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.
A radiant person onstage and off, former New York City Ballet star Joaquin De Luz is shifting from being in the spotlight to giving back. After training with famed teacher Víctor Ullate, the Spanish dancer moved to the U.S. at 20, dancing with American Ballet Theatre for six years before alighting at NYCB in 2003, where he gave his final performance last fall. This month, he returns home to Madrid to take the reins at Compañía Nacional de Danza, a company of 50 dancers that gives 85 performances a year.
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
New Yorkers are getting revved to see this company, which hasn’t come to the U.S. in 16 years. We know they are elegant, refined, and highly technical. But isn't that true of any ballet company? What, really, sets them apart? Most of the dancers come right out of the POB school, but what does that training emphasize? It’s not the Balanchine style of moving large and fast; it’s not the big bravura leaps of the Bolshoi or the ethereal port de bras of the Mariinsky (Kirov) Ballet. What does POB have that's unique?
We do know that Paris Opéra Ballet has incredible étoiles, which is a source of excitement in itself. As artistic director Brigitte Lefèvre says about the étoiles in our cover story on Marie-Agnès Gillot: “They have something from the au-delà [the other world], at the same time beautiful and fragile.”
POB in Pina Bausch's Orpheus and Eurydice. Photo courtesy Lincoln Center Festival.
I will be indulging in étoile-watching this week when POB comes to Lincoln Center Festival. (And by the way, Gillot really is a special creature on the stage.) But I will also be looking to see if I can discern a POB style. Stay tuned for my blog on this, and for dance historian Lynn Garafola’s review, which will be posted on our reviews page after the season is over.
POB in Maurice Bejart's Boléro. Photo courtesy Lincoln Center Festival.
The opening image of Trisha Brown’s Astral Converted is one of the most stunning of any postmodern piece. Are the silvery figures on the floor fish? Are they mechanics? Are they angels lined up in a row? In any case, each move they make is detected by motion sensors on Robert Rauschenberg’s industrial towers, thereby affecting John Cage’s music. Astral Converted (originally Astral Convertible) is now being revived, thanks to a residency on Governors Island through River to River that includes workshops and talks. Performances are July 10–14 at the Park Avenue Armory. www.trishabrowncompany.org
Diane Madden and Greg Lara in Astral Converted. Photo by Lois Greenfield, Courtesy TBDC.
More from River to River
The River to River festival produces the kind of event that makes the Big Apple fun in the summer months. This year it gives young choreographers a chance to retool finished works to fit into an outdoor site in the city. The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, which organizes the festival, is great at finding street corners, alleyways, and parks that you never thought were danceable. Watch for performances by Maria Hassabi, Juliana May, and Beth Gill. Also keep an eye out for River to River’s Tap It Out day at the World Financial Center and JoAnna Mendl Shaw’s installation on Governors Island. www.lmcc.net
STREB at last year’s River to River festival. Photo by Godlis, Courtesy LMCC.
Back to Where He’s Never Been
Sweet, silly, and sly, Al Blackstone’s infectious girl-meets-boy romp, Brown Eyed Girl, swept the Capezio A.C.E. Awards last summer at the Dance Teacher Summit. He returns this month with Happy We’ll Be, a new 75-minute show in the style of musical theater with a cast of 15. The story is told through movement, he says, “almost like a silent film.” For Blackstone the venue has special significance: His parents used to dance the night away at Roseland before he was born. Happy We’ll Be heads the series of A.C.E. Awards shows that includes 2011 runners-up Nathan Makolandra and Billy Bell. July 26–30 at Roseland Ballroom. www.roselandballroom.com or www.alblackstone.net
Al Blackstone. Photo by Jeremy Davis, Courtesy Blackstone.
Get Dance Magazine in your inbox
A favorite dancer in the U. S. since 1995, Angel Corella will retire from American Ballet Theatre this spring. Audiences have been elated by his exuberance, his astounding leaps and pirouettes, and his warmth in classical roles from the Slave in Le Corsaire to all the prince roles. He has also created roles in works by Tharp, Wheeldon, Stanton Welch, and Mark Morris. Companies where he has been a guest artist include the Kirov Ballet, The Royal Ballet, The Australian Ballet, and La Scala.
In Dance Magazine's cover story on him in November 1995 (cover below), Elizabeth Kaye wrote: "In class other dancers gather around him when he does 20 pirouettes from a single preparation."
For his farewell performance on June 28, he will dance Swan Lake with Paloma Herrera. (I hope Nina Ananiashvili comes to his farewell, because I have a fabulous memory of Corella at her farewell.)
Corella will continue to lead Corella Ballet, both as artistic director and as principal dancer. The company, now known as Barcelona Ballet, appears at NY City Center, April 17–20.
At Dia:Beacon this weekend, Trisha Brown placed her Group Primary Accumulations with Movers into the Michael Heizer Gallery, whose floor has four huge, deep canyons carved into it. The four women were lying on their backs serenely performing the simple, sensual accumulation: lift the right arm from the elbow; do it again and then lift the left arm from the shoulder; do that again and brush your hair behind your ear. And on and on.
Soon each woman was interrupted by two men who picked her up and carried her to a new spot. She did not look at her new surroundings but blithely continued her sequence, hoping they haven’t placed her too close to those canyons. The audience stood behind plexiglass barriers because nobody wants visitors falling into big deep holes. From where we stood, we could not see through to the bottom. I wondered how I would feel being carried to who-knows-where and it could be near a precipice. Trust is key.
Another amazing spectacle was seeing Figure 8 (which I used to perform when I was with Trisha’s company in the 1970s) strung out in the very long, Walter de Maria gallery with eight dancers instead of the usual five. This time it was Serenity in the Face of Higher Math. With the right arm they are counting 1; 1,2; 1,2,3, etc, while the left is counting 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 etc. with the simple motion of bringing the fingertips to the top of the head. It’s a diabolical coordination, done to metronome—with eyes closed. Diane Madden, rooted in place, led the group (though with all eyes closed, there was no such thing as following).
Opal Loop, as I’ve said in a previous blog, is a beautiful essay on seeing and not seeing, and bringing nature to the stage. And have I mentioned that Dia: Beacon is an ideal place to see Trisha’s work—both its huge, daylit indoor spaces and the surrounding grounds.
The novelty of the day was that Trisha herself danced. At 73, she is lithe but fragile. She slowly intertwined limbs with one female dancer at a time. It was moving to see how each of the four dancers interacted with Trisha and supported her gamely, inventively, and lovingly.
I am not sure what happens on this day, but let's all think about dance together. We think about it all the time anyway.
Every year on this day, a different well-known dance artist writes a message toâ€¦everyone. Todayâ€™s International Dance Day Message is byâ€¨Julio Bocca:
"Dance is discipline, work, teaching, communication. With it we save on words that perhaps others would not understand and, instead, we establish a universal language familiar to everyone. It gives us pleasure, it makes us free and it comforts us from the impossibility we humans have to fly like birds, bringing us closer to heaven, to the sacred, to the infinite.
It is a sublime art, different each time, so much like making love that at the end of each performance it leaves our heart beating very hard and looking forward to the next time." (translated from the Spanishâ€¨by Marcia De La Garza)Â
UNESCO and the International Dance Committee of the International Theater Institute started International Dance Day in 1982, choosing April 29 to mark the birthday of Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810), the great-grandfather of ballet as we know it.Â
The Joyce, NYC
April 6–11, 2010
Reviewed by Wendy Perron
Colin Connor's Vestiges. Photo by Aaron Sutten, Courtesy Richmond Ballet.
While other companies scramble to acquire works by the hottest choreographers, Richmond Ballet has quietly commissioned a number of pieces that have endured. The company brought six of these to New York. (Program A presented works by artistic director Stoner Winslett, Jessica Lang, and Mauricio Wainrot.) If there was an overall theme of Program B, it was that men and women need each other to get through hard times—or just to feel whole.
Val Caniparoli’s Violin opens with five men in a circle with one arm stretched on a high diagonal, wrist bent like a hairpin. A lone, ignored woman in dimness outside the circle walks downstage and off right. The men are strong, grounded, and lifted. The next section, for the women, is lighter and swifter. Wonderful duets ensue, with intricate lifts where the men sometimes take a step back to arch deliciously and send out that one arm with hairpin wrist. That motif, which at first expresses strength, curiosity, and idiosyncrasy, was repeated way too many times. But Violin was well-crafted and, like other Caniparoli works, had a satisfying coherence. Naturally the piece ended with the men and women together in the circle, blending qualities.
William Soleau’s Misa Criolla (titled after Argentine composer Ariel Ramirez’s music) focused on a central couple that seemed to be mourning—perhaps for the loss of a child. The four other couples engaged in spirited partnering, making good use of some benches. Misa Criolla had a more gracious, earthy quality than Violin but was less inventive. With the muted colors, women’s long skirts, and Latino choral music, the piece seemed influenced by Nacho Duato.
The pace stepped up for Vestiges, by Colin Connor, to pulsating music by Michael Nyman. Phillip Skaggs dashed on from stage right to left, stopping dead in his tracks to stare at a circle of light on the floor. Other dancers raced in, building the kinetic excitement. Again, in this ballet, the women helped the men out of whatever trouble they were in. At the end, all the dancers ran through that very circle of light that had stopped them cold in the beginning.
In this highly professional company, a few dancers stood out magnificently. Maggie Small positively glowed, no matter how small or large her movement was. Thomas Garrett, with his long and energetic body, sliced through space with flair. Skaggs, who was not especially articulate in Violin, sizzled in Vestiges.
Did you ever see a ballet so fascinating that you couldn't wait to see it again, only to realize it dropped out of that company's repertoire?
I've had this happen several times at New York City Ballet and found myself hungering and wondering: Where did that ballet go? When will I get a chance to see it again? Sometimes I feel like I have to wait years for it to come around again.
Sean Suozzi, Tiler Peck, Andrew Veyette and Megan LeCrone in Oltremare. Photo © Paul Kolnik
Well, this spring some of my favorite recent ballets are coming back, and it will be worth the wait. All of them were made after 1988, and some appeared only briefly before they disappeared from sight. So I am officially welcoming them back.
Here's the scoop: NYCB's fantastically ambitious Spring Season crams 50 ballets into six weeks, from April 18 to May 28. The middle four weeks are devoted to the Here/Now Festival and that's where we'll see some of these highly unusual ballets. The season also includes world premieres by (who else?) Justin Peck and Alexei Ratmansky. Those two plus Christopher Wheeldon will each have a whole program devoted to them. This is a rare tribute because a one-choreographer program is usually only accorded to the giants: Balanchine and Robbins.
The 22 choreographers and 43 ballets represented in Here/Now include Peter Martins, Pontus Lidberg and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa as well as newcomers like Robert Binet, Lauren Lovette and Myles Thatcher.
Now I'll cut to the chase—at least the chase of my personal faves. I tend to like ballets that take us off the beaten track:
- Mauro Bigonzetti's Oltremare (2008) transformed the stage into a place for immigrants to look for a home, love fiercely and fight fiercely. It gave Tiler Peck, Georgina Pazcoguin, Andrew Veyette and others a chance to hurl themselves at their partners in the most astonishing lifts. It's been out of the rep since 2009.
Sterling Hyltin and Joseph Gordon in Neverwhere, photo ©Paul Kolnik
- Every fall gala now matches up a choreographer with a fashion designer, and some of these commissions fade from memory pretty soon. But Benjamin Millepied's Neverwhere (2013) stood out as being daringly strange and super contemporary in its sculptural look. Dutch designer Iris van Herpen concocted layers of shiny black flakes that crackled when the dancers moved. Plus, she invented plastic pointe-shoe boots that made Sterling Hyltin's legs look like tentacles.
- Jorma Elo's Slice to Sharp—last seen in 2009—received an immediate standing ovation at its premiere in 2006. The dancers blazed through super complex moves punctuated with a voguing kind of flair. With its high-wattage density and speed, it's kinetically exhilarating in a way that no other NYCB choreography is.
- The oldest of all these ballets is the slinky Herman Schmerman (Pas de Deux) by William Forsythe (1992). A prototype of gender-bending for our age, it's been out of the rep for three years. I will be curious to see who can carry off the studied cool, the subtle irony and the highly stylized choreography that Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans brought to life.
Here are a couple of ballets we haven't had to wait long for, but I will be happy to see anyway:
- Pictures at an Exhibition (2014), Ratmansky's piece to Mussorgsky's famous music, did not have an overarching narrative, but each scene was evocative: the gnome, the old castle, the ballet of “unhatched chicks." It challenged dancers like Sara Mearns and Amar Ramasar to go beyond their emotional comfort zones. With a shifting backdrop of Kandinsky's Color Study: Squares with Concentric Circles, it showed how an abstract dance can be dramatically stirring.
Daniel Ulbricht, airborne, in Rodeo, photo © Paul Kolnik
- Justin Peck's Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes (2015) was deemed a hit right away. Part of the awe is that he took a super familiar piece of music, Aaron Copland's Rodeo, which was made for Agnes de Mille's landmark ballet of the same title, and completely re-envisioned it. Peck's version of Rodeo has energy, humor, masterful form and Daniel Ulbricht dashing across the stage to wake us up.
Sara Mearns, center, in Jeux, photo © Paul Kolnik
- In 2015, Danish choreographer Kim Brandstrup created a surreal version of Nijinsky's Jeux that projected an ominous feeling of danger. Sara Mearns, blindfolded and bewildered but up for a party game, finds herself entering a Kafkaesque realm of ambiguity while Adrian Danchig-Waring dribbles a basketball.
At City Ballet, Balanchine and Robbins are our old friends. The Here/Now Festival brings us new friends that we want to get to know better.
In last week’s all-Robbins program at New York City Ballet, we got a slice of his many terrific ballets, each one unique in its boldness. The triple bill at Lincoln Center included the beautifully crafted Glass Pieces; the intense—and intensely silent—Moves; and the hilarious romp The Concert (or, The Perils of Everybody).
Sterling Hyltin in Jerome Robbins' The Concert, photo © Paul Kolnik
It is this last one I want to talk about. Everything about The Concert is a delight, from the onstage pianist (played with delicious frumpiness by Elaine Chelton) to the guffaw-inducing “Mistake Waltz,” to the poignant umbrella scene.
The basic “plot” of this 1956 ballet is that various characters straggle in to listen to a concert pianist playing Chopin, and they are each in their own private world. Last week Sterling Hyltin played the starring role, the loopy lady with ballerina fantasies, to the hilt. Carried away by the beautiful music, she is the gateway to a string of brilliantly wacky episodes.
Hyltin in The Concert, photo © Paul Kolnik
The role was made for Tanaquil LeClercq, the glamorous French dancer who was married to Balanchine in the 50s. But it has also been done—with comedic flair—in different decades by Allegra Kent, Stephanie Saland and Maria Kowroski.
I asked Saland what she remembers about dancing this role when Robbins was still alive. (She was with NYCB from 1972 to 1993, the last nine years as principal, and is now a master teacher in Seattle.)
Stephanie Saland in an undated photo © Daniel Sorine
“He called it the mad ballerina role,” she said. “The comedic aspects only work when we do not play to the joke, but believe her thoroughly. It was so much fun, although Jerry was phenomenally particular about timing, especially with comedic work.”
While coaching her in the scene where she gets chased by the cigar-chomping, two-timing husband, Robbins told her to watch Maya Plisetskaya on video. He wanted Saland to capture that silent-movie style of drama, with big eyes and exaggerated gestures.
Her favorite scene was when her character tries on different hats. “Jerry was very precise about where you look and when you slump with disappointment. And when they put the ridiculous fluffy blue hat on you, you just know it’s right for you.” Saland says she actually started making her own hats after dancing the role.
Hyltin, on the other hand, says in this charming clip from NYCB that the hat-changing scene was the most difficult for her.
The Concert is widely recognized as the funniest ballet ever made. It’s been in the repertories of Pacific Northwest Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet and more. Needless to say, it requires dancers who have a knack for comedy, and they are hard to come by. But when it clicks, everyone in the audience and onstage become deliriously happy.
I always have a great time judging for Youth America Grand Prix. Having just returned from the San Francisco venue, I write this while it’s still fresh in my mind. Here are the reasons:
Michelle Lin, 11, winner of Hope Award, all photos @ VAM Productions
I get to see a lot of young people dance and know that their families support their passion. This is not the case everywhere in the world. We are fortunate.
When we judges fill in the score sheet, I can tell each participant something more personal than just the checklist or the percentage points. Even though we only have about 90 seconds to watch the dancer, check off the attributes and give scores for artistry and technique, there is still room to write a couple sentences saying what we appreciate in their work and where we think they could improve.
I get to hang out with other judges, who are fun, dedicated people in ballet and other forms of dance. This time I worked with dance professionals I’d never met before, like the wonderful Pascal Molat, who was for years my favorite male dancer with San Francisco Ballet; ballroom/Salsa expert Paul Barris; Peter Merz, director of Ballet West Academy; ballet-turned-commercial dancer Brittany O'Connor; and former Pacific Northwest Ballet star Carla Körbes, whom I haven’t seen since her new life with L. A. Dance Project. Colleagues I had shared the judging table with before included Kelly Boal from PNB School; Peter Stark, associate director of Boston Ballet II; former ABT soloist Gennadi Saveliev; and the fabulous Karine Plantadit, former Ailey and Tharp dancer.
I get to hear Russian spoken a lot, which is a language I happen to love. When co-directors Gennadi and Larissa Saveliev and all their helpers speak Russian, it goes too fast for me to really understand but I just love being around the language.
Elizabeth Nip, 12, 2nd place in contemporary, junior division
I can watch classes taught by people I don't usually get a chance to see. Plantadit was a torrent of crazy energy that challenged the dancers every which way. And Molat, a supreme example of the opposing forces that gives dance its texture, was a pleasure to behold. The wide array of classes at any YAGP venue gives participants an experience that is about learning rather than winning.
Jonacy Montero, 14, 1st place, men's classical, junior divison
At the awards ceremony, I love hearing the students cheer each other when the winners of each category are announced. This is not just polite acknowledgement, but loud and long yelling, hooting and whistling. I would say there is often more camaraderie than competitiveness at YAGP.
The ensemble category is always nourishing because the dancers learn what it means to dance together. Sometimes it’s just about patterns in space, other times its about a community, or a folk spirit. In San Francisco, one group was so fierce in its confrontation of tragic violence that I was in tears.
There is still a problem with the “contemporary” category slipping into mere acrobatics especially when the solos are recycled from regional competitions that give points for contortionist positions. What we value at YAGP is the quality of the dancing. Do they love dancing? Does the artistry come through? Are they expressing their true selves, or just doing the steps? In every city, in every season, the contestants who dance from their soul radiate light and you cannot miss them.
Many dancers dream of performing onstage with the one they love. But only a few of us get to do exactly that. Here are three couples of different genres who dance together, live together and work together.
Tiler Peck & Robert Fairchild
Tiler and Robbie are New York City Ballet stars who tied the knot in 2014. He came to more widespread fame in 2015 when he brought his smooth dancing and charisma to An American in Paris on Broadway, and she received a 2016 Dance Magazine Award for a decade of supreme musicality and verve. They’ve also been busy making seven debuts at Vail International Dance Festival. They got together as teenagers at the School of American Ballet, the school affiliated with NYCB, but drifted apart. Five years ago they reunited and have been devoted to each other ever since—while also devoted to dance.
Photos of Fairchild and Peck are by Matthew Karas.
Robbie: “It feels like you’re holding your best friend’s hand, your life partner, the one you couldn’t see yourself without. It just feels second nature.”
Tiler: “It doesn’t feel normal for us to walk side by side if I’m not holding his hand.”
Kirven Douthit-Boyd and Antonio Douthit-Boyd
Antonio and Kirven got together about 12 years ago while on tour as lead dancers with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. They wed in June 2013, two years after same-sex marriage became legal in New York. In 2015, they moved to St. Louis, Antonio’s hometown, to become co-artistic directors of the dance program at Center of Creative Arts (COCA). (See their cover story in Dance Teacher last fall.)
Photos of the Douthit-Boyds are by Matthew Karas.
Antonio: “We didn’t know marriage was an option but we definitely knew we wanted to be together forever.”
Kirven: “I think that the way society views same-sex marriage has come a long way. I don’t think it’s evolved as fully as possible, but I do think there have been a lot of great changes. The fact that I can love this man and marry this man and live my life with him is an amazing thing.”
Antonio: “When Kirven and I first started dating, we used to walk down the street and our hands would graze each other and I was like, ‘Oh you just wanna hold my hand.’ When I got to New York in 1999 or 2000, you never saw two men or two women holding hands going down the street, and now it’s like second nature…To think where we’ve come, from ’99 to 2014 is a huge milestone.”
Kwikstep & Rokafella
Gabriel Kwikstep Dionisio and Ana Rokafella Garcia are pioneers of hip-hop as a concert dance form. They met in 1991 while dancing in the street. Together in ’97 they started Full Circle Productions, a collective that brings the positive message of hip-hop culture to schools, universities and stages worldwide. They married in 2000—he proposed to her onstage at Hostos Community College in the Bronx— and have since appeared in music videos, commercials and print ads. Through their teaching and outreach programs, they are mentoring the next generation.
Photos of Kwikstep and Rokafella by Julieta Cervantes.
Kwik: "When we hug or kiss or hold hands, it is healing our Battle wounds, so it’s special and not routine."
Rok: "Because I am a woman in hip-hop I must stand on my own and he has to let me do that… thankfully he knows when to hold me."
(Photographs and quotes are taken from a shoot for a Forevermark public relations campaign in 2014.)
Happy Valentine’s Day!
The new documentary, Mr. Gaga, portrays the life and work of Ohad Naharin, director of Israel's Batsheva Dance Company and one of the most influential choreographers of our time. The film, directed by Tomer Heymann and produced by his brother Barak, is full of humor, pathos and swatches of startling choreography. Brilliantly edited to reveal connections between family and profession, hard dancing and playfulness, it shows clips from recent works like Hora (2009), Sadeh21 (2011), The Hole (2013) and Last Work (2015) as well as earlier works like Tabula Rasa (1986), Sinking of the Titanic (1989) and Anaphase (1993). We hear insights from choreographers Reggie Wilson and Gina Buntz and one of Naharin's early teachers, Judith Brin Ingber (former Dance Magazine editor and author of Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance.)
The rehearsal process is sometimes harsh, but the film is ultimately very moving. The glue that holds it together is Naharin's voice and the scenes where he's coaching the dancers. Anyone who has taken a Gaga class from Naharin will recognize some of these bon mots from the film:
- "The more you let go of everything in your body all at once, the softness of your flesh will protect you."
The Hole, a site specific work
- "The idea of physical pleasure from physical activity was totally part of how I conceive myself as being alive."
- "I was lucky that I started my formal dance training so late—at the age of 22— so I was a lot more connected to the animal I am."
- "Many times when I dance, I connect to feminine forces, forces that create availability to both yielding and explosiveness, to both delicacy and aggressiveness."
Naharin with daughter Noga
- "What is unique about gaga is the demand to listen to our body before we tell it what to do and the understanding that we must go beyond the familiar limits on a daily basis."
- "Now I don't separate any more the interpretation of the dancers from the act of choreographing. The act of choreography is also the act of helping my dancers to interpret my work."
- "To mourn a big loss and to dance—they don't contradict each other. It's like they live in the same space. I really believe in the power of dance to heal."
Everyone loves Ryan Gosling in La La Land. His character is passionate about music, he falls for Emma Stone and he's sensitively torn between the musician's life of touring and staying in Hollywood with her. He even seamlessly slips into the dance numbers, helping La La Land win seven Golden Globe Awards including one for Gosling. And last week he was nominated for an Oscar.
But do we really think he's a dancer? For me, he did a good job as an amateur dancer (whereas his piano playing looked totally professional). But, he added the kind of touches where the dancing helps tell the story.
I didn't think of him as a fully trained dancer. But then I saw this clip of him as a 12-year old, posted by Huffington Post, and it changed my mind.
Wow, he's got the moves! As a competition kid growing up in Canada, he was the only boy in his local studio—nothing new there. But you can see that he's got the energy, the style, and that extra something that makes you keep watching. His face is so full of joy that it's hard to square with the quizzical deadpan he's cultivated as a movie star. And, well, maybe he's lost some of his dance chops since then—not unusual for a young man who got busy doing other things.
The BBC's Graham Norton Show found the clip and interviewed him about it—after speaking with a few other celebs, including Emma Stone. If you are one of the many who have a soft spot for Gosling, you'll love this.
Yvonne Rainer in Three Seascapes (1962), photo by Al Giese
It’s well known that postmodern dance started in the early 1960s with a burst of experimentation by a rag-tag group of rebels called Judson Dance Theater in Greenwich Village. They broke with the expressionism of Martha Graham and the theme-and-variations structure of Doris Humphrey. They walked, they ran, they touched the earth and fell onto each other. They aligned with Minimalist artists and musicians in their wish to strip down to essentials—in fact many of the musicians and artists made their own dances. They were all influenced by Merce Cunningham and John (any-sound-can-be-music) Cage, but developed their own styles. And that's how modern dance morphed into postmodern dance.
What is less known is how much of this revolution was influenced by Anna Halprin in the Bay Area. It was Halprin, now 96, on her mountainside outdoor deck in 1960, who developed improvisation as a method of research as well as performance. Many of the pioneers of postmodern dance, including Yvonne Rainer, Simone Forti and Trisha Brown, had studied with Halprin. (And guess what—so did Murray Louis!) They learned to improvise, commune with nature and engage in everyday tasks rather than make polished theatrical dances. They performed on the beach, in parks and in church basements.
Anna Halprin's Branch Dance, c. 1957. From left: A.A. Leath, Halprin, Forti, photo by Warner Jepson
This coming week, an exhibit and conference at UC Santa Barbara seeks to reset that balance. Titled “Radical Bodies: Anna Halprin, Simone Forti, and Yvonne Rainer in California and New York, 1955–1972,” it displays more than 150 rare photos, scores and other artifacts as well as excerpts of films from that period. You can watch clips of Halprin’s famous Parades and Changes (1965), Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A with Flags (1966, 1970) and Simone Forti’s wildly careening Roller Boxes (1960).
Dance Magazine cover, Nov. 1966, on Halprin''s experiments in the environment
How do I know all this? Well, I am one of three co-curators, and I find the '60s era fascinating and inspiring. I invite everyone to attend either the conference and performances or the exhibit, which continues until April 30. The exhibit comes to the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center May 24 to Sept. 16, 2017.
We never know where our heroes will come from.
On January 10, the Bessie Awards held an event at LaMama theatre, where Phoebe Pearl, the Rockette who spoke out against dancing at the Inauguration, appeared. Pearl remains the only current Rockette to speak publicly under her real name, and the dance community responded to her courage.
In an emotional speech, she said that chose not to perform at the inauguration, and that she was just standing up for human rights. She then toasted the first amendment, to the cheers of about a hundred people in the dance community.
Phoebe Pearl speaking at a Bessies event, photo by Heather Robles
I’m sure you know the story by now. Just before Christmas, the Rockettes learned they would be performing at this Friday's Presidential Inauguration. Donald Trump, who has bragged about sexual assault and entered dressing rooms at beauty pageants he owned to “inspect” the women, will soon be inaugurated as president. Many entertainers have refused to perform, but the Rockettes will be there, a decision made by their owner, Madison Square Garden.
In December, Pearl posted a complaint on Instagram, saying she was “embarrassed and disappointed” at the prospect of performing at the Inauguration. Because of the reaction, she had to change her Instagram settings to private. Another Rockette, using the pseudonym Mary, was quoted in Marie Claire and other publications: “It's the people in our wardrobe and hair department, some of whom are transgender. These are our friends and our family, who we've worked with for years. It's a basic human-rights issue. We have immigrants in the show. I feel like dancing for Trump would be disrespecting the men and women who…we care about."
James Dolan, executive chair of MSG, and the dancers’ union, American Guild of Variety Artists, eventually came to an agreement that any of the dancers could opt out of the performance—that went for both the full-time Rockettes (of which there are about 13) and the many more who are brought in just for the Christmas Spectacular.
There is still a worry that the dancers who choose not to perform will lose their good standing. An MSG spokeswoman says those rumors are only hearsay: "We had a very productive meeting with the Rockettes and while we will keep the details of that meeting confidential, we can say, it was made very clear to all that participation is voluntary and there will be no repercussions if anyone decides to decline participation."
However, Rosemary Novellino-Mearns, who worked in the ballet company at Radio City for 12 years, knows about retribution. Her bold act of speaking up in 1978 actually saved Radio City but cost her her job. (To find out more, read her book, Saving Radio City Music Hall: A Dancer’s True Story.) In an email she wrote, “I am very proud of the women who were opposed to performing for a man with such low moral standards. I am also concerned about the consequences that these talented woman might have to face.”
In an NPR segment on January 7, MSG was quoted as saying more dancers volunteered than they have slots for—which means that at least 18 out of 90 or so are on board. But Mary said that none of the dancers of color signed up.
If that's true, it will be a lily white line-up. We will find out on Friday. That would be sad because the Rockettes have worked to cultivate diversity in the last few years. But I suppose that would just be another sign of the new regime.
Photo © MSG Entertainment.
Back to the LaMama event last week. Lucy Sexton, director of The Bessies, explained, “As an organization dedicated to supporting dance and dance artists, The Bessies wanted to celebrate Ms. Pearl with a toast to the First Amendment of the Constitution. It is this essential American freedom of expression that dancers embody in their physical work onstage. Dance and all artistic expression are by their very nature personal and political, and a critical part of our national cultural dialogue.”
At the event, she said, “To Phoebe Pearl, to her fellow dancers at the Rockettes, know that we support you, that we salute you, that we stand ready to fight for your—and all of our—rights under the Constitution, especially the precious right of Americans to freely express ourselves."
Avant-garde icon Yvonne Rainer also spoke: “I applaud and celebrate Phoebe Pearl for her courage and audacity in her refusal of and resistance to the present political calamity.”
And here is an excerpt of Pearl's talk, caught on video by dancer/activist Salley May:
“People have been calling me courageous, but I don’t see it that way. …I’m just standing up for human rights….standing up for what we all deserve, and how we treat each other. As artists we all owe it to ourselves, owe it to the community. It’s our obligation to use our platforms to do what’s right. This isn’t political, this is about human rights. No matter where you come from, your sexual orientation or race, you deserve respect, you deserve love. We live in a country that grants us the right to speak against something that’s against that.” Then she raised her glass and toasted the First Amendment.
Dance writer Eva Yaa Asantewaa, who attended the event, posted on Facebook that she was “moved almost to tears to hear from dancer Phoebe Pearl, one of the outspoken, resisting Rockettes. In order to keep going these days…I have to keep people like this and the examples they set constantly in mind…. Phoebe, we are so proud of you, and we've got your back. People, don't ever underestimate a dancer!”
Correction: January 17, 2017
This post has been updated to reflect a statement from an MSG spokesperson about allowing dancers to opt out of the performance without repercussions.
Does the frigid weather make you want to curl up by the fireplace with a cup of hot cocoa? Resist! Go out and see some dance. This list is for those of you in northern climes, may it warm up your winter—artistically if not meteorologically.
Driscoll's Thank You For Coming: Play. PC Julieta Cervantes
• Faye Driscoll's Thank You for Coming: Play
A pack of wild-animal dancers act out multi-layered scenes that can puzzle or move you. Equal parts maniacal and moving. The audience is part of the plot. See her “Choreography in Focus” —our latest.
• Michelle Dorrance
Michelle Dorrance is as popular in Boston as she is in New York and at Jacob's Pillow. You can catch a glimpse of why in her "Choreography in Focus."
• Richard Move’s XXYY
The gloriously androgynous Richard Move shows a work-in-progress with theater artist Alba Clemente that explores the chromosomal combinations that produce gender identity. The program also celebrates 20 years of Move’s spot-on impersonation of Martha Graham. Co-presented by Jacob’s Pillow.
Albany and other cities
Ronald K. Brown bring his rich, spiritual blend of modern dance and West Africa on tour.
• Kyle Abraham
Abraham’s mercurial movement quality is beguiling whether or not the often-political content comes across. He talks so easily about his work, including race and gender, in this "Choreography in Focus."
Spectrum Dance Theater in The Minstrel Show. PC Nate Watters.
• Spectrum Dance Theater
Now is the time for political work, and Spectrum director Donald Byrd does not hold back. In his new work Shot, he confronts the growing incidents of police brutality against people of color. To see how tough Byrd is on his dancers, check out his "Choreography in Focus."
• Ragamala Dance Company
This contemporary company, trained in classical Indian dance, focuses on issues of environmental and social justice. The new work, Written in Water, has live music by Amir ElSaffar that utilizes Iraqi, jazz and Carnatic instruments.
• Boston Ballet in William Forsythe's Artifact
The only American company to produce the complete, convention-shattering Artifact (1984) with its go-for-broke dancing.
• Batsheva Dance Company
Batsheva Dance Company’s winter tour brings Ohad Naharin’s Last Work (no, its not his last work) to 11 cities in North America. (I will moderate a post-showing Q & A about the film Mr. Gaga at BAMcinématek on Jan. 30.)
Last Work by Ohad Naharin, photo by Gadi Dagon, courtesy BAM
• Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
The dancers continue to be smashing, and director Robert Battle has expanded the repertoire with bracing additions. John Inger's crazily inventive Walking Mad is something to behold. Christopher Wheeldon's After the Rain blankets the theater with a tender quietness. Kyle Abraham's Untitled America brings to the stage the painful issue of mass incarceration. And there is always the glorious Revelations.
• Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks
In a new work titled Some of a Thousand Words, the brilliant ballet-to-modern Whelan and choreographer Brooks further explore their experiments in weight and weightlessness. The string quartet Brooklyn Rider plays live.
Brooks and Whelan, photo by Nir Arieli
• Martha Graham Dance Company
With world premieres by Annie-B Parson and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui plus chestnuts like Primitive Mysteries and Maple Leaf Rag. In this “Choreography in Focus,” Parson talks about working with the Graham dancers.
• Malpaso Dance Company
This Cuban company has heated up the Joyce and Jacob’s Pillow, and now they come to Chicago with a new work by Aszure Barton.
• Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host
This wonderfully funny yet rueful mix of radio smarts and dancer smarts is brought to you by radio host Ira Glass and his savvy dance pals Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass.
• Dirty Dancing Tour
This hit movie translates surprisingly well to the stage. And hey, what could be hotter than Johnny and Baby?
• KT Niehoff
Always questioning, Niehoff asks an astronaut, an athlete, a survivor of a near-death experience and a differently-abled person this question: “What is it like to be in your body?” Be ready to participate because this piece, which is titled Before We Flew Like Birds, We Flew Like Clouds, is an "audience activated installation." In her "Choreography in Focus" Niehoff talks about her aversion to proscenium performance.
After the spooky mother-daughter passing of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher last week, the Internet is aglow with clips of one or the other or both. Focusing on one great scene, the “Good Morning" song from Singin' in the Rain, one might assume that Reynolds was as experienced a dancer as the formidable Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor.
But no. In 1951, when Debbie Reynolds was chosen to star with Gene Kelly in MGM's Singin' in the Rain, she was 19 and had almost no experience dancing or singing. Kelly, understandably, was furious. But Louis B. Mayer had made the decision and that was that.
Reynolds was given three months to “learn to dance." Three teachers would alternate giving her private lessons. “I was dancing eight hours a day, nonstop," she writes in her memoir, which is excerpted in Reading Dancing, the wonderful anthology edited by Robert Gottlieb. She was so frustrated that she threw her tap shoes at the mirror, shattering it. She would spend all her studio time holding back tears. And then…“One day I was lying under the piano sobbing when I heard a voice ask, 'Why are you crying?'" She vented her frustration: “I feel like I'm going to die, it's so hard. I can't…I can't…"
The voice gently calmed her down. She looked up and saw Fred Astaire, standing next to the piano, with concern on his face. He told her that he gets frustrated and upset too, and invited her to watch a rehearsal with Hermes Pan while they prepared for Royal Wedding. She saw how hard he worked and left the studio feeling less alone.
And of course, in the final movie, she miraculously keeps up with Kelly and O'Connor—and adds her own effervescence. Take a look at her in the happy-go-lucky “Good Morning" number. She's quick, effortless and bubbling with joy and camaraderie.