Planting Roots

When Marilyn Maywald dances, it's hard to imagine her doing anything else. Whether tracing fine lines in space, as she does in the work of Beth Gill, or ambling through Vicky Shick's whimsical worlds, she gives her whole self over to the present moment. Her steady focus seems to reach so deeply inward that it doubles back on itself: radiating outward, drawing the audience in.

She brings that kind of attention to her life offstage, too. Like many independent dancers in New York City, Maywald splits her time between creative pursuits and work that more reliably pays the bills. A typical week finds her shuttling between sessions with Pilates clients and rehearsals with contemporary choreographers like Gill, Shick, Melinda Ring and Melanie Maar. Since moving to New York City in 2007, equipped with a BFA from Arizona State University, she has embraced the unpredictability of freelancing, finding ways to create structure while welcoming constant change.

For freelance dancers, scheduling can be like a part-time job in itself. Maywald, 32, has carved out specific days and times to teach Pilates—Monday and Wednesday afternoons and evenings, and all day Sunday. It's smart financially; though she earns some money through dancing, teaching is her primary source of income. Her classes at Finetune Pilates Studio in Brooklyn are all one-on-one, combining mat and apparatus work. The studio director is a former dancer who understands when Maywald needs to take time off for performances or touring. “That's made teaching at that studio really sustainable," says Maywald.

At her busiest, Maywald might dance for eight hours a day: one rehearsal in the morning, another in the afternoon, with a subway ride (lunch break) in between. She prefers to be actively rehearsing for no more than two projects at a time. Anything beyond that, she says, and she can't commit to each as fully as she would like. When her schedule allows, she takes class, mostly Janet Panetta's Ballet for Contemporary Dancers and somatic practices like Klein Technique and Feldenkrais. To keep her own teaching methods fresh, she also takes Pilates once a week. She does her best to make Saturday a dance-free, work-free day.

Between projects, Maywald seeks out more in-depth training opportunities, which can lead to new professional connections. It was during a weeklong Trisha Brown repertory workshop that she first met Shick, the former Brown dancer who was teaching the course—and who soon invited Maywald to dance for her. She's landed other jobs through auditions and the recommendations of friends.

Maywald aspires to burrow into the mind of each artist she works with, “to decode the mystery of what the choreographer wants," she says. “Somehow I cultivated this idea that I should be able to totally shape-shift." Bouncing between different aesthetics is a challenge that excites her. As she puts it, “I love learning from the particularities of each person."

Her own artistry, as she sees it, lies in this process of adapting to different choreographic methods. She delights in the idiosyncrasies of each approach: the precision of Beth Gill's dances versus the freewheeling improvisation that underlies Melanie Maar's; the singular spirit of hard but lighthearted work that Vicky Shick conjures in the studio. But even as she morphs from one project to the next, she does so in a way that's distinctively hers. “She can come across as really fearless and open, and she has the capacity to be incredibly present," says Gill. “She's found a way to really channel an experience of herself into her dancing."

Over the past eight months, Maywald has been going through a different kind of transformation: She's expecting a baby, due in November. How will it affect her dance life? “Maybe I won't be able to do as much in one season, but I want to keep developing as an artist," she says. “I'll have to wait and see."

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Luke Isley, Courtesy Ballet West

How Do Choreographers Bring Something Fresh to Music We've Heard Over and Over?

In 2007, Oregon Ballet Theatre asked Nicolo Fonte to choreograph a ballet to Maurice Ravel's Boléro. "I said, 'No way. I'm not going near it,' " recalls Fonte. "I don't want to compete with the Béjart version, ice skaters or the movie 10. No, no, no!"

But Fonte's husband encouraged him to "just listen and get a visceral reaction." He did. And Bolero turned into one of Fonte's most requested and successful ballets.

Not all dance renditions of similar warhorse scores have worked out so well. Yet the irresistible siren song of pieces like Stravinsky's The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, as well as the perennial Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, seem too magnetic for choreographers to ignore.

And there are reasons for their popularity. Some were commissioned specifically for dance: Rite and Firebird for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes; Boléro for dance diva Ida Rubinstein's post–Ballets Russes troupe. Hypnotic rhythms (Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel) and danceable melodies (Bizet's Carmen) make a case for physical eye candy. Audience familiarity can also help box office receipts. Still, many choreographers have been sabotaged by the formidable nature and Muzak-y overuse of these iconic compositions.

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