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Wendy's Best and Worst of 2014
I guess my list is pretty long. Sorry, I couldn't help myself; there were so many performances and artists that ranked high in my personal accounting.
Best new choreography
• Faye Driscoll’s Thank You For Coming at Danspace: She broke not only the fourth wall but the floor too, making the audience part of the performance. Every bit of the choreography expressed both struggle and pleasure.
• In Victor Quijada’s Empirical Quotient, the six dancers of Montreal’s RUBBERBANDance Group crept and pounced with stealth. Somewhere in between hip hop, cirque, and ballet, these remarkable dancers reacted to the energy between them as though it were a tangible thing, at Schimmel Center for the Arts, Pace University.
• Of Days, choreographed by Andrew Simmons, part of the New Zealand Ballet’s program at the Joyce: a velvety, shadowy mysteriousness that kept my eyes glued.
• Mouth to Mouth, performed and created by Ate9 dANCE cOMPANY (forgive them their invented spelling), at Peridance Capezio Center. This new L.A.–based group, led by former Batsheva dancer Danielle Agami, embraces awkwardness, absurdity and a sophisticated kind of innocence.
• Justin Peck’s Everywhere We Go, at New York City Ballet: teeming with ideas about the relationship of group to individual or group to duet, while deploying a Trisha Brown–like playfulness with the margins of the space.
• John Jasperse’s quartet Within between created a bare space with a growing sense of possibility at New York Live Arts. One dancer started the piece by poking a long pole out toward the audience—poking at the fourth wall. With Jasperse’s typical droll austerity, the choreography gradually built up to a pulsating high.
• The Hole, Ohad Naharin’s sometimes harsh yet wondrous site-specific work, created a place where love and battle coexist, at Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv. Surprises came from outside the temporary platform, from above and below. When you leave you feel your whole being is vibrating.
• Alexei Ratmansky’s Pictures at an Exhibition splintered the moods of Mussorgsky’s famous music into a myriad of shapes and dynamics. Infused with the humanity he’s known for, Pictures also had a drop-to-the-floor releasing motif that pulled NYCB’s dancers closer to the earth than I’ve ever seen them.
• Mark Morris’ WORDS, commissioned by Fall for Dance, plumbed the usual A-B-A structure but with such a fertile imagination that it escaped the predictability of that form. Two people carried a banner that concealed some dancers while revealing others, a Vaudevillian device used ingeniously throughout. Supremely musical with violinist and pianist onstage playing Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words.” A total delight.
• I saw the Batsheva Dance Company perform Ohad Naharin’s Sadeh21 at UCLA’s Royce Hall and BAM. Only Naharin can immerse you in despair and light-heartedness at the same instant. This kind of paradox sparks insight into human behavior and makes you feel psychologically sated.
• Twenty-three bare-chested young men from Escuela Superior Musica y Danza de Monterrey in Mexico surged onto the Koch stage in Legion at the Youth America Grand Prix gala. Choreographer Jaime Sierra made some of them into a human mountain for others to scale and later fly off of. Thrilling.
Best Dance-Plus-Talking Premieres
• David Roussève/REALITY in Roussève’s Stardust at Jacob’s Pillow, a poignant story of deprivation and discrimination that catches at the heart.
• Ilvs Strauss in Manifesto at On the Boards in Seattle: masterfully honed androgynous presence, a sly script, and a bodacious California Red Sea Cucumber costume.
• Mark Dendy’s Dystopia Distractions! Part 1 (excerpt) at Joe’s Pub. Every shyster politician should get the treatment that Dendy gave Donald Rumsfield in this monologue with gestural mimicry that’s uncannily expressive of a dark underside.
• Alan Smithee Directed This Play by Paul Lazar and Annie-B Parson at BAM. Big Dance Theater’s unique brand of fractured fairy tales, enacted by dancer/actors who are arch yet simpatico. The separate components shouldn’t rationally coalesce into a cohesive experience but somehow they do.
• Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host, presented by Ira Glass, choreographed by Monica Bill Barnes with Anna Bass: A meditation on the nature of performing, spliced with witty storytelling and sprinkled with comic flair.
Best Revivals or Re-runs
• The central duet of Light Rain was given a tantalizing performance by Ballet West’s Beckanne Sisk and the Joffrey’s Fabrice Calmels at a YAGP gala. It took us back to the sex-drugs-and-percussion haze of the ’60s as envisioned by Gerald Arpino in 1981. The ballet was a hit for the Joffrey in the ’80s but fell out of favor, so this was a welcome, if controversial (some thought it vulgar or acrobatic) pas de deux.
• The Second Detail (1991) by William Forsythe, performed by Boston Ballet at the Koch Theater. The brazen display of technique, edgy attitude, riddle-like presentation (what was the word THE doing sitting downstage on blocks?) practically defines contemporary ballet.
• BLEED (2013) by Tere O’Connor. How does human behavior make a shape onstage? How does interaction become rhythm? O’Connor’s people explore states of being troubled, harassed, or defiant, all with an ironic, self-commenting theatricality.
• Cincinnati Ballet reprised Chasing Squirrel, a madcap romp made on them by Trey McIntyre in 2004. Women are in control, then coy, then back in control. The partnering is stupendous, the chase is hilarious, and the music by Kronos Quartet is smart and fun.
• The Jig Is Up (1984) by Eliot Feld, performed by Juilliard students with a full quotient of zaniness, buoyancy and daring.
• Massine’s Gaieté Parisienne (1938): Some didn’t like Christian Lacroix’s cartoonish costumes in the 1988 revival, which were retained here, and the ballet basically runs on style and froth. But it’s a piece of ballet history that honors ABT’s early years.
• A beautiful melding of body architecture and motion, the “Man Fan” solo of Moses Pendleton’s Botanica (2008) was performed by Jon Eden of MOMIX at the Fire Island Dance Festival. When he unfurled his huge cocoon of a fan, he seemed to brush the sky.
• Hofesh Schechter's Uprising (2006) was given a bold rendition by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at NY City Center. The all-male cast gave it the menacing watchfulness, propulsive runs and ambiguous camaraderie it deserved.
• Dia:Beacon hosted an afternoon retrospective of Steve Paxton, icon of postmodern dance: willful simplicity, curiosity, a quirkiness rooted in the explorations of the spine, and an ineffable sense of the riddle of life.
• Sara Mearns of NYCB: abandoned in Walpurgisnacht Ballet, commanding in Union Jack, earthy in Pictures at an Exhibition, celestial in Mozartiana, and superwoman in Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse.
• PeiJu Chien-Pott in Depak Ine by Nacho Duato with Martha Graham Dance Company at City Center: Astounding command and presence, embodying that time-honored Graham intensity.
• Alvaro Dule of Wayne McGregor/Random Dance’s Atomos, at Peak Performances in Montclair: an over-the-top elasticity paired with appealing self-possession.
• Misty Copeland showed verve in everything: slinky in Derek Hough’s premiere Ameska (commissioned by YAGP), playful while precise in Balanchine’s Duo Concertant, and joyfully alluring as the Flower Girl in Gaité Parisienne (the last two with ABT).
• Shay Bares as Laurelai in Hackpolitik by Kate Ladenheim at Here, NYC: Transgender glamour with fabulous technique.
• Steven McRae of The Royal Ballet tapped like a mad hatter in his version of Czardas in Positano, Italy. A total entertainer.
• Misa Kuranaga in Symphony in Three Movements, with Boston Ballet at the Koch Theater. Pure, transcendant dancing the way Balanchine would have wanted it.
• Osnel Delgado, co-founder, choreographer and the force behind Cuban dance company Malpaso, at the Joyce: Wired and wild.
• Stuart Singer in John Jasperse’s Within between: Here I resort to quoting Siobhan Burke, who described him in The New York Times as “the engrossing Mr. Singer, who could be a gladiator or an angsty toddler.”
• Angelica Generosa of Pacific Northwest Ballet in Take Five…More or Less by Susan Stroman and Nacho Duato’s Rassemblement at Jacob’s Pillow: A magnetic performer with a juicy movement quality.
• Paul Hurley in Liz Lerman’s Healing Wars at Peak Performances in Montclair: A real-life amputee who radiated peacefulness whether speaking or moving.
• L. A. Dance Project’s Aaron Carr in works by Millepied, Justin Peck, and Forsythe at BAM: A charisma fueled by energy, commitment, and wit.
• Diana Vishneva in Hans Van Manen’s duet The Old Man and Me, and in Marco Goecke’s solo Tué, in her own festival CONTEXT, Moscow. In the former she reveled in a kind of private womanly grandeur; in the latter she projected an existential despair through hyper nervous hand motions. A strung out addict—or insect, or doomed diva. Magnificent!
• Omagbitse Omagbemi in Neil Greenberg’s This at New York Live Arts: Sensual, impulsive, radiant, with a focus that’s both interior and exterior.
• Heather Olson in BLEED by Tere O’Connor: She’s the Chosen One in this tragicomedy, the one to whom things happen and who instills awe and fear in others. Even at the height of theatrical hysteria, she retains the ironic edge that fits O’Connor’s work like a glove.
• Stella Abrera as Princess Clara in ABT’s Nutcracker by Ratmansky, the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty, the Fairy Godmother in Ashton’s Cinderella, and Mercedes in Don Q: All things light and joyous. Her upper body is surrounded by peaceful space.
• Alan Cumming in Cabaret: Larger than life theatricality, double-edged satire oozing from his lips and every other part of his body.
• Taylor Stanley of NYCB: Warmth, clarity, and verve in every role.
• ABT’s Craig Salstein: irrepressible humor as Gamache in Don Q, the Peruvian in Gaieté Parisienne and the Russian (or buffoon) dance in Nutcracker. A masterful sense of theater that makes visible even the smallest gestures.
• André Feijao, he of the beanpole body and urgent energy, still the most riveting member of Companhia Urbana de Dança, at the Joyce.
• Sascha Radetsky as Franz in Coppélia, which was simultaneously his ABT debut in the role and farewell to the company. A joyousness so mischievous that it verged on recklessness.
• Cynthia Loemij in Rosas danst Rosas by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker at Lincoln Center Festival. You felt her urgency grow with every repetition of every step.
• Tiler Peck and Joaquin De Lux in Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux: With sparkling technique, exciting virtuosity and daring musicality, they brought the house down. An exhilarating highlight of NYCB’s season.
• ABT’s Polina Semionova and David Hallberg: an exquisite and moving Giselle at the Met.
• Herman Cornejo and Maria Kochetkova in ABT’s Don Q: Classy fun.
• Olga Smirnova and Evan McKie in Onegin pas de deux at the YAGP gala: Gloriously tragic.
Most Moving New Musicals
• Beautiful, the Carole King Musical
• Side Show
Funniest New Broadway Musical
• Bullets Over Broadway
• Spectral Evidence, a hokey premiere by Preljocaj (a usually astute choreographer) for NYCB based on women as witches. Nobody liked seeing them burning in their coffins.
• Cacti by Alexander Ekman, performed by Boston Ballet at the Koch, was huge, sprawling, and overlong, with a sophomoric script—except for one fabulous little talking duet.
• The Mikhailovsky Ballet’s Le Halte de Cavalerie at Lincoln Center: a silly pointless Petipa ballet resurrected by Peter Gusev in 1975. The kind of ballet where a man peeks under a woman’s skirt and then looks at the audience with a smirk as though he’s done something clever.
• Josh Bergasse’s Stairway to Heaven, for Sara Mearns and a posse of backup guys: a compendium of every cliché in the book, at DRA’s Fire Island Festival.
For trends, endings and beginnings (including Wendy Whelan’s farewell), click here.
New York City–based dancers know Gibney. It's a performance venue, a dance company, a rehearsal space, an internship possibility—a Rubik's Cube of resources bundled into two sites at 280 and 890 Broadway. And in March of this year, Gibney (having officially dropped "Dance" from its name) announced a major expansion of its space and programming; it now operates a total of 52,000 square feet, 23 studios and five performance spaces across the two locations.
Six of those studios and one performance space are brand-new at the 280 Broadway location, along with several programs. EMERGE will commission new works by emerging choreographic voices for the resident Gibney Dance Company each year; Making Space+ is an extension of Gibney's Making Space commissioning and presenting program, focused on early-career artists. For the next three years, the Joyce Theater Foundation's artist residency programs will be run out of one of the new Gibney studios, helping to fill the gap left by the closing of the Joyce's DANY Studios in 2016.
What is the right flooring system for us?
So many choices, companies, claims, endorsements, and recommendations to consider. The more you look, the more confusing it gets. Here is what you need to do. Here is what you need to know to get the flooring system suited to your needs.
"I'm sorry, but I just can't possibly give you the amount of money you're asking for."
My heart sinks at my director's final response to my salary proposal. She insists it's not me or my work, there is just no money in the budget. My disappointment grows when handed the calendar for Grand Rapids Ballet's next season with five fewer weeks of work.
"It just...always looks better in my head."
While that might not be something any of us would want to hear from a choreographer, it's a brilliant introduction to "Off Kilter" and the odd, insecure character at its center, Milton Frank. The ballet mockumentary (think "The Office" or "Parks and Recreation," but with pointe shoes) follows Frank (dancer-turned-filmmaker Alejandro Alvarez Cadilla) as he comes back to the studio to try his hand at choreographing for the first time since a plagiarism scandal derailed his fledgling career back in the '90s.
We've been pretty excited about the series for a while, and now the wait is finally over. The first episode of the show, "The Denial," went live earlier today, and it's every bit as awkward, hilarious and relatable as we hoped.
Dancers crossing over into the fitness realm may be increasingly popular, but it was never part of French-born Julie Granger's plan. Though Granger grew up a serious ballet student, taking yoga classes on the side eventually led to a whole new career. Creating her own rules along the way, Granger shares how combining the skills she learned in ballet with certifications in yoga, barre and personal training allowed her to become her own boss (and a rising fitness influencer).
Travis Wall draws inspiration from dancers Tate McCrae, Timmy Blankenship and more.
One often-overlooked relationship that exists in dance is the relationship between choreographer and muse. Recently two-time Emmy Award Winner Travis Wall opened up about his experience working with dancers he considers to be his muses.
"My muses in choreography have evolved over the years," says Wall. "When I'm creating on Shaping Sound, our company members, my friends, are my muses. But at this current stage of my career, I'm definitely inspired by new, fresh talent."
Wall adds, "I'm so inspired by this new generation of dancers. Their teachers have done such incredible jobs, and I've seen these kids grown up. For many of them, I've had a hand in their exposure to choreography."
José Greco popularized Spanish dance in 1950s and '60s America through his work onstage and on screen. Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater's American Spanish Dance & Music Festival is honoring the icon in recognition of what would have been his 100th birthday. As part of the tribute, Greco's three dancing children are reuniting to perform together for the first time since their father's death in 2000. Also on the program is the premiere of contemporary flamenco choreographer Carlos Rodriguez's Mar de Fuego (Sea of Fire). June 15–17, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. ensembleespanol.org.
Dance Theatre of Harlem dancers Christopher McDaniel and Crystal Serrano were working on Nacho Duato's Coming Together in rehearsal when McDaniel's foot hit a slippery spot on the marley. As they attempted a swinging lift, both dancers went tumbling, injuring Serrano as they fell. She ended up being out for a week with a badly bruised knee.
"I immediately felt, This is my fault," says McDaniel. "I broke my friend."
What's on the minds of college students today?
I recently had the honor of adjudicating at the American College Dance Association's National College Dance Festival, along with choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess and former National Endowment for the Arts dance specialist Douglas C. Sonntag. We chose three winners—one for Outstanding Choreography and two for Outstanding Performance—from 30 pieces representing schools throughout the country. It was a great opportunity to see what college dance students are up to—from the issues they care about to the kinds movement they're interested in exploring.
Here were the biggest trends and takeaways:
It's summer festival season! If you're feeling overwhelmed by the dizzying array of offerings, never fear: We've combed through the usual suspects to highlight the shows we most want to catch.
Subscription box services have quickly gained a dedicated following among the fashion and fitness set. And while we'd never say no to a box with new jewelry or workout wear to try, we've been waiting for the subscription model to make its way to the dance world.
Enter barre + bag, a new service that sends a curated set of items to your door each season. Created by Faye Morrow Bell and her daughter Tyler, a student in the pre-professional ballet program at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, this just-launched service offers dance, lifestyle and wellness finds in four themed bags each year: Spring Performance, Summer Study, Back-to-Studio and Nutcracker. Since all the products are specifically made for dancers, everything barre + bag sends you is something you'll actually use, (Plus, it all comes in a bag instead of a box—because what dancer can ever have enough bags?).
barre + bag's Summer Collection
Today, American Ballet Theatre announced a new initiative to foster the development of choreography by company members and freelance dancemakers. Aptly titled ABT Incubator, the program, directed by principal David Hallberg, will give selected choreographers the opportunity to spend two weeks workshopping new dances.
"It has always been my vision to establish a process-oriented hub to explore the directions ballet can forge now and in the future," said Hallberg in a press release from the company. Interested? Here's how you can apply to participate.
Back in January, Chase Johnsey grabbed headlines when he resigned from Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, where his performances had garnered critical acclaim for over a decade, alleging a culture of harassment and discrimination. (An independent investigation launched by the company did not substantiate any legal claims.) Johnsey, who identifies as genderqueer, later told us that he feared his dance career was at an end—where else, as a ballet dancer, would he be allowed to perform traditionally female roles?
But the story didn't end there. After a surprise offer from Tamara Rojo, artistic director of English National Ballet, Johnsey has found a temporary artistic home with the company, joining as a guest at the rank of first artist for its run of The Sleeping Beauty, which continues this week. After weeks of working and rehearsing with the company, last week Johnsey quietly marked a new milestone: He performed with ENB's corps de ballet as one of the ladies in the prince's court.