There's a delicious bit of mischief in everything Kolton Krouse does. He'll toss off some impossibly difficult sequence—a quintuple pirouette into a prolonged développé into an aerial, say—and end with an impish smile that's the stage equivalent of saying, "How good was that? And how much fun did I have doing it?"
The most interesting dancers are the ones who aren't quite knowable. Watch New York City Ballet corps member Alston Macgill in Peter Martins' blazing Fearful Symmetries, and you might peg her as the kind of speed-demon powerhouse who's most lethal in contemporary works. Watch her as the high-flying third-movement soloist in Balanchine's Symphony in C, and you'll notice a grander, more majestic sweep to her dancing, an easy command of the stage that feels inherently classical. She's a natural "leotard ballet" dancer; she's a natural "tutu ballet" dancer. She's just a natural.
Dance departments run by choreographers with active companies
While many college programs provide good foundations for dancers hoping to work professionally, sometimes the leap from classwork to career can seem daunting. Some schools have created a natural bridge between the two by tapping choreographers who lead vibrant companies to head their dance departments. These directors’ groups frequently spend solid chunks of time on campus, giving students an up-close-and-personal view of company life. “It demystifies the idea of the professional dancer, but also exposes students to their rigor and discipline,” says Connecticut College dance chair David Dorfman. And occasionally, a student’s work in the dance department even leads to a job offer with the troupe—a significant career jumpstart. —Margaret Fuhrer
Located: New London, CT
Degrees offered: BA, minor in dance
No. of dance majors: About 40
No. of studios: 3
Dance department chair: David Dorfman
Affiliated company: David Dorfman Dance
Alumni who’ve joined the company: Several, including current company member Raja Kelly
Nature of the school/company relationship: Since the fall of 2007, David Dorfman Dance has been permanent company-in-residence at Connecticut College, which allows the troupe to spend several weeks on campus over the course of the year. Company members not only teach classes but also take them alongside students, and students are welcome to sit in on any DDD rehearsals. Each year DDD dancers also contribute to the seminar for senior dance majors, answering their questions about life in a professional company.
Above: David Dorfman leads class at Connecticut College. Photo by Adam Campos, Courtesy Connecticut College.
UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA
Located: Minneapolis, MN
Degrees offered: BA, BFA in dance
No. of dance majors: 96
No. of studios: 4
Director of dance: Ananya Chatterjea
Affiliated company: Ananya Dance Theatre
Alumni who’ve joined the company: Three of ADT’s 10 current members
Nature of the school/company relationship: Though Ananya Dance Theatre has no set residency at the University of Minnesota, the company frequently rehearses on campus, allowing dance students to rub elbows with company members. This summer ADT will also host a summer intensive at UMN for the first time. ADT uses a specific vocabulary based on classical Indian dance, a style Chatterjea also teaches at UMN. Occasionally, she’ll mix students and company dancers in performance projects, including a showing at the Weisman Art Museum.
Above: Ananya Chatterjea corrects a University of Minnesota student. Photo by Brandon Stengel, Farm Kid Studios, Courtesy Ananya Dance Theatre.
Located: Princeton, NJ
Degrees offered: Certificate (minor) in dance
No. of dance certificates awarded annually: About 12
No. of studios: 4
Dance program director: Susan Marshall
Affiliated company: Susan Marshall & Company
Alumni who’ve joined the company: None yet, though students have appeared as volunteers in SMC performances in New York
Nature of the school/company relationship: Each year, Marshall teaches a special course as part of Princeton’s Atelier program, which is designed to allow professional artists to engage students in their creative practices. Susan Marshall & Company members usually participate in these courses. Last year, Marshall and SMC dancer Kristin Clotfelter worked with Princeton students on a duet that ultimately became part of Play/Pause, which SMC premiered and toured last fall.
Above: Susan Marshall works with Princeton students. Photo by Denise Applewhite, Courtesy Princeton University.
Three colleges that have formed innovative partnerships with dance artists
Many colleges invite big-name choreographers or companies to spend time on campus, but a dance department residency can sometimes be a superficial affair: A troupe arrives, performs, gives a master class or two and leaves. While these visits are invaluable for the guest artists, who get access to free rehearsal space and performance venues, students can end up with only minimal exposure.
Recently, however, colleges have been reimagining the dance residency, developing partnerships that allow students to interact with residents in meaningful ways. Sometimes these programs even reach beyond the dance department, involving scholars from across the campus. (Georgia Tech doesn’t offer a dance major, but that didn’t stop Arts@Tech from bringing in choreographer Jonah Bokaer.) Here are three residencies that break the traditional mold. —Margaret Fuhrer
Located: Annandale-on-Hudson, NY
Degree offered: BA in dance
Resident artist: Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company (they prefer to call their relationship a “partnership”)
Period of residency: Throughout each academic year since 2009
Nature of the partnership: Current and former artists from the company and New York Live Arts teach 12 full courses a year at Bard, including upper-level technique and composition courses for majors and introductory dance courses for non-majors. BTJ/AZ is also in full residency on campus for a week, typically in May, and the company hosts additional master classes, performances and campus-wide events to supplement its course offerings.
Above: Bill T. Jones at Bard. Photo by Karl Rabe, Courtesy Bard College.
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI
Located: Hattiesburg, MS
Degrees offered: BFA in dance education with K–12 licensure, BFA in dance performance and choreography
Resident artist: ClancyWorks Dance Company
Period of residency: Two sessions in February and April, 2013
Nature of the partnership: Maryland-based ClancyWorks, led by Adrienne Clancy, has its own respected arts in education program, which made it a good fit for USM, one of the few schools to offer a BFA in dance education that includes K–12 licensure. During their USM residency, company members performed, taught master classes and created a new work with dance majors—but they also led several in-depth seminars on educational outreach and professional development for K–12 teachers.
Above: ClancyWorks’ Adrienne Clancy with USM dance majors. Photo by Julie White, Courtesy University of Southern Mississippi.
GEORGIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
Located: Atlanta, GA
Degrees offered: N/A (none in dance)
Resident artist: Choreographer Jonah Bokaer
Period of residency: Bokaer was the school’s ARTech resident during the 2010–11 academic year, and is now in the midst of a two-year Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Building Demand for the Arts Program residency.
Nature of the partnership: Bokaer is known for his work in digital media. During his first residency, he developed a smartphone app with the help of Georgia Tech students from several departments, Mass Mobile, which lets audience members help control a show’s lighting design. Over the course of his current residency, he’ll be creating another app allowing people to participate in a shared movement-based experience. Bokaer has also performed on campus and led movement workshops for both Georgia Tech students and members of the surrounding community.
Above: A Jonah Bokaer workshop with Georgia Tech architecture students. Courtesy Georgia Tech
Here's some unexpected news: Screenwriter John Swetnam—the writer behind the fifth Step Up installment, Step Up: All In—is joining forces with none other than singer John Legend to create a new dance movie, Breaking Through. As unusual as that pairing seems, there's an even more unusual twist: Breaking Through is being called the world's first "found footage" dance film.
Right: John Swetnam. Photo via Mad Horse Films.
The faux-documentary found footage style is more commonly used in horror films—The Blair Witch Project pioneered the genre back in 1999—because the shaky, bleary quality of its supposedly amateur cinematography doubles the shock value of terrifying discoveries. But in a way it makes good sense to use it to capture dance. The majority of the dance films swirling around on YouTube are shot on phones and tablets; it's the way many dancers are used to watching dance. And there's an intimacy to the format that might bring dance and dancers to life in a way that high-gloss Hollywood dance films don't.
In addition to his Step Up experience, Swetnam has also worked on a couple of found-footage-driven films (Evidence and the upcoming Into the Storm). So if there's any man for this job, he's it. No word yet on Breaking Through's release date, but stay tuned!
In the ballet world, it's not the spectacular moves that make the dancer—it's the nuanced subtleties of artistry, the sheen of immaculate technique. That said, there's nothing quite like a great trick. Daredevil feats can add jolts of electricity to performances, especially when they're in the hands (and feet) of world-class dancers.
The Washington Post recently asked several members of The Washington Ballet to demonstrate, and explain, their "hardest moves." The dancers articulated the difficulties of everything from double fouettés to something terrifying called the 540 battement en rond—while making each virtuoso step look supremely easy, of course. Take a look!
It looks like we weren't the only ones who couldn't get enough of the AOL online series city.ballet. The Sarah Jessica Parker-produced docudrama following New York City Ballet dancers has been renewed for a second season.
In a way, we're not surprised. The show painted a compellingly intimate portrait of life as a professional ballet dancer—its struggles and triumphs, big and small. And New York City Ballet's artists are smart, charismatic, and fabulously talented, all of which make for great viewing.
NYCB's Sara Mearns in a still from city.ballet.
But a look at the larger picture reveals just how remarkable the renewal actually is. Of the 13 web series AOL commissioned last year as part of its first venture into original programming, only two—city.ballet. and #CandidlyNicole, starring Nicole Richie—were granted a second season. That means city.ballet. beat out shows starring the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Jonathan Adler, Hank Azaria and Roco DiSpirito. The power of ballet, ladies and gentlemen!
No word yet on when the second season will air—or if its episodes, like those of the first season, will all be released on the same day. We'll keep you posted. In the meantime, you can watch the complete first season right here.
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Jay Donn in a scene from Flex Is Kings. Photo courtesy Visit Films.
Injury can be a dancer's greatest trial. When your identity is thoroughly wrapped up in your physical body, and that body is betraying you, what happens to your sense of self? Often, our instinct is to dance through the pain, ignore it or try any quick fix that will get us back onstage—strategies that can leave us in even worse shape than before.
The best approach, of course, is not to get injured in the first place. And that's the focus of the Injury Prevention Workshop, hosted by The School at Steps in New York City this Sunday night. The event includes a panel featuring Leigh Heflin from The Harkness Center for Dance Injuries; Pilates instructor Robin Powell; and Dr. Andrew Price, a professor of orthopedic surgery. They'll discuss useful topics like the types of cross-training that can make injuries less likely, the positive effects of physical therapy on a dancer's recovery process, and the ways younger dancers can work through the effects of growth spurts.
Practical advice, all of it. But the panel will also include New York City Ballet star Sara Mearns, who'll address the issue from a dancer's perspective. Mearns, who suffered from intense, complicated back problems that took her out of the NYCB lineup for 8 months in 2012, faced the kind of forced break that shakes a dancer to her core. Mearns' story (which is, ultimately, a success story—she's back and has been dancing beautifully as of late) shows, in dramatic fashion, just how important it is for dancers to heed her fellow panelists' advice.
Sara Mearns in costume for Wheeldon's DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse. Photo by Sarah Silver.
The Injury Prevention Workshop, sponsored by Dance Spirit magazine, will be held at Steps on Broadway (Broadway between 74th and 75th) at 6 pm this Sunday, April 6. Tickets are just $10—click here to get yours.
We've all gotten lost in the wonderful wilds of YouTube. There are dance treasures to be found there, if you look hard enough—grainy archival clips, or snippets of Russian ballet performances stealthily filmed by audience members.
But until very recently, the real dance video treasure trove could only be accessed from the third floor of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. There, the Jerome Robbins Dance Division houses an astonishing number of dance films—more than 24,000 videos of nearly everything you could imagine. It's the dance film mothership.
Those of you who haven't been able to make a pilgrimage to the library, however, aren't out of luck: Now some of the Dance Division's video riches are available online. Thousands of hours of film have already been digitized, with more to come. Though most must still be watched at the library, the collection available offsite is still fascinating, and fascinatingly diverse. There are exquisitely detailed performances by the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. There's Eiko and Koma's hypnotic Water, as danced outdoors at Lincoln Center in 2011. There are Carolina Ballet's productions of Cinderella and Peter and the Wolf, and interviews with the likes of Julie Kent, Ethan Stiefel and Wendy Whelan from the "Speaking of Dancing" project.
There's also this gem from 1897, one of the earliest dance films ever made. Titled Annabella, it features Annabelle Whitford Moore in a swirl of billowing fabric, performing a "serpentine dance" first popularized by pioneer Loïe Fuller. The videographer was none other than Thomas Edison, who hand-tinted the film so that Moore's dress appears to change color over the course of the dance—an artistic recreation of the dramatic colored lighting used by artists like Moore and Fuller.
The plight of the aging dancer seems like catnip to filmmakers. And for good reason: Dance is an art in which the breaking down of the body can become a metaphor for the loss of a certain kind of life. While in reality most dancers go on to have successful, fulfilling post-dance careers, the end of a senior dancer's run onstage does feel tragic. It's the kind of complex tragedy that, distilled and amplified by the camera's close scrutiny, makes for good film. Witness Anne Bancroft's poignantly frail Emma in The Turning Point, or Winona Ryder's unhinged Beth in Black Swan.
The new film Fall to Rise is another exploration of the aging-dancer theme, and it features a cast of dance celebrities. Martha Graham Dance Company's celebrated Katherine Crockett (who's making a splash these days in the immersive off-Broadway show Queen of the Night) stars as Lauren, a principal dancer who struggles with her identity after being sidelined by injuries. Complexions Contemporary Ballet co-director Desmond Richardson is Des, the leader of Lauren's company. And Daphne Rubin-Vega, Rent's original Mimi, plays Sheila, a former dancer who has a complicated relationship with Des. Drama, naturally, abounds.
Fall to Rise will have its world premiere in New York City next Saturday, April 5 at the First Time Festival. (It's one of 10 movies competing for the festival's top prize.) Click here for more information about the film.
Sometimes the most interesting impetuses for movement come from ideas that, at least initially, seem only tangentially related to dance. For years, choreographer Elizabeth Streb has been preoccupied with the idea of risk. From how high can a dancer free fall, or at what speed can two dancers collide, without causing injury? They're un-dancerly premises, more concerned with physics than composition, and yet they've resulted in an exhilarating body of dance work.
Streb's company STREB Extreme Action is about to begin a residency at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in Lincoln, NE. In preparation for the visit, University of Nebraska–Lincoln students from the dance, theatre, architecture, computer science and engineering departments have been channeling Streb, considering dance from unusual perspectives. The dancers have been working on phrases that ignore the effects of gravity; engineering students have constructed flying robotic drones that will "perform" alongside the dancers; members of the second-year architecture class have sketched out a series of projections evoking frightening, risky spaces.
All of their work will culminate in STREB Extreme Action's time on campus in April—which, fittingly enough, corresponds with National Robotics Week. Streb and her company will work with the students to assemble all those pieces into one provocative, multidisciplinary work.
Seem hard to imagine? Here's a video showing some of the students' inventions:
Following the retirements of the irreplaceable Jenifer Ringer and Janie Taylor, Wendy Perron called out five other extraordinary principal women who continue to electrify New York City Ballet performances. But that dynamism characterizes many of the company's greenest dancers, too. During the past two or three seasons—thanks to the sheer amount of dancing NYCB does—audiences have begun to get to know some of these younger talents, particularly the women.
Emily Kikta, a 2013 25 to Watch, is one of those dancers who's impossible to miss, even if she's part of a large corps de ballet—and she seems to spend less and less time in corps parts these days. A striking 5' 10", Kikta boasts razor-sharp technique that slices effortlessly through contemporary and classical choreography alike. She proved a noble leader of Christopher Wheeldon's DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse ensemble this season, and a beguiling Coffee in The Nutcracker.
Emily Kikta in Balanchine's Brahms–Schoenberg Quartet. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB.
Meaghan Dutton-O'Hara, another leggy Amazonian, dances with an unusual combination of sweetness and glamour. I first noticed her sweeter side, when she gave a charmingly bubbly performance in Balanchine's Who Cares? at the School of American Ballet workshop a couple of years ago. Since joining the company, however, Dutton-O'Hara has grown into herself—and her gorgeous limbs.
Meaghan Dutton-O'Hara in Balanchine's Jeu de Cartes. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB.
Blonde, petite, and dimpled, Claire Von Enck runs a risk of being pigeonholed as "the cute one." Yet her dancing shows an expansiveness and sweep that defies the stereotype. Though perfectly at home as one of the sprightly soloists in Balanchine's Scherzo à la Russe, which she danced soon after becoming an apprentice with the company, Von Enck also stood out as an especially elegant nymph in Sleeping Beauty's vision scene last year.
Claire Von Enck and Daniel Applebaum in Balanchine's Who Cares?. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB.
Indiana Woodward, one of our 2014 25 to Watch, has legs and feet most dancers would kill for—but that's not why you watch her. (Well, not entirely.) Woodward seemed to enter NYCB fully formed, showing a remarkable maturity from the earliest days of her apprenticeship. Last spring's performance of Wheeldon's Soirée Musicale—essentially a coming-out party for a whole group of the company's promising dancers—was the perfect showcase for her wit and refinement.
Indiana Woodward in Wheeldon's SoireÌe Musicale. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB.
Though Unity Phelan only became a full company member last November, her strong, assured technique and high-wattage presence have already endeared her to NYCB diehards. Initially I thought of her as a classical animal, most comfortable in tutu-and-pink-tights roles that showcased her sparkling petit allegro. But her take-no-prisoners performance in Mauro Bigonzetti's Vespro this spring sent audience members scurrying for their programs in search of her name.
Unity Phelan in Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Suite No 3. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB.
This weekend, the students of Juilliard's dance department will perform three very different masterworks: Eliot Feld's Celtic-flavored The Jig Is Up; Lar Lubovitch's Concerto Six Twenty-Two, with its celebrated duet for two men; and Twyla Tharp's casually virtuosic Baker's Dozen. Though longtime Tharp dancer and repetiteur Shelley Washington set Baker's Dozen on the dancers, Tharp herself took time to work with them as well—a rare opportunity for students. DM spoke with Juilliard senior Evan Schwarz about Baker's Dozen and dancing for Tharp.
What has been most challenging about Baker's Dozen?
There’s a very small amount of unison. For the first 10 or 12 minutes of the piece, everyone is always doing something different. You’re connected to the other dancers, but never in step with them, so it's easy to lose your place. It’s also extremely fast movement, but the overall look should be one of calm. You have to be mellow and speedy, an odd but fun combination.
What advice has Shelley Washington given that's unlocked the work for you?
She’s really allowed us to find the movement for ourselves. She said something that Twyla actually said to her: Know you’re great until you’re told you’re not. Don't let anything get in your way.
How much time did you have with Twyla Tharp?
She visited while we were rehearsing in the studio. We did a few runs, and she watched, gave some notes, and then talked generally to the group about how we should feel while dancing the piece. She told us to dance like we're a community—not to play to the audience, but to act as if we're a family having a good time together. The idea is to be lively but not showy.
Tharp is known for being tough. What was she like?
Once she arrived, we all stood up a little straighter; we were definitely nervous. But she was nice, just quiet and to the point. She didn’t say much, but what she did say was calm and helpful. She wasn’t scary—after the first ten minutes, at least.
From DM's conversation with Paul Taylor in the February issue:
DM: Paul, how do you want [the Paul Taylor Dance Company] to look in 25 years? â€¨
PT: Oh, well, I like it like it is. I don’t know how it could be better. There’ll be different people, of course, but I’ll find them.
DM: Have you verbalized any of that?â€¨
PT: No...well, actually there is a plan drawn up for when I can’t make dances—what will be done then. But the company is to go on.
Ah, Mr. Taylor, cagey as usual. Now, however, we know exactly what that plan is: Next year, the Paul Taylor Dance Company will reinvent itself as Paul Taylor's American Modern Dance. At a press conference yesterday, it was officially revealed that the new company will perform both dances by Taylor and other works by modern and contemporary choreographers.
Taylor and senior PTDC member Michael Trusnovec. Photos by Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine.
About $10 million have been raised to fund this expansion (a good chunk of which came from Taylor's sale of artworks by his late friend and collaborator Robert Rauschenberg). PTAMD—we'll have to get used to the new acronym—will continue to perform each spring at the Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, and might even add a fall season at the venue.
Perhaps the most surprising change is that the company, which has battled in the past with the musicians' union over its use of recorded music, will feature live accompaniment when the choreography calls for it—welcome news for audiences and NYC musicians alike.
Here's to the new Taylor company. We'll be celebrating by soaking in Taylor's choreography at the Koch Theater for the next few weeks, during PTDC's typically rich spring season. Which choreographers do you think might enter the Taylor family fold next year?