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.
The connections dancers make in college are no joke. For recent alum Gabrielle Hamilton, working with guest choreographer John Heginbotham at Point Park University put her on the fast track to Broadway—not in an ensemble role, but as the lead dancer in one of this season's hottest tickets: Daniel Fish's arresting reboot of Oklahoma!
We caught up with Hamilton about starring in the show's dream ballet and her delightfully bizarre pre-show ritual.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Last Friday, through an appeal to an independent arbitrator, the American Guild of Musical Artists successfully reinstated NYCB principals Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro, previously fired for allegedly circulating sexually explicit texts containing nude photos.
AGMA opposed Ramasar and Catazaro's terminations in order to prevent the setting of a dangerous precedent that would allow dancers to be fired under less understandable consequences. But we cannot allow future cases to dictate the way we handle this situation—particularly a union committed to "doing everything in [its] power to ensure you have a respectful environment in which to work."
But according to the H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory, one in every three dancers in New York City lives under the poverty line, and may lack the resources to purchase the ingredients they need to make nutritious meals.
Not to mention the fact that dancers are busy, and often running around from class to rehearsal to performance to side hustle, grabbing whatever they can get to eat on-the-go.
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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I have a commitment, a romance, a love affair with dance, with the feeling that happens when the music and the steps so perfectly align and I can't help but get chills. That feeling when my partner and I are dancing as one, when everyone onstage feels the same heartbeat, when it's just me alone in my bedroom.
You can see them in "Fosse/Verdon" episode one. Michelle Williams, playing Gwen Verdon, wears them with a cool, retro, forest-green jumpsuit. Tucked beneath a mop top of tousled Gwen Verdon locks, Williams sports a pair of discreet and tasteful onyx drop-earrings—the dancer's favorites. Verdon wore them all her adult life, according to her daughter Nicole Fosse, a co-executive producer of the FX series that puts a spotlight on a great woman of American dance.
"I have very little memory of my mother wearing other earrings. They were her Gwen Verdon earrings," says Fosse, speaking by phone from her home in Vermont. "She's wearing them in 99 percent of the pictures of her performing."
Four years of lectures, exams and classes can feel like a lifetime for college dancers who have their sights set on performing. So when a professional opportunity comes knocking, it can be tempting to step away from your academics. But there are a few things to consider before putting your education on hold.
We've all been there: You see the craziest/most beautiful/oddest/wildest clip of a dance on Facebook and you simply have to see more.
But do you actually get yourself to the theater and sit through a 90-minute performance? The consensus, at this point, typically seems to be: No.
There is no clear correlation between a company's social media campaigns and how many seats they fill in the theater. That doesn't mean social media isn't, of course, vital. It simply means that "social media campaigns operating without other marketing campaigns don't cut it," says Rob Bailis, associate director of Cal Performances at UC Berkeley. "But campaigns without social media are far worse off."
Since the project was first announced toward the end of 2017, we've been extremely curious about Yuli. The film, based on Carlos Acosta's memoir No Way Home, promised as much dancing as biography, with Acosta appearing as himself and dance sequences featuring his eponymous Cuba-based company Acosta Danza. Add in filmmaking power couple Icíar Bollaín (director) and Paul Laverty (screenwriter), and you have a recipe for a dance film unlike anything else we've seen recently.
One of the country's top arbitrators has decided to reinstate Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro to New York City Ballet. The former principals were fired last fall for "inappropriate communications," namely graphic text messages.
The dancers' union, American Guild of Musical Artists, fought the termination, arguing that the firings were unjust since they related entirely to non-work activity. After a careful review of the facts, an independent arbitrator determined that while the company was justified in disciplining the two men, suspension was the appropriate action and termination took it too far.
A woman passes three men in the street. The men pursue her. They thrust their pelvises at her. They continue to pursue her after she slaps one's hand and walks away. They surround her. She glances around at them in alarm. One snatches her purse (to review the Freudian significance of purses, click here) and saunters off with it, mocking her. She tries to take the purse back, and the three men toss it over her head among each other. They make her dance with them. Each time she indicates "No," the men try harder to force her submission to their advances.
This is all within the first 10 minutes of Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free, a 1944 ballet about three sailors frolicking on shore leave during World War II, beloved by many and still regularly performed (especially during the last year, since 2018 was the centennial celebration of Robbins's birth). Critic Edwin Denby, after the premiere with Ballet Theatre, called it "a remarkable comedy piece" and "a direct, manly piece."
When you're bouncing between hotel rooms without access to a kitchen, eating a pescatarian diet can be challenging. Stephanie Mincone, who most recently traveled the globe with Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour, told Dance Magazine how she does it—while fueling herself with enough energy to perform for thousands of Taylor fans.
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?
The pleasure of watching prodigies perform technical feats on Instagram can be tinged with a sense of trepidation. Impressive tricks, you think, but do they have what it takes for an actual career?
Just look at 18-year-old Maria Khoreva, who has more followers than most seasoned principals; in videos, her lines and attention to detail suggested a precocious talent, and led to a Nike ambassador contract before she even graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Still, when she joined the Mariinsky Ballet last summer, there was no guarantee any of it would translate to stage prowess.
What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.
Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
Choosing music for your first-ever choreography commission can feel daunting enough. But when you're asked to create a ballet using the vast discography of the Rolling Stones—and you happen to be dating Stones frontman Mick Jagger—the stakes are even higher.
So it's understandable that as of Monday, American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Melanie Hamrick, whose Port Rouge will have its U.S. premiere tonight at the Youth America Grand Prix gala, was still torn about which songs to include.
What is an acceptable request from a choreographer in terms of nudity? On the first day of shooting All That Jazz in the 1970s, Bob Fosse asked us men to remove everything but our jock straps and the women to remove their tops. His rationale was to shock us in order to build character, and it felt disloyal to refuse. Would this behavior be considered okay today?
As much as audiences might flock to Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, ballet can't only rely on old war horses if it wants to remain relevant. But building new full-lengths from scratch isn't exactly cheap.
So where can companies find the money?
Today—April 16, 2019—marks what would have been Merce Cunningham's 100th birthday. As dancers from Los Angeles to New York City to London gear up for Night of 100 Solos (the marathon performance event being livestreamed today), and as companies and presenters worldwide continue to celebrate the Cunningham Centennial through their programming, we searched through the Dance Magazine Archives to unearth our favorite images of the groundbreaking dancemaker.
A bright disposition with a dab of astringent charm is how I remember Brock Hayhoe, a National Ballet School of Canada schoolmate. Because we were a couple years apart, we barely brushed shoulders, except at the odd Toronto dance party where we could dance all night with mutual friends letting our inhibitions subside through the music. Dancing always allows a deeper look.
But, as my late great ballet teacher Pyotr Pestov told me when I interviewed him for Dance Magazine in 2009, "You never know what a flower is going to look like until it opens up."
One night. Three cities. Seventy-five dancers. And three unique sets of 100 solos, all choreographed by Merce Cunningham.
This incredible evening of dance will honor Cunningham's 100th birthday on April 16. The Merce Cunningham Trust has teamed up with The Barbican in London, the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City and the Center for the Art of Performance in Los Angeles for a tri-city celebration.
The best part? You don't have to be in those cities to watch—Night of 100 Solos is being live-streamed in its entirety for free.