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What Does it Take to Dance in an Immersive Show?
Niko Tsocanos and Ashley Robicheaux. Photo by Darial Sneed, courtesy The Grand Paradise
At various points during The Grand Paradise, I was put inside a pseudo-coffin, told to help a performer undress and left alone to browse a vintage Playboy from the 70s. But the weirdest part of my night was participating in a pillow fight that turned into a slow dance with a performer who happened to be former classmate of mine. She was so completely in character that I couldn't help asking myself if she remembered me. Could she really be that good of an actress? She seemed so natural while staring into my eyes for those 20 seconds that felt like 20 minutes.
The Grand Paradise is the latest immersive show from Third Rail Projects, the creative team behind the Bessie Award-winning Then She Fell (both productions are currently running in Brooklyn). It's set in a 1970s-era beach resort that may or may not contain the Fountain of Youth. But rather than thinking about its themes of time and sexual awakening, I found myself wondering how dancers prepare for this sort of task.
Dancing inside of an audience while also physically and verbally interacting with them requires a very different kind of stage presence from what you would use to perform on a proscenium stage. You’re projecting to people just inches away, rather than in the balcony of an opera house. In this up-close context, the stage veneer has to melt away, and—as carefully choreographed as every step may be—get replaced with something that feels more genuine. Any dancer who reads as fake takes the audience out of the experience.
Photo by Darial Sneed, courtesy The Grand Paradise
In The Grand Paradise, dancers give audience members palm readings, pour them drinks, chat with them about astrology, and, yes, dance for them, among many other assignments. For most of the two-hour show, there is virtually no separation between performer and viewer.
That takes an intense kind of confidence and commitment to your role that isn’t required when you’ve got the safety of a fourth wall. It's a whole other level of vulnerability. After the show, my former classmate admitted it was even harder performing this way for someone she knew (she did remember me!). Even in most site-specific work, where audiences might surround performers on all sides, dancers don't typically acknowledge viewers directly through eye contact or speech or touch. They are "other," which can give dancers a sort of emotional protection.
Last month, a friend who's in Sleep No More and I were talking with Alexandra Wells of Springboard Danse Montreal, who mentioned that all the dancers she knew who “go immersive don’t go back.” I've been thinking about her comment ever since. What is it about immersive theater that hooks dancers?
My theory is that these are performers who dance because they want to connect. The personality types who excel in this kind of show like to see immediate audience reactions and engage on a more intimate level. That rush can be addicting. You have to be ready to improvise and interact not only like a performer, but like a real person. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that's an approach that could benefit any dancer—no matter how far away the audience.
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.
Have a scroll through Agnes Muljadi's Instagram feed (@artsyagnes), and you'll notice that in between her ballet shots is a curated mix of lifestyle pics. So what exactly sets her apart from the other influencers you follow? Muljadi has made a conscious effort to only feature natural beauty products, sustainable fashion and vegan foods. With over 500k followers, her social strategy (and commitment to making ethical choices) is clearly a hit. Ahead, learn why Muljadi switched to a vegan lifestyle, and the surprising way it's helped her dance career.
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
He may not be a household name, but you probably know Brandon Stirling Baker's work. The 30-year-old has designed the lighting for most of Justin Peck's ballets—including Heatscape for Miami City Ballet, and the edgy The Times Are Racing for New York City Ballet—but also Jamar Roberts' new Members Don't Get Weary at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a trio of Martha Graham duets for L.A. Dance Project.
He's been fascinated by lighting ever since he attended a public performing arts middle school in Sherman Oaks, California, where he had his first experiences lighting shows. He also has a background in music (he plays guitar and bass) and in drawing. Both, he says, are central to the way he approaches lighting dance.
Update: Due to an overwhelming response, the in-person audition has been moved to a larger location to accommodate more dancers. See details below.
For the first time in more than 10 years, Janet Jackson is holding an open audition for dancers.
Even better? You could land a spot in her #JTribe simply by posting a video on social media.
What does it take to become an international superstar? Carlos Acosta might have a few ideas.
At the Oxford Literary Festival earlier this month, the BBC sat down with Acosta to ask for his life lessons. His answers—which he says he will pass on to his kids one day—give incredible insight into how he's become such a beloved worldwide success.
The ballet world will converge on San Francisco this month for San Francisco Ballet's Unbound: A Festival of New Works, a 17-day event featuring 12 world premieres, a symposium, original dance films and pop-up events.
"Ballet is going through changes," says artistic director Helgi Tomasson. "I thought, What would it be like to bring all these choreographers together in one place? Would I discover some trends in movement, or in how they are thinking?"
Several weeks ago, Youth America Grand Prix announced that the lineup for tonight's Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow gala at Lincoln Center's Koch Theater would include Bolshoi Ballet principal Olga Smirnova and first soloist Jacopo Tissi. But an article in Page Six published last night states that Smirnova and Tissi were denied visas to enter the US.
YAGP organizers "believe the Department of Homeland Security's decision may be motivated by the myriad tensions between the superpowers," says the piece, noting that "Smirnova is so revered in Moscow that her treatment could create a Russian backlash."
Is it any surprise a world premiere by choreographer Uri Sands and musician Justin Vernon, both renowned for the profound beauty and gorgeous musicality of their work, immediately sold out? We're hungry for creative collaborations that take reflective deep dives into what constitutes our humanity—and then there's the undeniable cool factor. Nine members of TU Dance will perform alongside Bon Iver (Vernon's band) during the evening-length piece. Presented as part of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music Series. April 19–21. The work will also appear at the Hollywood Bowl Aug. 5. tudance.org.