Wendy danced with the Trisha Brown Company in the 1970s and has performed with many other NYC choreographers. Her own group, the Wendy Perron Dance Company, appeared at the Lincoln Center Festival, the Joyce, Danspace Project and other venues in the U.S. and abroad from 1983 to 1997. The documentary film Retracing Steps: American Dance Since Postmodernism profiles Perron along with seven other choreographers. She has taught at many colleges including Bennington and Princeton, has given lectures on dance across the country, and was associate director of Jacob's Pillow in the early '90s. In addition to serving as editor in chief of Dance Magazine from 2004 to 2013, she has written for The New York Times, The Village Voice, Ballet Review and Dance Europe. In 2011 she was inducted into the New York Foundation for the Arts' Hall of Fame and was honored by Dancewave in Brooklyn in 2014. She has been artistic adviser to the Fall for Dance Festival and often adjudicates for Youth America Grand Prix and the American College Dance Festival. Currently she teaches a graduate seminar at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and performs occasionally with Vicky Shick. Her book, Through the Eyes of a Dancer, is a selection of her essays, memoirs, and reviews spanning 40 years.
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Massachusetts is always in flux. Here are some of the new things that greeted me during my visit on July 16.
Moving Still. A stunning exhibit of Lois Greenfield’s latest photos (based on her book of the same title) dazzles the eye in Blake’s Barn until August 28. Director of Preservation Norton Owen has adorned the photos with his own fanciful extensions.
Amy Marshall dancers, photo by Lois Greenfield
Living history. The newly expanded Norton Owen Reading Room is a place to immerse yourself in videos, books and artifacts dating back to the 1930s. Norton told me that the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancers were avidly watching videos of Crystal Pite and of previous performances of their company.
A new director. Already in this first season with director Pamela Tatge, it’s easy to see she is full of energy. She gave a warm, enthusiastic curtain speech before the Hubbard Street show that put the audience in a mood to enjoy and be curious.
Good eats. Two new restaurants, run by a local business, have set up outposts on campus: Haven Café and No. Six Depot with Snack and Coffee Bar. Yum.
The Pillow Store. This year they are selling a T-shirt with a universal message, and, as usual, the biggest stash of dance books and DVDs sold anywhere.
The Dance Interactive site. The site has sprouted new features including a fun (and frequently changing) Guess Game and a selection of playlists grouped around themes like international artists and storytelling duets. Now you can have them sent directly to your email.
And of course, the same old wonderful reasons. When you step onto the Pillow grounds, you are surrounded by dance. The festival offers a fantastic diversity of dance in two theaters and the Inside/Out stage. The School at Jacob’s Pillow gives aspiring dancers a wide array of experiences. Recently I saw Hubbard Street Dance Chicago perform some choice works by Pite, William Forsythe and Alejandro Cerrudo. Coming up is Wendy Whelan’s new project with Brian Brooks and a slew of other tantalizing programs. Click here for the full schedule.
The astonishing thing about the women of New York City Ballet is that even with the retirement of two of the company' most magnificent dancers, the bench of remarkable women is still deep. The six-week winter season that just ended brought this home to me.
Needless to say, I will miss Jenifer Ringer and Janie Taylor enormously. They are both pure poetry, Jenifer in her warmth and joy, and Janie in her mysterious coolness and waiflike sexuality. In the case of Ringer, we can hold onto her a little longer through her terrific book, Dancing Through It. And Taylor will be designing costumes for Tom Gold Dance and for Justin Peck’s upcoming premiere in May.
(Left) Jenifer Ringer in Alexei Ratmansky's Namouna; photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy New York City Ballet. (Right) Janie Taylor in costume for Jerome Robbins' Afternoon of a Faun; photo by Matthew Karas for Dance Magazine.
But it takes only a few nights at the Koch Theater to realize the richness of the remaining top women. And these dancers are onstage a lot. Only the hardiest make it through a season without an injury.
Sara Mearns is a tour de force in Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse a Grande Vitesse. She has an intensity wherein her face and whole body bear down and you simply cannot turn away. But she can also be incredibly light in the floating lifts that Wheeldon has given this interesting ballet. In Balanchine's Union Jack she really does seem like she could command a whole fleet. In Balanchine’s Walpurgisnacht Ballet, she rips into her steps, especially in the finale when she (literally) lets her hair down. Whatever the role, Mearns charges the space around her with electricity.
Sara Mearns in costume for Wheeldon's DGV. Photo by Sarah Silver for Dance Magazine.
Ashley Bouder, another powerhouse, can rev up the heartbeat in Balanchine's Tarantella or Stars and Stripes. This season she seemed to take on a new luxuriousness in the premiere of Liam Scarlett’s Acheron (which I found more interesting on second viewing). In this clip of the Dance Magazine Awards from December, you can see her famously crisp ebullience in Square Dance.
Ashley Bouder in Tarantella. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy New York City Ballet.
Sterling Hyltin is quickly expanding her range. As Spring in Robbins’ Four Seasons, partnered by the supremely classical Tyler Angle, she’s a warm breeze. And she brings a terrific kinetic edge to the zig-zag, stop-start rhythms in Peter Martins’ Calcium Light Night.
Sterling Hyltin in costume for Balanchine's Symphony in Three Movements. Photo by Nathan Sayers for Pointe magazine.
Maria Kowroski is super-strong and sharp in Mauro Bigonzetti’s Vespro, funny and goofy as the Girl in Green in Robbins' Dances at a Gathering. (I wish she had more opportunities to showcase her comedic prowess, which delighted audiences in Wheeldon’s Variations Sérieuses and Stroman’s Double Feature.) In the 2012 gala pieces that Peter Martins made in tribute to Valentino, she was the only dancer who looked naturally elegant in Valentino’s extravagant (and body-obscuring) gowns.
Maria Kowroski in Balanchine's Serenade. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy New York City Ballet.
And Tiler Peck continues to be a paragon of virtues, both musically and dramatically. As the Pink Girl in Dances at a Gathering, she radiates humanity and tenderness. In Preljocaj’s premiere Spectral Evidence, she really made something of the questionable role of an accused witch. As Fall in The Four Seasons, she energizes the whole stage, ending the ballet on a high. And she made a stunning debut this season in the simple but celestial After the Rain duet by Wheeldon.
Tiler Peck in costume for Robbins' The Four Seasons. Photo by Matthew Karas for Dance Magazine.
The strength, power, and subtelty of NYCB’s women makes one eager for the next season—to begin April 29. And stay tuned for a blog on the up-and-coming women of NYCB from Margaret Fuhrer.
It’s well known that the powerful Russian conductor, Valerie Gergiev, looks down on ballet. As general director of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, he has threatened his musicians by saying, “If you play badly, I’ll send you to play for the ballet.” (Ballet Review, Winter 2008/09) Now it seems he is trying to destroy Russian ballet at its very foundation: the legendary Vaganova Ballet Academy.
Gergiev wants to combine the Mariinsky Ballet and the affiliated school, the Vaganova Academy, and have them both under his own control. The longtime rector of the Vaganova Ballet Academy, Vera Dorofeeva, wrote a letter objecting to this plan. She refused to let him take over the school’s space. Then, on October 28, culture minister Vladimir Medinsky announced that the former Bolshoi dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze is now acting rector of the Academy, supplanting Dorofeeva. And that Uliana Lopatkina, who is still performing as a Mariinsky principal, will be the artistic director, replacing the supremely lovely, devoted, and smart Altynai Asylmuratova. No one at the academy was given any advance notice.
The "acting" rector of the Vaganova Academy: Nikolai Tsiskaridze
Tsiskaridze is often referred to as a Bolshoi star, but his flamboyant, sloppy performances with Kings of Dance have been markedly devoid of starlight. He has, however, attracted another kind of media attention by constantly criticizing the Bolshoi on television and elsewhere. Bolshoi general director Anatoly Iksanov accused him of fomenting the kind of negativity that made the tragic acid-throwing attack on Sergei Filin possible. For his constant negativity, Tsiskaridze's contract with the Bolshoi was not renewed by Iksanov. And then Iksanov lost his job. They've been dropping like dominos.
Tsiskaridze has friends in very high places, and they’ve found him this new job. Although he is known to be a good coach, I can’t imagine a worse person to oversee this great school. He seems to ooze negative energy and an outsized narcissism. Many are outraged.
Diana Vishneva, the most famous of the Vaganova grads still performing, courageously spoke out against the appointment: “The rector of the Vaganova Academy needs to be a person who has the necessary education for this. It should not be forgotten that this is a school for children and its leader should be morally irreproachable.”
Diana Vishneva in La Bayadère (right)
Mariinsky soloist Ilya Kuznetsov has also spoken out, saying that by removing Dorafeeva and Asylmuratova, "the bureaucrats have ripped out the heart and soul of the academy." He’s circulating a petition that calls the appointment “legally unauthorized…and harmful to the fate of the Academy.” He threatened to quit, but has now thrown his hat in the ring to compete with Tsiskaridze for the permanent position as rector.
Ilya Kuznetsov (left)
To remind you of the storied past of the Vaganova, it produced many of the greatest dancers in the world: Pavlova, Ulanova, Balanchine, Baryshnikov, Makarova, Asylmuratova, Kondaurova, and most recently Smirnova. I was fortunate to attend the Vaganova’s 275th year celebration.
I remember very well that when I interviewed Tsiskaridze a few years ago he showed disdain for both St. Petersburg and the Mariinsky Ballet.
According to trusted British source Ismene Brown, who translates from Russian media coverage, the firings were a “fee” for Gergiev’s promise to not subsume the Vaganova and Mariinsky together.
At the press conference, attended by many teachers, Tsiskaridze assured the teachers that the Academy will maintain its independence. Dorofeeva announced that she agreed to leave her job at Vaganova only on the condition that the school would remain independent.
But just today culture minister Medinsky suggested another sort of merger: that Tsiskaridze would combine Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet School and St. Petersburg’s Vaganova Academy into one organization.
How could all this be happening? How could there be so little oversight or discussion of this takeover? The New York–based Russian producer Val Golovitser says, “Gergiev is a friend of President Putin so he has a green light for everything.”
Gergiev’s previous idea was to merge the Vaganova Academy with St. Petersburg’s music conservatory and art institute. Alex Ross, writing in The New Yorker, says the problem with Gergiev is his “worldly power.” His annual income is about $16.5 million—at a time when Mariinsky dancers are famously underpaid. Ross contends that Gergiev is stretched thin and the quality of his performances is getting spotty.
Gergiev claims that the Vaganova Academy is no longer producing dancers of the highest standards. So his solution is to replace all those in leadership.
But noted dance photographer Nina Alovert, a Russian émigré since 1977, said that the lower number of outstanding graduates is due to a larger cultural shift. “The Ballet in Soviet times was very popular," she explained in an email. "The theaters in Soviet Russia replaced the church, especially the ballet. The ballet was the keeper of morality and beauty. Also, dancers at that time were privileged people: They could travel to the West, see the world, buy fancy clothes, and have international recognition. Now, people can go to the West more easily. Parents prefer for their children not to have so difficult a life, especially the boys. They would like to see their boys as businessmen or something like this. The less boys in the school, the less possibility to have talented students. The girls are still coming to the school.”
Asylmuratova’s counter accusation is that Gergiev has neglected the ballet. While the Mariinsky Opera has had eight premieres in the last year or so, the ballet has had none. And that some of the Academy's best graduates are going over to the Bolshoi and other companies, where the conditions are better.
Dorofeeva says the real reason Gergiev is trying to take control is that he wants to use the Vaganova building, which she and Asyluratova have resisted. Alovert says, “I think Gergiev hopes that Tsiskaridze will be more flexible.”
The crazy part (or one of the crazy parts) to me is that Tsiskaridze, in order to keep up the pretense that he has been put in charge for artistic reasons, says he plans to hire teachers more familiar with current styles. But in the past he has lambasted the Bolshoi for being too influenced by contemporary styles outside of Russia and ignoring the great Yuri Grigorovich. He claimed that other countries are laughing at Russia for not using this national treasure more. Perhaps Tsiskaridze hasn’t noticed that very few other ballet company outside of Russia have asked for a Grigorovich ballet. (The choreographer's Ivan the Terrible performed by Paris Opéra Ballet in 2003 is available on a Naxos DVD.)
Tsiskaridze has another rival in Alexei Fomkin, currently the Vaganova’s well respected vice rector. The author of a hefty book on the Vaganova technique, Fomkin is the person who opened the Vaganova archives to Elizabeth Kendall for her terrific book, Balanchine and the Lost Muse, about the choreographer’s time as a student at the Academy. Kendall told me that she sent a letter of support to Fomkin, expressing her respect for what the Vaganova Academy has accomplished under the Asylmuratova/Dorofeeva/Fomkin leadership.
The Academic Council will meet at the end of this month to set a date for the election for a permanent rector. According to Academy rules, all the faculty will get to vote. I am hoping that Tsiskaridze's well-placed friends will find him a more appropriate job, and that Gergiev will leave the Vaganova Academy alone.
I think Anna Halprin is immortal. She was there before the beginning and will be there after the end. The beginning of what? Of postmodern dance, or improvisation as performance, of collaborating with wild artists in other fields, of dancing to heal communities.
She still has energy, insight, and curiosity. In this “Teacher’s Wisdom” she recalled how when she studied anatomy, human muscles looked like fish to her. She also talks about the need for each of us to integrate our polarities, our opposites, and become part of an environment.
We can see her in action in a wonderful documentary on her called Breath Made Visible. I wrote about the film in this blog post, in which I said that Halprin is a national treasure.
The photo above is from a piece Halprin choreographed called Prophetess in 1955, probably performed at the ANTA Theater in NYC. She told me that she was rehearsing in Martha Graham’s studio, and Graham helped her make the headress. And it turned out that they were both prophetesses.
Long Live Anna Halprin! —Wendy Perron
Photo: Anna Halprin, 1955, by Imogen Cunningham from Dance Magazine Archives, reprinted with permission of Imogen Cunningham Trust, at www.imogencunningham.com