Tony Award–winning choreographer Christopher Gattelli, in rehearsals for the Newsies national tour, spoke to CT Now of the crowds of young boys at the stage door throughout the Broadway run, and of young male dancers who came up to him thanking him for his choreography, saying that they want to dance in the show some day.
And some of them are doing just that as the musical opens this weekend (October 23 to 25) at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, Connecticut, before its official tour premiere next month in Philadelphia.
“These new young dancers are carrying the torch now,” Gattelli said during a rehearsal in Manhattan. “Here we are again in the same rehearsal room where we began putting the show together three years ago. When it came time to stage the ‘paper dance,’ the room erupted in cheers and I had to leave for a moment to compose myself.”
The tour’s youngest principal dancer, 16-year-old Ben Cook, was inspired by the show when he first saw it at age 14. “Coming from Virginia, guy dancers weren’t exactly a huge thing,” he said. “So it’s great to see a show with all guy dancers who are big and strong and masculine and looking great.”
But what is it about the show that struck such a strong chord among boys? After all, the era of the newspaper boy is long past.
“You’re watching a show about kids trying to find their way in the world,” says Gattelli, “and who are trying to make a place for themselves at the table. These are kids who work hard, and have integrity, and who just ask for a fair shake in life. But on top of that as a member of the audience you’re also watching young Broadway dancers—who have been trained and are working very hard—making it, too.”
“I don’t know if I could have done a show like this when I was their age,” Gattelli said, adding that he can still do a double tour. “Now the boys are doing triples and I’ve never seen that before. It makes my heart burst because they’re so passionate and they want it so badly. This new generation is so inspiring to me.”
To see the original story, visit http://www.ctnow.com/entertainment/hc-newsies-palace-1019-20141016,0,3074395.story. For a complete listing of tour dates, visit http://www.newsiesthemusical.com/about.
Twyla Tharp’s new position as Joyce Theater Foundation’s 2014–16 artist-in-residence comes with something she’s never had during her esteemed 50-year choreography career: her own school.
“I’ve always been interested in how people learn,” Tharp told the New York Times.
The position provides Tharp with a free rehearsal studio, administrative space, office services, and an annual salary with benefits. As part of the residency, she is now offering company classes to the public at the Joyce’s Dance Art New York Studios.
The opportunity gives Tharp the chance to develop a technique-based curriculum useful to dancers of wide-ranging backgrounds and experience. The classes, which began last week and are taught by Tharp ballet masters and dancers, focus on improving strength, speed, and coordination, or as Tharp described it, “driving the nail—we’re not building the building, but we’re working on driving the nail.”
Company members also attend the classes, something that Tharp said was vital in her own education as a young dancer studying under Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham.
“In both instances company members were in the classes, and it was critical to see people who did the performing also executing the techniques,” she said.
Point Park University’s Conservatory Dance Company will stream its Student Choreography Project live on the internet this weekend.
Point Park University’s Conservatory of Performing Arts has teamed up with C360 Technologies of Wexford, Pennsylvania, to offer an interactive viewing experience that will not only give viewers at home a 360-degree view, but also allow them to independently control the camera to their liking.
The Student Choreography Project is completely student produced; choreographers have the responsibility of holding formal auditions, casting dancers, running rehearsals and making costume decisions. In addition, the show’s lighting design and stage management are collaborative efforts with the conservatory’s technical theater majors.
This year’s show features two separate programs with works by 27 choreographers. Program A, featuring works by 14 choreographers, will be streamed live October 4 at 2pm, and Program B, with works by 13 choreographers, October 4 at 8pm.
The live interactive streaming can be viewed at www.pointpark.edu/studentdance. (Because the streaming uses a Flash player, the live stream will not be available on iOS devices, including iPhone or iPad.)
As part of the “Get Up and Go” program that encourages kids to lead healthier lifestyles, choreographer Christopher Gattelli and the Broadway cast from Disney’s Newsies have released an online dance tutorial that takes kids step-by-step through the famous “newspaper-shredding” section of the show’s “Seize the Day” production number.
“Get Up and Go” was launched in December 2013 and is currently offered to schools participating in Disney Musicals in Schools, Disney Theatrical Group’s outreach initiative that builds sustainable theater programs in New York City schools. Newsies cast members have been visiting participating schools, leading students in conversations about making healthy food choices, and teaching dance sequences from the show.
“Get Up and Go” will expand nationally with the onset of the recently announced Newsies National Tour in the fall of 2014. Programs in select cities will be announced at a later date. The program will expand to include sessions from The Lion King and Aladdin in 2015.
The tutorial features slightly less acrobatic moves than the original Broadway choreography, so it can be accomplished by kids of nearly every skill level. All that’s needed is a good size area of smooth floors and a newspaper to shred. To watch the tutorial, visit
The New York Times reports on a new iPad app that lets users experiment with choreography, digitally.
Passe-Partout, the third and newest dance application by the 2wice Arts Foundation, is its most complex yet. Produced by Patsy Tarr and designed by Abbott Miller, this app presents a new stage for dance that allows a user to overlay a series of one-minute pieces onto one another—eight solos or duets in total—choreographed by New York City Ballet dancer and choreographer Justin Peck for himself and Daniel Ulbricht, a NYCB principal.
In the dances, Mr. Peck and Mr. Ulbricht are accompanied by the music of Aaron Severini, a former NYCB member turned composer, who focuses on different instrumentation for each piece he composed; even if more than one is playing, they don’t clash. He created for clarinet, piano, harp, harpsichord, marimba and percussion.
The dances made for Passe-Partout can be saved or shared through social media. Since one mission of 2wice is to educate the public about dance, Ms. Tarr, its effervescent, philanthropic president, wanted to tackle the rudiments of choreography.
“What this app is doing that is different from the others is that it’s letting the viewer have a little bit more insight into what it takes to create choreography,” Ms. Tarr said. “As you work with these layers, you start to see unison and symmetry and repetition—I was hoping that we would be able to visualize some very core concepts that exist in choreography by letting the viewer interact with them.”
Mr. Miller and Ms. Tarr relish the authenticity that comes through in the app; neither wanted it to look slick. “If you really plow through it very carefully, there are some moments where Justin looks disgusted or just exhausted,” Ms. Tarr said. “We’re trying to get to the essence of choreography. I think people should see that struggle.”
To see the full story, visit http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/28/arts/dance/youre-the-choreographer-an-ipads-your-stage.html?_r=0.
Virginia Commonwealth University named Dr. E. Gaynell Sherrod chair of the Department of Dance and Choreography, beginning August 1.
Following Sherrod’s 15-year career performing, touring, and teaching with Philadanco under Joan Myers Brown, as well as with Urban Bush Women, Inc., she earned a M.Ed in dance education and an Ed.D in dance pedagogy and theory from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
VCU School of the Arts dean Joseph Seipel said about the appointment, “Dr. Sherrod comes with a range of experiences that I feel will add to the dimension to the Department of Dance and provide another model of professionalism in the performing arts, and dance specifically, within the School.”
For more information, visit http://arts.vcu.edu/dance/events/news/.
An item in the New Yorker reports that last month a group of game developers introduced Bounden, an app that invites users to dance, but also lays bare our obsessively protective relationship with our phones.
Created by the Dutch design shop Game Oven, Bounden works like this: two players hold the phone from opposite ends and guide a cursor through a sort of maze on the screen while music plays; the shape of the maze forces the players to twist, spin, and loop around and under each other, as in a dance. The underlying choreography was developed by Ernst Meisner of the Dutch National Ballet, and the app contains videos of company members performing the finished dances.
When executed by professionals, the pieces all tell a strange story about two people who are terrified to drop an iPhone. Bounden begins to play music, a romantic passage from a work like Adolphe Adam’s Giselle, or a jaunty march that recalls music from Ludwig Minkus’s Don Quixote. The phone beseeches the couple to dance, and dance they do, never looking at one another, always grasping their tiny, fragile overlord.
When played by untrained dancers, Bounden creates jagged, awkward movement patterns that resemble a rather abstract downtown performance. It’s a partner dance, but it’s not clear who, if anyone, is meant to lead.
For the full story, visit http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2014/06/bounden-app-dancing-with-your-iphone.html.
The New York Times ArtsBeat blog reports that the hit Broadway musical Newsies will close on August 24 after two-and-a-half years of performances, Disney Theatrical Productions announced on Sunday.
Newsies, based on a 1992 movie that was a box-office flop for the company, was originally developed to be licensed for regional, amateur, and school productions, much like Disney’s stage adaptation of its High School Musical movies. But after Newsies opened to critical acclaim in a try-out production at Paper Mill Playhouse in 2011, Disney decided to undertake a Broadway transfer—though initially put it on sale for just three months. The musical quickly developed a following, however; more than a million people have seen the show on Broadway, and the $5 million production has grossed more than $100 million so far.
The show won Tony Awards in 2012 for best score and choreography.
By Thelma Goldberg
The traditional cramproll combination of step, step, heel drop, heel drop in the basic RLRL or LRLR pattern is an important staple in many dance routines. Consider the following ideas to add variety and new challenges for your students.
• Introduce the “around the world” cramproll of RLLR and LRRL.
• Swing the second step to the right or left for a “pendulum” cramproll.
• Turn the cramproll by starting with a stamp R into either a LRLR or a LRRL.
• Add a flap or a shuffle before or an extra heel drop or toe drop after the cramproll.
• Reverse the cramproll by starting with a heel stand and dropping the toes.
• Use a “press cramproll,” which is three sounds instead of the typical four-sound pattern.
• Explore different rhythms and use words or sentences to reinforce the phrase. One of my favorites is “Go to your room!” for 1&a2. Or “spectacular” for a1a2. Invite your students to name the cramprolls in their dance. Vocalizing the rhythm will bring clarity, strength, and fun to cramproll work.
Turns add variety and interest to all choreography. Besides the cramproll turn mentioned above, consider turning those traveling step heels and flap ball changes. Use a combination of steps and tips for an inside turn or steps and spanks for an outside turn. The traditional paddle turn of step brush step step brush step step brush step step is always an audience pleaser and can be varied by changing the rhythm from 1&a2&a3&a4 to 1 2& (3) &4&5&6&.
Other classic tap turns include the five-point turn (step, heel drop, heel drop, toe drop, toe drop) and the Maxie Ford turn (step shuffle leap tip). Inserting turns is a good way to challenge the stronger dancers in your group. In choreography, having some dancers turn a step while others do it straight adds interest.
Well aware of the shortage of women in math and the sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology senior Kirin Sinha has created a new curriculum called Shine that uses choreography to help 12- and 13-year-old girls understand math concepts.
A CBS Evening News report shows how Sinha will equate a certain dance step, such as a spin or a hip pop, with a math variable such as “x” or “y.” Choreography, such as “three spins with a hip pop,” then becomes “3x + y.” She agrees it’s a process of breaking down concepts into language or ideas that girls can get their arms around—and it’s geared towards girls entering the early teen years when studies show their confidence drops.
Once a week after school, the girls go downstairs to dance, then upstairs to put pencil to paper. “And when they go upstairs and they have a mental block about—‘I don’t understand how to solve this equation,’ we can say, ‘Well, think about what you did at the dance studio downstairs,’” Sinha says.
Students are tested at the start of each eight-week session and again at the end. This year, Sinha says, there was a 273 percent improvement in problem solving.
To see the report, visit http://www.cbsnews.com/news/dance-program-shows-girls-and-math-can-add-up/.
Recently I met Amanda (not her real name), a dance teacher who broke down while she explained that she had once loved teaching. Now it was nothing but stress. When she started teaching, she said, things were simpler: “All I had were toddlers; they loved class and so did I.” Now, she said, “I have students of all ages who are jealous of each other, and the parents question every move I make. They call or text me because they do not like my choreography or to blast me because they think tuition costs are too high. Almost everything I do is wrong!”
“Why do the parents feel comfortable expressing their opinion of your choreography?” I asked. She responded, “I always check in with them when it comes to the choreography. I want to be sure everyone is happy.”
I asked her if she would dare to tell her son’s baseball coach that she wasn’t happy with the way he leads the team. She said, “Absolutely not. I know nothing about sports.”
“And has he ever asked your opinion of his coaching style?” I asked.
“No,” she said. Her eyes opened wide in realization.
“Why do you think the kids are jealous of one another?” I asked.
She answered, “They believe I have favorites. But some kids are more talented, so they should be featured because they are the ones who make my school look good.”
I knew immediately that much of Amanda’s stress could be attributed to her own actions. But I wanted to fire away with a few more questions before pointing this out.
“How do the parents get your phone number? Why do they feel comfortable texting you or contacting you at home? Why do they question the costs of their child’s training?”
Her replies: “I gave them my telephone numbers in case they need to contact me, and I needed to go up on tuition to pay my expenses—but I apologized to them before it happened.”
Amanda, and the many school owners and teachers with numerous years of experience like her, shouldn’t ask parents what they think of choreography. They should have enough confidence in their own expertise not to ask for parents’ approval; instead, they should tell parents how excited they are about each student’s part in the choreography.
Every one of you school owners and dance teachers deserves the freedom to be at home, alone with your thoughts. You need time to live your lives outside of the studio, with your families and loved ones. That means the only phone number your clientele should have is the one for the school office. That goes for email addresses too.
As for tuition, don’t apologize. If you need to raise it, raise it—and say nothing. The price of everything your clients purchase goes up all the time. If someone questions the increase, say that you are doing everything you can to give their child the best dance education possible. End of discussion.
I had to tell Amanda that she, in fact, does have favorites. Teaching dance isn’t only about showing the community the best dancers in a school, it’s about presenting audiences with the passion and joy behind the movement and the music. Any dancer, regardless of age or skill level, is capable of that.
The only message you should send is that you are confident in who you are and what you want to accomplish. You don’t need anyone’s approval for well-thought-out decisions and creative choices that are in your students’ and faculty’s best interests. Believe in yourself, and act like the professional you want others to believe is at the helm of your school and in the classroom.
To help students learn to remember choreography, let them become the teachers. This method works with both recreational and competition dancers, though it seems to benefit the latter most because as team members, they must learn their choreography quickly.
First, review the steps with the entire class in short phrases—around 16 counts—two or three times. Then ask students who are having trouble remembering any of the phrases to teach the teacher/choreographer and the other students this portion of the choreography. After teaching the steps, they usually remember them well.
This tends to work best with dancers ages 9 to 12. They enjoy teaching their teachers and fellow students, whereas older students sometimes feel self-conscious assuming this role with their peers and are worried about teaching the steps incorrectly.
This method is especially helpful for tap. Tap seems to be the hardest for students to remember because of complex changes of weight distribution in the feet. Even a classic time step can be confusing because it requires dancers to hop on one foot, step on the other, and then flap-ball-change immediately after; the transference of weight can make sequences hard to remember, especially for young dancers. It helps students to explain the steps as they demonstrate them.
As an added benefit, taking apart choreography in order to teach it helps dancers better understand dynamics, musicality, and other subtleties. It also helps them improve their technical performance of the steps.
—M. Kyle Plunkett
Bring-a-Friend week is a fun, studio-wide event. But it’s what happens in the classroom that determines how successful the event is in attracting new students. I’ve found that teaching a partner dance gets the best results. Having the kids work in pairs helps make the visiting kids feel comfortable.
In pairing up the students, I let friends partner with the dancers who brought them and split the rest of the class into pairs. For odd-numbered classes, I create a group of three or group one dancer with an assistant. When possible, I group shy students with confident ones.
Using a fun, up-tempo pop song, I teach an easy partner dance using simple moves like pulling and pushing, dishrag turns, jumping patterns, and hip bumps. Students guide their inexperienced friends and help them remember the steps.
In classes for ages 7 and up, I ask students to choreograph part of the dance themselves. I worried that the friends might be intimidated, but they always love it. I ask each pair to choreograph at least four eight-count phrases and let the music play while the kids choreograph.
The students perform the dance in groups, during which I encourage as much clapping, cheering, and general merriment as possible. The performers are instructed to hold their ending poses until all dancers in their group are finished.
To encourage parents of the visiting friends to register their children for classes, I invite the parents to watch the final “performance.” Since I started incorporating this activity into classes during Bring-a-Friend week, at least one of these friends has returned in September and registered for a class.
University of Texas at Austin senior Jonathon “JT” Thomas created I Got Sole with five friends in 2012 to provide an outlet for dancers, videographers, and visual arts wanting to express their dreams, reports the Daily Texan.
The group dance produces videos of original choreography to popular songs that are produced, edited, and filmed by members of the group. “A lot of people call it a dance company, but I like to think of it as a movement,” Thomas said. “It’s really just trying to inspire people to get creative again and to be in that imagination mindset.”
Once formed, the group began to grow quickly and currently has more than 100 members. I Got Sole allows anyone to audition for its videos and attend its weekly sessions. Thomas said even people who think they can’t dance are welcome.
“You can always learn,” Thomas said. “I never send anyone away, especially if they are really willing and committed to learn. I think that everything is possible if you put your mind to it.”
Thomas hopes the group will grow past the college campus and become a global movement. He said he wants I Got Sole to reach and inspire as many people as possible to follow their dreams. “We want this movement to get as big as possible,” Thomas said. “We just want to show people what they are capable of doing.”
To see the full story, visit http://www.dailytexanonline.com/2014/03/18/i-got-sole-is-both-a-dance-group-and-a-social-movement.
The dancers of Miami City Ballet and the musicians of New World Symphony have spent most of their careers doing what they’re told by teachers, choreographers, conductors, and directors. But Tuesday evening, members of both ensembles presented a show of choreography created by the dancers and live music that they put together entirely on their own, a collaboration that’s unprecedented for both.
“It’s been very stressful but super refreshing . . . it’s really been an awesome experience,” said Jeremy Morrow, a NWS bass trombonist who organized more than 40 NWS Fellows to play for more than 25 MCB dancers in a show that was part of the symphony’s Behind the Music series. “We never expected this, but it’s one of New World’s biggest productions this season.”
The Miami Herald said the idea for the collaboration arose last spring, after New York City Ballet dancer and choreographer Justin Peck created a duet for MCB for a show at the symphony. Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez and NWS director of community engagement Robert Smith, a former dancer, arranged for some of the musicians to watch the dance troupe’s daily technique class. But the performers took it from there.
Morrow, whose girlfriend is a modern dancer, says he has long wanted to bring dancers and musicians closer than the traditional arrangement of musicians in the orchestra pit and dancers on stage. “I’ve always wondered why there’s such a divide between live music and dance,” he says. “It seems like it’s only there because it has been there. Musicians feel movement when they play, and dancers feel music. Every dancer I’ve ever spoken to . . . wants that connection.”
Morrow says watching dance and music come together has been a revelation. “I was amazed at how what I heard in the music was absolutely what was created in the choreography,” he says. “The parallels are just huge.”
To read the full story, visit http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/03/17/4000638/miami-city-ballet-new-world-symphony.html.
Choreography videos for the third annual National Dance Week Flash Mob are now available online.
Groups are encouraged to participate in National Dance Week, April 25 to May 4, by learning either the choreography provided by NDW or a dance routine of their own creation, to perform the routine in a public location, and post a video of the performance on the NDW website.
Choreography includes an intermediate-level, funky routine by master teacher Gregg Russell, along with a routine for beginners taught by Christy Lane. Visitors to the NDW website can find information on a poster and essay contest, along with details for purchasing NDW Flash Mob T-shirts.
For the Gregg Russell video, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFOPMbzEuNo&feature=youtu.be. For the Christy Lane video, visit http://www.nationaldanceweek.org/flash-mob/2014/.
Tap maven Brenda Bufalino led an engaging discussion and presentation on the past, present, and future of tap dance choreography at “Tap Talks/Tap Films,” a new discussion series by the American Tap Dance Foundation, reported Broadway World.
Bufalino led her audience at the American Tap Dance Center in New York City through a condensed history of tap choreography and tap companies—a project she has been working on since 2005, titled Tap Composers of the Tap Renaissance. The mission, she said, is to provide historical context so that today’s choreographers know what came before them, and to keep the conversation about choreography going.
“If we can’t talk about it, we can’t expect critics—or anybody else—to talk about it,” she said.
From the resurgence of tap dance and the rise of ensembles in the 1970s and ’80s, to its marginalization by critics as a solo art form, its return to Broadway in the ’90s, and its fleeting focus on improvisation, Bufalino gave a masterful survey of the art form and its peaks and valleys as the audience, comprised of many professional tap dancers, as well as students and aficionados, called out names she had overlooked.
She used clips of work by master choreographers Olivia Rosenkrantz, Lynn Dally, and Max Pollak, as well as herself, to illustrate how different pieces were driven by music, rhythm, environment, character, or theater. Pollak, acknowledging the “shackles of tradition” that have at times restrained the art form, emphasized the importance of having bodies of work that dancers can leave behind as a legacy.
“Tap Talks” are scheduled through June, meeting one Friday each month to discuss a different topic. Admission is $5, and refreshments are served. Learn more at www.atdf.org.
The Mark Morris Dance Group is the only major dance company in the country committed to performing with live music, and it’s a mystery to founder Mark Morris why others don’t do the same.
“Why isn’t it important to other people?” Morris said last week in a phone interview with the Rapid City [SD] Journal from his home in New York City. “People would say that it’s expensive. To me, it’s the same as having non-live dancers. I don’t want to be held hostage by a recorded piece of music. When I go to the theater, I want to have an actual experience. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
The world-renowned dance company has a number of other innovations that will be on display during its residency in South Dakota next week. The group will perform at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center and General Beadle Elementary School, hold master classes through Black Hills Dance Theatre, and present a workshop for Parkinson’s disease patients, before heading to Sioux Falls. All appearances are part of the state’s Dance on Tour consortium.
As always, Morris’ choreography starts with the music. “The music is always why I make up a piece,” he said. “I always work from music, so I choose a piece that I think is great and that can stand many listenings. I listen to music and study it and then I make it up with dancers in the room.”
At General Beadle, the troupe will perform Going Away Party to the recorded music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. It’s a rare exception to the live music commitment. “The recording couldn’t be replicated because of the age of the guys and the music,” Morris said.
Words and dance unite in a creative program for Baltimore students
By Jennifer Kaplan
Writing is a solitary pursuit. The tools, spare: pen and paper or a computer, one’s imagination, and a story to tell or idea to convey. Choreography, too, can frequently be a singular occupation: there’s the dancemaker alone in the studio; the score he or she has chosen; and an idea, a message, a story to impart.
Writing taxes the mental and intellectual capacity, while choreography challenges the physical need to create with one’s body. But words and movement—as dancers, dance teachers, and choreographers innately understand—go together like a key into its designated lock. The descriptive vocabulary of the writer can help dancers achieve a finer, more authentic performance through the use of guided and specific imagery.
Words and movement—as dancers, dance teachers, and choreographers innately understand—go together like a key into its designated lock.
Full Circle Dance Company, a multiethnic Baltimore-based contemporary troupe of dancers, many graduates of local college dance programs, spent last year mining both these creative pursuits—writing and choreography—in a multifaceted program called Moving Passages. Each year the company, which is in residence at Morton Street Dance Studio, selects a theme to explore. The outcomes are presented in full-evening performances, community workshops at Morton Street, and in selected public schools and other community-based venues.
Moving Passages challenges the choreographer/dancers of Full Circle to incorporate literature—everything from Shakespeare and the Bible to Jill Scott and Twitter feeds, as well as personal writing—into their creative process. Among the questions asked are: How do we find words to describe something as fleeting and physical as dance? Do dancers think in words while they are dancing, or in some other language? How do writers create a sense of movement with immobile words on a page? How does writing inspire dancers and choreographers, and how can they share that inspiration with their audience?
Company and studio founder Donna Jacobs says she sees real results in her students at Morton Street as well as in local afterschool and residency programs in public schools. The students are better behaved, demonstrate higher-level thinking skills, and improve their grades. “Combining words and movement is a fascinating way to impart to young people how to communicate,” she says.
Jacobs, Full Circle’s artistic director, is a one-woman powerhouse. She divides her time between Morton Street (which she founded in 1992) and her work as a top lobbyist for a major medical school in Annapolis, Maryland, serving as senior vice president at the University of Maryland Medical System.
The studio serves approximately 150 students with a range of classes from creative movement to ballet, pointe, modern, tap, jazz, traditional African, and Afro-fusion, as well as adult classes and a summer dance intensive. Jacobs notes that as the resident company, Full Circle plays an important role in Morton Street’s Baltimore neighborhood by reaching out to underserved youngsters at some of the area’s public schools.
One of Full Circle’s dancers, Massachusetts native Liz Pelton, helped forge Moving Passages, which combines literary and writing techniques with movement exploration and invention, billed as choreography inspired by writing and writers. “I like to see how we partner with writers and blend our two mediums together,” she says.
A graduate of Georgetown University, Pelton notes how exciting it is, when embarking on a new piece, to sit down with a group of professional writers and dancers and “just brainstorm” as they begin exploring. Topics they’ve investigated in dance and words have included motherhood, race, religion, the environment, and folklore and legends.
With Full Circle’s longstanding commitment to broaden the audience for dance in Baltimore, Moving Passages draws from diverse pools: those interested in dance and choreography, of course, but also those who have an interest in the subject matter, author, or literary genre.
Pelton points out that Baltimore is richly populated with writers, past and present, from H.L. Mencken and Edgar Allan Poe to Laura Lippmann, Anne Tyler, and Jessica Anya Blau to film auteur Barry Levinson and iconoclast John Waters. “I wanted to bring these two very separate worlds together,” she says.
Full Circle does that in several ways: inviting writers in to watch, comment, and write during rehearsals, then share what they have written with the choreographer and dancers; providing workshops, both in the community and at Morton Street, to help youths and teenagers build their word and movement vocabulary; giving pencil and paper to each person in the audience and asking them to write something—an inspiration, a question, a comment, an observation—about what they saw in the dance.
Jacobs, an educator at heart, finds the most joy in working with teens and youngsters. She believes that kinesthetic learning can often boost the confidence and skills of students who struggle in a traditional desk-and-blackboard classroom setting. That’s why she offers Moving Passages workshops.
“I wanted to give teens and young people some vocabulary about dance,” she says. “We performed some movement, some choreography we had created, perhaps on a broad theme or concept.” Then her facilitators—dancers and teachers from the company and studio—asked the children and teens in the audience to put pencil to paper and write what they saw, what they thought, what they felt. “One person might write, ‘Her movements were spidery, like weaving a web.’ ” Another might note the geometric patterns, or an idea or theme she saw in the relationships among the dancers. Or they might see a story and retell it on the page.
“They draw not on a dance vocabulary,” Jacobs says, “but on what they see, maybe in nature, maybe in metaphors, and we encourage them to look to verbs and to the emotion they feel when watching.”
The result? Armed with some tools—and told to feel free to see what they choose in the choreography—Jacobs says, “they were gratified by the freedom of expression that’s integral to all arts.”
Moving Passages has been offered on weekends to the studio’s students and others interested in taking part, and Morton Street has forged a partnership with Roland Park Elementary/Middle School and other Baltimore area schools to bring in dancers to enhance students’ writing and communication skills.
Pelton describes other activities, including allowing students to create movement to go with words they are given—words that can induce interesting textural and physical experiences, like “jellyfish,” “popcorn,” or “explosive.” Pelton then groups participants in teams of three; each has to watch and guess the words the other teams present.
Sometimes, too, Jacobs, Pelton, or other Full Circle and Morton Street dance teachers let small groups collaborate on a choreographic score to go with the story in a familiar book. One such example, Dr. Seuss’s beloved Green Eggs and Ham, was a hit with students in an elementary afterschool program.
Sixteen-year-old Willis Brandon started dancing at Morton Street Dance Center at age 9. These days he focuses on ballet and modern but also takes some tap and jazz. The tenth-grader has great praise for Moving Passages and sometimes helps out as an aide for younger students.
“In elementary and middle school I always liked poems and learning how to read,” Brandon says, “but reading was not my strong point. I always wanted to learn how to make my reading better. I decided to go to the Moving Passages program, and they taught me everything I needed.” He added that it even helped him with math, which he says is his best subject, by making him think differently about lines and angles and spatial relationships in geometry, for example.
Other program tie-ins that have helped boost the studio’s and company’s visibility have included partnering with a local bookstore to promote a reading and literacy angle through dance, and highlighting specific published works and their connection to the upcoming dance concert.
Jacobs also points out that many choreographic methods, from repetition to retrograde to developing an eye for good editing, are similar to the tools writers use in crafting a piece. She believes their experiences in the studio enhance their writing and communication skills. She says, “We need to figure out how to speak children’s language so we can meet them where they are, on their level of skill and in their community.”
That’s why the Full Circle dancers prefer working in a school or other familiar setting—because students are more comfortable experimenting on their own turf.
Moving Passages has become a signature program of Full Circle, integrating the company into the Morton Street studio in deeper ways than before. It also bridges a creative gap by having the company members draw from diverse sources for their choreographic output.
“We always like to look beyond our own circle for different perspectives” on dance, Jacobs says. What better place to look for inspiration than in the words of novelists, writers, and poets?
Votes have just been counted for the shortlist of the 2014 National Dance awards, based on works that were performed in the U.K. between August 31, 2012, and September 1, 2013.
London’s The Guardian states that categories within which the awards are given are always controversial—the line between modern and classical has become especially blurry, and the shortlist has been drawn up from an eclectic set of nominations. “Inevitably, some major names have been omitted and performance categories underrepresented,” the paper says.
Some categories and nominees include:
• Best Male Dancer: Dane Hurst (Rambert), Vadim Muntagirov (English National Ballet), Sergei Polunin (Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet and guest artist, Royal Ballet), and Edward Watson (Royal Ballet).
• Best Female Dancer: Maria Kochetkova (San Francisco Ballet), Natalia Osipova (Mikhailovsky Ballet and guest artist, Royal Ballet and Bolshoi Ballet), Olga Smirnova (Bolshoi Ballet), and Eva Yerbabuena (Ballet Flamenco Eva Yerbabuena).
• Outstanding Company: Boston Ballet, Mikhailovsky Ballet, Rosas, and San Francisco Ballet.
• Best Classical Choreography: Mark Morris (Beaux for San Francisco Ballet), David Nixon (The Great Gatsby for Northern Ballet), Alexei Ratmansky (24 Preludes for Royal Ballet), and Christopher Wheeldon (Aeternum for Royal Ballet).
To see the full list, visit http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2013/nov/08/2014-national-dance-awards-shortlist.
Through the Eyes of a Dancer (Wesleyan University Press) is a carefully curated collection of reviews and essays, written by Dance Magazine’s editor at large, Wendy Perron, reports Jennifer Edwards in The Huffington Post.
Edwards says: “Perron’s book flows like a choreographic retrospective. The reader has an opportunity to witness both the writer, and the work, evolve. Her pieces took me on a journey, filling in the gaps of my own understanding about dance from the perspective of a woman who was both an insider and an outsider, simultaneously knowing and questioning.
Perron includes writing on downtown dance in the ’60s and ’70s, interviews with visionaries like Susan Sontag, essays on people including Katherine Dunham, Yvonne Rainer, and Miguel Gutierrez, and topics like blogging about choreography. This is an important publication, surfacing at a time when concert dance, to me, feels flat. Perron provides depth, breadth, and life.”
To read Edwards’ chat with the author, visit http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jennifer-edwards/through-the-eyes-of-a-dan_b_4375144.html?utm_hp_ref=dance.
Banish the recital blues by saying goodbye to the tried-and-true
By Julie Holt Lucia
The annual recital is unquestionably one of the most important events on a dance school’s calendar. It’s a rite of passage for dancers and a choreography showcase for teachers—and it is one of the biggest and best ways for studio owners to market their schools.
Most of us school owners, I would venture to guess, know our recital planning like the backs of our hands; not much changes from year to year. We rely on what’s routine and comfortable, which is understandable when we’re dealing with a large production. But wouldn’t it be fun to jazz things up? Here are some ideas to stretch your creativity beyond mere dance steps. Think of them as a booster shot for your business!
Do you have a group of super-creative students who love making up dances? Consider letting them create choreography that they’ll perform in the recital (subject to your approval, of course). This could be accomplished with a dedicated dance composition class that teaches the basics of choreography, or it could be more informal, like a side project outside of classes.
Multimedia effects can present your dancers with a performance challenge and offer your audience a new perspective on how dance can be viewed.
The dancers can work together to create movement, or each one can be responsible for choreographing one section of music. Another possibility is to have these students set choreography on a group of younger students, either a class (chosen by you) or a group of volunteer dancers who are willing to commit to extra rehearsal time.
Give the student choreographers parameters to work within, such as a dance genre or pre-selected music, and have an instructor supervise and guide them to ensure the results comply with your expectations. Keeping the costuming and lighting simple will let the students focus on making movement.
Multimedia in the mix
Multimedia effects can present your dancers with a performance challenge and offer your audience a new perspective on how dance can be viewed. Multimedia in dance typically involves projecting something—video footage, photos, or text—onto a screen behind or alongside the dancers. The dancers can react to or interact with the images or text, or the projections can serve as part of the setting. Some venues include projectors in the rental package; if yours doesn’t, consider purchasing a projector if you plan to use multimedia effects often.
Ideas abound for using multimedia. A class or small group could dance alongside video footage of themselves from class or performance, performing complementary choreography. Or you could project images or photos that inspired the movement, illustrate it, or expand on an idea. Try depicting a history of dance using images of famous choreographers, or project a poem that a narrator reads aloud while the dancers perform to the rhythm of the words. With so many possibilities, you could incorporate something new with multimedia each year.
If you have a small school and want to approach your recital from a less traditional angle, holding it in an unconventional venue can add a spark. Art and science museums, park amphitheaters, sculpture gardens, and arboretums offer unique performance spaces. Choose a recital theme that fits the site, such as “Visual Art + Dance” or “The Elements of Life,” and let the surrounding space inspire your choreography. Visit the site well in advance to take note of assets or limitations or photograph the environment, and make sure to relay that information to your staff. It may be possible to hold one or more rehearsals in the space.
With site-specific performances, make sure the logistics are well planned and communicated to staff and customers ahead of time, including details about parking, tickets, programs, and volunteers. If you go with an outdoor space, arrange for an alternative site in case of bad weather.
If your school’s large enrollment makes a site-specific performance difficult, another option is to host a variety of small site-specific performances throughout the year. Make videos of those performances and integrate them into the full-scale recital, either as accompaniment to other dances (perhaps using some of the same choreography) or as pre- and post-show entertainment in the lobby.
Live music for a dance performance doesn’t have to mean hiring an orchestra, or even using an orchestra pit. A solo musician or ensemble playing onstage or in another part of the theater can add an exciting element to any performance. Ask a college music department or local music school if some of their students would be interested in playing for a dance performance (and are willing to commit to the rehearsal and performance schedule). Determine how many dance routines they’ll accompany, and discuss appropriate music selections. If you’re able to plan well in advance, consider asking if anyone would like to compose original music for the recital. (Be sure to get samples of their work, and interview any likely candidates to determine whether they can write to your specifications regarding length, tempo, tone, and style.)
Even if you face limitations (maybe your only option for live music is percussion, or the only available dancers are beginners), play to the musicians’ and dancers’ strengths as best you can, and get creative. Don’t be afraid to shake things up. For example, instead of setting a traditional ballet suite to piano or strings, choreograph a classical-music–based modern dance instead. Or try contemporary ballet or a traditional jazz routine accompanied by drums. Don’t forget to credit the musicians and/or music school in the recital program and include them in curtain calls.
Dance and theater go hand in hand, so why not invite a local children’s theater troupe to share performance space (and expenses) with your school during recital time? With a broad theme like “That’s Entertainment!” or “Once Upon a Time,” you could easily incorporate a variety of short monologues, scenes, or songs by the young actors—perhaps a theater segment after every four or five dance routines. (This would also give your busiest dancers more time to change costumes.)
You could also take the idea a step further with a theme called “On Broadway,” keeping the acting, singing, and dancing within the boundaries of kid-friendly Broadway musicals. If you already have a rapport with the theater director, collaborate with the troupe on a big opening or closing number as well.
Set similar time limits for theater scenes and dance numbers (three to five minutes), and use simple sets to avoid lag time between routines. If you think a collaborative show might be too long, consider breaking up the recital into two or three shorter shows instead.
Regardless of how many shows you present, plan enough time for tech and dress rehearsals so the dancers and actors know exactly what to expect regarding cues for everyone’s entrances, exits, lights, and sound.
Remember Choose Your Own Adventure books? At critical junctures, the reader could decide which angle of the story to pursue. Your recital audiences might like to have the same option, even in a small way. This requires good planning but could result in a surprise showstopper.
To start, have a group (or more than one) of intermediate to advanced dancers prepared to perform two very different routines. With the tickets or programs, include a voting card listing the two options. Ask audience members to turn in their votes during intermission, during which time a designated stagehand or volunteer tallies them. A quick method is to have the tickets pre-printed with, for example, A and B on a perforated end, and they could tear off their choice. And voilà! By the end of intermission the dancers will know which routine they are performing, and the audience will be eagerly waiting to see if their choice won the vote. (Use the other routine elsewhere in the show or for a future community performance or competition.)
Another way to engage the audience is to extend the reach of the recital theme to include them. Call the show “Summer Fun” and ask the audience to wear their luau best, or call it “Inspiration” and ask them to bring clothing or food donations for a local shelter. Instead of doing a traditional finale, keep the theme going by inviting the audience to participate in a student-led dance jam. Bring most of the dancers onstage and send a handful of them into the aisles to get the audience dancing.
Take a leap!
If none of these ideas excites you, try exploring stage technology for inspiration—even small changes to lights and sound or music can make a difference—or brainstorm ideas with your staff. When you find something that feels right, take a leap! A fresh approach does more than entertain—it keeps your clients and audiences wondering what you’ll do next and eager to go along for the ride.
By David Arce
During performances the audience looks at the dancers’ faces first, and then moves on to the choreography and technique. To encourage students to explore facial expressiveness without feeling embarrassed, try this between barre exercises: have them close their eyes and then call out expressions for them to try.
One major element that separates students from professional dancers is the quality of the connecting steps in choreography (such as walking and running), as well as non-choreographed stage movements such as bows. These must be done with confidence and are as important as the turns, jumps, and other technical steps; therefore they should be given equal attention in rehearsals.
Acting in the Interest of Dance
Musical theater class can involve far more than choreography done to Broadway tunes. Here’s your chance to work weekly with your students on one of the most difficult skills to grasp—how to create and sustain emotion and/or character.
Set aside 15 minutes or so of every class for acting study. Exercises don’t have to be detailed or complex—the simpler, the better. Have students do something physical, like playing an imaginary game of soccer or pretending to keep a balloon in the air. They can mime walking a dog, baking a cake, or building a sandcastle. Any familiar movement will do.
Since you are basically asking the students to improvise—and some may be uncomfortable or uncertain—be sure to prompt them to be as creative as possible. Ask questions rather than give instructions: “What other steps go into baking a cake?” or “Where did you walk the dog? What else could you do once you got there?”
In future weeks, add an “emotion.” They are going to walk the dog, but this time they’re exhausted, or stressed out, or bored, or elated. Allow the students to suggest new emotions to try. Encourage them to create and share an imaginary scenario that explains why they are so stressed out or so happy.
Keep changing the scenarios. One week, let them pick their own action but specify a location—underwater, perhaps, or on top of Mount Everest. Make sure they change their movements accordingly—smooth and slow for underwater and with lots of shivers for the mountaintop. The next week, change who they are—toddlers or senior citizens, cheerleaders or cats.
Finally, apply one or more of these conditions to a piece of choreography they’ve been working on in class.
The Three Hs
If you are looking for a sendoff ritual, I highly recommend ending your classes with one of the Three Hs: a high five, handshake, or hug.
I encourage my teen dancers to thank me after class. I appreciate having this time to congratulate them on a job well done, to give personal encouragement about their goals, and to let them know that I care. I wanted the same opportunity with my younger dancers, but they rarely approached me after class—mostly because they didn’t remember they were supposed to. Sometimes I had to remind them to clap, too. I needed a fun sendoff ritual that allowed me to connect with them like I did with the teens.
I found it when my son told me that his second-grade teacher asked the students for a high five, handshake, or hug as they entered her classroom. I thought the idea was brilliant because it let the student decide on the kind of contact, yet provides the personal connection I was looking for.
I tried it in my ages 6- to 12-year-old jazz classes with great success. The kids loved having the choice of farewell. The girls mostly wanted hugs, although a few reserved types opted for handshakes. All of the boys wanted high fives. One girl gave me a high five, thought about it, and then went through the line again and asked for a hug. Some of the kids loved it so much that they got into line several times. Some started giving me their own made-up handshakes. I did have to set aside three minutes at the end of each class for the new ritual because of the students’ enthusiasm, but the results made the slightly shorter class worth it.
The best and most noticeable change has been in the students who are new this year and in the dancers who are generally more reserved. Both groups have become more open and responsive, and they seem more comfortable in class.
Tap-dancing is one of those old-fashioned throwbacks that theoretically shouldn’t be cool anymore, says the Huffington Post. But it requires such incredible—and incredibly subtle—skill that when done well it will blow you away every time.
Which is why this video of Book of Mormon swing Christopher Rice and his fellow Broadway dancers tapping along to Anna Kendrick’s Pitch Perfect hit “Cups (When I’m Gone)” has gone viral, gathering 883,500-plus views in six days.
Other dancers tapping out Rice’s choreography in the video are: Darien Crago (White Christmas tour), Andrew Hodge (tours of A Chorus Line, Cats), Natasha Scearse (White Christmas tour), Kelly Sheehan (Broadway’s 42nd Street, White Christmas), Clay Thomson (Broadway’s Matilda, Newsies), and Kirstin Tucker (Broadway’s Cinderella, tour of West Side Story).
To see the story and video, visit http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/10/18/cups-tap-dance-video_n_4122941.html.
Imagine Ballet Company, a preprofessional company from Bakersfield, California, will hold a public, free, three-hour class of training and choreography that will culminate in a flash mob–style dance performance on October 12 in Beach Park.
“Dance with Us” will begin at 9am, with a noon performance. “We are celebrating our 20th anniversary this year, and we thought it would just be awesome to invite the public to come and dance with us,” Norma Hamm, a member of the Imagine Ballet Company’s board of directors, told The Bakersfield Californian. “This is not something that you always see with a ballet company.”
After group stretching, participants will break off into performing groups to learn the moves—a mix of jazz and hip-hop—before reuniting to learn the grand finale. Imagine Ballet Company dancers will be teaching the moves and performing alongside the students.
The choreography for Dance with Us is designed to be one size fits all. “There is no prior dance experience necessary to take part in this,” Hamm said. “Our dancers will be out there showing everyone how to do it and you can follow along. Just wear tennis shoes and something comfy you can really move around in.”
The event is open to the first 100 registered participants ages 7 and up and includes lunch. Information/registration forms can be found at http://imagineballetcompany.com/dance-with-us/.
To see the original story, visit http://www.bakersfieldcalifornian.com/entertainment/community/x196573171/Would-you-like-to-dance-Troupe-seeking-partners.
Edward Villella, 76, founding artistic director of Miami City Ballet and New York City Ballet star, is choreographing again—and don’t be surprised if audiences shiver at his latest work.
“Reveries,” a lush romantic ballet about unattainable love featuring five couples and set to Tchaikovsky’s Orchestral Suite no. 3 in G Major, is the first ice skating ballet Villella has choreographed in 36 years. Commissioned by the Ice Theatre of New York, the piece will be presented as part of ICE:DANCE, October 24 at the Sky Rink, Pier 61, at the Chelsea Piers in New York City.
The last time Villella choreographed an ice ballet was in 1977 for a Dorothy Hamill TV special. It was there that he met his wife-to-be, world-champion figure skater Linda Carbonetto, who had represented Canada in the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble, and had been hired by Hamill to help Villella adapt his ballet choreography for the ice.
“Reveries” will feature skating World Team members Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre in the principal roles along with seven-time British champion and European bronze medalist John Kerr. “I enjoy seeking a dramatic arc within pieces, which is a large part of Ice Theatre of New York’s goals—to take an audience on a journey in an emotional way,” Villella said. “Figure skating, with its ice and blades, extends the sense of glide that is not always available to us in the classical ballet canon.”
For tickets and information, visit www.icetheatre.org.
The Yard, a choreography and dance residency/performance center located in Chilmark, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, will hold its second annual Tap the Yard 2: A Vineyard Festival of Rhythm and Beats, July 26 to August 3.
The two-week festival incorporates other forms of rhythmic dance including Irish step dancing, hip-hop and popping by the Wondertwins, and a performance by Camille A. Brown & Dancers, a critically acclaimed troupe known for its high theatricality.
Featured will be some of the best tap and percussive artists from across the country. Week one shows feature David Parker, Jeff Kazin and The Bang Group, The Wondertwins, and Irish step dancer Trent Kowalik, with shows July 26 and 27 at 8pm, and July 28 at 11am and 6:30pm.
Week two will feature Jason Samuels Smith, Camille A. Brown & Dancers, Michelle Dorrance/Dorrance Dance, Derick K. Grant, David Parker, and Jeff Kazin, with shows July 31 and August 1 at 8pm. Both weeks’ performances will be held at The Yard’s Patricia N. Nanon Theater. General admission is $25; with students, seniors, and military at $15.
The festival will close with a FamilyTapJam on August 3 at 6:30pm at the Performing Arts Center in Oak Bluffs. General admission is $35; with students, seniors, and military at $15. To purchase tickets, visit http://dancetheyard.org//YardSeasonSchedule.php.
Florida Southern College in Lakeland students will be able to study dance and learn choreography as part of a new musical theater major in a brand new dance building now under construction.
The Ledger reported that groundbreaking ceremonies were held this week for the Wynee Warden Dance Studio, named for Winifred “Wynee” Warden of Orlando, a major benefactor of the private college. The construction of the building is part of the school’s Fine Arts Department expansion, and will be completed in spring of 2014.
Anne Kerr, president of the school, said she was inspired to start a dance program after talking with students. “Every year I host a series of dinner conversations with groups of students,” she said. “For years, students have requested more dance classes, especially ballet and, believe it or not, ballroom dancing.
“While we will emphasize a classical ballet program, we will also offer noncredit classes in ballroom dancing. I am excited to add this important dimension to our performing arts curriculum. It also helps us with our new musical theater major [launching this fall], which of course, requires dance. There will also be dance classes tailored to fit the various dance requirements of our productions.”
The new, 4,700-square-foot studio building will be constructed at the southwest corner of Johnson Avenue and Park Street. The college will tear down an older home previously used for office space to make way for the building.
To see the full story, visit http://www.theledger.com/article/20130506/NEWS/305065040/1134?Title=Florida-Southern-College-to-Build-New-Dance-Studio.
Museum’s Public Art Project is to the Pointe
“It was a good fit.” And with that pun, Sarah Hall Weaver described the impetus behind a public art and fund-raising project by the National Museum of Dance—24 five-foot-tall pointe shoes, decorated by area artists and sponsored by local businesses, scattered about the tourism town of Saratoga Springs, New York.
Weaver, NMD assistant director, told Dance Studio Life that the idea of oversized shoes dovetailed nicely with a current exhibit, “En Pointe,” which explores the history and mystery of pointe shoes, as well as with the museum’s longstanding desire to stimulate the local arts community.
The participating artists—painters, sculptors, and artists working in mosaic, collage, metals, and other 3D media—were encouraged to infuse the work they did on the shoes with their own artistic vision. Many thought they had to base their work on a dance-related theme like ballerinas or tutus. “We explained that when you see a work of dance, it’s not always about dance—that’s just the medium. That is hard for people who are not so dance savvy to understand. You could hear the sighs of relief” from the artists, she said.
After an official unveiling May 31 at the museum, the shoes will be scattered around town, where Weaver hopes they will intrigue passersby for years to come. “It’s cheeky, and a little fun, and a way of warming up new audiences to dance.”
Writers Take the Prize at Joffrey Ballet School
It usually takes raw talent, impeccable technique, and visible promise to make it into one of the top summer ballet intensives. At the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City, it might, instead, take a neat turn of phrase, a catchy anecdote, or a moving story.
This winter, Christopher D’Addario, Joffrey Ballet School’s executive director, waded through 1,000 personal essays submitted by students eager to win a full two-week tuition/housing scholarship to one of the school’s intensives in New York, L.A., Miami, and elsewhere.
The huge response was unexpected, he said—the first year of the contest, only 100 essays arrived; the second year, 500. D’Addario, who was up until 1am for longer than a month trying to read all of the essays, told Dance Studio Life he wasn’t looking for “grammatically correct writing,” but “great personal stories” from young dancers who are passionate about dance.
Awarding scholarships based on essays instead of auditions works because Joffrey recently restructured its intensive program to include a beginner level, he said. About 30 lucky essayists will win scholarships for summer 2013—prizes given in addition to $1 million in talent-based scholarships. “I’m very happy that we can touch so many dancers’ lives,” said D’Addario.
Dance Studio Industry Revenue Tops $2 Billion
Times might seem tight at individual studios, but the dance studio industry as a whole is expected to generate $2.1 billion in revenue in 2013, reports industry research firm IBISWorld.
In a report issued in January, IBISWorld said the dance studio industry has experienced annual revenue growth of 1.2 percent over the past five years, despite challenges caused by the recession, with growth of 2.4 percent predicted for 2013. The growth is due in part to the impact of dance-inspired TV shows, with the lion’s share going to ballroom-based studios and events, which have experienced a 35 percent attendance spike over the past decade.
“Rising consumer interest” will also fuel growth in the number of dance studios, which is expected to increase at an average annual rate of 1.2 percent to a total of 8,264 studios in 2013, with annual revenue continuing to rise as well.
The World Weighs in on Web Ballet
Call it choreography by crowdsourcing. California’s Diablo Ballet—a ballet pioneer of live performance tweeting and Pinterest—is continuing its march through new media by soliciting ideas for the movement, mood, and music for its latest ballet via Twitter.
This winter, fans not only voted for which musical selection (choices by Vivaldi, Sibelius, and Bach) would be used, but chimed in with suggestions for emotions, theme, storylines, and even steps. Diablo dancer Robert Dekkers then took seven of those suggestions and, in a little over two weeks’ time, choreographed a ballet that premiered March 1 and 2 at Shadelands Arts Center, Walnut Creek.
Co-founder and artistic director Lauren Jonas said while the idea might not work for other dance companies, it fit with Diablo’s preference for presenting in intimate venues and encouraging interaction between performers and the public. “I feel there are so many choices nowadays of what people do with their time and how they spend their money,” she told Dance Studio Life. “How do we continue to reach that audience and get them interested and involved? We have to remain open and embrace all sorts of outlets.”
Dekkers, who has choreographed both for Diablo and his own company, Post:Ballet, told DSL the “web ballet” process was a test of his choreographic ingenuity. “I have to go past being in control of all the ideas and concepts, take these seven suggestions, and develop a piece that is interesting and is a cohesive work. I wanted the best of both worlds—to use technology to get people involved, and still maintain a high standard of creativity and presentation.”
Jimmy Locust’s kid-oriented mission matches his high-energy career
By Ryan P. Casey
A normal week might find Jimmy Locust teaching 20 classes at his studio in Stamford, Connecticut. Or he might be on a plane to Los Angeles or Hawaii to choreograph a music video. Or a camera crew might be following him as he prepares for an upcoming performance with his acclaimed youth performance team, Hip Hop’s Finest. Life keeps the diminutive Locust, who is four feet nine inches tall, on the move.
A veteran teacher and performer, Locust is also a studio owner, celebrity choreographer, and budding reality-TV star. Outside of his professional work, he uses his talents to help others by running several community and anti-bullying programs for children and teens.
Locust, 51, owns and directs Locust Performing Arts Center, founded in Stamford in 2010. After operating for several years out of a hotel ballroom, the studio moved to its own building in September 2012, where it serves more than 400 students of all ages each week, in disciplines ranging from tap and hip-hop to modern dance and musical theater, including several pre-professional youth performance companies.
A dual career
When Locust, a native of Dayton, Ohio, moved to Connecticut in 2005, he had what few other dance studio owners can boast of: a Hollywood resume that includes appearances with music icons such as Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Quincy Jones. Locust continues to split his time between Stamford and Los Angeles, running his studio classes and companies and community-education programs while working as an in-demand choreographer.
“It’s really a blessing to have a career where I can wear different hats,” he says. “It keeps me on my toes. I can bring the energy from L.A. back to my students, and I can bring the energy from my classroom to the directors and producers I’m working with.”
But he doesn’t keep these two worlds separate—in fact, he brings his Hollywood career into the classroom every chance he gets.
[Gus Giordano] told me, ‘I don’t see your height; I see your dancing. I know you’re small, but I’m looking at how big a dancer you are.’ —Jimmy Locust
“If I’m teaching a certain move or lesson that relates to one of my experiences, I take a moment to share it,” Locust says. “My students love to hear those stories and learn what it was like to work with a celebrity. They instantly want to be better. It gets them to work hard.”
Monica Richardson, the studio’s assistant director, says that because of Locust’s professional experience, “he understands how to push his students to work at that level. He’ll say, ‘What if you had an audition in New York tomorrow? Would you dance like that?’ ”
To emphasize the importance of self-discipline, for example, Locust tells his students about dancing with Michael Jackson at the 1995 Video Music Awards. When Jackson was in the studio for rehearsals, Locust and his fellow dancers were told to not even look at him, but to be on top of their game and focus on what they were practicing. Self-control and discipline enabled Locust to ignore the legendary performer’s imposing presence.
“They can apply these lessons right away, every time they’re in class with me,” says Locust. “They understand that I’m coming from a professional standpoint and preparing them for the industry.”
And he has plenty of professional experience to draw on in the classroom. In 2011, he collaborated with the Stamford Symphony, choreographing the opening number for its annual fund-raiser, and is currently working with Stamford’s regional theater company, Curtain Call, on a production of Legally Blonde, which opens this summer. At the same time, he has been choreographing for the CW reality show The Next, featuring Joe Jonas and Gloria Estefan. Additionally, he is the creative director for recording artist Arika Kane’s upcoming music videos and tour.
When Locust was young, a career in the industry seemed unlikely. Jaundice stunted his growth from birth, and as a child he endured constant ridicule about his short stature. He loved dance, but he felt self-conscious about the way people looked and pointed at him.
But then, for five years, and while still a teenager, Locust danced as a principal member of Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago. The director, jazz master Gus Giordano, gave Locust the confidence boost he needed when he auditioned for the company during a summer workshop.
“He told me, ‘I don’t see your height; I see your dancing. I know you’re small, but I’m looking at how big a dancer you are.’ For once, somebody put my talent first, instead of my size. From that point on, nobody could bring me down. So when I walked in front of people like Paula Abdul to audition, Gus had already instilled in me self-esteem.”
The similarly short-statured Abdul was encouraging, assuring Locust that the right job would eventually come along—and it did. In 1988 she cast him in the music videos for her hit singles “Knocked Out” and “Forever Your Girl.”
“He was different from everyone else and worked it to his advantage,” says Julie McDonald, Locust’s first agent and co-founder of McDonald/Selznick Associates, a talent agency based in Los Angeles and New York. “He put himself out there in a way that made employers change their projects just so they could cast him. He always approached his work the way he approaches life—with full enthusiasm and 100 percent focus.”
To make up for his small size, Locust emphasized his enthusiasm and personality at every audition, showing up early to secure himself a spot in the front row. Even when he was cut, he had often made a memorable impression on the casting crew.
Locust’s work with Abdul gained him access to the industry he had worked so hard to break into. He went on to choreograph for sports and fashion companies (including Reebok and Speedo), act and dance in films such as Coming to America and Teen Witch, and work with recording artists such as Monica and Raven Simone.
Bringing dance to the community
After many years of traveling the world and living in various parts of the country, Locust decided that it was time to give back by creating a performing-arts school. Shortly after moving to Connecticut, he co-founded Stamford Performing Arts Center with friends Carol and Gerrit Paasman, bringing in top New York dance talent to teach more than 400 students each week. After several years in business together, their artistic visions changed, and in 2009 Locust departed to work on opening his own studio.
He also began developing after-school dance programs for underprivileged and low-income students in Stamford, hiring teachers from his studio as instructors. With the aid of the U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers, he launched 10-week programs at Stamford Family YMCA and Chester Addison Community Center.
Locust wanted to incorporate his programs into academic settings (primarily schools and community education centers) because “in order to be a great dancer,” he says, “you need to be an educated dancer—not just in history, but in all the subjects you learn in school.” He meets with the directors of interested organizations and determines what kind of programming they are seeking, whether for a short period like six weeks or a full academic year. He then crafts a curriculum that will fit that time frame and incorporate appropriate skill sets and movement techniques.
Through various styles of dance, Locust’s programs attempt to build self-esteem and establish healthy boundaries for students, many of whom come from family situations that don’t offer the attention or guidance they need. The students learn how to carry themselves, collaborate with their peers, and have respect for their instructors, each other, and what they are learning. Locust and his faculty cultivate a positive atmosphere by teaching the students how to work together despite personal struggles and differences, and they aim to increase the students’ confidence by finding something in each of them to compliment every week.
“The students get support and encouragement from their whole class, not just their teacher,” Richardson says. “When Jimmy gives a compliment, everyone applauds that student along with him. That’s how he builds a safe and positive environment.”
“These kids don’t think they’re intelligent, but they are—we’re just homing in on it and cultivating it,” Locust says. “That’s what my goal really is: to change the minds and hearts of these children who feel like they don’t have a chance.”
From each outreach program, he selects one exceptional student to receive a full year’s scholarship to his studio—including tuition, costumes, recital tickets, and photos—so he or she can continue studying dance in the community.
Through Harmony Nation (formerly titled No Hate But Harmony), an anti-bullying performance troupe he started in 2005, Locust seeks to combat negative behavior he had witnessed in his community. Taking performances into Connecticut schools, local high school students recruited by Locust perform original skits and dance routines that demonstrate bullying and methods for handling it. Locust speaks to the students about his own experiences being bullied for his height, using his career as an example of success despite adversity.
“My effort is to get my message out there before more kids hurt themselves,” Locust says. “We need to pour positivity into our children; not enough people are doing that.”
To share his message and his experiences with a larger audience, Locust developed an online reality show, Locust Under 5′, which debuted last year with two short episodes on YouTube. A third episode was released in January and Locust is negotiating with a production company to bring the show to TV.
Unlike the drama-fueled dance competitions that populate reality TV, Locust’s show has a positive, educational tone; it tested well with focus groups as a program that parents and their children can watch comfortably together.
In the show’s initial episodes, Locust describes how he overcame issues related to his height, booked his first commercial jobs, and came to love teaching and choreographing. He advises one student who is being bullied at school and works with another student who has misophonia, an extreme sensitivity to certain sounds, and for whom dance class is one of the only activities in which she can participate without discomfort.
His mission as mentor
Despite juggling myriad projects and duties, Locust has never lost sight of his focus: to teach and mentor children and teens with the same kind of personal attention and encouragement that he received from people like Giordano and Abdul.
“With every child I meet, whether in my own studio, at a workshop, or on tour, I find something good in them,” Locust says. “And I look them in the eye and tell them that if they stay with their dream, they can achieve it.”
A new piece choreographed by jazz legend Luigi and longtime associate Francis J. Roach to a “groovy” recording of “Alright, Okay, You Win” will premiere at The New York Jazz Choreography Project showcase.
The New York Jazz Choreography Project, a celebration of jazz dance featuring originals works by emerging and established choreographers, will be held April 27 at 8pm and April 28 at 3pm at the Manhattan Movement & Arts Center. A variety of jazz styles—from swing to contemporary—will showcase jazz dance as a rich art form with glorious variety of styles and cultural influences.
The Luigi piece, designed as a duet, will be performed by Broadway entertainer Liz Mckendry and veteran Jazz Choreography Enterprises performer/choreographer Curtis Howard to a recording by Tony Bennett and Diana Krall.
Since 2007, artistic directors Marian Hyun and Merete Muenter have presented more than 50 choreographers and 150 dancers from the U.S., Japan, South Africa, and Germany. Featured choreographers this year include Juliet Dolan, Rachel Leigh Dolan, Kayleigh Doremus, Megan Doyle and Roy Lightner, Candice Michelle Franklin, Tony Fraser and Jaime Shannon, Napoleon W. Gladney, Kim Hale, Marian Hyun, Everett Johnson, Cat Manturuk, Christy Rak-Samson and Courtney Goerge, and Ellenore Scott.
The Sunday show concludes with a talk back with choreographers.
MMAC is located at 248 West 60th Street (between Amsterdam and West End Avenues), New York City. Tickets are $21 for adults, or $18 for children 12 and under, and are available at www.manhattanmovement.com or 212.787.1178.
Enchanted Evening, Kennedy Dance Theatre’s upcoming concert presented by Ballet Jeté and KDT’s Vaganova Ballet Department, will showcase new original choreography from choreographer and KDT ballet mistress Milena Leben, former prima ballerina with the Croatian National Theatre.
The show will present neo-classical, jazz, and contemporary routines; classical variations from Sleeping Beauty and La Sylphide, among others; plus a special moment when all aspiring ballerinas are invited onstage to meet their favorite ballerina and be crowned a princess. Partial proceeds from the concert will be donated to Texas Children’s Hospital.
Ballet Jeté is made up of students of Kennedy Dance Theatre in Webster, Texas, who aspire to become professional dancers, or to continue on in their study of dance at the university level. Those in the company are not only trained in technique, but also learn about famous choreographers, the history of ballet, and how to set themselves apart as performers.
Company members were featured in KDT’s Nutcracker, competed at the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP), and will be performing at Dance Houston’s upcoming Youth Festival at the Hobby Center. Members include Caroline Senter, Sarah Neisler, Abbey Menard, Emi Houghton, Michelle McKay, Cherilene Guzman, Erica Carmona, Lizzie Clements, Kaitlyn Akes, Bethany Curtis, Rohini Kambhampati, and Melanie Mills.
Enchanted Evening will be held April 27 at 6pm at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, Bayou Theatre, Houston, Texas. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 281.480.8441, or visit www.kennedydance.com.
By Carol Crawford Smith
For 18 years, my studio’s enrollment has remained steady. I have seen students graduate from high school and move on, only to be replaced by little ones now old enough to join Fundamentals of Dance, a class for the youngest dancers. Some students move away while an equal number of dancers change studios and come my way. Yet attracting male students to the school and sustaining their enrollment was like picking apples off a pear tree—until I added hip-hop to the roster.
With modest marketing efforts, my hip-hop classes have attracted seven boys this year. That’s huge! In a town where soccer, karate, and baseball are king, for boys, dance has simply been something their sisters do while they wait in the lobby playing with trucks, reading a book, or doing homework. Now it’s the sisters who read the books while their brothers pop to beats by Kanye West.
I see them in the studio laughing, smiling, and having fun while they worm across the floor and do semi-circle challenges. One boy, beet red from the workout, takes a water break and quickly returns to his spot for more locking action. Another boy in class is a black belt in karate. I have always known him as a quiet, reserved little brother, but after his hip-hop class he is talkative and outgoing.
Maybe it’s the music that pumps them up and leaves them feeling fierce and confident enough to move and carry themselves in new ways. Moving to music is natural to me, so it comes as no surprise to see that the boys love classes whose music practically commands them to move. Maybe dance competition TV shows or movies that highlight street and social dancing phenoms like tWitch and Darrin Henson convey the message that it’s cool to be male and demonstrate what the body instinctively wants to do when a dope beat is heard. Or maybe it’s the fact that my hip-hop classes are taught by a teacher named Benjamin.
Attracting male students was like picking apples off a pear tree—until I added hip-hop classes.
Ben can dance hip-hop like nobody’s business. He moves with fluidity and grace in one instance, shifting into sharply accented steps when the words and music dictate. He interprets music exquisitely and teaches the students to do the same. Under Ben’s instruction the class learns both hip-hop technique and choreography.
Ben is one of 11 children. Having grown up with six younger siblings, he is familiar with the dynamics of working productively with school-aged children. He is calm yet authoritative and engages with his students on their level, encouraging them to demonstrate their best moves without reservation. Then he’ll take those moves to another level. The students know they presented an inspiring move when Ben shows what he does with that inspiration and directs everyone to model it.
Parents ask where I found him. Like many of my instructors, Ben is a student at Virginia Tech. When he contacted me about teaching the hip-hop style he had performed and choreographed for many years, I invited him to teach two introductory classes to see how he teaches and to gauge the students’ interest. I was immediately delighted, and continue to be so, as are the parents who support the class by enrolling their children.
I have struck gold! My studio is rich now with the bright, sparkling smiles and gleaming eyes of boys who love to dance. Hip-hop draws in the sons of pleased parents and brothers of young ballerinas—boys who want to bust a move.
Dance is moving in so many new and exciting directions. It took a while, but I am reaping the rewards, both practical and spiritual, of moving with the flow of sought-after dance forms. I’m enjoying a priceless journey because I dug deeper to find more dance joy.
Advice for dance teachers
Do you have any advice about working with competition kids and determining who is in the front row, back row, etc.? These are 7- and 8-year-old kids in their second year of competing. It is only a group of 10, so the majority of times they’re in either the first or second row. I try to rotate them as much as I can, but there are always the stronger ones I need at that age. It bothers me because I always try to make sure they all feel important and a part of the routine. How should I base which dancers are in the front row—do I assess them or give preference to the kids who have been with the studio longer than the others?
I want to have a talk with the parents, and I get tired of explaining the same thing over and over about all kids excelling at different times. Help! —Gina
I never predetermine who will be in the front row, nor do I use two lines very much. It’s better to make all the dancers look good by creating many formations and patterns, as well as being so imaginative with the choreography that no one can determine who the strongest or weakest dancers are. Also, it’s best to avoid creating pieces that are loaded with tricks that some of the dancers may not be able to do properly.
By telling parents that children excel at different times in their training and development, you are confirming that you do in fact place the stronger dancers in the front. And that means you are subliminally telling the parents of the second-row kids that their children are not good enough to be in the front.
Also, the judges can tell when a teacher has created a piece that features the best dancers and tries to hide the weaker ones in the back, which in the long run never helps the dancers (or the choreographer) receive a higher score. Actually, once the judges figure it out, they score the piece lower because they know you are hiding something.
Instead of creating another competition piece that uses the standard tricks of the trade, consider your choreography a work of art. Make it so creative and moving to the audience (and the judges) that they never think about how strong the dancers are—that becomes secondary to the fact that in viewing your work they felt or saw something that impressed them. When you put thought into making every dancer look good, you give your students the confidence that they are all good enough. That confidence gives the kids the freedom to love being onstage. Audiences and judges can see that joy and respond to it.
The competition experience shouldn’t be about putting the best dancers in front; it should be about helping all students gain self-confidence, which in turn inspires them to be the best they can be. And that happens when their teacher believes in them. When you do that, the parents will stop asking questions and you will have classrooms filled with happy children. Good luck! —Rhee
I am a studio owner, and I recently had the awesome opportunity to host a master class. I want to pay this talented professional, but I am unsure of the proper etiquette regarding payment. Are there guidelines? Does it vary from instructor to instructor? Thanks for your time! —Tom
There are lots of variables, but the majority of master teachers are paid by the hour. The rates vary based on experience; for example, $200 to $500 per hour for someone who is performing on Broadway or in a major company, and $1,000 to $1,500 per hour for some of the hot dancers or choreographers from national TV. Some teachers might require a deposit up front to reserve the dates for you, while others might ask for a contract that states that they will be compensated in case of cancellation. It is the norm to cover round-trip transportation and hotel accommodations as well.
Consider inviting dancers and teachers from neighboring schools to help defray your costs and to build camaraderie within your dance community. I wish you all the best. —Rhee
I am a single mother of 2, recently separated. My dream has always been to open a dance school of my own. I have studied dance for many years throughout my life (not consistently) and I am going into my third year of Teachers Training School with DMA. I also am working toward CDTA accreditation for ballroom and I’m continuing my ballet studies.
I don’t have a lot of money to open a studio, but I have thought many times about turning one room in my house into a studio and starting out small with private lessons. What would your advice be on how to get started? —Ashley
You deserve a pat on the back for seeking out the best training to prepare to be a well-rounded dance educator. Certainly you could launch a school in your home. That is what my mom did to start her business, which after several years grew to the point when she could afford to purchase her own building.
If you choose that route, be sure that your town will allow you to run a business from your home. Also, think ahead about the available parking for your students and their parents. If you’re teaching only private lessons, parking won’t affect your neighbors, but if you decide to expand to group lessons, it could have an impact.
An alternative to operating a school at your home is renting space in a church hall or community center, which usually offers more affordable rents than commercial spaces. The catch is that you probably wouldn’t have permanent mirrors and barres because you’d be in a multi-use space.
Here’s another idea: years ago I taught classes at a low-income housing project. I did not pay rent for the space, but I did offer a discount to the children who lived there. I was allowed to enroll students from the surrounding communities, which was gravy in an already successful rent-free situation. This location was a win–win for me and the children who might never have had the chance to dance if it hadn’t been brought to them.
With some creative thinking you will be able to follow your dream in a way that will allow you to ease your way into the major expenses associated with owning a school. Never stop dreaming! —Rhee
What is the best way to handle a class of 5- to 7-year-olds when the parents are observing and the kids are out of control? Some parents do not approve of my teachers saying, “If you continue, you will be sitting with your parents,” or “Please act in a respectful manner,” or “If you continue to act in this manner, you will need to go to the baby class.” What is so wrong with these statements? What would be a better way? —Brenda
This is a case where the delivery really matters. Put yourself in the place of the parent (or the child) who hears the teacher say something like, “Behave or you will go into the baby class.” Are they hearing a mature adult speak, someone who is considering the implication of her words on the self-esteem or well-being of the student? No. The message is demeaning, even threatening, rather than a constructive comment delivered in a way that encourages the child to engage.
I believe in discipline in the classroom, but it can be achieved by gaining the respect of the students and their observing parents. First, teachers must keep in mind that they are mature mentors who choose their words wisely. With a disruptive child, the teacher might smile and take her hand, leading her to the front of the class while saying, “Boy, you have a lot of energy today, Susie! Come to the front of the class with me so you can share it with everyone else.” My guess is that those words and actions would be met with a smile instead of with concern from the parents.
Also, telling unruly students that they should behave or they’ll be sent out of class to their parents is risky because that might be exactly what the children were hoping for. Instead, have the disruptive child sit down at the front of the classroom for a few minutes.
Although there are exceptions, often when a group of 5- to 7-year-old students is out of control the reason has as much to do with the teacher as it does with the children. Why are they feeling comfortable enough to misbehave? In this or previous classes, have they been led to believe that such behavior is OK? Is the pace of the class giving them enough time to get out of control, and if so, why?
I suggest that you do an evaluation with your faculty to identify better language and actions to use when dealing with behavior issues. Most important, discuss how the teachers can improve the structure or pace of their classes to maintain control. Good luck! —Rhee
By Mignon Furman
My training as a very young child included a step that is seldom done now. A favorite of mine, it was “the horsey step” (pas de cheval, or “step of the horse”). The foot is pointed devant and the arm is extended in front, in line with the foot, palm down, and eyes looking at the hand. The foot is then brought toward the supporting leg in a circular movement to approximately ankle height and returns to the pointed position, and at the same time the wrist and head lift.
Pas de cheval is now used mainly as a foot exercise. The same circular movement is taken from the fifth to pointe tendu devant or à la seconde. The foot makes a “licking” action as it leaves the floor. This movement is often seen in Bournonville choreography.
With sadness in our hearts, we at DSL announce the death of Mignon Furman on December 4, 2012. An obituary is forthcoming.
Jonathan Charles Smith, an assistant professor of dance in the Sam Houston State University Department of Theatre & Musical Theatre, will be remembered today (February 20) during a memorial beginning at 11am in the University Theatre Center’s Erica Starr Theatre.
According to the SHSU website, Smith, who taught at SHSU for nearly 20 years and earned his Master of Fine Arts degree from SHSU’s dance program, died February 14 following a brief illness. Services were held February 18 in Wharton. SHSU’s memorial will include speakers, a video montage of Smith’s choreography, and musical performances. “It will be quite a show, because he deserves it,” Dionne Sparkman Noble, assistant professor of dance, said.
Smith performed in tours of A Chorus Line, The Pirates of Penzance, Jesus Christ Superstar, Showboat, and Mame, and performed regionally with Theatre Under the Stars and the Alley Theatre in Houston, The Muny in St. Louis, The 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle, and the Paper Mill Playhouse, New Jersey.
At SHSU, Smith served as choreographer for musical productions and taught ballet, tap, jazz, and Musical Theatre Workshop for freshmen and sophomores. In 2004, he directed Smokey Joe’s Café, which was chosen for the 2005 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Regional Festival.
Trisha Brown, a dance experimentalist of the 1960s and ’70s who went on to help define contemporary dance performance, has decided to withdraw from leading the company she founded because of health problems but has given her blessing to its continued existence, reported The New York Times.
Brown, 76, had a series of mini-strokes in the past several years, although she was choreographing as recently as the fall of 2011 and was active at the company until last summer, said Barbara Dufty, executive director of the Trisha Brown Dance Theater. But she has had increased difficulty communicating recently and is relinquishing the title of artistic director of the company that bears her name. Brown said in December that two works she choreographed, which were performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last week, would be her last.
She named longtime collaborators Diane Madden and Carolyn Lucas as associate artistic directors. Both have danced for Brown since the 1980s and moved into other roles. Lucas became Brown’s choreographic assistant, and Madden became rehearsal director.
The company will immediately begin a three-year international farewell tour to present Brown’s more traditional stage works, as well as plan to produce site-specific dances. It will also establish an archive and create a web site of Brown materials including notebooks, audio recordings, film footage, writings, and videotapes of almost every company rehearsal.
Brown company officials will also continue to license her dances and will maintain an office and staff. “We have a lot of riches to offer,” Dufty said. “The only thing that’s missing is Trisha’s physical presence. Her work lives on.”
Young Dancemakers Company, a free summer dance ensemble of New York City teens dedicated to creating their own original choreography and performing it in free touring concerts citywide, will be holding auditions for the 2013 company on March 10 at 11am at DANY Studios, 305 West 38th Street, New York.
Company members—NYC public high school students selected annually by audition—include both accomplished dance students as well as bold newcomers with limited experience. Members receive training in contemporary dance technique and improvisation, learn about the relationship between music and dance, and choreograph and perform original work. The program is free.
The company performs for audiences of up to 1,500 young people and adults each season in concerts touring Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, and also participates in trips to New York dance concerts (free tickets), behind-the-scenes visits with professional choreographers and their companies, workshops with guest artists, and seminars on college and career opportunities.
This year’s season of rehearsals and performances will run from June 27 to August 4, Mondays to Fridays, 10am to 5pm, plus several Saturdays; with a Gala Finale Concert at Ailey Citigroup Theater on August 3. Training and rehearsals begin June 27 at New York Live Arts in Manhattan and continue from July 8 at the Fieldston School in Riverdale.
For registration information and more details on auditions, visit http://community.ecfs.org/youngdancemakers/.
Diablo Ballet is reaching out through the internet to cull choreography ideas from dance lovers around the world for The Web Ballet, to be performed March 1 and 2 at the Shadelands Arts Center Auditorium in Walnut Creek, California, as part of the ballet’s Inside the Dancer’s Studio series.
The Web Ballet will be based on choreography suggestions submitted by individuals to Diablo Ballet’s Twitter page @DiabloBallet (Twitter hash tag #DiabloWebBallet) now through February 14. Some possible ideas for suggestion involve the emotion of the dancers (happy, sad, and such); the mood of the entire work (intense, lighthearted); and specific dance moves (turning, jumping, steps).
Diablo Ballet is known for its use of social media as a means of making dance accessible. Last March, the company became the first professional West Coast dance company to invite people to Twitter live during a performance.
The work will be choreographed by Robert Dekkers, Diablo Ballet dancer and artistic director of San Francisco’s Post:Ballet. After February 14, Dekkers and Lauren Jonas, Diablo Ballet’s artistic director, will select seven choreographic suggestions. Dekkers will then have two weeks to mold all of the winning ideas into a new dance work.
Participants will also be able to help select the music of the piece by voting on the three selections found on Diablo Ballet’s YouTube page: http://www.youtube.com/user/diabloballet.
Persons providing the winning suggestions will receive tickets to the performance and a photo of the created work autographed by Dekkers. More information on how to participate may be found at http://www.diabloballet.org/performance.html.
Sarasota Ballet Invites the Public ‘Inside the Studio’ Through New Series
The Sarasota Ballet’s “Inside the Studio” series, four informal talks about the organization and its repertoire, will begin January 24 with a sneak preview of Will Tuckett’s choreography for a company world premiere that will debut on February 1.
The Sarasota [FL] Herald-Tribune said the series will be held at Studio 1, the main rehearsal space used by the company’s dancers, in the Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota.
At the first installment of the series, Tuckett, who has collaborated with the ballet several times in the past few years, will be on hand to answer questions. Other installments include:
• February 21: associate artistic director Margaret Barbieri, wife of artistic director Iain Webb and a former principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, will discuss her career, her work as a répétiteur, and the new pre-professional training program at the Sarasota Ballet that bears her name, the Margaret Barbieri Conservatory of Dance.
• April 4: Webb will lead a discussion on Sir Frederick Ashton’s acclaimed story-length, comic ballet, La Fille mal gardée, which the company will present for the first time in April, accompanied by the Sarasota Orchestra.
• TBA: a conversation led by Jean Weidner Goldstein, founder of the Sarasota Ballet, about its school program for at-risk children, Dance–Next Generation.
Tickets for individual events are $35; the entire series is $100. For reservations, call the box office at 941.359.0099, x101 or go to www.sarasotaballet.org. To see the original story, visit
By Geo Hubela
Sometimes counts alone are not enough when it comes to finding musicality in a routine. Hip-hop routines are usually beat-heavy and accented, less fluid than lyrical or contemporary. To help students hear the beats and accents I am hitting in my choreography, I teach them the beats and then have them clap them. This exercise is useful in getting dancers to hit the choreography on time. Learn the rhythms and then dance to them.
Having students partner up and dance while facing each other after learning a routine is very useful. Many dancers become too dependent on a mirror. Facing each other presents a challenge—to go in the direction they were taught and not follow the dancer they’re looking at. My hip-hop choreography tends to have poses and lots of arm movement, and this exercise forces students to focus on the choreography and not the image in front of them. And the kids have a blast working together.
Auditions will be held this Saturday for a new dance work by Talia Favia, a choreographer who has assisted Mia Michaels on So You Think You Can Dance and who is the first winner of Celebrity Dance’s CREATE Competition.
Favia, who was selected the winner of CREATE at a live event held November 3 at the Tempe Center for the Arts, received $5,000, Capezio products valued at $1,000, and the opportunity to present a live performance of original choreography March 8 at Tempe Center for the Arts in Arizona.
One hundred and fifteen choreographers submitted their work to the competition, and eight semi-finalists were chosen to present their work at the November 3 show.
Favia has taught in Poland at the FNF Dance Intensive and teaches and choreographs in the United States and abroad. As the 2009/2010 Elite Advanced Pro Protégé with The Pulse on Tour, she trained with Brian Freidman, Wade Robson, Mia Michaels, Dave Scott, Chris Judd, and Laurie Ann Gibson.
Auditions will be held December 8 from 1 to 4pm at Baker School of Music, 1090 South Gilbert Road, Suite 101, Gilbert, Arizona, and are open to mature male and female dancers (knowledge of diverse dance forms welcome). Dancers should bring a headshot, resume, and short bio, and need to be available January through March.
You probably know that Rhee Gold’s Project Motivate seminars help studio owners generate more income, learn new strategies for 21st century marketing, become better organized, and learn new teaching and choreography concepts. But what you might not know is that you can bring Gold and his Project Motivate magic to your next dance teacher organization event.
Gold has presented business and motivational seminars for dozens of organizations, including the Associated Dance Teachers of New Jersey, Cecchetti Council of America, Chicago National Association of Dance Masters, Dance Teachers Club of Connecticut, Southern Council of Dance Masters, and many more.
Gold’s experience as the son of a school owner, student, teacher, choreographer, master teacher, industry leader, author, publisher, and the dance field’s first motivational speaker will leave your members with a renewed sense of passion and confidence.
To learn how to make it happen, contact email@example.com or call 888.i.dance.9 or 508.285.6650.
Members of Dance Masters of Pennsylvania Inc., Chapter 10, were moved to action after hearing a status update during a grand body meeting about a former competitive dancer’s expensive fight against leukemia, and organized a fund-raising dance workshop called Danspirations for Emily.
The event, set for December 9 from 10am to 4pm at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh-Monroeville Convention Center, 101 Mall Boulevard, Monroeville, Pennsylvania, will benefit Emily Leyland, 28, a former competitive dancer and dance teacher who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (commonly referred to as AML) in January 2011, after a routine check-up and blood work.
Heather Goelz-Carpenter of Carpelz Center for the Arts, Pittsburgh, who is organizing the event along with teachers from Dotty McGill School of Dance in Grove City, Pennsylvania, and Kat and Company Dance Studio in Morgantown, West Virginia, said that Leyland underwent many rounds of chemotherapy treatment and one failed stem cell transplant before receiving her second stem cell transplant in August 2012. She is currently a patient at UPMC Shadyside Hospital, Goelz-Carpenter said.
The day will include classes in ballet, tap, jazz, and hip-hop; a studio combo showcase; a choreography class for ages 16 and older; and a studio teachers/owners motivational luncheon. Faculty includes Sammy Haas, Wendy Virtue, Emily Caudill (of Dayton Contemporary Dance Company II), and Heather Goelz-Carpenter.
Scholarships to Dance Masters’ of America’s National Convention, New York City Dance Alliance, Shock the Intensive, The Countdown, West Coast Dance Explosion, Jump, Nuvo, and Tony Bradford’s NYC two-week summer intensive, will be awarded through a silent auction. Every studio in attendance will receive a $200 entry fee certificate to The Power of Dance competition, and competition entry certificates to Power of Dance, NYCDA, American Dance Awards, Extreme Talent Showcase, Headliners, Rising Star Talent Showcase, and Star Systems will also be awarded.
All proceeds from master class fees, raffles baskets, and silent auctions for scholarships to major dance convention/competitions will go to help Leyland’s cause. Registration deadline is December 3
For more information on the event, visit http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Danspirations-for-Emily/231560583641122?fref=ts.
Teaching students to dance with the mind as well as the body
By Don Halquist
There was a time when the goal of modern dance technique training was to make all dancers look as much alike as possible. That day has passed. Today most choreographers expect dancers to bring themselves to the movement they are given, and in many cases, to participate in the creation of the movement itself.
Today’s dancers need to learn sequence, rhythm, style, and the choreographer’s intent while also revealing their own personal uniqueness in the way they clarify, define, and amplify various aspects of the choreography’s style and movement. Successful dance artists today have dynamic presence as well as highly developed skills and well-trained bodies.
Encouraging students to show intent behind the movement phrases will enable them to move with a wholeness of mind and body.
Dancers who have a vibrant, lively sense of the movement they experience, and can express their own emotional relationship to the dances they perform, are in high demand. Technique classes, therefore, must incorporate opportunities for personal meaning-making, validation of personal uniqueness, and communication of sensory experiences.
According to early-20th–century Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, “thought creates action.” That is, we move to fulfill an inner intent. Teaching students body forms (shapes), counts, directions, and focus is important. But encouraging students to determine and show intent behind the movement phrases we are teaching them will enable them to move with a wholeness of mind and body.
The viewer sees what is most important to the performer. If a dancer is thinking about counts or physical skills, this is what will be expressed. If she goes beyond counts and skills and focuses on qualitative, spatial, or emotional aspects of the movement, then this is what will be expressed. In this way, the dance is more than the sum of its parts. It is a vibrant physical experience for the viewer as well as the dancer. It is also an opportunity for the unique interpretation of that intent, which will be realized differently for each dance artist.
Irmgard Bartenieff, a physical therapist and the creator of Bartenieff Fundamentals, often said that intent organizes the neuromuscular system for efficient execution of movement phrases. Throughout our day-to-day lives we move to satisfy intention. For example, a child in ballet class might wobble when asked to relevé, but when she reaches for a cookie on the kitchen counter, her spatial intent makes her very stable. Our bodies know how to organize themselves efficiently when we let intent guide us.
Movement is highly complex, and we cannot be mindful of all the many activities going on in different parts of the body as we are moving. By studying Bartenieff Fundamentals, we understand that when we give ourselves a clear intention, the body’s wisdom can serve us and we can move with body–mind integration and coordination.
Imagery and internal experience
A dancer can improve sheer technique by attaching an image to a technical task and trusting it to fulfill itself within the neuromuscular system. Images travel at the speed of light, and the whole body–mind can be reorganized in a moment to fulfill a movement phrase in an efficient, connected, authentic, and personally expressive manner.
As teachers, it is essential for us to provide imagery as well as musical and technical guidance as we teach movement phrases. We should encourage reflection on the part of our students. Ask them to think about what the movement phrases mean to them, and encourage them to bring their own images to the material they are learning and performing.
It is also important to constantly encourage our students to be aware of internal sensory experience. “It is a dancer’s job to reveal her internal experience,” choreographer and movement analyst Bill Evans often says in his classes. According to Evans, dancers need to tune into the kinesthetic and emotional sensations that come alive within them and let them pour out freely to those watching.
Asking students to pair up in technique classes and observe each other can serve many purposes. As they perform dance phrases for each other, guiding questions can lead them to deeper exploration and enhanced understanding of a phrase. Try such prompts as: “How did your partner reveal her personal uniqueness in that phrase?”; “What images came alive for you as you watched your partner perform?”; and “When did you experience your own kinesthetic response to your partner’s dancing?”
Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung famously posited four functions of the human psyche: thinking, sensing, feeling, and intuiting. Applying those concepts to dancers, Rudolf Laban, founder of Laban Movement Analysis, believed that those functions are expressed in distinct ways.
• Thinking expresses itself in the dancer’s attention to space—either direct or multi-focused.
• Sensing expresses itself in the dancer’s awareness of her weight—emanating either powerfully from the pelvis or delicately from the sternum.
• Feeling expresses itself in the dancer’s attitude toward flow—either freely outpouring or precisely controlled.
• Intuition expresses itself in the dancer’s attitude toward time—either indulgent or urgent.
By encouraging students to experience and reveal these different responses as they learn movement phrases in technique classes, we are preparing them to dance with their whole unique selves.
Three programs that nurture the next generation of choreographers
By Jennifer Kaplan
Growing up in a typical suburban ballet studio, Wayles Haynes became a great mimic of steps and a good dancer. What she didn’t learn was how to make her own dances. Then came the point when each graduating senior was supposed to create a solo for the studio’s final performance. Haynes, who now serves as director of the teen and youth education programs at Dance Exchange in Takoma Park, Maryland, had no idea where to begin.
That’s often the case. Dance studios and programs across the country tend to put most of their emphasis on nurturing budding dancers and give little thought to offering training, support, and opportunities for young choreographers, particularly aspiring teenage dancemakers. But look harder and you’ll find that choreographic mentorship is thriving in three North American programs.
Dance Exchange’s Teen Exchange
“In my studio training,” says Haynes, “you didn’t choreograph until you had to make your senior solo. Then you have to make a dance for college [auditions].” She got stuck. “How do you do that?’ I wondered. I had 13 years of watching other people [make dances] but was never allowed to say or ask anything.”
These days, as a youth dance educator, Haynes is committed to mentoring the next generation of dancemakers so that when the time comes for them to choreograph their senior solos or college audition pieces, they’ll be ready. At Dance Exchange, long lauded for its multigenerational company of professionals who range in age from their 20s through their 70s, Haynes relishes working with budding choreographers at the lower end of the age spectrum, ages 6 through 18.
“I want [to provide] that creative outlet for people at a much younger age than it’s usually given,” she said. That means when her weekly teen and youth classes meet, she offers her own choreographic journey as a model; her students can follow her progress and learn not just how to perform her piece, but how she put it all together.
In addition, the Teen and Youth Exchange programs address creativity directly in the studio, dedicating class time to choreographic endeavors initiated by the students. “We work with a peer facilitation model,” Haynes explains, using many of the same methods Dance Exchange developed under the leadership of its founder, Liz Lerman. The teens take the helm in leading discussions on the works, garnering comments from their peers, asking probing questions, and simply acting as a facilitator. Haynes observes and coaches them, especially the first time.
To join Teen Exchange, interested participants need only apply and express an interest in the creative process. No prior dance experience is required, although many of the applicants have studied dance of various genres. Most of them come from northwest DC and Montgomery County, Maryland. Dance Exchange reaches prospective students through open houses, marketing, and social networking.
The teens range from 12 to 18 years old, which Haynes says can be both challenging and exciting. “I like to think of it as a one-room schoolhouse where you have the teacher who’s teaching the class at large, but you also have peers teaching and collaborating and making work,” she says. “So it’s really a co-creative and collaborative environment in the studio.”
Haynes uses an array of exercises from the Dance Exchange toolbox (d-lab.org/toolbox) to provide her students with the materials they need to build their own dances from scratch. One common exercise that introduces concepts of partnering is called “Blind Lead.” In pairs, one partner closes her eyes while the other leads her around, always maintaining contact, though not necessarily by holding hands. The key is always maintaining contact and not speaking, using the body to lead or follow. Then the partners switch roles. If the group is very comfortable, leaders can switch partners without the “blind” partner knowing. This develops the sensitivity required to dance together and allows dancers to get used to connecting without using their eyes or words. It’s a trust-building exercise that encourages collaborative group dynamics.
Each year the process changes and evolves as Haynes’ students change and grow. Some work together on a single group piece; others choreograph solos or work on dance video projects in smaller groups. Last year one group figured out a way to incorporate the idea of zombies into its efforts. Haynes lets her students, particularly the older or more experienced ones, decide what kind of pieces they wish to build—solos, duets, small groups or one large work, or dances for the camera—and they often lead exercises and discussions.
Each year the teens select an overarching theme—one year it was risk; another time, dreams; another, change—and try to find a way to connect their projects to this larger theme. Much of the learning and mentoring is accomplished by doing—working out choreographic problems on the bodies of fellow teen dancers, showing the work in moderated discussions following elements of Lerman’s Critical Response Process (a methodology for critiquing artistic work that focuses on artistic goals and not merely observer reactions), and revising the work.
The weekly 90-minute session includes a warm-up with some technical instruction in modern dance and then discussion and time to create. By the end of the year, Teen Exchange has a body of work to show in a final performance, but as the teens and their needs and desires change each year so does the resulting work. It could be one long piece for the entire group, or a configuration of shorter individual pieces, connected or not. And the teens often have opportunities to participate in performances at community events.
While Haynes, who is just entering her third year as director of Teen Exchange, has seen former students go forward to major in dance in college, she’s not necessarily worried if they don’t pursue choreography beyond Teen Exchange. “I want them to be happy, successful, and lifelong learners,” Haynes says. “I would love it if they keep dancing, but I think everyone has their own path.”
She’s seen program graduates use the skills they learned in facilitation as public speakers, teachers, scientific researchers, and other endeavors. “We try to encourage creativity, collaboration, and independence at the self level, the self-to-community level, and the self-to-the-world level.”
Seattle Youth Dance Collective
Seattle Youth Dance Collective offers another approach for budding young choreographers. A project of Seattle Theatre Group (STG), the program is open to dancers ages 15 through 22 who are interested in pursuing their artistic vision through choreography. STG is a large presenting organization, not a studio, but embedded in its mission is the goal of developing the next generation of artists, says Vicky Lee, director of education and performance programs.
There’s not one way, one formula. They learn some tools of choreography, about production, staging, what to do about music, what do you do with lights. — choreographer Amy O’Neal, Seattle Youth Dance Collective
“Many young people have a chance to perform and to take [dance] class,” Lee says, but if you’re a teenager, “there aren’t a lot of opportunities to be immersed in a real creative environment where you can explore your artistic endeavors in a lab setting.”
Young Choreographer’s Lab, now in its fourth year, provides that. Each fall the lab runs an 8- or 10-week session for two dozen teen dancers who work in any genre. The application process, which is vetted by Lee and the lab’s lead mentor, Seattle choreographer Amy O’Neal, requires an essay in which prospective students explain why they want to participate and what they envision for their project.
O’Neal oversees the lab, which meets at Velocity Dance Center, an STG partner in the program. “There they explore different ways to make dance,” says Lee. “There’s not one way, one formula. They learn some tools of choreography, about production, staging, what to do about music, what do you do with lights. Under Amy’s mentorship, she also has them giving constructive feedback, writing about dance, talking about dance.”
Joining O’Neal and the students are guest artists, many of whom have been booked to perform in one of STG’s three theaters. That means the students, who meet for two to three hours twice a week, might have a session with a noted Seattle choreographer like Donald Byrd or Mark Haim or other guests, such as South African dancer Nelisiwe Xaba or artists from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
“As the lead artist, I help tie everything together. We invite guest artists to come in and share their methods and experiences,” O’Neal explains. “We’ll have a conversation with artists about what they want to share and work on. We bring in people we think will challenge [the students].”
That means introducing them to a variety of genres, styles, and methods of choreographing from artists at various stages of their careers. O’Neal says that the first and most important lesson they get from her is about non-attachment—not getting so attached to something you’ve created that you can’t change it or throw it away and start anew.
As the lead mentor, O’Neal is there to take notes, interpret what the guest artists offer and help relate that material to the students’ work or needs, and get the students participating in these discussion sessions. Sometimes she’ll give them assignments, which might mean closely observing something for a week or bringing in a photograph or poem to work with. She too uses a modified version of the Lerman Critical Response Process to shape the way the students talk constructively about dance. No one can simply say, “That’s cool,” or “I like that.” They need to choose their words and provide specifics to justify their thinking. “We’re challenging their philosophies about what dance is and how they think it should be made,” O’Neal says.
For students who complete the fall lab session, a second spring session offers continued support and the opportunity to craft a dance for the stage. While not everyone from the first session stays on, each year O’Neal and Lee see a strong and committed cohort of students who wish to continue their choreographic process. In the spring, the lab sessions continue and include introductory sessions on production, lighting, grant writing, publicity, and more. At the spring performance, Lee and O’Neal select one work to be performed at STG’s summer “Dance This” program at the Moore Theatre.
Teaching choreography is a bit like teaching artistry—there’s no specific curriculum. Instead, O’Neal and the guest mentors share their experience, knowledge, and ideas with the students based on their needs. “The lab is a very responsive program,” Lee says. “You have a loose curriculum, but you’re responding to who’s in the room, to what they’re bringing, and how they’re exploring.”
At The Cultch (officially known as Vancouver East Cultural Centre), a presenting and performing organization that has brought contemporary theater, dance, and music to Vancouver, British Columbia, since 1973, Rob Leveroos oversees youth programming. One aspect of that programming is a group of teens on the IGNITE! Youth Panel, who curate a week of performances each spring at The Cultch. And for the past four years IGNITE! has been offering space and resources to young people ages 13 through 24 who are interested in exploring the choreographic process, no matter the genre.
Prospective participants must apply. “It’s not about finding the best dancers,” Leveroos says, “it’s about finding those who are passionate and those who are ready to work with other dancers.” Typically six to eight dancers are selected, and they become a company of sorts, for each participant to make a dance on. Leveroos arranges for a dedicated rehearsal space and any other resources the group needs.
The Cultch does not charge for this program (it’s supported by donations and grants) and it attracts participants across a wide swath of the Vancouver region, including modern dancers, hip-hop students, tappers, and a classical Indian dancer.
The program is self-directed, says Leveroos—the teens make decisions on how they organize and use their time. “It’s not just about teaching them to dance or choreograph,” he says. “It’s about having them come in and say, ‘After this, we do that and then the other.’ We give them space—a beautiful dance studio, Scotiabank Dance Center, in town—and then we set up sessions when the mentors come in for couple-hour sessions once a week and they’ll work on things like how to generate ideas and polish them.”
But often the group is on its own, with no mentor or adult supervision. Leveroos says, “It really becomes about them working together. The mentors are not coming in and choreographing. They’re talking about process and about how to develop a show. Then the dancers/choreographers, the mentees, do it on their own.”
Leveroos says he has found the IGNITE! teens to be highly motivated and able to work together and self-direct to get their projects finished. The fact that they have a deadline, a scheduled performance, helps keep them on track. “They know they have to do the performance and often they’re organizing extra rehearsals or meetings on top of what we schedule for them,” he says. The teens created a Facebook group to discuss issues and plan meetings when they’re not together in the studio. Leveroos was invited into that group, so he gets a sense of how they are progressing.
“Ultimately teenagers want to be taken seriously,” he says. “They want to be treated like adults and, honestly, I find that when you do that, they step up to the plate. We’re getting people who want to be performers. They want to be doing this, so they are taking it seriously.”
As the sole adult supervising the program, which offers similar opportunities in theater, songwriting, poetry, and other areas, Leveroos has seen remarkable progress from these teens and young adults. “We give them an opportunity to perform in a professional theater space. I find it’s really inspiring to see that youths can facilitate their own meetings and manage their own stuff. I’ve seen them host a roomful of 35 other youths: welcoming people in, leading icebreaker games, getting everybody to be quiet and listen.”
The reward, for Leveroos, is far greater than seeing the choreographic process come to fruition: “I’m teaching these skills of leadership for the next generation of citizens.”
By Maureen Janson
When a heavy wooden gate dropped onto the back of my foot, the first thing I thought was, “Ouch!” The second was, “How am I going to make it through rehearsal tonight?”
I slapped some ice onto my purpling Achilles tendon, but I could tell I was going to have to rest it. So I emailed the director of A Little Night Music, a production for which I was contributing choreography. A string of email brainstorming correspondence followed, and I began to write out instructions, reminders, and notes for the rehearsal in the event that I could not attend. Fortunately, the show was three weeks into rehearsal with staging and choreography already plotted out. But that night was an important run-through of Act 2, which I felt I could not miss. As a joke, I wrote, “Too bad we can’t have a video conference!” To which the assistant director replied that we could—via Skype, so that I could “watch” the run-through.
Often used for videoconferencing, Skype is a computer-to-computer voice telephone connection, although if conducted between computers with cameras, the conversation can also include live video.
As a joke, I wrote, “Too bad we can’t have a video conference!” To which the assistant director replied that we could—via Skype.
I’ve not been a huge fan of computer video replacing face-to-face communication, but suddenly I found myself intrigued by the idea that I could participate in and see a rehearsal while at home with my foot in an ice bucket. Although relatively computer-savvy, I had never used Skype before. I downloaded the application (which is free) and was ready for a test call from the assistant director.
We experimented and adjusted the direction of the computer-mounted camera, giving me the widest possible perspective of the stage area. And the dancers could also see that I was watching—a reminder for them to behave at their choreographic best. I was only a few miles away, but I could have been halfway around the world and still have participated in the rehearsal.
Although the image and sound became fragmented from time to time, I could see enough of the rehearsal to take some general notes. When the action stopped, the director appeared on the screen to ask if I had any notes or questions. I was able to give feedback on the spot!
When it came to details, though, the technology was not particularly useful. Perhaps because of a slow Internet connection, I could not see facial features or the detail of gestures. And when the movement was far away from the camera or more full (for example during a large-group waltz scene), the image became so pixelated and distorted that I could not make sense of what the dancers were doing. At times the sound cut out for a second or two, making everything choppy and segmented. When that happened, it was almost impossible to determine whether dance steps were executed at the right musical moment.
Yet, in the quieter moments of the play (such as a slow waltz during a dinner party scene), I could see the posture and hand positions of the dancers well enough to remind them of stylistic specifications. I was also able to suggest changes in spacing and general posture, and remark on the order of events.
Had I been required to actually choreograph movement via Skype, the technology might have presented a serious set of challenges. But as the software and quality of the video and sound transmission improve (or with a faster Internet connection), it may be possible for choreography rehearsals to take place simultaneously in two different locations.
Skype is a helpful tool, but I will always prefer being physically present in a rehearsal room. Still, being able to participate in the rehearsal this way was certainly better than not being present at all. And it definitely took my mind off my throbbing foot!
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By Geo Hubela
Be visual. A flat routine will receive a flat response. Change spots, move lines, create levels. Not every dancer needs to be moving all the time—have groups freeze while others are moving, then have them rejoin the choreography. Try having some dancers freeze for a single count—this can be very striking, especially when accented with music. Transitions, staging, and visuals will enhance your choreography in a big way. Don’t be afraid to get beginner dancers transitioning and moving in their routines instead of standing in one spot for an entire song.
A creative and visual routine starts with creative ideas, a concept first and then the music. Hip-hop routines don’t need to include Top 40 music and the latest dance craze. Tell a story; pull from something that inspires you. I love to mix the old with the new and create routines that will intrigue an audience. Once I have the music, I costume the piece and create movement. Choreographers are artists—close your eyes, listen to your music repeatedly, and envision your masterpiece.
Atlanta Ballet has named Helen Pickett as the company’s resident choreographer, agreeing on a three-year commitment that includes new works and an annual, one-week “Choreographic Essentials” workshop.
Pickett has presented on stages all over the world. Her initial collaboration with Atlanta Ballet involved her commissioned work, Petal, which appeared in the company’s “Fusion” program in March 2011, followed by Prayer of Touch, also created for Atlanta Ballet, which premiered in the 2011-12 season.
Both Petal and Prayer of Touch are included in this season’s programming, in anticipation of a Pickett world premiere for Atlanta Ballet’s 2013-14 season.
A San Diego native, Pickett began her dance career as a student under the direction of Lew Christensen and Michael Smuin and, later, Helgi Tomasson at San Francisco Ballet. She then spent more than a decade with Ballet Frankfurt, achieving principal status, under the legendary William Forsythe, whom she credits with “shaping her aesthetic eye.” Pickett soon began to develop her own voice as a dance maker and in 2005 received her first choreographic commission from Boston Ballet. Now, seven years later, Pickett has choreographed more than 20 works and has become one of the most sought-after choreographers in dance today.
The announcement was made in tandem with the rollout of Atlanta Ballet’s new 5-year strategic plan. Over the past few years, Atlanta Ballet has welcomed new leadership—veteran arts leader Arturo Jacobus as executive director—moved into new headquarters, and run a successful capital campaign.
For more information, visit http://www.atlantaballet.com/about-us/company/choreographer-in-residence/.