicants tripled last year (the program’s third) to 250. About 10 percent are accepted. The increased interest can be traced to BODYTRAFFIC’s mounting success as a repertory company since its founding in 2007 by Barbeito and Berkett. The intensive attracts dance majors and professionals who range in age from 18 to mid-50s, though the majority are 20 to 25.
Countertechnique teaches mindfulness and body awareness. Photo by Guzman Rosado, courtesy BODYTRAFFIC.
Barbeito has made Countertechnique a major component of the intensive. She studied the approach, which uses counter-directions in all movements, at choreographer Anouk Van Dijk’s intensive in Amsterdam and came away enthralled by its focus on shifting dynamics, mindfulness and body awareness. “I started the intensive partly because I really wanted to introduce Countertechnique to the Los Angeles community,” says Barbeito, one of only 20 certified Countertechnique instructors in the world. “That also carries over into how I curate the guest artists—we want to bring in artists who are at the forefront of what’s happening now in dance.” To date, those guest artists have included Peter Chu and Adam Barruch, as well as choreographers who’ve created work for BODYTRAFFIC, like Kyle Abraham and Sidra Bell. Last year’s slate included Herrera, of Miami-based Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre; Ayman Harper, a Berlin-based choreographer and former Forsythe Company member; and Chris Evans, who’s danced with Hofesh Shechter Company and is his assistant choreographer for Fiddler on the Roof.
Building, Exploring, Creating
The intensive is broken down into three separate weeks—last summer, the first was led by Evans, the second by Barbeito and Berkett, and the third by Harper and Herrera. Though each week has a different schedule, common threads include technique and improvisation (about one and a half hours per day), repertory sessions (anywhere from two to four and a half hours per day) and time for exploration and creation (up to four hours per day). “We want to give them space to create their own solos, duos and trios,” says Herrera. “It’s all about helping the dancers have a profound experience in a short amount of time.”
Participants get a chance to learn not only pieces of BODYTRAFFIC repertory, but also repertory from the guest artists’ companies. For instance, Harper taught William Forsythe repertory with a focus on structured improvisation, while Herrera workshopped excerpts from Make Believe, a soon-to-premiere work.
“I was really attracted to the variety,” says 22-year-old Alexandra Lockhart, a recent SUNY Purchase graduate and repeat participant. “These aren’t opportunities you get on a daily basis.” Adds fellow student Amanda Sachs, “It feels like three mini-intensives inside the bigger BODYTRAFFIC bubble.”
There’s also a fair share of interpersonal activities, such as a “Lunch on the Lawn” question-and-answer session with BODYTRAFFIC members and a sit-down dinner with the guest artists. At the end of each week, dancers get to share what they’ve learned with an intimate studio showing. For many participants, the opportunities to interact with the visiting choreographers provide a great foundation for building relationships that last far beyond the intensive.
And for those who excel, their efforts can pay off with a job. Last summer, Barbeito and Berkett invited two participants to come back for extended auditions. “We look for people who are fearless and open-minded, superb technicians with an engaging presence,” says Barbeito. “It’s also about personality—who do we want to be in the room with for six days a week from 9:30 to 5:30?”
For Sachs, who currently dances with New York City–based Francesca Harper Project, the professional connections have been as important as the opportunity to expand her range as a dancer. “These are the people,” she says, “who are leading us where we’re going next in the dance world.”
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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The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
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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.