Dance As Activism
From Dance of Urgency. © Ekvidi

When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.

The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.

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Freelancer Lindsey Jones is a study in contrasts. Her long limbs cut through the air with precision, not languor; a great physical comedian, she also carries herself with intense emotional restraint. As a company member of Dance Heginbotham, the 5' 9" dancer brings speed and specificity to his absurdist, angular moves. “It’s fascinating to see this long, tall figure moving really, really quickly,” says John Heginbotham. “She can work small and big—and not everyone can do that.”

Jones in Heginbotham's Twin. Photo by Amber Star Merkens, courtesy Dance Heginbotham

Companies: Dance Heginbotham, Pam Tanowitz Dance

Age: 24

Hometown: St. Louis

Training: Center of Creative Arts in St. Louis, BFA from SUNY Purchase, Merce Cunningham Trust’s Professional Training Program

Early experience: “I fell in love with tap first, at about 9. I was obsessed. The rhythms really spoke to me. My sister and I would tap on the street for money. We made a couple hundred bucks. I think $30 an hour was our average.”

Breakout moment: When Heginbotham came to SUNY Purchase to set a work on its dancers, she asked him to choreograph her senior project. When he agreed, “it was a huge validation,” she says. Heginbotham, who was still dancing for Mark Morris at the time, was so pleased with the resulting solo, he wound up expanding it into a larger work, Twin—his debut piece at New York City’s Baryshnikov Arts Center.

Intellectual approach: Jones describes herself as a sporty kid and “wild child,” but chose dance because of its cerebral challenge. “I was so bored when I played sports,” she says. “Dancing was harder—you were using both your mind and your body.”

Freelance challenges: Jones also dances for Pam Tanowitz Dance, restages Merce Cunningham work and juggles a variety of other projects. “I have to be my own best boss, do all the scheduling,” she says. “They don’t teach you that in school.” But the mix has helped her become a better dancer, she says. “I love the work I’m doing, and the different people I’ve had opportunities to work with. It’s always a growing experience.”

 

 

 

Career Advice

 

Sarah Daley and Jermaine Terry in Chroma. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy AAADT.

 

Because Sarah Daley’s dance career seems very directed—from an Ailey/Fordham BFA to Ailey II and, for the last three years, at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater—it comes as a surprise that she can be easily bored. “I glaze over when things are the same all the time,” she says, explaining the appeal of Ailey’s wide-ranging repertoire. “I like to explore.” That impulse seems the key to her stage presence, which combines liquid movement, meticulous placement and a serene internal focus. “I’ve realized that to become the kind of dancer I want to be, I require a lot of information,” she says. “I have to do a lot of investigation.”

 

Daley cites working with Wayne McGregor on Ailey’s staging of the choreographer’s Chroma as an example of her process. “He’s right there as you’re doing it, in your face, telling you all these words to think about,” she says. “I’d go home and, on my own, really slowly, let the words he was saying connect to the movement.”

 

“With Sarah, there’s something in each gesture that goes beyond the step. You can tell there’s intellect that’s being transferred.”

—Robert Battle

 

Daley spent her childhood training at the Faubourg School of Ballet in suburban Chicago. “My mom threw me into dance class to get me out of her hair. But once she put me in, I never looked back.” Daley stayed at Faubourg through high school, studying first ballet and then modern and jazz, before moving to New York for college.

 

She arrived in the main company at the same time as artistic director Robert Battle, who praises both her cerebral approach and her versatility. Recently, the 27-year-old has begun getting more prominent roles. In Chroma, for instance, Daley shared a role with Ailey star Alicia Graf Mack. “I think Sarah’s going to continue to surprise us with what she’s able to do,” Battle says. “She has more than possibly even she knows in her arsenal.”

Career Advice

The Trisha Brown dancer takes risks but stays in control.

Some dancers have their careers fall into place. Not Tara Lorenzen. The pixie-like dancer auditioned three times over half a dozen years before landing her dream job at the Trisha Brown Dance Company. “I loved the work so much,” she says. “I’d never seen dancers like that. Ethereal, cool, all doing the same thing but each very much an individual. But there was something in me that hadn’t matured. Maybe I hadn’t come to an understanding of it yet.”

Lorenzen first tried out for the company right after she graduated from the BFA program at SUNY Purchase in 2005. But she then took herself out of contention when she was invited to be in Merce Cunningham’s repertory understudy group. The second time, a couple of years later, she nearly made the final cut.

 

But it wasn’t until the third time around, in 2011, that everything clicked. “She immediately stood out,” says associate artistic director Diane Madden. The company was looking for a versatile partner—“both being lifted and lifting,” Madden says. “Tara’s small and she’s strong, and very capable. She’s a risk taker, but not in a reckless way—she’s in control of her body.”

 

Lorenzen’s dancing flows naturally in Brown’s choreography. Her movement is both liquid and precise; it seems organic. She started dancing when she was 2 after her mother found a ballet studio in Winchester, Virginia, a half-hour drive away from the family’s home in Summit Point, West Virginia. Gennadi and Susan Vostrikov taught classes on the raked stage of an old church. “It was bizarre,” Lorenzen says, “but I think it allowed me to understand weight and traveling.”

 

She took classes twice a week, then started attending ballet summer intensive programs, first at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and then at Richmond Ballet. Lorenzen was accepted at SUNY Purchase after applying on the advice of one of her CPYB ballet teachers, Richard Cook, a Purchase faculty member. But instead of training the summer before college, Lorenzen worked as a rafting guide on the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. Rather than arriving at Purchase in peak form ready to dance, “I turned up tan and with scars,” she says.

 

She soon found herself struggling with her ballet classes. “I knew something wasn’t right,” she says. “I was working really hard for something that wasn’t going to work in the long run. I was short; I was kind of wild—and there’s an identity associated with being a ballerina that just didn’t work for me.”

 

Finally, her sophomore composition teacher, Kazuko Hirabayashi, steered her to the Merce Cunningham studio. “She told me that I wasn’t going to be a ballerina,” Lorenzen says. “I did a summer intensive there, and I fell in love with it.” It was the path she needed to the next phase of her dancing. “It’s such a clear technique,” Lorenzen says, “and within that clarity, there’s so much room to be incredibly virtuosic. And that was perfect for me.”

 

Soon after her graduation, Cunningham asked her to be in the company’s repertory understudy group, which he would use to develop new work while his company was on tour. “When the company came back, we would hand the work over to them. It was heartbreaking,” she says. “But I was able to have this amazing relationship with that man, and that was worth what I gave up.”

 

After two years, she says, it became clear to her that she wasn’t going to get a slot in Cunningham’s full-time company. After auditions for the Trisha Brown Dance Company, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane, and Shen Wei, she was almost ready to give up dance when Trisha Brown alum Stephen Petronio offered her a job; she remained with his company for three years.

 

When she finally returned to Trisha Brown in 2011, it was as an apprentice, and her initial job was to sit next to Brown and film the improvisation process. She loved the chance to hear Brown’s observations, as well as to finally dance her work. “It’s great to learn to do things you don’t think humans can do,” she jokes.

It took a little while for Lorenzen to shift from the big, full-blown movement that Petronio is known for to the ease and simplicity of Brown’s choreography. “She’s really smart and perceptive,” says Madden. “She welcomed the challenge.”

 

Today Lorenzen feels at home in the movement, and has become one of its most accomplished performers. “She has a very feminine, voluptuous quality,” says Madden, “but there’s also this spunkiness. It’s a really captivating combination. She’s down to earth, but she’s a star.”

Rachel Elson is an NYC-based writer.

Life doesn’t usually work the way it has for Xiaochuan Xie. People don’t give up successful careers in distant countries to pursue—and achieve—their dance dreams in New York City. Now 24, Xie was already a member of a prestigious Chinese dance company, Qianxian Art Theater, when she flew to Beijing to see the Martha Graham Dance Company perform. The program included Graham classics: Appalachian Spring, Chronicle, and Maple Leaf Rag. “I was amazed,” she remembers. “I thought, I need to go there.”


Xie found herself fascinated by the Graham approach. “It’s all about emotions,” says Xie, known to her American colleagues as Chuan. “In Chinese dance you’re like a tool—it’s all for someone else. I realized I had to dance for myself.”


Born and raised in Nanjing, China, Xie was an accidental dancer. She began her studies at 11, when her mother took her to the Nanjing Secondary School for Dance Performance, an academy run by the Chinese military. Xie studied ballet and Chinese classical movement. Morning class began at 6:00 a.m., followed by academic studies and evenings filled with more dance classes.


She graduated at 16 and was accepted into Qianxian, where she danced for the next six years. But after discovering Graham, she had a new goal. The only route for her into the company was through its school. So she applied, and with acceptance in hand, got a visa and moved by herself to New York City in 2009.


She didn’t know a soul in New York, but the Graham classes thrilled her. “Chinese classical dance is all about outside appearance—where my neck was, my hand, my head,” she explains. “All the girls have to be the same.” Graham was a different world altogether. “You have to talk with your heart,” she says.


 As a Graham neophyte, Xie started in beginner classes, but faculty members were soon praising her to Janet Eilber, the company’s artistic director. “You could see how exceptional her technique was,” says Eilber. “She’s so precise and exacting that there’s nothing extra—no decoration to camouflage something she can’t do. ”


At the start of last year, Xie joined Graham’s two-year professional training program and Graham 2 as an apprentice.  Her technique developed rapidly, says Virginie Mécène, director of the Graham School. “Chuan embraces space more now,” she says. “There’s a certain way of using the weight of the body specific to Graham, and she’s matured into it.” Last summer, Xie became a full company member.


 Yet beyond technique, Xie’s charisma lights up audiences. Last spring, in Robert Wilson’s Snow on the Mesa, she was light yet sculptural in her movement quality. She blends an unusual mix of precision and energy, giving each step its full dramatic emphasis.  Her emotional commitment, says Eilber, is what makes Xie a fit with the company. “Chuan is smart, she’s beautiful, she’s got extraordinary technique—and she is able to communicate that inner landscape,” Eilber says. “That is the essence of the Graham world.”



Rachel Elson is a New York writer who frequently writes on the arts.

 

Xie in Diversion of Angels. Photo by George Ballantini, Courtesy Graham.

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