Las Vegas, home to an immense number and assorted genres of dancers, is a transient city that struggles to find community. Our first professional sports team—NHL Vegas Golden Knights—which debuted just days after the October 1 shooting, is giving Vegas hometown heroes to rally around and a palpable excitement throughout the valley.
That same camaraderie was evident Monday night as the dance community gathered—directors, choreographers, performers and educators—from New York City, Los Angeles and Las Vegas to celebrate some of their own at the Capezio Dance Awards. Ballerinas, tap and hip hop dancers, contemporary and ballroom mixed and mingled at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts—known as the "heart of the arts" here—just at the edge of the glitz and glamour of the Vegas strip.
Since 2007, Nevada Ballet Theatre and mega-producer Cirque du Soleil have joined forces to produce A Choreographers' Showcase. Each year, ballet dancers, aerialists, acrobats, clowns and musicians meld their artistic talents, creating buzz up and down the strip. These two unlikely partners will celebrate their 10th anniversary October 8, 14 and 15 when this "only in Vegas" style grand pas takes to the Mystère stage at Treasure Island Hotel & Casino. For this 2017 celebration, 15 original works will be created and performed by over 60 artists from both NBT and the seven resident Vegas Cirque shows. nevadaballet.org.
Sitting alone with Cynthia Gregory last night in the Rose Theater for the first NYIBC stage rehearsal, I realized we speak the same language. Not that I had any doubt, but it is always nice for your efforts to be validated. On both sides. As couple after couple filtered on for their allotted spacing of Raymonda, she whispered to me how no one knew how to use the floor. Amen! Exactly the skill I have been trying to elicit from this diverse group of dancers for two weeks. “Plie will save you” has been my mantra. There is absolutely no way to succeed in Paul Taylor’s work without giving in to the floor and utilizing your deepest plie. And I can bet that was Ms. Gregory’s secret to her legendary balances! What goes down—must go up?
Seems Cynthia and I see the same things in the dancers. Dance is dance; technique and artistry translate across genres. I was pleased to see that the dancers that stood out in Raymonda were the same ones who had embraced the Taylor work. Shows that true versatility is the name of the game. To go from classical to grounded, these dancers have to do it all—and well! Lets face it—medals and accolades aside..they want jobs!! That is why they are here. To be seen in a variety of styles and settings. Several artistic directors (Kevin McKenzie included) have already dropped in on classes and rehearsals over the past weeks. Tonight will be the culmination of their hard work—the first night of competition. The first hurdle to surmount.
Last week, in individual coaching sessions, I was able to learn a lot more about these couples. Who had met before, where they are from, whom they train (or trained) with, or what companies they already have jobs with. There are several dancers from the Colorado Ballet, some from Eugene, Idaho, English National Ballet, Estonia, Joffrey, two heading to the Tulsa Ballet, and one to Dresden. Some graduating from universities and private arts schools. One from my home town—Honolulu!
I am amazed at how many couples had never worked with their partners before. Seems an awful disadvantage, yet obviously not uncommon in the professional world. My longtime partner, Patrick Corbin, and I met our first day on the job at Taylor. Within minutes we were learning a love duet—looking longingly into each other’s eyes and tumbling over each other’s bodies. Most of performing is acting anyway. We aren’t born “athletes of god.”
I am fascinated to see who will go on to round II and dance Paul’s work. Who will have to dance with their partner even though they have been eliminated. (Seems cruel, but also a part of life and the rules of this competition to be judged individually.) I can’t wait to see what solos they have brought with them. An indication of how they best want to represent themselves.
To quote Martha Graham again….“Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.” I hope their passion shines forth tonight in all their individual glory.
I have been entrusted with teaching the contemporary duet for the 25th anniversary of the NY International Ballet competition. It is my first time involved in this particular competition, which got under way on June 8th. Richard Chen-See, a friend and fellow former Paul Taylor Dance Company member, is now the director of NYIBC, taking the reigns as founder Ilona Copen retires. Richard asked me to re-stage Aureole, Paul’s seminal piece from 1962, a work I performed often during my tenure in the company and have set on several companies.
In the first week I taught the central duet to 48 dancers from across the globe. This lyrical work launched Paul’s choreographic career due in part to its stylistic departure from Graham. It is also the first piece ever to enter the repertory of a ballet company, a relevant fact for these dancers on the brink of their careers.
“Relax…breathe...plié.…give in to gravity… contract… spiral…be natural…..connect to your partner..”
Just some of the things I find myself reiterating throughout the day to these primarily classically trained young dancers (ages 17-24). Shedding all affectations and being themselves is the hardest “character” to perform. It takes vulnerability, which takes maturity. For many, moving seamlessly and organically from one moment to the next with no poses or grand emphasis is foreign territory. Communication obstacles and cultural barriers aside, this is a new movement “language.” There is no technical virtuosity, no 32 fouettés they can whip off proudly. It is deceptively simple in its grounded, loving tenderness. It is all nuance. One day an observer told me the duet gave her the feeling of witnessing a love she “wanted to take home with her.” The perfect reaction!
How do you judge such radically different work? I can’t imagine! All 24 couples will perform the same pas de deux repertoire beginning on June 24. Aureole will be performed only if they make it to round two. (Which could break my heart!)
Everyone I have met involved in NYIBC- directors, fellow coaches and an army of loving volunteers- all truly care about the dancers and the educational component of this competition. What an amazing experience, taking class and having intimate coaching sessions with luminaries of dance. Getting to work with the legendary Cynthia Gregory (my absolute hero as a young girl at SF ballet school before I threw away my pointe shoes) of American Ballet Theatre fame on Raymonda, and Winthrop Corey, director of the Mobile Ballet and former dancer with the National Ballet of Canada on Paquita.
I am struck daily by the camaraderie of the dancers. I have yet to see any “competition” between them. They live together in the Fordham dorms, and spend their days in the (gorgeous!!) Ailey studios just down the street. They seem to genuinely enjoy each other’s company, supporting one another in the studio and laughing at lunch breaks. They are making the most of their time here, and remain absolutely focused ignoring the allure of the big city just beyond the floor to ceiling windows.
I am truly honored to be among them and it is a pleasure to pass on my knowledge. This week we broke into short coaching sessions for each couple. Here I feel I can do the most good, getting to know them individually. What a joy to guide them in getting the most out of themselves and this experience! Aureole finds more breath and life each day as it settles into their muscularity.