The second installment of the AOL docu-series city.ballet.—which you can watch here on Dance Magazine—introduces us to a few apprentices of New York City Ballet: Silas Farley, Claire Von Enk and Ashley Hod. (You might remember Hod as an SAB student on DanceMedia's webseries "Dance212.") We learn that at the end of NYCB's Saratoga Performing Arts Center season, Silas and Claire are up for company contracts.
Here's one way that city.ballet. differs from "Breaking Pointe": It took us all season to find out if Zach or Ian would get contracts to Ballet West. On city.ballet, we find out in a little over six minutes plus an extra Citi bank advertisement. (To be fair, the dancers' fates aren't announced until the first few seconds of the following episode, creating the greatest cliff-hanger ballet has ever seen.)
Three things on my mind after watching the "Apprentices" episode:
1. Someone get Claire a Pyrex glass liquid measuring cup for her Secret Santa present this year. Those cookies will taste better when that milk is measured properly.
2. Let us see them dance! Here's one way that city.ballet. and "Breaking Pointe" are similar: We never see more than two seconds of any movement. I promise you, producers, we're not going to get bored.
3. I'm fascinated by the multitude of in-studio styles. Leotards, tights, legwarmers, parkas—can't get enough. And how do they all look so gorgeous in class? Maybe it's just because cameras are rolling, but I can remember looking a mess in class: totally sweaty, exhausted and in pain. These dancers could be supermodels.
In our Fall Preview—featuring some of the season’s hottest attractions—we highlighted Matthew Bourne’s new production of Sleeping Beauty which debuts tonight at New York City Center. The production runs in New York through November 3 (before hitting the road on a national tour), and on Halloween night, City Center has organized special celebrations in honor of the spooky show.
You may be thinking, What the heck does Princess Aurora have to do with Halloween? Bourne is the key ingredient here—his restaging includes a vampire at the core of the story. (Check out Roslyn Sulcas’ preview of the work here.) But back to the celebrating: If you’re a ticket holder on Halloween night, you’re invited to a free, pre-show party from 5:30–7:15 at The Bar at The Dream hotel (210 West 55th st.). Come in costume, and enjoy “Blood-tini” and “Bloody Good Bubbly” champagne cocktails.
Today, the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative announced that Alexei Ratmansky will be one of the seven master artists participating in its mentor/protégé program in the coming year. This is the 11th year of Rolex’s biannual program; since 2002, mentoring choreographers have included JiÅ™í Kylián, William Forsythe, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Trisha Brown. (Cool fact: This year’s theater mentor is lighting design guru Jennifer Tipton—a 1991 Dance Magazine Award recipient. Ratmansky also received a DM Award in 2011.)
So, what happens next: The Rolex Arts Initiative will nominate three exemplary candidates to serve as Ratmansky’s protégé, and Ratmansky will then choose which young artist he’d like to work with for the six-week period. In addition to his or her mentor's guidance, each protégé will receive a large grant—25,000 Swiss francs—to participate in the program, and potentially another 25000 francs to complete a new work.
The protégés won’t be announced until mid 2014, but I think it may be safe to place a few bets on those in the limelight. Justin Peck? Michelle Dorrance? Kyle Abraham? Liam Scarlett? It could be one of those four well-deserving candidates’ years to shine—I’d be surprised if their names didn’t at least come up in the discussions.
Today, we know Gus Solomons jr as a legendary dancer, distinguished professor, trusted dance critic, compelling choreographer, pioneering company director—the list could go on. But in June 1964, his story was just beginning.
That month, Solomons was highlighted in Dance Magazine's "Brief Biographies," which, in the 50s, 60s and 70s, was "a monthly series about the dancers you should know." (Other figures in the early years included icons such as Edward Villella, Bonnie Mathis, Yuriko, and Patricia Wilde, among many others.) Solomons had recently moved to New York from Boston, where he grew up. I love how biographer Saul Goodman opens the piece:
"Gus Solomons, Jr.'s instinct for performing first asserted itself during a Sunday school class in Boston when he was four. Responding to a hymn, he stepped into the aisle and did a jig. The impromptu debut earned him a spanking. Today, some twenty years later, the same individual, grown to six feet, four inches, is praised for his performing."
Solomons in Dance Magazine, June 1964
Photo by Zachary Freyman, DM Archives
At the time, the M.I.T. alum—he was an architecture major—was garnering critical acclaim for his performances with Donald McKayle, Pearl Lang, Joyce Trisler and Martha Graham. He was studying dance at the Graham School, and as Goodman writes, had just began taking classes with Merce Cunningham, "whose pure movement creations fascinate him and whose company he would like to appear with." Of course, we know that dream was realized—he performed with Cunningham from 1965–1968. Take a look at this video from the Mondays with Merce series, in which Solomons talks about joining Cunningham's company. You'll also see some amazing and rare archival footage of the two of them in rehearsal and performance.
Goodman also records Solomons' early interest in dance education: "Teaching is particularly valuable, Gus believes. He learns from it and at the same time it provides him with opportunities to experiment with choreographic ideas. So much the better that next month he will be teaching at the University of Colorado; in July at the University of California." Fast-forward forty years: Solomons received the prestigious American Dance Festival’s Balasaraswati/Joy Ann Dewey Beinecke Endowed Chair for Distinguished Teaching in 2004.
PARADIGM's Gus Solomons jr, Dudley Williams and Carmen deLavallade in A Thin Frost
Photo by TomCaravaglia in 1999, DM Archives
Close to fifty years later, Solomons continues to be a force in the field, choreographing and performing with PARADIGM, the company he founded in 1996 with Dudley Williams and Carmen deLavallade. (In fact, deLavallade was mentioned in Solomons' bio as a partner in McKayle's Reflections in the Park—it's been quite the professional partnership.) Earlier this month, Solomons co-hosted the 2013 Bessie Awards, also performing Paul Taylor's tableau Duet alongside Martine Van Hamel. And just this week, it was announced that Solomons is the latest dancer to take part in Keigwin + Company's #ShareTheMattress video campaign. It's quite the witty composition, check it out below:
With legs like these, who needs pants? That was practically a mantra at Dance Magazine's photo shoot for the October cover feature, "Singular Sensations." And when you have Broadway dancers like Sarrah Strimel, Bahiyah Hibah and Paloma Garcia-Lee, can you blame us?
The day started with Sarrah in the spotlight. Her long limbs were a challenge to fit inside a frame, but she certainly knows how to use them to her advantage. Early in the day we had fun playing around on a dressing room vanity; her custom-made red and white polka-dot bathing suit and a white bathrobe made the scene. But when she finally put her silver dress on, it became clear that this goofball has a truly elegant side.
"Keep a 360-degree view that the ensemble is your family." —Sarrah Strimel
Next up was Paloma Garcia-Lee. Though she's only 22, Paloma has such an old-Hollywood glamour look that the camera couldn't get enough. Modeling seemed to be second nature to this young star. We weren't all that surprised, however; Paloma appeared on the DanceMedia web series Dance212, and her bright enthusiasm for dance lit up each episode. (This episode, in which Paloma rehearses for a music video, is one of my favorites.)
"I always challenge myself to be a better performer, to point my feet harder, set small challenges in each performance, and not to go on auto-pilot...ever." —Paloma Garcia-Lee
Bahiyah Hibah came to the cyc last, beginning the session in a black lace dress that called on her days in Chicago. But her grounded, luscious movement more clearly spoke of her time with Ailey. She, too, seemed to know exactly how to work the camera, and when she laced up an even sexier purple silk corset, the room fell silent. Wowza. This mom (can you believe that?!) has the moves.
"Be prepared and let your work shine for itself. Even in a group, it will be noticed." —Bahiyah Hibah
When all three dancers stepped in front of the camera as an ensemble, it was fascinating to watch how their individual styles played off one another. Perhaps this is what makes them such successful women on Broadway, in the ensemble and out. They don't fade into the background—their ability to work together as a team enhances the whole package.
Want more? Don't forget to watch our behind-the-scenes video from the shoot here.
Three top programs to consider
Most college dance programs offer ballet technique classes, and some schools even present classical rep. Few, however, offer the specialization and experience you’d receive as a company trainee. There are, of course, the conservatories like Juilliard or universities like Butler, Indiana and Utah that carry well-deserved reputations as having top-notch ballet offerings. But don’t ignore these strong ballet programs that tend to fly under the radar.
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA
Located: Columbia, SC
No. of dance majors: 75–80
No. of applicants per year: 150
No. of studios: 3 (6 when partitions are closed)
Degrees offered: BA in dance performance/choreography, ballet emphasis; BA in dance performance/choreography, contemporary emphasis; BA in dance education; dance minor
Ballet classes: Five times per week; pointe or men’s classes twice per week
Non-ballet courses required: Contemporary, improvisation and composition, choreography, anatomy/nutrition, Laban Movement Analysis, dance analysis and criticism, history, dance production
Recent repertoire: Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes, Mozartiana and Apollo; Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s The Great Galloping Gottschalk
Recent guest artists: Chris Uchida (Twyla Tharp répétiteur), Jeffrey Gribler (Pennsylvania Ballet), Alan Hineline (Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet)
Alumni: Artistic and administrative positions with companies including Georgia Ballet Theatre, North Carolina Dance Theatre and Carolina Ballet
USC Dance Company in Balanchine’s Apollo. Photo courtesy USC.
Located: Erie, PA
No. of dance majors: 60
No. of applicants per year: 75–100
No. of studios: 3
Degrees offered: BFA in dance (beginning fall 2014), BA in dance
Ballet classes: Five days per week; elective pointe, variations and pas de deux classes
Non-ballet courses required: Modern, jazz, tap or musical theater, dance history, choreography, music for dancers, biology for dancers, pedagogy, kinesiology, Labanotation, dance conditioning
Recent repertoire: Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie, Gerald Arpino’s Viva Vivaldi, full-length Giselle and Bruce Mark’s La Fille mal gardée
Recent guest artists: Lisa de Ribere (School of American Ballet), Matthew Prescott (freelance dancer), Neta Pulvermacher (Neta Dance Company)
Alumni: Artistic positions with companies including Ohio Dance Theatre, Lake Erie Ballet, Nashville Ballet, Saint Louis Ballet
Ashley Cook with guest artist Eddy Tovar in La Fille mal gardée. Photo by Rick Klein, courtesy Mercyhurst.
COLLEGE-CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI
Located: Cincinnati, OH
No. of dance majors: 59
No. of applicants per year: approximately 100
No. of studios: 3
Degree offered: BFA in dance, emphasis in ballet
Ballet classes: Five times per week; pointe once per week, variations once per week; men’s classes and male variations once per week; basic partnering once per week, pas de deux once per week
Non-ballet courses required: Modern, dance history, choreography, character, somatic practice, jazz, eurythmics for dancers, music for dancers, costume and makeup for stage, theatrical design and production, acting, anatomy
Recent repertoire: Bournonville’s La Sylphide, Act II, Balanchine’s Serenade, “Kingdom of the Shades” from Petipa’s La Bayadère
Recent guest artists: Victoria Morgan (Cincinnati Ballet), Edwaard Liang (BalletMet), Devon Carney (Kansas City Ballet)
Alumni: Artistic positions with companies including Le Ballet du Capitole in France, Smuin Ballet, Louisville Ballet and Sarasota Ballet
CCM students in Balanchine’s Serenade. Photo by Will Brenner, Courtesy CCM.
In Alvin Ailey’s The River. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy AAADT.
If you’ve seen an ad or a billboard for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater this year, chances are you’ve seen Antonio Douthit-Boyd. He’s the poster boy for the company’s North American tour, which hits seven cities this month alone. (And his picture still lingers on many New York City buses after Ailey’s past winter season.) Douthit-Boyd’s long limbs make for breathtaking photographs, but even more impressive is the way he manipulates those lines onstage.
In 10 years with the company, Douthit-Boyd’s unrivaled mix of strength and lyricism has carried him through a range of demanding works, from Ailey classics, like The River, to Robert Battle’s athletic Strange Humors and Wayne McGregor’s exhausting Chroma. But no matter the role he’s performing on any given night, each day begins the same way: in company ballet class, refining his technique.
Is there a correction that you think of daily?
When I first came to Ailey from Dance Theatre of Harlem, Judith Jamison told me to never lose my ballet past. She said to continue working on all that I was before I got to Ailey, in addition to anything new that I’d learn here. It stuck with me.
What have you been working on recently?
My port de bras. I carry a lot of tension in my shoulders and I have to keep them down and relaxed. I’m most tense in fifth position. As soon as I put my arms up I’ll hear “Put your shoulders down!” from the front of the room.
When I first started ballet, I held all positions so tightly because I was trying to make them correct. Now, I realize even static positions have life in them. I have to constantly tell myself to breathe and let my shoulders fall back into place.
Is there an image that works for you?
I love watching videos of Fernando Bujones to see how he uses his arms. His port de bras was masculine, but fluid. There was no stagnant energy. Pictures of him are always rolling through my mind.
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Goyo Montero (of Staatstheater Nürnberg Ballett) coached competitors at this year’s Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland. Photo by Gregory Batardon, Courtesy Prix de Lausanne.
When you begin working on a classical ballet variation for competition, you know what you’re getting into. You’ll need to drill the pirouette series in “Lilac Fairy,” or perfect the footwork in Kitri’s Act III solo until you can perform it with precise épaulement—and fan fluttering—in your sleep. But what about when the choreography isn’t set? As more ballet competitions add contemporary rounds to their events, the guidelines for adjudication can get blurry. What exactly are judges looking for, and how can you prepare?
The Big Three: Artistry, Musicality and Technique
Jackson’s 2010 USA International Ballet Competition ballot for contemporary solos asked judges to evaluate dancers’ technical skill, musicality and artistry. “Each element was given a score from 1 to 10 and the judges could write in their comments,” says Hannah Renegar, the competition’s artistic administrator. For former American Ballet Theatre principal and seasoned adjudicator John Meehan, dancers who catch his eye are those who can shed classical ballet tendencies (a held, upright torso, for instance) and adapt to a more grounded movement style. “I’m looking for another dimension within the dancer,” he says. “Contemporary work has a certain release, and some dancers who are very classical struggle with that.”
Ballet West’s artistic director Adam Sklute, who is a frequent Youth America Grand Prix adjudicator, looks for a sense of freedom and expressiveness in the dancer. “I want to see the dancer’s use of her torso and core, and the floor,” he says. “I look for dancers who are unafraid to take chances physically and emotionally.”
Ultimately, though, both Meehan and Sklute note that judges view contemporary solos through a ballet lens. “We still want to see lines, flexibility, extensions and jumping and turning,” says Meehan, who is a jury member for this year’s USA IBC. After all, consider the main goal of competing: earning scholarships to top ballet academies or company traineeships. Sklute explains it this way: “If I’m looking for someone for my company, I want a dancer who can do contemporary work, but I’m not going to take someone who’s not a classical ballet dancer.”
An even playing field?
Unlike classical ballet variations that include specific steps for judges to critique, contemporary solo choreography is often left up to each competitor. According to the guidelines for YAGP for instance, participants should select a piece that shows off their “strengths as a dancer outside of classical ballet.”
“As a judge, you have to be careful not to confuse your like or dislike of the choreography with the artistry of the dancer,” says Sklute. Meehan agrees: “Most people come with newly choreographed contemporary work. But that’s a problem. If a dancer has limited resources—if there’s no choreographer nearby and they cannot afford to pay for a solo—it’s difficult for a student to come up with effective material.”
Some competitions are confronting this issue head on. YAGP includes a list of available choreographers across the U.S. and Canada who may be available to create work for students for a fee, starting at $250. Other competitions are taking this a step further: Even though students show a solo of their choice as part of the application for Prix de Lausanne, those selected to compete in Switzerland arrive with a contemporary solo they’ve learned from an online video, and they receive special coaching during the event. Similarly, dancers competing in Jackson this year will enter the second round with a pre-selected contemporary solo by Trey McIntyre or a contemporary duet by Matthew Neenan. “The playing field will be level and we’ll have concrete elements to judge,” says Meehan. “We’ll see who has put in more work and which dancer has more to offer.”
Showcase your strengths
There are certain advantages, however, to a round of solos with limited guidelines. The talented dancers who advance to the final round of USA IBC present contemporary solos that they’ve commissioned from choreographers or created themselves. “It gives dancers the opportunity to show individuality,” says Renegar. If you have brilliant extensions but lack strong pointe work, presenting a solo in socks or ballet slippers could help keep a positive image in the judges’ minds.
As for extra acrobatics: “The audience loves it when you throw in an aerial,” says Sklute. “It shows that you might also have training in gymnastics, which is great. But it won’t make or break your score.”
Not This Again…
Judges sit through countless hours of contemporary solos. While your score should not necessarily be affected by your solo’s choreography, there are a few trends that the jury members—and audience members—would love to see fade away.
- Get over the angst. “Contemporary dance often translates to slow and moody,” laments Adam Sklute. “Why can’t it be upbeat?”
- Don’t go overboard with props or theatricality. “It’s fun to watch, but it presents a dilemma to the judges if that’s all there is,” says John Meehan. “You cannot give points for a costume or story.”
- If you’ve heard it before, pick something else. “We hear the same pieces of music over and over again,” says Sklute. “The sky’s the limit in contemporary dance! Why do solos constantly sound like car or diamond commercials?”
- Leave out the familiar phrases. “Judges joke about dancers simply performing ballet variations with flexed feet,” says Meehan. “The whole point is to show new elements.”
Above: YAGP adjudicators Franco De Vita, Gailene Stock and Adam Sklute. Photo by Siggul/Visual Arts Masters, Courtesy YAGP.
Clockwise from top left: Merce Cunningham, 1962; Agnes de Mille, 1980; Ruth St. Denis in White Jade, 1950.
In November, the dance world lost one of its most prolific photographers, Jack Mitchell (1925–2013), whose work helped chronicle an epoch in dance history. In a career spanning more than 40 years, Mitchell captured almost every major figure in the field, from ballet legends to downtown dancemakers, as well as tap dancers, b-boys and composers.
A longtime contributor to Dance Magazine, Mitchell’s work has filled our pages since the early 1950s. He photographed more than 160 covers; subjects included José Limón, George Balanchine, Merce Cunningham and Bob Fosse. And though he announced his retirement in 1996, he received a Dance Magazine Award in 2002 and remained on the magazine’s masthead until his death.
Mitchell also found great success outside of dance: His portraits for publications like The New York Times, Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair included John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Alfred Hitchcock and Meryl Streep. Today, the Thrasher-Horne Center for the Arts in Florida is home to some of Mitchell’s most iconic work, including the images on these pages.
Clockwise from top left: Martha Graham in Alcestis, 1962; Paul Taylor in Aureole, 1979; Mikhail Baryshnikov rehearsing Taylor’s Aureole, 1993.
Above: Studying dance science doesn’t always mean you’ll lose performance opportunities. Here, Goucher students perform in Pascal Rioult’s Wien. Photo by Jason Lee, Courtesy Goucher.
Dance science is one of the fastest-growing areas of interest for college dance majors, and one that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to sacrifice time in the studio. A second degree or concentration in the subject opens up a variety of practical career paths. For instance, dance science students often go on to pursue graduate degrees in physical therapy, dance medicine or kinesiology. It’s also common for dancers with science backgrounds to work as teachers, personal trainers or somatic instructors while performing. Of course, dance science programs vary in terms of focus and course requirements. Here are three top options to include in your search.
Baltimore, MD; goucher.edu
Degrees offered: BA in dance with a concentration in dance science. (A biological science major with a concentration in dance science is also offered—course requirements are very different.)
Audition required: No
Technique classes required: A minimum of six technique credits total; two per semester are suggested. Dance majors must also take composition, music for dance, lighting design, technical stage application, dance history, Labanotation, anatomy and kinesiology for dancers and dance criticism, theory and philosophy.
Nondance courses required: Six credits of classes in biological diversity, cell biology and biochemistry, animal physiology, nutrition, chemistry, biochemistry, physics or introduction to psychology.
Performance opportunities: A student must be enrolled in at least one technique class in the same semester she wishes to perform.
Opportunities for outside study: Internships are encouraged. In the past, students have shadowed physical therapists and physicians or have worked with a foot surgeon at nearby MedStar Union Memorial Hospital.
Elon, NC; elon.edu
Degrees offered: BS in dance science. Many BFA dance performance and choreography students choose to double-major (earning both a BFA and a BS).
Audition required: Only the BFA program requires an audition.
Technique classes required: One ballet, modern, jazz, tap class; two world dance classes; somatics; improvisation and choreography classes are available. Double majors take daily technique classes. Dance history is required.
Nondance courses required: Nutrition, human anatomy, human physiology, somatic theories, biomechanics, sports psychology, physiology of exercise, research methods
Performance opportunities: Auditions for the Elon Dance Company—which performs around three times per year—are open to dance science majors.
Opportunities for outside study: Not required, but credit is given. Students have interned with the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries, shadowed those in Elon’s physical therapy graduate program and have conducted and presented research with Elon’s dance and exercise science faculty.
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, IRVINE
Irvine, CA; uci.edu
Degrees offered: BA in dance with the option to focus in dance science. (BFA dance students can also take dance science courses, though they often encounter more scheduling limitations.)
Audition required: Yes
Technique classes required: At least one per semester. Students typically enroll in ballet and modern classes three to five times per week.
Nondance courses required: Dance health and injury prevention, kinesiology for dance and experiential anatomy. Students must take at least 12 units of elective classes, and by working with a faculty advisor, students can create a track for themselves, often enrolling in medical, science, sports medicine or motion-capture classes offered in departments across campus.
Performance opportunities: Students are required to earn two performance credits from departmental concerts.
Opportunities for outside study: While they’re not required, students can take part in short-term projects that relate to their research. Students commonly work with professors to conduct research and present at International Association for Dance Medicine & Science conferences, earn Pilates certifications or work with the physical therapist in the dance department. n
Teacher-training programs can benefit your career—now, and later.
After graduating from the School of American Ballet in 2012, Christina Ghiardi earned a spot in Boston Ballet II—as well as stints teaching for the school’s summer program and as a substitute teacher during the year. Flash-forward to today, and Ghiardi is a year-round, part-time faculty member of Boston Ballet School’s pre-professional division, a position that offers a steady income while she’s auditioning for a full-time company contract. “This teaching opportunity is perfect for me now,” she says. “I’m learning so much, and it’s something that I can always do.”
Right: Christina Ghiardi leading an advanced class at SAB. Photo by Erin Baiano, Courtesy SAB.
In a challenging job market, dancers may need to call on special talents or interests—like teaching—to help carve out a sustainable career path for themselves. Yet Ghiardi didn’t simply grand-jeté her way to the front of the classroom. She got the training necessary for the job by taking advantage of a special program at SAB. Many schools nationwide offer their students the opportunity to start honing their teaching chops while still pre-professionals, giving them a head start on teaching as a second career.
“Developing an eye and a voice takes time and understanding,” says Michelle Martin, Ballet Austin’s associate artistic director, who oversees a pedagogy program at their academy. “You have to build up a capacity to stand in front of the room and express particular vocabulary that’s specific to the students’ level. It’s a disservice to the industry to teach without training.”
At Ballet Austin, second-year pre-professional trainees in the Butler Fellowship Program can opt to assist in low-level classes twice per week. (Ballet Austin II and first-company members often ask to take part in the training as well.) After observing the veteran teacher for a few weeks, trainees work up to giving students hands-on corrections and then leading part of the class. “As they move forward, they’ll plan and teach a class and get feedback from the teacher,” says Martin. “It allows them to be worked in slowly, eventually becoming a substitute teacher.”
SAB has a similar program. Advanced students in the top two levels can sign up to assist in the school’s preparatory and children’s divisions (for kids ages 6 to 9) once or twice per week. “One day I worked with Darci Kistler,” says Ghiardi. “I had Darci as a teacher for technique and partnering, and I learned so much by watching how she’d adapt to the younger students compared to our level.”
For students who demonstrate a knack for leadership, SAB chairman of faculty Peter Martins and co-chairman Kay Mazzo ask them to take part in an advanced teaching fellowship, established two years ago to build on the assistantship. From January to June, Ghiardi taught four advanced technique and pointe classes, with Martins and Mazzo dropping in to observe. “At the end of each class, I got feedback,” recalls Ghiardi. “One of the main points of critique was that the steps I was giving were too complex. The classroom isn’t a place to choreograph.” And, she says, working with an accompanist took some getting used to.
Both Mazzo and Michelle Martin note that teacher training isn’t the primary goal of their respective academies—but it’s an opportunity that students should take advantage of if presented. “Almost all of our students go on to dance,” says Mazzo. “But assisting other classes prepares them for their future after dancing, or even while they’re dancing.” Martin adds: “Students have to anticipate that they’ll be making a transition into teaching at some point in their lives. And in the way company contracts are offered today, many dancers have to make money while they’re looking for work, or even augment their paychecks when they do get a contract.”
Ghiardi suspects that she wouldn’t have even considered teaching this early in her career without the encouragement from Margaret Tracey at Boston Ballet School or Mazzo and Peter Martins at SAB. “But I’m so grateful that I have these experiences under my belt,” she says. “Teaching brings an even greater awareness to my own dancing and musicality. I think about all the corrections I gave students the night before in my own class the next day. What I say becomes more relevant.”
But what if your studio doesn’t have a formal program? “Watch your teacher,” says Mazzo. “Take notes. Look at other students and think about what corrections you might give them.” Ask if you can assist in low-level classes, or even teach a portion of the class—with her oversight. But most importantly, Mazzo says, speak up. “Let your teacher know you’re interested, and I’d hope she’d be more than happy to share her expertise. We need good teachers. And it’s a wonderful profession. Seeing my students grow up and become dancers themselves has been incredibly rewarding.”
Yesterday, our cover star and veteran Paul Taylor Dance Company member Michael Trusnovec gave us a tour of his day-to-day routine. Taking over our Instagram and Twitter feeds, he documented his every step, from breakfast to rehearsal to dinner with friends. In case you missed it, here's all the action:
Every day starts the same with a healthy fruit and protein packed smoothie!
My downtown commute begins here.
Have to stay strong for all of the partnering in our upcoming Lincoln Center Season!
Nothing prepares me better for a long rehearsal day than ballet class with Zvi Gotheiner.
Lucky me to have this iconic image of Paul Taylor greeting me everyday.
A quick check of the PTDC social media posts for the day with fellow dancer Eran Bugge.
And rehearsals begin! First up—Cloven Kingdom!
A little fuel to keep my energy up.
Rob Kleinendorst and I getting some post Sunset notes from the Dancemaker himself.
Love the sensation of the quick, weighted changes of direction in all the Taylor repertory.
Can't wait to perform the beautiful, classically Taylor Airs with Eran Bugge during PTDC's 60th Anniversary NYC Season March 12th-30th at the Koch Theater at Lincoln Center.
A quiet moment in the studio and a power lunch of grilled chicken, apple and avocado is the perfect way to end the rehearsal day.
Making a few adjustments on my ...Byzantium costume with wardrobe supervisor Clarion Overmoyer.
Some post-production editing on a new PTDC web video before hitting the shower.
Six hours later, it's time to exit the Taylor Studios!
At the fab new broadway show, Beautiful, choreographed by my incredibly talented and good friend Josh Prince!
The perfect end to a perfect day? Dinner and plenty of laughs with the girls—fellow PTDC dancers Laura Halzack and Michelle Fleet.
Want more? Go behind-the-scenes of Dance Magazine's cover photo shoot with Michael Trusnovec and Paul Taylor.
Photos by Michael Trusnovec and Francisco Graciano.
With James Whiteside in Robbins’ Fancy Free. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Boston Ballet.
Kathleen Breen Combes moves like silk across the stage. But although it appears effortless, the Boston Ballet principal is constantly at work, maintaining her strength and keeping injuries in check.
Because she is hypermobile, Combes says she has a tendency to pull muscles and overstretch ligaments. Currently, she is working around a labral tear in her left hip socket. While she hasn’t yet resorted to surgery to mend the tear, she’s figured out a mix of massage, physical therapy and warm-up exercises that ease the pain.
After the alarm goes off at 8:00 a.m., Combes eats breakfast before driving to work with her husband and fellow principal Yury Yanowsky. “I’ll usually have an egg sandwich, or a muffin and granola bar or a banana,” she says. The couple lives 30 minutes from the downtown Boston studios, and Combes likes to arrive at least 30 minutes early to warm up before a 9:45 class.
Combes starts every day by massaging and stretching her calves, which tend to get tight. She works her ankles with winging and sickling Thera-Band exercises to prevent sprains and warm up her toes. “I don’t have very good feet,” she laughs, “so stretching them before class is imperative.”
She also pays special attention to her hips, stretching the front and back of her legs with lunges, deep pliés and extensions. Combes is known to lie on her back mid-class, circling her legs with frog-kick–like motions (bending one leg in, extending it to the side, reaching it forward away from her body and then bending it in again) to keep her joints loose, especially before ronds de jambe en l’air, fondus and grands battements.
Rehearsals typically run from 11:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. with an hour for lunch. To prepare for the afternoon session, Combes’ warm-up changes depending on the role. Classical ballets, for instance, require an intense amount of core stability, Combes says. “I need to make sure I’m really on my leg. I do a lot of balances.”
For neoclassical or contemporary work, Combes repeats a “cross-hemisphere” warm-up that she learned from Forsythe répétiteur Jill Johnson when she set The Second Detail on the company. It’s an oppositional sequence that involves swinging your limbs across the body—for instance, your right arm reaches for your left shoulder, or your left arm reaches for your right hip or toes—while your legs move back and forth. “You work side to side,” says Combes, “and it gets you so warm.”
On the Menu
Combes eats a banana or granola bar after class, and following a three-hour rehearsal from 11:30 to 2:30, she has a break for lunch. She often chooses Caesar salads with chicken, or tomato mozzarella sandwiches. “I like something substantial to get me through three more hours of rehearsal,” she says. “But I try to keep healthy.” For dinner, Combes lets Yanowsky take the lead. “We like to grill,” she says, “and we’re big into steak and potatoes.”
On a two-show day, Combes takes company class at 10:45 a.m. in the theater before the first afternoon run. But when she performs in the evenings only, she prefers to arrive in between the two shows, before the rest of the company returns for class. “I’ll go through a big portion of my role onstage by myself in the empty theater,” she says. “It gets me centered and I can think about anything that has been trouble.”
Rest and Rejuvenation
She doesn’t cross-train much during a performance season, but Combes hits the pool in the off-season, swimming laps, stretching and going through barre in the water with her husband. On days off, Combes enjoys reading, decorating their house and playing with their two dogs. “I mostly like to spend time with my family and enjoy life,” she says. “What we do is so hard. It’s nice to relax at home.”
Combes grew up in a Pilates household: Her mother was an instructor, and Combes herself earned a mat certification at 19. Because dancers are very flexible, she finds they often “go to extremes that aren’t necessary in Pilates.” For example, in back extension exercises, “there’s a tendency for dancers to really lift their backs up—but they let their ribs out.” For best results, Combes says, “engage your core, keep your ribs together and use your back muscles properly.”
“I want a group where dancers can blossom with artistic freedom,” says Olivier Wevers. All photos by Kyle Froman.
On a rainy August afternoon in New York City, 35 dancers pile into the lobby of the Joyce Theater. The Seattle-based company Whim W’Him is in town for the Joyce’s Ballet v6.0 festival, and artistic director Olivier Wevers is looking for two dancers and an apprentice for new work the company will debut in January.
Just getting to the audition proves a feat in itself: More than 70 applied and Wevers cut the applicant pool in half after reviewing resumés, photos and videos. (Another audition is to be held in Seattle a few weeks later.) And while he pays close attention to applicants’ technique, he also looks for “responsible and proactive artists.” “I’m trying to create a group where dancers have voices,” he says. “I don’t want to pick dancers because of their visual appeal alone and drop them in the middle of a large established group.”
After 14 years as principal with Pacific Northwest Ballet (and before with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet), Wevers left in 2011 to devote himself to his fledgling troupe, which is quickly building national acclaim. The same year, he was named a Dance Magazine “25 to Watch” and was awarded a Princess Grace Choreography Fellowship. Star dancers from major ballet companies—like Houston Ballet principal Melody Mennite and PNB principal Kaori Nakamura—flock to Wevers’ company, attracted to his intricate choreography and the group’s collective atmosphere. In addition to his own work, Wevers commissions an eclectic mix of other choreographers, such as Annabelle Lopez Ochoa.
And as someone who’s been on the other side of the audition table, Wevers makes a point of treating dancers respectfully during an often intimidating process. From the size of the group (“You can’t fairly look at more people in such a short amount of time”) to the absence of numbers pinned to dancers’ chests, the three-hour audition feels more like a workshop with useful feedback instead of bruised egos. “The very first thing Olivier said was that although we were auditioning for him, the day was also our chance to audition them,” recalls Grace Whitworth, 29, a member of Yin Yue Dance Company in New York, after the tryout. “He wanted us to see how we would feel with his company.”
At 1:00 p.m., the dancers who have been warming up in the downstairs lobby stream into the theater wearing a mix of leotards and leggings, shorts and sweats. They find eight company dancers already onstage, and as they make their way up, Wevers greets each with a handshake and an introduction. “We want to see the real you,” he says. “Don’t show off.”
Those used to starting auditions with barre work might be thrown by the next section: Instead of pliés, they jump right into learning a phrase from Wevers’ 2010 work This Is Not a Raincoat. “I’ve always felt that class is a personal time to get warm,” Wevers says. “Plus, I don’t work with my dancers in class. I need responsible artists who know what they need to do to be ready for rehearsal.”
For the next 40 minutes, Whim W’Him dancers Andrew Bartee (also in PNB) and Mia Monteabaro work on the phrase with the auditioners while Wevers studies head shots, matching the 2-D prints with bodies and faces. Bartee homes in on details—which count is the slice to the right or how to twist around, slide to the floor and lift a leg with the work’s signature sickled foot position, the “sickle pickle.”
Above: Lucien Postlewaite of Whim W’Him works with the men on partnering.
Company dancers spread over the space, eager to help auditioners master the choreography. “I wanted my dancers to be a part of the audition,” says Wevers. “They’re going to be working with the new people, and for me, process is as important as performance.”
After performing the phrase twice in groups of five, another surprise awaits: a five-minute break but no cuts. Instead, the dancers split into groups of four and improvise. “I didn’t want to eliminate someone for not being a fast learner,” Wevers says. “What if I had let go an amazing artist? I recognize my own limitations, and maybe there’s a dancer who doesn’t pick up the details as quickly as others. Through improv, I can see if she’s a great mover.” And for a company whose core mission is developing new work, improvisation is an essential skill. “I’m not looking for imitators,” Wevers says. “I want artists who can take a step and make it something of their own so we can have an exchange.”
At 2:15, the first cuts come. Wevers hands company members two piles of head shots—those he wants to keep and those to let go. He asks if dancers in either pile are misplaced. In whispers, phrases like “too square” or “too wild” can be heard, and a dancer who “was connecting with other girls in the improv” moves to the top of the “to keep” pile. Wevers says: “I want dancers to be aware of their space and that of others. And if someone is not being respectful, that’s a clear cut.” Ultimately, 16 dancers are kept—4 men and 12 women, including Whitworth.
Though relieved that she made it so far, Whitworth says that she’s learned from past auditions to take them one step at a time. “I used to get so excited—sometimes even texting a friend that I’d made it,” she says. “But there are always other cuts that can still go either way. I just try to stay focused with my head in the game.” That clear-headedness is a boon for the next portion: learning a partnering phrase—in trios.
The women learn a section from Wevers’ I don’t remember a spark, and the four men learn an excerpt of a pas de deux in Approaching Ecstasy. Ramona Kelley, 25, who performed on the national tour of Twyla Tharp’s Come Fly Away, says afterward that being so focused on the tricky partnering made her forget it was actually an audition. “There were really complicated moments,” she says. “We had to be daring, step outside our comfort zones as female dancers and partner someone else.”
Right: Grace Whitworth (center, in purple) stretches during the five-minute break.
Wevers admits that the trios were difficult. “I knew that in 40 minutes the dancers wouldn’t get it all,” he says. “But I wanted to see how they worked it out as a unit. I tried to listen to how they responded to one another.”
By 2:55, the original 35 have been whittled down to five women and one man. Whitworth and Kelley end up finalists, and all six dancers follow Wevers and the company members to a conference room where they spend another half-hour talking as a group. “That was the most atypical part,” says Kelley. “Olivier and the Whim W’Him dancers answered our questions, told us about their company and how often they work.”
Ultimately, the dancers who Wevers would hire needed to be able to travel to the West Coast. Several that he offered contracts to had conflicts, and a little more than a month later, three from the Seattle audition would end up filling Whim W’Him’s open slots. Still, Wevers notes that his long-term goal is a year-round company with 10 dancers. “For now, I’ve kept a file of the dancers who caught my eye in New York and who I’d be interested in working with again. Maybe it didn’t work out this time, but it’s not a closed door.”