Wendy's Best of 2017
Here is my list of favorites from this year, some of them with video clips embedded. I've also added "lingering thoughts" about certain situations in the dance world. As usual, my choices are limited by what I have actually seen. Most of the following are world premieres.
• Andrea Miller's Stone Skipping in the Egyptian room at the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Ancient and ultra-modern at once, gaga-initiated grapplings, telling many stories of people in struggle and solidarity. The group sequence (with her company Gallim plus dancers from Juilliard) from lying on the floor with pelvis bobbing to standing, to swaying, to skipping wildly about was transcendent.
• Hofesh Shechter's Grand Finale at BAM's Next Wave Festival. Apocalyptic in the most beautiful way. The 10 dancers attack, drag, rescue, wrestle, each other, march crazily to the beat of Shechter's own percussive music. Flashes of humor peeking through overwhelming bleakness. The women go totally limp for a disturbing amount of time. Gripping because of engaged choreography and the full-throttle dancing. The musicians are nomads, appearing and disappearing in Tom Visser's mysterious lighting.
• The Times Are Racing by Justin Peck for New York City Ballet, music by Dan Deacon. A sneaky blend of jazz, tap and ballet in sneakers, with a tap dance just for Justin and Robert Fairchild. But the best part is a snazzy yet vulnerable duet for Tiler Peck and Amar Ramasar: quick inward movements, sharp turns of the head, playful swatting of limbs but something more serious too. The way Tiler Peck moves slow after stillness is captivating. Click the picture below for a link to the video:
• Kyle Abraham's Dearest Home at The Kitchen produced by Lumberyard: The six dancers were so exposed, so willing to strip down to skin and heart. Searching each other for hard-earned affection or shaking with solitary sobbing.
• Composer's Holiday by 18-year-old Gianna Reisen for New York City Ballet. Excitable jittery energy, witty tableaux, a humor stemming from tricky momentum. A woman leaps and just before she lands a man somersaults underneath her. Quick changes of direction mid-lift. Excellent use of Lukas Foss music.
• Bill T. Jones's A Letter to My Nephew at BAM's Next Wave Festival. The street brawl was unforgettable, as were the slow love duet for two men and the sparring physical duet for two women. Reminds me of Bill T. and Arnie Zane's early rough-and-crazy Contact Improvisation.
• Let It Linger by Vicky Shick at The Kitchen, presented by Lumberyard. A poetic spareness of space, time, movement. A fluidity of relationships: mother-child, sisters, lovers. A minimalist sensibility edged with both humor and momentary violence. Pauses just long enough to imagine a story. The four dancers are each differently feminine.
Vicky Shick's Let It Linger, PC David Gonsier
• Kota Yamazaki/Fluid hug-hug's Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination, at Baryshnikov Arts Center. This put a spell on the audience. Four dancers started with near nothing, and gradually built to where a comic cosmic craziness seeped from them. Each of the four are gloriously eccentric while Yamazaki himself barely moved, a dark huddle on the ground off to the side.
• Michelle Dorrance's Until the Real Thing Comes Along (a letter to ourselves) at the Joyce. Four women entertain the audience to the Nth degree, then gradually reveal the complex characters behind the shiny facade. A brilliant idea, tapped out with gonzo technical chops and energy, each woman her own person, their camaraderie touching. A great pairing with (the third rendition of) Myelination, a bold rhythmic statement and exciting cultural mix.
• Twelve of 'em, David Hallberg, in this delightful Fall for Dance commission that Mark Morris made for him to piano music by Benjamin Britten. Classical lines are meshed with odd, funny scramblings. Hallberg slides and melts beneath the piano bench. During the pauses, he fixes his hair or walks casually—heel first like a normal person, not rarefied ballet. Each of the 12 sections is developed in a legible theme-and-variations format but is full of subtle surprises. In one variation, he shakes out his body edging toward the pianist, Colin Fowler, trapping him on the last note. The last move, with head dipping down modestly and palms facing outward, repeats the opening movement: I am here for you.
David Hallberg in Twelve of 'em, PC Stephanie Berger
• Koma, The Ghost Festival at Danspace. He alternated between quiet, stealthy walking meditations and sudden moves. He started indoors and took us outside, where his recycled Caravan was adorned with life-sized drawings, possibly the ghosts of the title. He climbed on top and waved a red flag like a crazy Cassandra begging for peace—or truth.
• Simone Forti's News Animation. I saw versions of this at UC Santa Barbara, the Danny Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, and Sundays on Broadway. (Disclosure: All were related to Radical Bodies, an exhibit I co-curated.) Each time, I was drawn in by her oracle-like pronouncements while showing us her body-to-earth, octogenarian wisdom. Oblique connections between body and mind. She spoke of Mussolini's thrust-forward chin, and a cave where fish lured each other. (Her leather jacket served convincingly as a cave.)
• Memoirs of a …Unicorn by Marjani Forté, presented by New York Live Arts at Collapsible Hole, the cavernous, flood-damaged basement of Westbeth. Adjoining alcoves were filled with art (design team: Mimi Lien, Peiji Wong & Richard Forté). Forté knocked around, bumping down from a wooden pyramid tower, with a telephone pole–sized wire mesh unicorn attached to her forehead. Once she unstrapped it, she danced, interacted with the audience, got into screaming fits, and writhed as in a nightmare. Once, after sobbing uncontrollably, she was comforted by a creeping shadow. Changing from tragic to sassy on a dime.
Marjani Forti, PC Maria Baranova
• Kenneth King in his new Labyrinth with Voices. At University Settlement, presented by The Construction Company. A major downtown figure in the 70s and 80s, King moves with a sharp impulsiveness, exaggerating hands and voice. Like a ventriloquist, he is somehow remote from his various (ridiculous) characters. Postmodern meets Vaudeville. The inimitable Kenneth King, dubbed "the dancing philosopher" by Deborah Jowitt, is back.
Kenneth King, PC Grant King
• Tiler Peck's debut in Swan Lake at New York City Ballet. A monumental talent in a monumental role. She has a delicate wildness as Odette, an assured rock-solid sharpness as Odile. Her portrayal had a mercurial grandeur comparable to that of the great Russian ballerinas.
Tiler Peck and Chase Finlay, PC Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB
• Tony Yazbeck in Prince of Broadway. Susan Stroman gave him a tap solo where he rose to the heights of joy and plunged to the depths of despair. I was on the edge of my seat. (Click the photo below for video of the finale.)
• In a stellar cast of Serenade After Plato's Symposium by Ratmansky for ABT, Calvin Royal III made me love slow movement again. The entire male cast was outstanding, with Herman Cornejo, James Whiteside, Daniil Simkin.
Calvin Royal III in Serenade after Plato's Symposium, PC Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy ABT
• Sterling Hyltin in Neverwhere (2013). She was in the original cast of this ballet by Benjamin Millepied, music by Nico Muhly and costumes by Iris van Herpen. Hyltin inhabits the crinkly black costume and slick toe-shoe boots like an elegant, slinky sci-fi character.
Neverwhere, PC Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB
• The women of Ballet West at The Joyce: Emily Adams' delicate fluidity in Dances for Lou by Val Caniparoli; Arolyn Williams' ghostly lushness in Ruth: Ricordi Per Due by Arpino; Beckanne Sisk's sparkling technique in Balanchine's Chaconne.
Arolyn Williams and Chase O'Connell in Nicolo Fonte's Fox on the Doorstep, PC Beau Pearson
• In Dorrance Dance's Myelination, seen at Fall for Dance, the rangy Warren Craft moves his body like no one else. He staggers unpredictably through wildly rhythmic moves. His hunched upper body gives him a friendly Frankenstein look, but his gangliness makes him endearing.
• Also in Myelination was Ephrat Asherie, whose b-girling refreshes Dorrance's excellent tap choreography, especially when she joins in a kind of friendly battle with Dorrance, thereby igniting a delicious blend of hip hop and tap.
• PeiJu Chien-Pott of the Martha Graham Dance Company in Ekstasis (1933) by Martha Graham, "reimagined" by Virginie Mecene, at the Joyce. High drama, sinuous movement quality, her extreme angles defining modernism.
• John Selya, in Twyla Tharp's Dylan Love Songs at the Joyce. His wearily and warily poetic presence brought out the tenuous connection between the hard-driving Tharp body and the melancholy Dylan voice.
John Selya (left) in Dylan Love Songs. Photo via twylatharp.org
• Stella Abrera and Sarah Lane: These two new principals of ABT have been dancing exquisitely for years. Finally they are having their moment in the sun, much of it furnished by resident choreographer Alexei Ratmansky. In Souvenir d'un lieu cher, originally made for Dutch National Ballet in 2012, the two couples engage in lovely, inventive partnering. Both Abrera and Lane are absolutely lustrous while dancing to selections of Tchaikovsky; Abrera has moments of sadness. These two dancers were also the highpoints of a Ratmansky premiere I did not otherwise enjoy: Whipped Cream. Lane played Princess Praline with astoundingly fast footwork, and Abrera played the lovely, languid Princess Tea Flower.
Alban Lendorf, Sarah Lane, Marcelo Gomes and Stella Abrera in Souvenir d'un lieu cher, PC Gene Schiavone
• Marcelo Gomes as A Struggling Composer in The Red Shoes by Matthew Bourne. He had an outsized drama that was just right for this campy remake of the iconic 1948 movie, at New York City Center.
Marcelo Gomes in The Red Shoes, PC Lawrence Ho
• Carlo Antonio Villanueva, in BTJAZ's A Letter to My Nephew: Small and springy, ready for anything; juicy voguing and runway moves. A tour de force in every section of this dance.
• Mina Nishimura, in Vicky Shick's Let It Linger, her own work-in-progress at Sundays on Broadway, and in Kota Yamazaki's premiere. Her presence is fragile yet sturdy, feminine yet boyish, interior yet visible. There is something incandescent about her.
• Café Müller and The Rite of Spring, both by Pina Bausch with sets and costumes by Rolf Borzik, performed by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch at BAM's Next Wave Festival. Welcome back to the program that jolted Americans awake to the larger-than-life glories of Pina Bausch's work. Both are about women's lives: the first bleak but riveting, the second a powerful rendition of Stravinsky's music.
• The Golden Section (1983 as part of The Catherine Wheel) by Twyla Tharp has not been performed by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater since 2006. A dense and fun and funny concoction with split-second timing; nothing breaks these dancers' stride.
• Four Screaming Women (1982) by Jane Comfort, reprised at Joe's Pub, part of Dance/Now. Obsessive precision of gesture, speed and spoken text, making for a wonderful, witty brand of virtuosity. It helps that one of the four "screaming" women is a man.
• Best museum performance: Work/Travail/Arbeid, an adaptation of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's whirlwind Vortex Temprum, which was on my Best of 2016 list. This transformed the Museum of Modern Art with live music by the late Gérard Grisey that resounded throughout the halls. The piano ended up being wheeled around the gallery. It was a torrent of a piece, the movement and music whipping through the galleries at MoMA. We spectators felt like part of the action when dancers threaded through us.
• The most exquisite farewell: Diana Vishneva in her last ABT performance, as Tatiana in Cranko's Onegin at the Metropolitan Opera House. The passion of her dancing and acting hold you in its grip. She was partnered by the equally passionate Marcelo Gomes. A couple made in heaven.
• Broadway Musicals: I tend to enjoy the quieter productions that really make me feel something, rather that the big spectacles with lots of dance numbers. The new musicals this year that touched me deeply were Dear Evan Hansen, Indecent and The Band's Visit. I also enjoyed Bandstand and A Bronx Tale.
The cast of Indecent, PC Carol Rosegg
• The downtown presenting series: Sundays on Broadway, in Cathy Weis's loft in SoHo, is now in its fourth year. Time for any-age downtown types to show works in progress. This fall the series was guest-curated by choreographers Vicky Shick and Jonathan Kinzel. Great originality and craft were evident in works-in-progress by John Jasperse, Juliette Mapp, Lisa Nelson, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Jennifer Munson, Mina Nishimura, Neil Greenberg and others. Cathy Weis, a host with an irresistibly wry charm, occasionally shows her own video/dance gems. (Disclosure: I've participated in some of the past programs.)
• A woman leader for NYCB? The sexual misconduct maelstrom swept away Peter Martins, at least temporarily. A down-to-earth interim team of three young ballet masters and the resident choreographer has taken on responsibilities of artistic management. And we can't help but dream of the possibility of a woman taking over this storied company. Lord knows there are enough brilliant former NYCB female dancers who could handle it.
• A Plea for Editing: Choreographers are forgetting that when they ramble, they lose our attention. I saw several works by otherwise wonderful choreographers that ran way over their welcome. They started strong, with all kinds of reason to love the movement, then lost steam. My advice: Be less in love with every step you make. If you repeat phrases, have a good reason. Be aware of what other pieces/ballets are on the same program.
• Good call: Katlyn Addison sported an Afro in Ballet West's program of two contemporary ballets at The Joyce. Refreshing, considering how locked down the women's hair must be on most ballet stages.
• Same-sex duets just got more romantic: Most same-sex duets I've seen in the ballet world are kind of incidental. But Lauren Lovette, in her Not Our Fate, gave Taylor Stanley and Preston Chamblee a real-live falling-in-love duet that energized everything about the ballet relationships.
Taylor Stanley and Preston Chamblee in Not Our Fate, PC Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB
• Harbinger: NYCB's All-Robbins evening of three epic ballets, each in a completely different mood: Glass Pieces (1983), Moves (1984) and The Concert (1956). I never tire of seeing these works. Robbins starts with "ordinary" people doing ordinary things like walking and then builds to delicious heights of the imagination. A harbinger of the multi-faceted Robbins Centennial to come in 2018.
• Kudos to Julie Kent for speaking up in support of Marcelo Gomes. These days, as soon as a man is accused—even in the most vague, unsubstantiated way, of sexual misconduct—he is treated like a pariah. It's saddening to me that, because of an unproven claim from eight years ago that has nothing to do with ABT, Gomes has had to resign from the company he has given his life and artistry to for 20 years. Julie Kent, in her statement to The Washington Post, confirms my belief that, in addition to being a great dance artist, Gomes is a fine human being. Her deep love for him, which we saw when she presented the 2015 Dance Magazine Award to him, is obvious. Many of us feel the same.
Imagine this scenario: You get a text from a friend just as you're heading into ballet class, and have to answer as quickly as possible. Now, if you were heading into a juggling class, or water polo match, or fencing practice, you'd be able to send a quick emoji in response. But alas, you're forced to type out a full sentence. Because, to the ballet world's collective frustration, There. Is. No. Ballet. Emoji. Until now...
According to Emojipedia, the site for all things emoji-related, a ballet shoe emoji is slated to come out later this year (the exact date hasn't been announced yet) as part of Emoji Version 12.0. The proposal came from Australia-based tech company manager and ballet fan Rüdiger Landmann. Landmann proposed three separate ballet emojis: a ballerina, a male ballet dancer and a pair of pointe shoes. Only the pointe shoe emoji was approved, and we'll be honest, it doesn't look like any pointe shoe we've ever seen. It's more like a pink loafer with ribbons attached. But we're trying not to complain, as this is definitely a (wobbly, given the shape of that shoe) step in the right direction.
You might still be thinking wistfully of the figure skating choreography at the 2018 Winter Olympics or already looking forward to the gymnastics competition at next summer's games, but we're officially marking our calendars for Paris 2024. Why? There's an excellent chance that break dancing will make its Olympic debut.
The jukebox musical is a bonafide Broadway staple. Everyone from ABBA to Elvis and Billy Joel to The Beach Boys has been given the Great White Way treatment, and shows with Alanis Morissette's and Michael Jackson's hits are on their way. The big question on our minds is, What current artists' songs might we hear on Broadway in the future?
The fourth wall has come down, and it has opened up a whole new kind of gig for dancers. Since Sleep No More became a hit in 2011, immersive theater experiences have been shattering expectations by inviting audiences to move through the world of the performance as they please. What kind of skill set does this burgeoning art form demand?
For choreographer Raja Feather Kelly, music is simple: "There's good music and there's bad music and I love good music and I love to hate bad music."
But, true to form, Kelly—whose past few months have included choreographing the Skittles Super Bowl musical and earning one of our first-ever Harkness Promise Awards—had some surprises up his sleeve when he made us a playlist he describes as "for moody Geminis who work over 12 hours a day and need a playlist that can shuffle and never disappoint."
Though the playlist has some whiplash-inducing twists and turns—from Coheed and Cambria to Carly Rae Jepsen to Missy Elliott to Schubert—there is a through-line: "Music that makes you feel like you're in your own movie. I love walking through the street feeling like I'm on a runway, living my best life."
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The lack of female leaders in ballet is an old conversation. But a just-launched website, called the Dance Data Project, has brought something new to the discussion: actual numbers, not just anecdotal evidence.
Whether she's performing on stage, in music videos, or on television, French electro-pop sensation Chris (formerly known as Christine and the Queens) never seems to stop moving.
Building a full-length ballet from scratch is an intense process. For the world premiere of Anna Karenina, a collaboration between The Joffrey Ballet and The Australian Ballet, that meant original choreography by Yuri Possokhov, a brand-new score by Ilya Demutsky, costume and set designs by Tom Pye and lighting designs by David Finn.
Growing up, I never saw a problem with my dancing and neither did my Muslim-Egyptian dad or my non-Muslim, American mom. They raised me to understand that the core principles of Islam, of any religion, are meant to help us be better people. When I married my Pakistani husband, who comes from a more conservative approach to Islam, I suddenly encountered perceptions of dance that made me question everything: Is it okay to expose a lot of skin? Is it wrong to dance with other men? Is dance inherently sexual? What guidelines come from our holy book, the Quran, and what are cultural views that have become entwined in Islam?
When Thomas Forster isn't in the gym doing his own workout, he's often coaching his colleagues.
Two years ago, the American Ballet Theatre soloist got a personal training certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Now he trains fellow ABT members and teaches the ABT Studio Company a strength and conditioning class alongside fellow ABT soloist Roman Zhurbin.
He shared five of his top tips for getting into top shape.
No matter how much anti–Valentine's Day sentiment I'm feeling in a given year, there's something about dancer couples that still makes me swoon. Here's a collection of wonderful posts from this year, but be warned: Continued scrolling is likely to give you a severe case of the warm fuzzies.
When Rennie Harris first heard that Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater had tapped him to create a new hour-long work, and to become the company's first artist in residence, he laughed.
"I'm a street dance choreographer. I do street dance on street dancers," he says. "I've never set an hour-long piece on any other company outside my own, and definitely not on a modern dance company."
Lately I've been having recurring dreams: I'm in an audition and I can't remember the combination. Or, I'm rehearsing for an upcoming show, onstage, and I don't know what comes next. Each time I wake up relieved that it was only a dream.
However, this is the reality of how I often felt throughout my dance career. Once I knew the steps, there was no undoing it. It was the process of getting there that haunts me to this day.
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?
Sebastian Abarbanell remembers being asked as an undergrad at Trinity Laban in London to perform wearing only a dance belt. "I said no," he says, "because I felt uncomfortable." Now a performer with Sidra Bell Dance New York, he's performed partially nude several times, without reservation. The difference? "It comes with more experience and maturing as a dancer," he says. "When you see a dancer living in their skin, you don't need to put anything else on them. When I said no in college, I wasn't in my skin yet."
Getting in your skin—and getting comfortable wearing only your skin onstage—requires a particular alchemy of vulnerability, agency, preparation and practice.
When Chase Brock signed on to choreograph a new musical at a theater in New Jersey in 2015, he couldn't have predicted that four years later, he would be receiving fan art featuring his Chihuahua because of it. Nor could he have he imagined that the show—Be More Chill, based on the young adult novel by Ned Vizzini—would be heading to Broadway with one of the most enthusiastic teenage fan bases the Great White Way has ever seen.
It's no longer just Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo and the few pointe-clad male character parts, like in Cinderella or Alexei Ratmansky's The Bright Stream. Some male dancers are starting to experiment with pointe shoes to strengthen their feet or expand their artistic possibilities. Michelle Dorrance even challenged the men in her cast at American Ballet Theatre to perform on pointe last season (although only Tyler Maloney ended up actually doing it onstage).
The one problem? Pointe shoes have traditionally only been designed for women. Until now.
Camille Sturdivant, a former member of the Blue Valley Northwest High School dance team is suing the school district, alleging that she was barred from performing in a dance because her skin was "too dark."
The suit states that during Sturdivant's senior year, the Dazzlers' choreographer, Kevin Murakami, would not allow her to perform in a contemporary dance because he said her skin would clash with the costumes, and that she would steal focus from the other dancers because of her skin color.
You wander through the grocery aisles, sizing up the newest trends on the shelves. Although you're eager to try a new energy bar, you question a strange ingredient and decide to leave it behind. Your afternoons are consumed with research as you sort through endless stories about "detox" miracles.
What started as an innocent attempt to eat healthier has turned into a time-consuming ritual with little room for error, and an underlying fear surrounding your food choices.