Your Body: Under the Skin
Anneke Hansen mesmerized a Houston audience last summer with her incredibly dexterous feet in her piece we should call it many things (2009), part of The Big Range Dance Festival. Who would have guessed a foot could move with the fluidity of a hand? You wondered if she knew that there are 26 bones in the foot. Turns out Hansen, a self-confessed anatomy wonk, works with Irene Dowd (see “Teacher’s Wisdom,” June 2005), the leading teacher of functional anatomy for dancers. “I’m fascinated by the slow use of the longitudinal arch of the foot and the way weight passes through the feet,” says Hansen, a New York choreographer and teacher.
It’s often said that a dancer’s body is her instrument, but dancers and teachers remain divided on just how much anatomy a dancer needs to know. Anatomical information can shape—and some feel even limit—a dancer. How can the hows and whys of the body be taught so that it leads to more expressive movement? And can too much information get in the way of the poetics of the body?
Hansen, a physician’s daughter, grew up surrounded by medical textbooks, which fostered a certain comfort with the body’s inner structure and workings. She has captured a way of using her body’s capacities that feels fresh. “When I go to the studio to make a dance, all that I know is with me and it’s all fair game. Understanding my inner architecture gives my work its texture,” says Hansen. “Yet the information needs to be in service to my choreography. It’s a problem-solving tool for me, and not the be all, end all. Anatomy practices need to point to a more sensual way of moving.”
If we know how the body works, could it inhibit us? Nancy Bielski, a renowned ballet teacher at Steps on Broadway and American Ballet Theatre, questions the value of anatomy for ballet dancers. “All knowledge is beneficial. However, knowing too much anatomy might prevent a dancer from fully performing the movement,” says Bielski. “Anatomy doesn’t want you to turn out. You are supposed to walk and run with your legs, not point your feet. It would be limiting to dance within the confines of anatomical knowledge, and ballet technique is limiting enough.” Although Bielski uses basic alignment terms in her teaching, she avoids anatomical terms. She remembers her own experience as a young ballet dancer with a teacher who used them. “I didn’t understand it or find it useful to my dancing,” she says. “Does a violinist need to know how the violin works to be a great player?”
Body science doesn’t have to be a drag on your artistic imagination, argues Lynn Simonson, who found her path to anatomy the hard way—through a debilitating knee injury as a young ballet dancer. She went on to create Simonson Technique, which emphasizes practical and functional body knowledge, taught succinctly within the fabric of the dance class. “Dancers need broad concepts,” she says. “Even more important is understanding your own body’s mechanics, and knowing your own range of motion.” A Simonson teacher might suggest to the class during a hamstring stretch to “relax the knees,” because when knees are slightly bent, the stretch goes into the belly of the muscles instead of the soft tissues at the back of the knee. “With an 8-count stretch there’s plenty of time to inject some usefully anatomical information,” Simonson says. “But it has to relate to the dancing body.”
Like Hansen, Andrea Miller thinks of anatomy as part of her ever-evolving dance-making toolbox. Miller, artistic director of Gallim Dance and a 2009 “25 to Watch,” creates dances of intense physicality. She also studied with Dowd while a student at Juilliard. As a member of Ohad Naharin’s Batsheva Ensemble, she studied Gaga and is currently immersed in Gyrotonics.
Miller likes to mine the capacities of the body, combining imagery and experimentation with the basic tenets of anatomy. She considers her understanding of anatomy when entering the studio but draws a line between what she feels the dancer in class might need and what a choreographer would find useful. “As dancers we work with the body. Thus its design, both anatomic and kinetic, are fundamental to the development of a sophisticated, virtuosic mover,” says Miller. But each dance artist, she notes, will approach knowledge of the body’s mechanics according to how much it contributes to their creative vision. For Miller, it’s an essential element. “I am interested in honoring the harmony of the body,” she says. “And in being able to expand its design.”
Nancy Wozny writes about the arts and health from Houston.
Photo Courtesy Wikipedia
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.
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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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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.
When George Balanchine's full-length Don Quixote premiered in 1965, critics and audiences alike viewed the ballet as a failure. Elaborate scenery and costumes framed mawkish mime passages, like one in which the ballerina washed the Don's feet and dried them with her hair. Its revival in 2005 by Suzanne Farrell, the ballerina on whom it was made and to whom Balanchine left the work, did little to alter its reputation.
Yet at New York City Center's Balanchine festival last fall, some regretted its absence.
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Even great choreographers make mistakes. Sometimes they fail on a grand scale, like Don Quixote; other times it may be a minor misstep. Experiment and risk help choreographers grow, but what happens when a choreographer of stature misfires? Should the work remain in the repertory? And what about a work that fails on some levels but not others?
After the horrific March 15 terrorist attacks at two New Zealand mosques, the music and arts community sprang into action to plan a way to help victims and their families. A series of resulting concerts, titled "You Are Us/Aroha Nui," will take place in New Zealand (April 13 and 17), Jersey City, New Jersey (April 17) and Los Angeles (April 18). Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Our People, Our City Fund, which was established by the Christchurch Foundation to aid those affected by the attacks.
Throughout 2019, the Merce Cunningham Trust continues a global celebration that will be one of the largest tributes to a dance artist ever. Under the umbrella of the Merce Cunningham Centennial are classes and workshops, film screenings and festivals, art exhibitions and symposia, and revivals and premieres of original works inspired by the dancemaker's ideas. The fever peaks on April 16, which would have been the pioneering choreographer's 100th birthday, with Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event, featuring a total of 75 dancers in three performances live-streamed from London, Los Angeles and New York City.
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Known simply (and affectionately) to the brand's 41K Instagram followers as Min, she's used her wry, winking sense of humor to give the Singapore-based C&V international cachet.
She recently spoke with Dance Magazine about building the brand, overcoming insecurity and using pizza as inspiration.
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This is huge news, so we'll get straight to it:
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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?
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Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
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It's a bit of an understatement to say that Bob Fosse was challenging to work with. He was irritable, inappropriate and often clashed with his collaborators in front of all his dancers. Fosse/Verdon, which premieres on FX tonight, doesn't sugarcoat any of this.
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