From left: Sofiane Sylve, Frances Chung, Koto Ishihara, Maria Kochetkova, and Elizabeth Powell of San Francisco Ballet in Borderlands, with lighting by Lucy Carter. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.
It’s the day after Wayne McGregor’s Borderlands for San Francisco Ballet premiered in January, and the second cast has just completed its run-through in the studio. The ballet, which prompted a standing ovation the night before, is fiendishly difficult. Although it’s inspired by Josef Albers’ geometric paintings, it sends the dancers into extreme twists and maneuverings where they crawl or grope or poke their way through a partner’s negative space. McGregor, 43, and ballet master Ricardo Bustamante are sitting on the floor with the dancers, giving them notes. When the choreographer asks if anyone has any questions, Dana Genshaft, who has just ripped through the strikingly strange opening duet, asks, “When are you coming back?”
Both onstage and off, dancers all over the world respond to McGregor’s wildly complex movement and his upbeat warmth. They relish the bracing challenges he poses, and he appreciates them as individual artists. In the pre-performance talk at the War Memorial Opera House, he told the audience that when he sets a work on a particular dancer, the way he or she does it “burns itself into my retina.”
McGregor’s curiosity has fueled multiple projects that bring out the creativity in others. He has given his own dancers at Wayne McGregor/Random Dance the responsibility to lead workshops, and he has encouraged corps dancers at The Royal Ballet, where he is resident choreographer, to make dances. When invited to lead the biannual Big Dance event in Trafalgar Square last July, he turned the pre-Olympics celebration into a collectively made event for almost 1,000 people. He’s choreographed for opera, theater, music videos, and film, including Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The innovative Creative Learning department of Random Dance, which is resident at Sadler’s Wells, recently extended to Kenya. McGregor’s choreography and educational initiatives have earned him many awards and honors, including a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) for his service to dance.
Since his schedule in San Francisco was as hectic as in London, I interviewed McGregor on the car ride from SFB to the airport. As he got into the back seat, he murmured that it’s always hard to say goodbye to the dancers he’s gotten attached to. —Wendy Perron
Watching your amazing dancing this morning at our photo shoot, I was wondering, How do you think of energy going through the body? It’s almost like a chain that’s linked. There’s a point of initiation that has a repercussion somewhere else in the body. The best classical dancers also have that sense of chains of action so the energy moves out through the fingertips.
Do the dancers ever say to you, Well actually that would travel differently through my body? Not really…I try to provide a problem for the body to solve, so they have to find a way. And that’s part of the pleasure of working with people who make different decisions in how they might solve it. It not only teaches me something but it gives them something. That’s why it becomes as much about them as it does about me.
Noah Long and Greta Hodgkinson of National Ballet of Canada in Chroma (2006). Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann, Courtesy NBC.
Some of the dancers just dive into your movement. How do you know which dancers are wild enough to do it? There are always surprises, so you can’t always know. When I go to a company and I don’t know the dancers, I can just tell, from what they do in their daily work. It’s something about how they fire up those feet in class. For casting, the time I love most in class is in pliés—the attitude, the approach. If they’ve got that kind of hunger in the 50,000th ballet class they’ve ever done, then it’s likely that if you give them interesting rich material, they’ll do something quite challenging with it.
Does the title Borderlands have to do with Josef Albers’ paintings? It’s partly to do with that. For me the Albers color theory always oscillates between two points of view and two facts—the fact of yellow and the fact of salmon or something—so you’re thrust into these ambiguous states. It felt to me like some kind of threshold. The border of the art form of painting and the art form of dancemaking—I wondered how that threshold would be to investigate.
In the part with the men’s arms vibrating, is that like when one color vibrates against another? Exactly like that, yeah yeah. It’s how you pop the image or force the image to do something different. The collapsing light we have there for the vibration edits out some of the facts of that picture. You distrust your eyes in a way. We put video thru the LED, almost like the TV static that gives you that sense of instability.
SFB’s Pascal Molat, Sarah Van Patten, Carlos Quenedit, and France Chung in Borderlands. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.
I also saw very saturated colors of green and purple on stage right. They’re all versions of blue. You read a different color even though it might be the same color you’ve just seen. Your eye is tricked into believing something else, and I tried to do that physically as well. I trick the eye into thinking it’s going in one physical direction and then it switches and goes somewhere else.
There are some parts of Borderlands that are incredibly sensual and sexual, more than most of the pieces I’ve seen of yours. Did you feel that? I find Albers’ work very intimate, spiritual, and that demands a certain type of physical response and sensitivity. Some of his paintings are quite dirty in a way, not quite resolved—some of the stuff we were able to see in the archive where he’s testing things out. We’re used to seeing the perfected end. At the archive [in Connecticut] we were able to see the evidence of a process; it’s much more confused. In some way it’s soiled, or the relationship is dysfunctional, using your body to be manipulative, rather than being manipulated.
I’ve heard you talk about your interest in the body “misbehaving.” Is this dirty quality related to that? Definitely. I think there’s something about extreme sensuality. When you watch dance you can’t help but see some kind of sexual dimension to it. There’s a biological relationship to those bodies that you cannot deny. It’s interesting to play on the edges of what that might look like.
Random Dance in Entity (2008). Photo by Ravi Deepres, Courtesy Random.
Wasn’t some of Borderlands in bare feet? No, I use pointe shoes and flat shoes quite promiscuously, if you like. I didn’t want to make this or that the “pointe shoe bit” so it’s very mixed up all the way through. They’re not actually in bare feet but sometimes in light-colored flat shoes. Masha [Maria Kochetkova, first cast as a lead] might do one thing in pointe shoes and the next in flat, back and forth. In a way, the pointe shoe just becomes part of the language.
You’ve pointed out that we all have filters we see things through, and you’ve worked with scientists at UC San Diego who looked at your creative process. What have you learned about your own filters? I think the fact that we have filters that make us make certain decisions is important to note. Understanding them allows you to open up a whole different sense of possibility. These things are called choreographic thinking tools, and it’s just a way of breaking down your process. I can go into the studio and not think about any of the filters and just make instinctively in the moment and see what happens. But sometimes I can work in a different way, where I can attend to something I wouldn’t normally. Say I’m working with a couple and I’m thinking of them architecturally from a visual point of view. How is it if I shift my mindset to think of them as radiating sound, and that they are like sonic instruments? How would that make me change the things that I make on them? We found a way to help dancers, as well, recognize what cognitive loop they may be working in and how might they be able to extend what their normal habits of making are.
I think that gets reinforced, when you ask the dancers, as you did today, “How would you describe this section?” That process for me is about us building a collective imagination for the work. I’m not the sort of choreographer who says, This is what it has to be. We’re inventing it together. I’m curious to see what they’re feeling or thinking when they’re watching or performing the work. Building that language gives you those anchor points that hopefully make the work more cohesive. I feel that way of pulling out the information from them gives me a richness that I wouldn’t have, but it’s shared in a group format. Some dancers, it takes a little while before they feel confident enough; it’s quite exposing. With my Random lot, you can’t shut them up, but in a ballet company it’s a different thing.
The Royal Ballet in Limen (2009). Photo by Tristram Kenton/ROH, Courtesy Royal Ballet.
Were you satisfied last night after seeing Borderlands? I think I’m never satisfied. I guess that’s why I make something else. I never sit there and think, Well done, Wayne! That’s just not my personality. I’ve had a fantastic process with the dancers; I’ve learned so much from and with them. But in terms of the work itself, I always see things that I want to do differently, so I never feel there’s an endpoint. In a way Borderlands is a representation of a series of decisions that were made at the time, and that has a beauty of its own.
What do you look for in a dancer? I look for someone who is really open-minded and who looks at me in the eye when I go into the studio on the first day. Someone who’s not intimidated to have a conversation with you, who’s prepared to work really hard, who knows something about their body and wants to experience something else in that body. I think that’s the most pleasurable dancer to have.
Random in UNDANCE (2011), inspired partly by Eadweard Muybridge. Photo by Ravi Deepres, Courtesy Random.
What’s coming up in Wayne’s world
April 30–June 17, Dyad 1929, The Australian Ballet, Sydney and Melbourne
May 2–12, Chroma, Boston Ballet
May 24–June 8, Raven Girl, world premiere, The Royal Ballet, London
May 27–28, UNDANCE, Random, Katara Village, Doha
June 1–2, FAR, Random, Macao Cultural Centre, Macao
June 22–23, UNDANCE, Random, Sadler’s Wells, London
Even if you haven't heard her name, you've almost certainly seen the work of commercial choreographer James Alsop. Though she's made award-winning dances for Beyoncé ("Run the World," anyone?) and worked with stars like Lady GaGa and Janelle Monae, Alsop's most recent project may be her most powerful: A moving music video for Everytown for Gun Safety, directed by Ezra Hurwitz and featuring students from the National Dance Institute.
We caught up with Alsop for our "Spotlight" series:
I want to make an apology because, in my opening speech at the Dance Magazine Awards on Monday, I inadvertently left out one awardee. I said, "Tonight we are honoring four outstanding dance artists who have contributed to the dance field over time." But then I named only three. How could I have forgotten Lourdes Lopez?!?!
We had all been hearing about Lourdes's taking the helm at Miami City Ballet with grace, intelligence, compassion and new ideas. I was planning to say, "Lourdes Lopez, who has brought new life to Miami City Ballet" because I thought that would cover a lot of ground. (My only quibble with myself was whether to say "brought new life" or "gave new life.")
Each year, The New York Times Magazine shines a spotlight on who they deem to be the best actors of the year in its Great Performers series. But, what we're wondering is, can they dance? Thankfully, the NYT Mag recruited none other than Justin Peck to put them to the test.
Peck choreographed and directed a series of 10 short dance films, placing megastars in everyday situations: riding the subway, getting out of bed in the morning, waiting at a doctor's office.
Today, we are thrilled to announce the honorees of the 2018 Dance Magazine Awards. A tradition dating back to 1954, the Dance Magazine Awards celebrate the living legends who have made a lasting impact on dance. This year's honorees include:
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On busy performance days, international guest artist Joy Womack always makes time for one activity after class and rehearsals: a nap. "I like to feel well-rested when I need to be in the spotlight at night, not dragging at the end of the day," she says. "It helps me recover and refocus."
With her earbuds tuned to a guided meditation app, she can squeeze in a nap wherever she needs to. "One time I even took a nap on the floor of the tour bus in Siberia," she says. "Dancers can sleep anywhere."
Joy Womack prioritizes napping before a show. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe magazine.
As research has revealed the benefits of short daytime naps, power-napping advice has proliferated, and more dancers are choosing to include a nap in their pre-performance routines. Approaching napping strategically will help you get the most out of an afternoon snooze.
On Monday night, a memorial was held at Riverside Church to honor the life and achievements of Dance Theatre of Harlem co-founder Arthur Mitchell. With nearly three months to process and grieve (Mitchell passed away on September 19) the atmosphere was not that of mourning as much as reflection, reverence and admiration for who he was, what he built and what remains. (Watch the full livestream here.)
The church filled with family, artistic friends, fans and admirers. What was most gratifying was the volume of DTH alumni from the school, company and organization who traveled across the globe to pay their respects, from founding members to present dancers and students. The house of worship was filled with the sentiment of a family reunion. As Mitchell was sent home, it was a homecoming for many who have not shared air together in decades. What was palpable was the authentic bonds that Dance Theatre of Harlem and Mitchell fostered in all.
Fans of the sublime English National Ballet first artist Precious Adams were probably excited to see her image splashed across the company's website in a promotional image for an upcoming production of Swan Lake.
But those who took a closer look were met with a disappointing reality: Adams, who is the only black woman in the company, is not listed on the principal casting sheet for the production.
Gennadi Nedvigin is not the only early tenure director breaking out a new production of The Nutcracker this season.
We love The Nutcracker as much as the next person, but that perennial holiday classic isn't the only thing making its way onstage this month. Here are five alternatives that piqued our editors' curiosity.
The Nutcracker is synonymous with American ballet. So when Gennadi Nedvigin took the helm at Atlanta Ballet in 2016, a new version of the holiday classic was one of his top priorities. This month, evidence of two years' worth of changes will appear when the company unwraps its latest version at Atlanta's Fox Theatre Dec. 8–24. Choreographed by Yuri Possokhov and produced on a larger-than-ever scale for Atlanta, the new ballet represents Nedvigin's big ambitions.
Ballet Hispánico returns to the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem with its full-length ballet, CARMEN.maquia. Spanish choreographer Gustavo Ramirez Sansano has reenvisioned the story of Carmen to emphasize Don José, the man who falls in love with Carmen, suffers because of her infidelity, then murders her in a "fit of passion." Their duets are filled with all the sensuality, jealousy and violence you could wish for—in a totally contemporary dance language.
Sansano's previous piece for Ballet Hispánico, El Beso, bloomed with a thousand playful and witty ways of expressing desire. He has a knack for splicing humor into romance.
Not being able to attend the in-person audition at your top college can feel like the end of the world. But while it's true that going to the live audition is ideal, you can still make the best out of sending a video. Here are some of the perks:
It's become a colloquialism—or, we admit, a cliche—to say that dance can heal.
But with a new initiative launched by British Health Secretary Matt Hancock, doctors in the U.K. will soon be able to prescribe dance classes—along with art, music, sports, gardening and more—for patients suffering from conditions as various as dementia, lung problems and mental health issues.
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
New York City Ballet fired principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro on Saturday. Both had initially been suspended until 2019 for engaging in "inappropriate communications," while principal Chase Finlay, who was the instigator of those communications, resigned. (Although, in a statement on Saturday, NYCB made it clear they had decided to terminate Finlay prior to his resignation.)
The New York Times reports that NYCB says the change from suspension to termination resulted from hearing the concerns of dancers, staff members and others in the NYCB community. Yet it's hard to ignore the fact that a lawsuit against NYCB had been filed in the meantime. A statement from NYCB executive director Katherine Brown and interim artistic team leader Jonathan Stafford stated:
"We have no higher obligation than to ensure that our dancers and staff have a workplace where they feel respected and valued, and we are committed to providing that environment for all employees of New York City Ballet."
Since the news was announced, both Catazaro and Ramasar have spoken out publicly about being fired.
What does it mean to be human? Well, many things. But if you were at the Dance Magazine Awards last night, you could argue that to be human is to dance. Speeches about the powerful humanity of our art form were backed up with performances by incredible dancers hailing from everywhere from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago to Miami City Ballet.
Misty Copeland started off the celebration. A self-professed "Dance Magazine connoisseur from the age of 13," she not only spoke about how excited she was to be in a room full of dancers, but also—having just come from Dance Theatre of Harlem's memorial for Arthur Mitchell—what she saw as their duty: "We all in this room hold a responsibility to use this art for good," she said. "Dance unifies, so let's get to work."
That sentiment was repeated throughout the night.
Choreographer Val Caniparoli started his ballet career by performing in Lew Christensen's The Nutcracker with San Francisco Ballet in 1971. Today, he still performs with SFB as Drosselmeir, in the company's current version by Helgi Tomasson.
It takes Caniparoli a lot of concentration to stick to the choreography.
"I have the four versions that I choreographed of the role in my head, plus the original I danced for years by Lew," he says. "That's a lot of versions to keep straight."
A list of Clara alumnae from Radio City's Christmas Spectacular reads like a star-studded, international gala program: Tiler Peck and Brittany Pollack of New York City Ballet (and Broadway), Meaghan Grace Hinkis of The Royal Ballet, Whitney Jensen of Norwegian National Ballet and more. Madison Square Garden's casting requirements for the role are simple: The dancer should be 4' 10" and under, appear to be 14 years old or younger and have strong ballet technique and pointework.
The unspoken requisite? They need abundant tenacity at a very young age.
When I read last month that Jessica Lang Dance had announced its farewell, I'm sure I wasn't the only dancer surprised. In the same way that many of us, when reading an obituary, instinctively look for the cause of death, I searched for a reason for the company's unexpected folding. It was buried in the fifth paragraph of The New York Times article:
Her manager, Margaret Selby, said in an interview that Jessica Lang Dance's closing showed how difficult it is to keep a small dance company running these days. "You have to raise so much money, the smaller companies don't have enough staff, and Jessica was running the company for the last seven years without a day off," she said. "She wants to focus on creative work."
Whereas the announcement itself may have come as a shock, the root cause certainly doesn't. All of us in the field are familiar with the conditions to which Selby refers. But that these problems can topple the success of a company like Lang's, which boasts seven years of national and international touring that include commissions from Jacob's Pillow and The Joyce, among others, is sobering.