Most of the sets and costumes of the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, stored in a West Village basement, were submerged under six feet of water in Hurricane Sandy flooding, company officials said on Friday.
The New York Times ArtsBeat blog reported that the material included programs and posters and a number of sets designed by Isamu Noguchi, one of Graham’s most important collaborators. One Noguchi set, for Clytemnestra, was built by the artist himself, the company said. Most of the company’s costumes were also inundated.
The materials were stored in a nearly 4,000-square-foot basement at the Westbeth arts complex, where the center had moved in July. Other submerged productions were Cave of the Heart, Embattled Garden, and Errand Into the Maze.
LaRue Allen, the Graham center’s executive director, said that the water was almost completely pumped out on Friday and that the extent of damage was still to be determined. “I’m afraid we’re probably going to have to recreate a lot of stuff,” she said.
On the plus side, the sets for Appalachian Spring, one of the most famous Graham works, and Chronicle were still in College Station, Texas, where the company had recently performed. Allen said she was contacting companies with Graham works in their repertories for help in recreating other sets and costumes.
Valuable video and film had also been removed previously for archiving. Allen said the company took precautions before the storm by moving material onto pallets, anticipating no more than two feet of water. “In retrospect, that was amusing,” she said.
To see the original story, visit http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/02/martha-graham-sets-and-costumes-damaged-by-hurricane-sandy/.
International dance star Drew Jacoby will teach a contemporary master class July 1 from 2:30 to 4pm at Park Cities Dance, 7979 Inwood Road, Dallas, Texas.
The class is for intermediate/advanced dancers ages 12 to adult. Cost is $45 for the general public, $35 for Dance Council of North Texas members, and $25 for Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts students, college students, and professional dancers.
Jacoby studied at the School of American Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, and Pacific Northwest Ballet, beginning her professional career at age 17 with Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet. She has toured with Sylvie Guillem, won a Princess Grace Award, and performed works by George Balanchine, Sir Kenneth MacMillan, William Forsythe, Christopher Wheeldon, Lar Lubovitch, Dwight Rhoden, Mia Michaels, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Lauri Stallings, and Lightfoot León. In 2008 she co-founded her independent partnership, Jacoby & Pronk with former Dutch National Ballet star Rubinald Pronk, and the two have guested with Dutch National Ballet and performed multiple seasons with Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company, as well as engaging in their own projects all over the world, including the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.
To register, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bates Dance Festival, an annual summer series of contemporary dance, celebrates its 30th anniversary by highlighting choreographers whose creative development has been nurtured by the festival.
Founded in 1982 in Lewiston, Maine, the festival brings together an international community of contemporary dance choreographers, performers, educators, and students in a cooperative community to study, perform, and create new work.
This year, featured artists include:
- Rennie Harris Puremovement: Harris, who first participated in the festival in 1996, will present excerpts of his company’s greatest hits including Rome & Jewels, developed at the festival.
- Kyle Abraham/Abraham.in.Motion: Live! The Realest MC is inspired by Abraham’s upbringing in Pittsburgh and explores the search for acceptance and the complex relationship between identity and personal history.
- Kate Weare Company: A new piece, Garden, delves into primitive issues of origin, collective identity, and safety in an uncontrollable natural world.
- Keigwin + Company: Since first attending the festival as a student 20 years ago, Larry Keigwin has returned to Bates as a dancer, choreographer, faculty member, and with his own troupe, Keigwin + Company. This summer, the troupe will present five Maine premieres including a new Keigwin solo.
The six-week series takes place July 13 through August 11 on the Bates College campus. Details on performance times, locations, and tickets can be found at www.batesdancefestival.org.
The Wooden Floor, an arts-based youth development organization in Santa Ana, California, that is celebrated for its pioneering dance-making, will showcase new contemporary dance works at its 29th annual concert, “Tuned In,” at the Irvine [CA] Barclay Theatre, May 31 to June 2.
The performances feature works by choreographers created in partnership with young dancers from low-income backgrounds. Choreographers include Chris Yon, an award-wining dancemaker and New York University graduate; Mark Morris Dance Group dancer John Heginbotham; and Melanie Ríos Glaser, a Juilliard School graduate and artistic director of The Wooden Floor.
An after-school organization formed in 1983, The Wooden Floor provides opportunities to 375 low-income youths annually through dance education and performance, academic programs, pre-collegiate mentoring, and college scholarships.
Performances will be held at 8pm May 31 to June 2 with a 2:30pm matinee on June 2.
Tickets are $20 for general seating or $50 for benefit seating. Half-price discounts are available for students and children under 13. Tickets go on sale April 2 at 949.854.4646 and www.TheBarclay.org. For complete details, visit www.TheWoodenFloor.org
Peridance Capezio Center’s contemporary The Nutcracker, choreographed by artistic director Igal Perry, will feature a cast of more than 60 students, pre-professionals, and professional dancers.
In this contemporary take on the classic tale, Perry weaves together hip-hop, modern, and ballet to a musical accompaniment including excerpts from the original Tchaikovsky score as well as new music.
Principal dancers include Nikki Holck, former member of the National Ballet of Canada; Kyle Coffman, formerly with Joffrey Ensemble, Buglisi Dance Theatre, and “Arab” in the recent Broadway revival of West Side Story; and Shay Bares, who has danced with Stephen Petronio Company.
They will share the stage with a cast that includes young students from The School at Peridance, pre-professionals from the Certificate Program and the International Student Programs, and professional dancers from the Peridance Contemporary Dance Company.
Performances are set for December 17 at 6:30 and 8:30pm (followed by a reception), and December 18 at 2:30 and 5:30pm, at the Salvatore Capezio Theater at Peridance, 126 East 13th Street (between Third and Fourth Avenues), New York City. Tickets are $30, $20 for students, or $15 for children 12 and under. For reservations, visit www.peridance.com.
Alan Danielson will be teaching three classes in contemporary Limón technique at Broadway Dance Center on October 18 to 20.
Intermediate/advanced classes will run from 1:30 to 3pm and are based on the key elements of the Humphrey/Limón Tradition, combining a strong technical base with a focus on musicality and an efficient use of energy. The classes aim to give dancers a humanistic approach to movement that is rhythmically based and highly kinetic, encouraging freedom and individuality in movement.
Danielson is a contemporary dance artist in the Humphrey‐Limón tradition. An internationally known master teacher of dance and music, he is the school director of the Limón Institute in New York City, and also directs his own company, Dance by Alan Danielson.
Broadway Dance Center is located at 322 West 45th Street between 8th and 9th avenues, New York. Visit www.limon.org for more information on all Limón classes and workshops.[ad#Store]
British Columbia’s Shadbolt Centre for the Arts will begin its 2011-2012 Live at the ’Bolt season with a bang as the popular contemporary performance series, Dances for a Small Stage, takes over the venue’s atrium, September 23 and 24.
Doors open at 7pm, with the performance at 8pm. Dances for a Small Stage assembles artists from various disciplines to choreograph, collaborate, and perform compelling new works on a 10-by-13-foot stage through MovEnt, a Vancouver-based, charitable non-profit dance society devoted to producing new contemporary dance work, supporting dance artists, and developing an audience for contemporary dance.
The evening includes works from both established and up-and-coming artists, including Cori Caulfield, Jonathan Ryder, Cory Philley, Leon Feizo-Gas, Karissa Barry, Robert Mitchell, Kathryn Crawford, Lena Fitzner, Caroline Liffmann, Caitlin Griffin, and Deanna Overland.
The combined ensemble represents a mix of styles and experience, ranging from former Ballet BC company members to professional dance and musical theater artists to up-and-coming performance artists. MovEnt’s artistic producer Julie-anne Saroyan will curate the evening.
Shadbolt Centre for the Arts is located at 6450 Deer Lake Avenue, Burnaby, BC. Tickets are $15 (or free for Shadbolt season subscribers) and available in person at the Shadbolt box office, by phone at 604.205.3000, or online at www.shadboltcentre.com. All ages welcome. For more information, visit www.movent.ca.
One of Asia’s most important contemporary dance companies, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, will perform artistic director Lin Hwai-min’s newest work, Water Stains on the Wall, at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Millennium Park, 205 E. Randolph Drive, Chicago, on October 28 and 29 at 8pm.
Presented by The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago, Cloud Gate also will open The Dance Center’s 2011-12 FamilyDance Matinee Series by presenting a family-oriented performance preceded by a free movement workshop with the artists October 29 at 2:15pm at The Dance Center, 1306 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago.
Water Stains on the Wall is performed on a white raked stage (evoking rice paper) with projected images of drifting clouds in different degrees of blackness that look like flowing ink, creating spaces that are constantly shifting, reminiscent of classical Chinese landscape painting. Dancers are deeply grounded on the floor, yet appear to be floating on top of the white space. “Water stains on the wall” is a popular Chinese metaphor representing the highest state in the aesthetics of Chinese calligraphy.
Lin Hwai-min will give a pre-performance talk before each performance at 7pm, free and open to ticket holders. Company member Su I-ping will lead a DanceMasters class October 24 at 6pm at The Dance Center for dancers at the intermediate level or higher.
Cloud Gate’s rich repertoire has its roots in Asian myths, folklore and aesthetics, but it brings to these age-old beliefs and stories a contemporary and universal perspective. The 24 dancers of the company receive training from the West and the East, including Tai Chi Tao Yin (an ancient form of Chi Kung), meditation, martial arts, modern dance, ballet, and calligraphy.
For ticket information, call 312.369.8330 or visit www.colum.edu/dancecenter.
Twenty-one-year-old Craig Black Jr. has been named the eight recipient of the Lorna Strassler Award for Student Excellence, the major annual scholarship of The School at Jacob’s Pillow, where Black is a participant in the Contemporary Program.
The award enables one student each year to attend one of the professional advancement programs of The School at Jacob’s Pillow on a full scholarship. Recipients also receive a $2,500 cash stipend. The award will be presented to Black at A Jazz Happening, a special benefit performance for the school, on August 21 in the Ted Shawn Theatre at the Pillow’s site in Becket, Massachusetts.
Black graduated from a performing arts high school in San Francisco and is an alumnus of The Juilliard School. His dance scholarship awards include the Tom Ralabate Jazz Dance Scholarship, The Juilliard Alumni Scholarship, and the 2010 Princess Grace Dance Performance Scholarship. His career goal is to dance professionally in Europe and tour with a company whose work challenges him as an artist.
New Bedford Ballet will present a blend of classical and contemporary dance in its summer performance, A Fusion of Dance, August 5 at 5:30 and 7pm and August 6 at 2 and 3:30pm, at the NBB Community Theatre, 2343 Purchase Street, New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Ballet instructors and advanced students will showcase their original choreography in this family-oriented collage of dance styles.
The Littlest Matryoshka is an original children’s ballet based on a children’s book by Massachusetts author Corinne Demas Bliss that describes the adventures of the smallest doll of a Russian Matryoshka doll set who becomes separated from her sisters. The ballet features choreography by New Bedford Ballet artistic director Rebecca Waskiel-Marchesseault and instructors James Brown and Alivia Cram.
The program also premieres The Music Box, an original classical ballet piece choreographed by Erin Petitjean Allen. A variety of original modern and contemporary dance pieces choreographed and performed by New Bedford Ballet advanced students under the direction of James Brown will also be included.
Tickets are $10 adults or $5 for seniors, students, and children. All proceeds support the New Bedford Ballet, a non-profit organization with the mission of providing classical ballet training for children and adults, granting scholarships, and educating the community in the value of the performing arts.
On-site registration for the 2011-2012 season will take place August 1 to 4 from 3:30 to 7:30pm. For more information, contact the New Bedford Ballet at 508.993.1387 or visit www.newbedfordballet.org.
DanzAbierta, one of Cuba’s leading contemporary dance companies, will present MalSon—described as “a love letter to Havana” by its choreographer, Spanish-born Susana Pous—from July 13 to 17 at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Massachusetts.
MalSon is performed by five dancers in front of a projection drop upstage, with a score by X Alfonso, an Afro-fusion composer.
DanzAbierta was founded in 1988 by Marianela Boán, a dancer and choreographer who graduated from Cuba’s National School of Dance in 1971 and who danced and choreographed for Contemporary Dance of Cuba for 15 years. Since 2003 DanzAbierta has been under the artistic direction of Guido Gali.
Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM (Kidd Pivot), the acclaimed contemporary dance company led by choreographer Crystal Pite, performs her virtuosic and enigmatic work Dark Matters at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival July 6 to 10.
Pite joins choreographers Bill T. Jones, Merce Cunningham, Annie-B Parson, Paul Lazar, and Alonzo King as the recipient of the 2011 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award, which is presented each year to a visionary artist along with a cash prize of $25,000.
In Dark Matters, a striking mystery thriller told through dance, a lonely artist creates a puppet with fateful results. Pite’s choreography lures the audience into a world of fantasy, humor, and dark twists and turns intricately entwined with Owen Belton’s original score.
On July 9 at 4pm, Pite will participate in a free PillowTalk discussion entitled “Crystal Pite Goes Global.” As part of the Pillow’s Community Dance Day, company members will lead a free master class on July 10 for intermediate and advanced dances ages 16 and older. Pre-registration is required; for more information, call 413.243.9919.
Performance tickets are now on sale at www.jacobspillow.org, at 413.243.0745, or in person at the Jacob’s Pillow box office, Becket, Massachusetts.
Carte Blanche, Norway’s award-winning National Company of Contemporary Dance, makes its U.S. full company debut in a program by Batsheva Dance Company house choreographer Sharon Eyal at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival June 29 to July 3.
Carte Blanche, established in 1989, is a contemporary ensemble of 14 classically trained dancers who also possess versatility in experimental modern forms. Based in Bergen, the second largest city in Norway, they regularly work with some of the world’s most celebrated Norwegian and international choreographers. As a company renowned for its powerful stage presence and eclectic repertoire, they often commission work by emerging contemporary choreographers.
A PillowTalk will be held July 2 at 4pm to explore the collaboration between Norway’s Carte Blanche, their Belgian director Bruno Heynderickx, and Israeli choreographer Sharon Eyal, an example of the ever-increasing internationalism in dance today. PillowTalks are free and open to the public, and offer interaction with artists and experts in the field with in-depth discussions, moderated interviews, film screenings, and book signings.
For performance information and tickets, visit www.jacobspillow.org.
Jane Comfort and Company, a contemporary dance-theatre group that pushes the intersection of dance, music, theatrically, and language, performs at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival June 29 to July 3.
Using a wide range of theatrical elements, Comfort challenges the boundaries of dance and theatre in her newest work Beauty, which explores American ideas about beauty and its metamorphosis over the past 50 years. The BESSIE Award-winning Underground River creates the fantasy world of a young girl with original melodies by folk singer/songwriter Toshi Reagon, traditional folk songs, and puppets by Basil Twist.
Comfort and dramaturg Anne Davison will participate in a PillowTalk discussion entitled Creating the Comfort Zone about the creative process behind the two works on June 30 at 5pm. Members of Jane Comfort and Company will lead a master class on July 3 for intermediate and advanced dances ages 16 and older. Pre-registration is required; each class is $15. For more information, call 413.243.9919.
Performance will be held in the Doris Duke Theatre, Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, Massachusetts, June 29 through July 2 at 8:15pm, and July 2 and July 3 at 2:15pm. Tickets are $33 to 36 and can be purchased at www.jacobspillow.org, at 413.243.0745, or in person at the Jacob’s Pillow Box Office.
The ninth annual Bard SummerScape festival opens on July 7 at 8pm with the first of four performances by Tero Saarinen Company, comprising a triple bill of the Finnish choreographer’s finest dances: Westward Ho! (1996), Wavelengths (2000), and HUNT (2002).
The contemporary dance troupe has appeared in nearly 40 countries. Saarinen’s daring and innovative choreography is influenced by Japanese butoh, martial arts, classical ballet, and Western contemporary dance. His choreography has been incorporated into the repertoire of such prominent dance groups as Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT1), the Batsheva Dance Company, Lyon Opéra Ballet, and the Finnish National Ballet.
The performances will take place in the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts on Bard College’s Hudson River campus, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.
Additional performances are set for July 8 and 9 at 8pm, and July 10 at 3pm. Tickets are $25, $40, $45, and $55. For tickets and further information on all SummerScape events, call the Fisher Center box office at 845.758.7900 or visit www.fishercenter.bard.edu.
Ethnic, ancient, and contemporary dance will be featured in San Francisco Performances’ upcoming 2011-2012 season.
Indian classical dancer Shantala Shivalingappa will present Swayambhu, a full-evening work making use of kuchipudi, a dance form dating to the 3rd century BC, on November 1 at 8pm at the Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Avenue (at McAllister), San Francisco.
The three other performances in the dance series will all take place at the Novellus Theater at YBCA, 700 Howard Street (at Third Street), San Francisco. San Francisco Ballet guest choreographer Wayne McGregor presents Random Dance on November 11 and 12 at 8pm in Entity, an hour-long blend of bodies, lights, technology, and film set to a soundscape by Coldplay collaborator Jon Hopkins.
Batsheva, the Israeli company led by Ohad Naharin, presents Max, a piece that expounds and celebrates the latent potential of the human body, on February 23 to 25, 2012, at 8pm. Also, Armitage Gone! Dance brings a new work, Three Theories, by artistic director Karole Armitage. Inspired by the physics of string theory, this multi-media piece will be presented May 18 and 19, 2012, at 8pm.
Subscriptions for the San Francisco Performances’ 2011-12 series, which includes music, dance, and vocal performances as well as special events, are on sale now at 415.677.0325 or online at www.sfperformances.org. Single-event tickets go on sale August 22 and can be purchased by calling the main box office line at 415.392.2545 or by visiting the website.
Some of contemporary dance’s leading choreographic voices will bring their companies to The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago during the 2011-2012 season.
Beginning this fall with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, other scheduled presenters include David Gordon’s Pick Up Performance Co(s), Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan and, in a co-presentation with the Harris Theater of Music and Dance, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s Legacy Tour.
The season continues in 2012 with Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak, a shared program featuring The Space/Movement Project, Rachel Damon/Synapse Arts and Erica Mott; and Ballet Hispanico.
The FamilyDance Matinee Series continues for its 13th season, featuring one-hour family-oriented performances preceded by free parent/child movement workshops with the artists. Most artists will also participate in DanceMasters, community master classes presented by The Dance Center’s Community Outreach and Education office. Discussions with the artists will follow most Thursday performances, and some programs will feature pre-performance talks with artists and Dance Center personnel or guest lecturers.
Subscriptions and single tickets go on sale July 11 at The Dance Center, 1306 South Michigan Avenue, 312.369.8330 or online at www.colum.edu/dancecenter.
Dance New Amsterdam, a training center in New York City for adult contemporary dancers, is expanding its reach to younger dance enthusiasts by organizing two summer programs for ages 4 to 18.
The School for Education of Emerging Dancers (SEEDS) will include a two-week summer intensive dance sampler, and the InTeensive Summer Program will encompass five weekends of intensive workshops in Simonson Technique.
SEEDS will offer dancers ages 4 to 9 dance and movement exploration, including jazz, hip-hop, ballet, yoga, tap, and story time dance. Two consecutive two-week courses will feature paired 40-minute class periods on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting July 12. The last class culminating each two-week session will highlight the dancers in a studio performance showcase for parents and friends.
Starting June 24, a weekend workshop InTeensive will expose youth to the fundamentals of DNA’s signature teaching method, Simonson Technique, and also include ballet, hip-hop, tap, and a sampling of other styles. Simonson Technique, developed by DNA co-founder Lynn Simonson, is an organic approach to movement that applies anatomically based principles of body awareness and alignment. The program will be offered five weekends over the course of the summer.
Dance New Amsterdam is located at 280 Broadway, second floor. For more information, visit www.dnadance.org or call 212.625.8369.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT:
Rhee Gold Company 508.285.6650
MASTER CONTEMPORARY TEACHER DERRICK YANFORD TO TEACH
AT 2011 DANCELIFE TEACHER CONFERENCE
NORTON, MA, April 11, 2011
This year’s conference for dance teachers and school owners across the United States will be held July 30 through August 2 at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. Yanford will teach intermediate and advanced contemporary warm-up and combo, as well as advanced contemporary, on July 30; jazz progressions, turns, and jumps and advanced contemporary work on July 31; and improvisation on August 1.
After attending New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Yanford danced with Ballet Hispanico of New York, The Joffrey Concert Dancers, Northern Connecticut Ballet, Koresh Dance Company, and ASH Contemporary Dance. He also performed on the first national tour of Footloose and European tours of Evita and West Side Story. He now teaches at the Performing Arts Academy in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, and freelances as a choreographer, master class teacher, and adjudicator for major dance organizations throughout the United States and Canada.
For more information about the DanceLife Teacher Conference, visit www.dancestudiolife.com/dltc/.
Canada’s National Ballet School’s annual Spring Showcase performance will feature a wide array of works from classical to contemporary, some of them new to the NBS stage and some returning favorites.
The program includes Scotch Symphony, choreographed by George Balanchine in 1952 and inspired by the rugged landscape and the grandeur of Scottish Regiments. Ein Von Veil, choreographed by Sabrina Matthews, an NBS alumna, is a duet for two male dancers set to nine of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
Also on the program are excerpts from Act III of La Bayadère, choreographed by Marius Petipa, and Nacho Duato’s Jardi Tancat, inspired by poems and songs that center around farming life in Spain and the desperate need for rain. Jardi Tancat won the International Choreographers Competition in 1983 in Cologne, Germany, when it debuted.
The Spring Showcase serves as both a performance opportunity for the Toronto school’s full-time students and a way for NBS to share dance with the community. This year’s edition will run May 26 to 28 at 7:30pm with a revolving cast of NBS dancers.
Opening night features a post-show reception for ticket holders. Tickets are $50 ($25 for students and seniors) and are available beginning April 26 at the Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis Street, or by calling 416.964.5148. For more information visit www.nbs-enb.ca/about/events/showcase2011.aspx.
George Washington University’s Dana Tai Soon Burgess, chair of the university’s Department of Theatre and Dance (TRDA), will lead a group of artists and educators to Ulan Bator, the Mongolian capital, to lead students in intensive training in American contemporary dance.
The five-member dance ensemble, including two dancers who are also members of the TRDA faculty, will hold master classes for Mongolian students of all levels from March 11 to 21. Burgess is the founder of Dana Tai Soon Burgess and Co., a Washington-based Asian-American contemporary dance company, and an overall cultural ambassador for the arts.
“Contemporary dance has the capacity to bring different cultures together in the shared language of movement,” Burgess says. “I have always been interested in Mongolia as my concentrations in college were Asian studies and dance. There have been only a handful of contemporary American dancers to work in Mongolia ever.”
Burgess’ excursion is supported by the U.S. Embassy in Mongolia and the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Burgess has completed more than 20 international tours, including trips to Egypt, Israel, the West Bank, Peru, and India. This year, TRDA professors Connie Lin Fink and Kelly Moss Southall and GW alumna Sarah Halzack will accompany Burgess.
Twenty students from the ninth grade to university level, most from rural Mongolia, will take class and view a performance by DTSB & Co. Eight dancers from Tumen Ekh Ensemble of Ulan Bator will join the American company in a dance choreographed by Burgess. More information can be found at www.dtsbco.com or www.theatredance.gwu.edu.
Pigeonholes Are for the Birds
In this issue we asked dozens of people to share their thoughts on how to define that ever-elusive dance form, contemporary. But the fact that we even try to put parameters on an art form got me thinking. Human beings like labels. We like having a figurative drawer in which to place the things in our lives, all neat and accounted for. Compartmentalizing (which is what a definition does) helps us keep our mental and physical lives in order.
But labels can be misleading and limiting, if they coerce us into thinking about something in a certain way. For example, for years I took a class pegged as modern jazz, which was a pretty accurate way to describe it—it was essentially jazz, but with major influences from Horton and lesser ones from Graham and Limón. But at times you could see underpinnings of ballet and even some hints of salsa. It’s not that the label of modern jazz was wrong; it was a good nutshell description. But it didn’t quite tell the whole story.
It’s important to recognize our inclination to label things because such narrowness in thinking allows—even encourages—us to limit ourselves. If we define something, or ourselves, in a certain way for long enough, we start to believe that’s all there is to it, or us. But going beyond our self-definitions allows us to discover the fullness of whatever lies within. I experienced this recently when I challenged myself to write a piece of very short fiction, when my preferred form is the novel. Not only did I have a fabulous time doing it, but I learned a few things about myself as a writer (including the need to resist pigeonholing myself).
Like any art form, dance is always evolving. No doubt when Michel Fokine’s Five Principles, written in 1904, found a home at Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and forever changed the course of classical ballet, some people (at the Maryinsky, for example, which rejected his ideas out of hand) shook their heads and called it an outrage. But in today’s world, we would have described his new approach to ballet as contemporary—something based on tradition that sets off in a new direction.
We’re not going to give up our tendency to stick labels on things. But let’s do it with the idea that they’re a convenience, a way to allow us to grasp the essence of something, and remember that there’s more to it, whatever it is. And then go after it with every ounce of creative juice we can muster. That’s how art lives. —Cheryl Ossola, Editor in Chief
A Very Good Century
There is something very sad about Merce Cunningham’s decision to disband his company (see FYI, page 28). For two years the company has been touring the world, but after one last show on New Year’s Eve 2011, the unitards will be put away for good.
It was Merce’s own decree, announced shortly before his death in 2009. There’s a touch of the pharaohs in it—“If I must die, you, my faithful servant, are coming with me.” But I am sure he also realized that a company willed into life by a single-minded vision couldn’t just become a shadow of itself, dancing the same dances over and over. If the company were to stay alive it would have to grow without him, and perhaps that was too much for him to bear.
And so I say farewell to Merce’s company, feeling a bit melancholy. I don’t want to be a Grumpy Gus, looking back on the past as good times that will never come again, but really, when will we ever see the likes of him again, or of a Balanchine, a Graham, a Tudor? Books are still being written about the beauty and importance of their dances. But these choreographers did far more than just put steps together—they believed fervently that dance was art, and they led their dancers into unexplored territory with the courage of conquistadors.
And oh, the stories that swirled about them! Balanchine shunning his beautiful, crippled wife for his latest star, Robbins tearing dancers to shreds with his tongue, Duncan strangled with her elegant scarf. Graham, bone-thin and aging, clinging to her performing career. They were divas at the barre—and, believe me, I say that with utmost affection.
Certainly past centuries had their geniuses, and there are plenty of creative dancemakers still creating. But the 20th century? Let’s just say it was a very, very good century for choreographers. —Karen White, Associate Editor
At The Center for Contemporary Dance, education involves community
By Eliza Randolph
The Center for Contemporary Dance in Winter Park, Florida, might qualify as a mini dance utopia. CCD houses an open training program for all ages and a pre-professional program, as well as four independent dance companies. A nonprofit known for its diversity and inclusive atmosphere, it was founded in 2001 in Washington, DC, and incorporated in Florida in 2004 by executive director Craig Johnson and artistic director Dario Moore. They moved from DC to Florida in part because they felt the area needed greater access to the arts. And, clearly, because they needed a challenge.
Johnson, an arts administrator, and Moore, a teacher, performer, and choreographer, had both earned undergraduate degrees from Rollins College and then left Florida to pursue careers. Moore, with a BA in theater and dance, earned a master’s in dance education from American University; Johnson, with a bachelor’s in biology/pre-med, attended medical school at Columbia University for several years before following a calling to the arts. He served as development director for a theater company in New Jersey and then as creative director for U-Turn Dance Company, with Moore, in DC. Then family ties and the belief that central Florida could benefit from their work called them back to the South.
Aside from Orlando Ballet, they note, not much dance was happening in central Florida, but that didn’t faze them. “We knew what we were up against,” says Johnson, “and we were aware enough to know that the learning curve involved raising community awareness and educating our constituents about what contemporary dance even was. People kept referring to it as ‘interpretive.’ ” On the CCD website, “contemporary dance” is acknowledged to be a catchall term referring to “anything from the fusion of classical dance forms to a modern interpretation of world dance.”
CCD took a proactive approach, says Johnson. “We built into our programming a series of in-house workshops that facilitated a more comprehensive understanding of contemporary dance.” The workshops took the form of performances, film presentations, and lecture-demonstrations. Eventually, he says, the strategy paid off, “and now people are eager to come through our doors.”
Instructor and dancer Jeré James, who has been with CCD since its beginning, says, “I have watched the progression of our audience going from 50 or 60 to 300 to 400.”
In addition to building audiences through education, Moore and Johnson challenged themselves to sidestep the usual dance studio model of classes and recitals. Instead, they created a center that fostered the growth of the dance field itself from the inside out by intertwining the educational and professional activities at the Center.
For its 287 students (as of last winter), including 20 on the pre-professional-track, CCD offers a wide range of ongoing classes in ballet, jazz, modern, contemporary, tap, and African dance, as well as regular master classes in techniques ranging from hip-hop to classical Indian dance. Students of all ages can pay as they go rather than commit to a monthly tuition fee. The by-audition pre-professional program has two tracks, youth (ages 9 to 17) and adult (ages 18 to 25), which include training in arts management, production, and wellness/nutrition along with technique.
CCD does not stage recitals, but students have the opportunity to perform and/or choreograph through two concerts per year. Rehearsals take place outside of class time, says Johnson. The CCD website explains that students work with the resident ensembles “in areas of choreography, production management, artistic development and creative expression.”
The idea of housing resident artists is integral to Johnson and Moore’s concept for the school. It’s a way for developing choreographers and artistic directors “to more fully explore their craft through experimentation and actual production,” says Johnson. He says they look for “artists who challenge boundaries, explore interesting aspects of the human experience, and who are willing to grow and collaborate through the art of dance.” CCD provides rehearsal space, production opportunities, and business mentoring, he says, all of which provides the necessary stability for these artists “to become fully independent companies that keep contemporary dance flowing into the artistic landscape of central Florida.”
In return, says Johnson, resident artists teach and “provide opportunities for graduates of the pre-professional program to perform, as well as for higher-level pre-professionals to apprentice with the company.” And the resident artist program is part of CCD’s marketing strategy. Audiences know that the residents whose work they come to see are supported by CCD, and that in turn generates new interest in the school.
The result of this expansive approach—educating and creating both inside and outside the studio—is a student body that’s uniquely prepared for the multifaceted demands of the dance field. Says Johnson, “Resident artists help us provide pre-professionals with other important experiences, such as technical design, backstage support, guest management, and other non-performance aspects of the arts. All of this contributes to [developing] a well-rounded student capable of making a living in the arts.”
And there’s more. Students also learn about the “challenges associated with getting their work to the stage,” says Johnson. For the student concerts, he says, “they’re invited into fund-raising efforts. They’re taught how to engage people into believing in their work enough to actually support it. We believe that if we’re teaching them those concepts at age 12, 13, 14, they will become better idea generators than I am, sitting at this desk. We can start that process now for them so that by the time they’re 20, 30, 40, they should be masters at it.”
“We were aware enough to know that the learning curve involved raising community awareness and educating our constituents about what contemporary dance even was.” —CCD executive director Craig Johnson
Moore stresses the importance of familiarizing students with “the full cycle” of production, “in order to create this process for themselves. That’s important. If they learn that process here in dance, they can apply it to anything.”
Former student Cherri Thompson (now a dancer with Graham II, the second company of Martha Graham Dance Company) learned to appreciate this approach. “It’s funny,” she says with a laugh, “because at the time the responsibilities that you’re given don’t feel like something that you necessarily want to do. But later on you look at it as a very rich learning experience. I had to learn how to manage my time, work with other people, different personalities, learn how to do lighting, step in when somebody can’t. You realize it’s a bigger picture. You have to be able to do everything. I’ve watched Dario change lighting, stand on a ladder and fix things to make [a production] happen.”
Moore sees what they’re doing at CCD as “a unique educator’s challenge—to be holistic in how we’re training students here.” And what emerges from this holistic view is a center that embodies an expansive definition of contemporary dance as not just a particular dance style, but as an approach to the entire field.
For Reverend and Dr. Margo Blake-Tyler, a former student and now a teacher at CCD, “contemporary means being a well-rounded dancer who can do different techniques and understands what the current dance market is about, what the current and most popular dance styles are, and what it takes to break into the professional dance field.”
But of course, more specifically CCD offers technique classes labeled “contemporary.” The consensus among the CCD staff seems to be that it involves the best mix of dance styles needed to tell a particular story. Says James, “I believe that, from the 5-year-olds to the professionals, we tell a story with our movement. Our kids know the meaning behind [their movement]. We’re training dancers to become artists.”
Thompson mentions Katherine Dunham as an early pioneer of this idea of contemporary dance. As Thompson puts it, Dunham combined “several dance styles to create her own style, which was very contemporary and very American. What made her controversial was that some people didn’t see her style as one that was contemporary as much as just her take on ethnic and Caribbean dance styles. But she took her ballet training and researched dances from Africa, Haiti, and Latin American cultures and used it in her process. That process is in my opinion what makes the dance contemporary. It is ever evolving and always tells a story or shows a perspective.”
The perspective of CCD is one of true and vibrant diversity. Johnson says he and Moore pride themselves “on having created, I would say, one of the most diverse studio spaces here in central Florida. Part of that is because we ensure that our employees are diverse. Like attracts like, and we’re very aware of that. We love that you could be sitting in our lobby and see an Asian person, a white person, a black person, a Latino person—a perfect blend of all these different colors and shapes and sizes. It’s an amazing experience.”
Johnson says that CCD recruits resident artists who are “as diverse as the world is, to make sure that the audiences that we’re recruiting to the center are also diverse. There’s a very large consciousness around programming with diversity in mind. It goes beyond race. We have people here with physical limitations.”
This diversity encourages a broad range of experience among the students. Blake-Tyler, who has danced her entire life (she is in her 50s) but came to CCD to take class after a long absence from dancing, appreciates the climate that creates. “Nobody judges you by your ability, by what you look like, your size, your height, your weight, your skin color,” she says. “And I really enjoy that because I felt like at my age I could take a dance class and nobody would laugh at me. I got nothing but encouragement.”
When she began teaching again, Blake-Tyler says, Johnson and Moore challenged her. “African was always easy for me to teach. But when they asked me to teach Dunham and jazz, I hadn’t done them in a while. [Teaching them] challenged me as a teacher, and it helped me to come back to myself as an artist.”
“That’s why our model here is successful,” says Moore. “Everyone who walks in that door feels us see them [as an individual].” The message sent, according to Moore, is: “Why are you here, let’s find out who you are, what you’re hoping to achieve here. And in your real life, use dance as a model for what you can do out in the real world and go achieve it, go do it.”
Financial aid and scholarship or work-exchange opportunities are there for those students who need them. “We’re very family oriented,” says James. “Dario is a big believer in the village raising the child. So we’ll carpool, pick the kids up if need be, [find] scholarship opportunities for the kids, like cleaning or being a teacher assistant, so they’re able to continue with their dance education.”
Despite the fact that CCD can offer a complete experience, from training to professional status, Johnson and Moore consciously try to avoid practices that feel insular or cliquish. “We’re not operating in studio circles that try to take ownership of and control their students,” says Johnson. “We encourage our students to study at other centers; we know that one place cannot give you everything you need as an artist. And if we’re going to expand dance here, or anywhere for that matter, we have to be inclusive and let students know that everything is possible beyond these walls.”
To that end, they help the pre-professional students apply to university dance programs and auditions. Over the past nine years, says Johnson, “94 percent of the more than 200 pre-professionals [trained at CCD] have gone on to enter a university dance program or professional dance company.”
Thompson is a perfect example of that success rate. “I really valued being given the room to grow, and being given the push to grow,” she says. “As a performer you have to always be learning. You can’t just become great and then stay at that level.” At times she felt constricted by the demands of the program, “but in actuality, that compression allowed me to go deeper into myself, figure out how I wanted to grow. And then do it.”
What is contemporary dance? Experts agree: it’s a moving target.
By Eileen Glynn
If dancers spend their time analyzing anything, it’s phrases of movement, not language. But with the term “contemporary dance” popping up everywhere from the concert stage to the convention circuit—and being applied to forms as diverse as ballet and hip-hop—it’s worth asking, “What is contemporary dance?” An equally important question is: “How does one train to become a contemporary dancer?” We’ve rounded up some of today’s hottest contemporary dancers and choreographers and asked them to share their thoughts on this dance style that refuses to be defined.
For Desmond Richardson’s Complexions Contemporary Ballet, the term “contemporary” describes more than a style of movement; it captures a key part of the company’s identity. “We put ‘contemporary’ in the title because we are off-the-cuff. We are off the tradition,” says Richardson, who shares the role of artistic director with co-founder Dwight Rhoden. “For us, contemporary is a fusion of many styles. Ballet is our base, but we incorporate street dance forms and modern dance forms. We focus on the clarity of the classical line, but then we disturb that line.”
Richardson began as a street dancer, doing hip-hop without any formal training. “Coming from a popping/locking background gave me a clarity of movement. In popping, you really have to be clear,” he says. “So later on, when I got to ballet class and they said, ‘It’s first position and only first position,’ I could conform.”
Richardson’s teachers stressed versatility and that lesson has served him well in a performance career that spans the companies of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ballet Frankfurt, and American Ballet Theatre as well as performances in Broadway’s Fosse and on So You Think You Can Dance.
Richardson and Rhoden founded Complexions in 1994 and celebrated their 15th anniversary with seasons at New York City’s Joyce Theater in 2009 and 2010. Following tours of Italy, Israel, and the United States, the company will return to the Joyce in May.
In tandem with touring, the company often offers master classes, which stress the importance of versatility in dance training. Richardson advises young dancers to “train your instrument in all things.” Training with many different teachers, he says, “will prolong your career and make you really full.” He recommends that dancers concentrate on a solid base of technique and then explore everything from contact improvisation to the theories of Rudolf Laban. “Learn as much as you can,” he says. “As directors, we are looking for special dancers who breathe life into the steps that are here. There are no new steps, but you can generate something new with your interpretation.”
Richardson sees newness as the defining theme of the future of contemporary dance. “We are headed to a place that we haven’t seen yet,” he says. “I want to keep it like that—keep it open, keep it limitless. There are so many ambassadors coming up today who will share their voices, and I’m interested to see what that will look like. I hope I don’t see any trends in the field. I want to see newness.”
For Lula Washington, artistic director of Los Angeles–based Lula Washington Dance Theatre, using the term “contemporary” to describe the present moment rather than a particular dance style feels appropriate. “For me, ‘contemporary’ is where you are at any given moment in your choreographic life. It is dance that is never-ending. It has to do with what you are doing at that time, at that moment of creation,” she says. “My work is always reflective of what is going on in the universe, in the world, and in my own backyard. To me, that makes it contemporary.”
Washington’s company, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, blends ballet, modern, jazz, hip-hop, African, and tap dance movement vocabularies. Her school, located in the inner-city area of South Los Angeles, offers classes in all of those styles and more. “We don’t teach ‘contemporary’ class. It’s all contemporary because it’s all of the time that we are in. Contemporary is part of everything we do,” Washington says. “I don’t put that label on it, because it causes a lot of confusion. What is contemporary? What is modern? From the beginning, I’ve incorporated many styles. When you infuse African, jazz, tap, or Latin dance into your movement vocabulary, it makes it richer and more exciting. And, it allows more people to connect to what you are doing.”
Washington’s versatility has enabled her to work in both concert and commercial dance worlds. Lula Washington Dance Theatre has performed in more than 150 U.S. cities and tours internationally. The company finished its 2010 season with a five-week tour of Russia, and in June it will embark on a five-week tour of China. Despite a busy company and school schedule, Washington says she likes “putting my creative voice in a commercial project. It’s another opportunity to expose our work to people who would not come to a dance concert.”
Washington choreographed the Disney movie The Little Mermaid and choreographed the ritual movement and body language for the Na’vi people in James Cameron’s film Avatar.
Using movement to convey meaning may be the next trend in dance, according to Washington. “We’ve pretty much gone to the edge in terms of movement,” she says. “It’s going to come back in full-circle-like fashion. It will come back to choreographers who really have something to say and who are not just doing movement for movement’s sake.”
Attempting to define contemporary dance presents a beautiful paradox for Nicholas Leichter, artistic director of Nicholas Leichter Dance. He says, “It’s such a broad term by name alone. It seems that any definition you can find is both inaccurate and correct at the same time, which may be the beauty of the term. Contemporary dance is stylistically open as well as conceptually interpretive. It can range from Broadway to ballet, urban to experimental.”
Leichter, whose New York–based company will celebrate its 15th anniversary in June with a series of performances at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, describes his work as contemporary because it draws from his own experience. “I don’t make work about history, ancestors, spirits, or traditions,” he says. “I think of [‘contemporary’] simply as a term that doesn’t exclude tradition but rather adds to it. It’s in the now but understands its history.”
Leichter’s company is well traveled, having performed in 50 cities across 18 states and in 10 countries. He sees the future of contemporary dance as becoming even more global, thanks to advances in technology. “I would like to see deeper connections and the sharing of information internationally,” he says, citing “web-based work, art on Facebook, Vimeo, more commercial projects, perhaps more international collaborations” as future trends in the field of contemporary dance.
Collaboration, dialogue, and sharing ideas are crucial to Leichter’s creative process. His current touring project, The Whiz: Over the Rainbow, features his choreography set to a commissioned score by Monstah Black. It includes a wide variety of dance, music, and performance styles including house, funk, postmodern, drag, hip-hop, contemporary, and psychedelic.
Leichter’s next project is a collaboration with New York City DJ MattyMatt (Matt Atkinson), Black Barbra. The work examines the influence of singer Donna Summer on the history of disco music and is slated to premiere in June.
Los Angeles–based dancer and choreographer Jillian Meyers says, “ ‘Contemporary’ means ‘hybrid.’ ” In Meyers’ view, one element of the hybrid is a technical base—whether it’s ballet, modern, or jazz technique—and the other is a fusion of styles ranging from hip-hop to musical theater. “What comes out of me often falls to the left or right of that definition,” Meyers says, “but I like to consider that contemporary dance has a technical basis so that there is something concrete about it. It’s not just a passing phase. It has stood the test of time.”
Establishing a sound technical base can help students train to become contemporary dancers. Meyers advises young dancers to “keep up with your technique classes. Take ballet and jazz classes so that you have a technical base. Then, on top of that, take hip-hop classes as well as other styles of dance, so that when you get a combination that uses all of those styles, it won’t feel completely foreign to you.”
Meyers advocates taking class from many different teachers, because each choreographer’s contemporary dance style is different. And, she adds, “Do your research. The more you know about what is out there, the better equipped you will be. If you are thinking about moving to New York or Los Angeles, then visit each city to get a feel for the place.”
Growing up in Portland, Oregon, Meyers trained in ballet, jazz, tap, and hip-hop. Her first immersion in the L.A. dance scene came when she was 16, when she earned a place in the scholarship program at Edge Performing Arts Center. Since moving to L.A. in 2004 she has assisted Brian Friedman, Tovaris Wilson, Mia Michaels, Wade Robson, Gil Duldulao, and Mandy Moore on the popular Fox TV show So You Think You Can Dance. Meyers is also a lead dancer for performing artist Janet Jackson and is a frequent performer on ABC’s hit show Dancing With the Stars.
As a teacher, Meyers focuses on performance quality and dynamic. “Where do you hit the movement? How hard? What kind of texture do you give it? I talk a lot about performance in my class, because the convention and competition world doesn’t always ask you to be a specific kind of performer, so I try to help students be more theatrical,” she says. “It’s never enough to just do the moves. It’s about why you do them.”
Contemporary dance’s ability to resist clear definition is one of the things that makes it so appealing for TV and Broadway performer William Wingfield. “Contemporary dance is hard to define because it encompasses so many things. It’s not about being lazy with the term; it’s just that it’s ever-evolving,” Wingfield says. “Contemporary is a beautiful form of fusion—it’s the ultimate fusion style of dance. Take African, modern, and hip-hop, then put some technique and lyrical guidance behind it, and you have one form of contemporary dance.”
For Wingfield, contemporary dance is an avenue to develop artistry, both for him and for his students. “Contemporary dance represents individual and collaborative artistry and is about trusting the process of the discovery, and letting go and letting the movement move you, rather than you trying to move the movement,” he explains. “It’s important that kids don’t get lost in what they see at competitions or on TV. It’s become very tricky. I make sure in my class that it’s not just about the combination at the end, or about the tricks in the combination.”
Wingfield begins his classes with an improvised warm-up and gives his students visualizations to draw on. “The head has a million points that you can lead from. The hands have energy. They are like your mouth. You can speak with your hands. Turn your feet into paintbrushes, with two different colors on your feet. But the floor is not your only canvas; space exists behind you too,” he says. “I try to train kids to be artists rather than just dancers. Then they can draw portraits rather than stick figures.”
He hopes to be as inspiring a teacher for his students as Debbie Allen was for him when he moved to Los Angeles at age 16. “Debbie Allen stressed versatility and knowledge,” he says. “I wanted to become a master in being versatile.”
Wingfield’s broad training paid off when he became a finalist on Season 4 of So You Think You Can Dance and landed roles in Broadway’s The Wiz and In the Heights. Wingfield and his business partner, Monique Borromeo, are currently working to merge dance and film with their new business venture, The Mɛtəˈfizikəl.™
“Debbie Allen used to tell me that dancers are the best actors in the world because we tell a whole story without opening our mouths,” Wingfield says, musing about how to define contemporary dance. “You can’t put a definition on something that is ever-evolving, but you can change people’s lives without saying one word.”
From her vantage point as a choreographer for So You Think You Can Dance, Mandy Moore sees two definitions of contemporary dance. “What I considered ‘contemporary’ prior to my time on So You Think You Can Dance was a form based heavily in ballet, like Netherlands Dance Theatre, for example. It’s not modern, it’s not ballet; it’s a mix of both,” Moore says. “Then, around Season 2, So You Think You Can Dance created a category called ‘contemporary’ for the commercial dance world. It became an umbrella for all that is indefinable—a fusion of dance forms.”
According to Moore, dances that are neither jazz nor hip-hop fall into the “contemporary” category, and such categorization is easy for a TV audience to understand. Given the show’s popularity, the term “contemporary dance” has now been brought to the general public. “It’s amazing to be on an airplane and hear people behind me talking about the contemporary piece that so-and-so did on So You Think You Can Dance,” Moore says.
She notes that many dance competitions have also instituted a “contemporary” category and that young dancers are eager to emulate what they see on TV and YouTube. Nevertheless, confusion still abounds. “Dance teachers ask me all the time, ‘What’s the difference between contemporary and lyrical? What’s the difference between contemporary and modern?’ And I ask myself the same questions,” Moore says.
She doesn’t pigeonhole herself, though. “I consider myself to be a choreographer. I can do contemporary choreography when I have to,” she says. “Just like I don’t consider myself to be a jazz dancer or a contemporary dancer; I consider myself to be a dancer. In that world, I can do anything.” Moore credits her early training in modern dance and ballet with giving her a solid base from which to explore other styles including hip-hop, flamenco, belly dance, and tap. “All of that training feeds into a huge vat of information that I can draw from as a choreographer,” she notes.
Moore advises young dancers to keep up with their technique classes, especially in ballet, which will provide a solid foundation from which to branch out to other forms. “I grew up in the mountains of Colorado in a tiny studio with six kids in a class. We didn’t have master classes. We didn’t compete. I got very good training, but it wasn’t about learning crazy steps,” Moore says. “I learned how to love dance. And I learned how to love learning. I can take that everywhere I go. Learning to love learning makes you a better student, a better artist, and a better person.”
You’ve heard what Desmond Richardson, Jillian Meyers, Nicholas Leichter, William Wingfield, and other big names think about the nature and characteristics of contemporary dance. But we wanted to find out what teachers and choreographers in the Dance Studio Life circle had to say. Read on for their thoughts (in alphabetical order) on how they define contemporary dance.
Mignon Furman, director, American Academy of Ballet, New York, NY:
Contemporary dance is best defined by isolating it from other readily defined dance: classical ballet (adherence to technique and style), folk/national dance (traditional music and steps), and tap/theater dance/jazz (popular music and happy themes). If it’s none of the above, the dance is contemporary. To complicate the definition, contemporary dance is characterized by the style of many artists—Martha Graham, Ted Shawn, Alvin Ailey, and their predecessors, Mary Wigman, Kurt Jooss, and Isadora Duncan—who revolted against the then-rigid style of classical ballet to form the freer “modern” dance. Ultimately, a definition is not important as long as the dance is theatrically sincere and artistically satisfying—even to those who think classical ballet is the supreme art of dance.
Helen Hayes, Youth Dance Ensemble director, Joy of Motion Dance Center, Washington, DC:
Contemporary dance is difficult to define because it is a genre, not a technique. It incorporates a collection of methods and techniques found in ballet, modern dance, postmodern dance, and others, giving it a unique look. Contemporary dance tends to be intricate and physical, and the dancers change levels and directions quickly and seamlessly. Contemporary dance may deal with abstract concepts, images, or emotional extremes. It has a rawness that sets it apart from plot-driven ballets or Broadway jazz. Contemporary dance is present!
Charlotte Klein, director, Charlotte Klein Dance Centers, Worchester and Westboro, MA:
What amazes me about contemporary dance is how the same moves can appear in routines from both the East and West Coasts, even without a defined technique. Bent knees and flexed feet are acceptable in this genre. Some contemporary choreography tells a story based on the words of a song, but other pieces have story lines known only to the dancers and their choreographer. It is most enjoyable to watch a contemporary dance on dancers who have very strong ballet, jazz, and modern technique.
Nina Koch, owner/director, East County Performing Arts Center, Brentwood and Antioch, CA:
Sometimes a dance is labeled “contemporary” because the teacher, student, or parent wants something different or trendy. Since the term came from contemporary ballet, I’m surprised it has morphed into a genre that covers so many styles. Now we see pieces that are a cross between jazz, modern, and/or hip-hop, and it’s all called contemporary. At competition I have seen lyrical, jazz, and character dances all classified as contemporary. I think it’s great—dance is dance and does not need a label. But it does bother me that the term “contemporary” is thrown around so often simply because it’s trendy.
Alice Korsick, ballet mistress, Spisak Dance Academy, Glendale, AZ:
Over the years, as a teacher, choreographer, and competition judge, I have seen trends in dance presentation that are new, yet emphasize traditional techniques. Lyric was based in ballet and emphasized balance, control of movement, and storytelling. Jazz evolved from modern and ballet with movements that were into the floor and fluid, like Matt Mattox’s and Luigi’s styles. Now jazz encompasses sharper and stronger moves and can be almost anything that the choreographer envisions.
To me, contemporary dance is based on modern technique but the movements are smaller, faster, and angular in appearance and are executed with many, many movements to fewer counts of music. The use of space is sparse. The movement is more internal, showing the dancers’ strength, control, and quickness of movements. Costuming is minimal—usually booty shorts, no tights, and a simple top. There is a serious intent to interpret the music or words that accompany the dancer.
Brian McCormick, career mentor, Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, New York, NY: Contemporary dance taps ballet, modern, postmodern, jazz, ethnic, folk, and break dancing, as well as theater, performance art, and media. It’s a blending of styles, from simple hybrids to complex stews. As represented by So You Think You Can Dance, it’s been reduced for quick sale as a kind of trick-filled, “power” modern. In reality, contemporary dance stretches to fit the process-oriented works of Miguel Gutierrez and Ralph Lemon, the multidisciplinary oeuvres of Pina Bausch and William Forsythe, and the choreographed dances of John Jasperse, Kate Weare, and Angelin Preljocaj. Also, unique installations by artists like Yanira Castro that challenge the conventions of audience spectatorship and participation.
Christopher K. Morgan, rehearsal director and choreographer in residence, CityDance Ensemble, Washington, DC:
Contemporary dance is the work currently being made by choreographers who are pushing the field by drawing on existing dance forms, theater traditions, and other artistic mediums. It also embraces the pursuit of innovation, artistry, and self-expression. Recently, the presence of So You Think You Can Dance seems to have defined the genre as a lyrical jazz/modern/ballet movement vocabulary tied to narrative story lines. Though wonderful and valid, it worries me that this new definition might limit the creative possibilities for artists and diminish the interpretive faculties of our audiences.
Tom Ralabate, professor and chair, Department of Theatre and Dance, SUNY at Buffalo, NY:
Contemporary dance provokes, expresses, and reflects through movement the point of view of the dancer and/or choreographer. It capitalizes on the universal language of dance by using all types of movements, from stylized to pedestrian. Some “thread elements” visible in contemporary dance include modern, ballet, jazz, gymnastics, and world dance forms. Movement images, ideas, and emotions are set to a variety of sounds, from music to spoken word to the richness of silence. It is dance that crosses frontiers on many levels.
Kerry Ring, adjunct professor, Department of Theatre and Dance, SUNY at Buffalo, NY:
It is difficult to define contemporary dance because the essence of contemporary is to break new ground. I teach my students to look for trends when trying to define contemporary dance, such as a focus on athleticism, upper-body strength, and abdominal strength. Smaller, more revealing costumes highlight the range of motion and the line of the foot and leg. Choreography, showcasing the dancer as athlete, will often make use of intricate or extreme partnering or a dynamic use of levels. (The dramatic “knee drop” that is rippling through studios is an example of a contemporary level change.)
Often there is no plot, yet the audience sees the piece as highly emotional. Dancers must be able to move freely from idiosyncratic gesture and gymnastic-like tricks to combinations using ballet, jazz, and modern vocabularies. All of these trends are being pushed to new limits, distorted, and then redefined by contemporary choreographers.
Gregg Russell, president, 3D Dance Network, Inc., Los Angeles, CA:
Contemporary dance starts with a base of traditional modern. A grab bag of elements such as lyrical, ballet, martial arts, hip-hop, and everyday pedestrian movement then gets mixed in, creating a new style with a “contemporary” feel. As a judge for Co. Dance conventions, [I think] the biggest mistake [contemporary choreographers] can make is to just emulate what is popular. A true contemporary artist always strives to create something new that stands out from the others.
Aysha Upchurch, faculty, Joy of Motion Dance Center, Washington, DC:
When someone does something slightly different from the norm, eventually it’s given a name. Contemporary dance is the same. It’s not modern, it’s not jazz, it’s not hip-hop. When I see a dance piece labeled “contemporary,” I usually see something that has elements of technique from the classical genres, but with a twist. If it’s done well, I applaud it, just as I do with any dance that is done well. I appreciate accessible creative art, no matter the label. I don’t know who officially started “contemporary,” but I appreciate his/her/their contribution to the dance world.
Maida Withers, professor, George Washington University, Washington, DC:
The term “contemporary dance” has never appealed to me as a viable description. We used that in 1965 and it felt dated then. “Dance” is the best term, of course, but it seems we are always modifying with terms such as “modern” dance, “postmodern” dance, and so on. The most appropriate term might be “new media dance” since the most current work is taking place in cyberspace over electronic systems. This provides a more democratic access to dancing since you can do it instantly, even while walking down the street. In Washington, DC, there is a preponderance of “dead” dance—dances by choreographers who are no longer living. In that context, contemporary dance might be dance by anyone who is alive and well and still kicking—artists making dances of relevance in today’s world.
Auditions will be held this weekend in New York City for the School at Jacob’s Pillow 2011 professional advancement programs in jazz/musical theater dance and contemporary.
The jazz/musical theater dance audition will be held February 19 at Pearl Studios, 500 Eighth Avenue, 4th floor. Registration is at 10:00 a.m., with audition class from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The contemporary audition will be held February 20 in Studio 4 at New York City Center Studios, 130 West 56th Street, with registration at 2:00 p.m. and audition class from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.
Auditions are structured as a master class—no cuts are made—and provide an opportunity to take a professional class, gain audition experience, and learn more about The School at Jacob’s Pillow. The jazz/musical theater dance audition will cover multiple jazz dance styles, including tap, and will be led by Brad Musgrove, a Broadway performer known for his roles in Fosse and The Producers. The vocal portion of the audition will be with an accompanist and requires two songs from published musical theater works.
The contemporary audition will be led by program director Milton Myers, resident choreographer/instructor for Philadanco, who serves on the faculties of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Fordham University’s Ailey Program, and The Juilliard School.
Auditions are open to advanced dancers, ages 15 and up. No pre-registration required.
There is a $15 cash-only audition fee. For more information, visit www.jacobspillow.org/education/school.
Coyaba Dance Theater will present Rejuvenation, a performance of traditional and contemporary West African dance and music, on March 12 at 8:00 p.m. and March 13 at 7:00 p.m. at Dance Place, 3225 Eighth Street NE, Washington, DC.
Coyaba Dance Theater, a Dance Place resident company, will perform traditional dances from Africa and the Diaspora that relate to the water spirit Mami Wata. Legends of Mami Wata have existed for centuries, with the earliest mermaid images brought to life by sailors and merchants. Before or during time at sea, men would pray to Mami Wata for their safety. Mami Wata is always distinguishable as a fearsome, beautiful, and powerful water spirit who transforms all outcomes.
Founded in 1997, Coyaba Dance Theater is a contemporary West African dance company with a mission to present artistic and educational dance and music programs focusing on the diverse ethnic groups of West Africa.
Tickets are $22 general admission; $17 for members, seniors, students, teachers, and artists; and $8 for children 17 and under. As part of Dance Place’s Family Series, receive one free ticket for a child (12 and under) with each paying adult for the March 13 show. Reservations required.
To purchase tickets visit www.danceplace.org or call 202.269.1600.
John Pennington will hold classes in contemporary/modern dance at ARC Pasadena in California on Saturdays in February from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm.
Pennington is artistic director of the Pennington Dance Group and ARC Pasadena. He serves on faculty at Pomona College and California State University at Long Beach, and has enjoyed a 14-year career with the Bella Lewitzky Dance Company as a performer and teacher.
Classes are geared towards those with prior dance experience. The fee is $10 per class. No pre-registration necessary. Questions about these classes can be emailed to email@example.com. ARC Pasadena is located at 1158 East Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. For more information, visit www.arcpasadena.org.
The Nutcracker, A Contemporary Look, with choreography by Igal Perry, will be presented in three shows at the Peridance Capezio Center’s in-house theater, 126 E. 13th Street (between Third and Fourth Avenues), New York.
Perry’s first full evening of ballets, Chromatic Motions, was presented in 1979 in collaboration with the Manhattan School of Music. In 1981 and 1982, he headed the ballet department at Jacob’s Pillow, and went on to co-direct the Clive Thompson Dance Company. In 1983, Perry opened his dance school, Peridance Center, and the following year founded his dance company, the Peridance Ensemble, for which he has choreographed over 50 works.
Perry’s works are in the repertories of companies throughout the world, including the Batsheva and Bat-Dor Dance Companies (Israel), Companhia de Danca de Lisboa (Portugal), and the Alberta Ballet (Canada), as well as Complexions Contemporary Ballet and Alvin Ailey II in the United States. Since 1995, Perry has been a guest master teacher at The Juilliard School.
Tickets for the December 18, 8:30 p.m. performance and post-show reception are $40. Performances on December 19 at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. are $30 adults, $15 children 12 and under, or $20 students with a valid ID.
Call 212.505.0886 or visit www.peridance.com.
The Nutcracker, A Contemporary Ballet, a one-hour, modern-day version of the holiday classic, will be presented in three shows this December at the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center.
The production—with story line, choreography, and direction by Tamara Saari and Nancy S. Smith and concept by Giada Ferrone—blends classical ballet with contemporary dance. Touches of theatrical drama include an aloof Marzipan Doll, a Gingerbread Toy yearning for love, and a breakdancing King Spider that battles the Nutcracker.
It will be performed December 18 at 8:00 p.m. and December 19 at 2:00 and 5:00 p.m. at the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center, 248 W. 60th Street, New York. Visit www.manhattanmovement.com for tickets. For information call 212.787.1178.
Aszure Barton & Artists will present Busk, a work that plumbs the human psyche and explores the visual architecture of movement, color, and sound, in December at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, 450 W. 37th Street, New York City.
Aszure Barton & Artists is dedicated to the growth of artists and production of contemporary dance performance. Since its founding in 2002, the company has developed its activities as an international contemporary dance project with its home base in New York City. Company founder Aszure Barton has produced choreography for stage and film, and together with her ensemble, continues to develop critically acclaimed productions around the globe.
Performances of Busk are set for December 17 and 18 at 8:00 p.m., and will include live music by Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin and The Kontraband.
A number of contemporary-based workshops are on tap this fall at the Peridance Capezio Center, 126 East 13th Street, New York City. Workshops include:
- Azure Barton workshop/audition—October 10
- Limón water study with Ray Cook—October 11 to 15
- Nagunuma Dance—Oct 12 to 19
- Matthew Bourne repertory—October 20 to 22
- Limón with Carla Maxwell—October 25 to 29
- Forsythe-based improv technique with Helen Pickett—November 1 to 5
- Lar Lubovitch—November 29 to December 3
For more scheduling information, visit www.peridance.com.
Dance and Wellness Studio, with classes offered by lustigdancetheatre, is set to open September 20 in at 80 Albany Street in downtown New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Lustigdancetheatre, a 12-member troupe led by Graham Lustig, will be housed at the new, two-studio facility. Classes will be offered for all ages in ballet, contemporary, hip-hop, and tap, along with Pilates, yoga-stretch and “Fit Folk”—music and movement for seniors—with many of the classes being taught by the troupe’s members.
An open house from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. September 15 to 17 and from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. September 18 will allow visitors to interact with the company dancers, enjoy refreshments, and attend free open classes.
To learn more, visit www.lustigdancetheatre.org.
Göteborg Ballet, a Swedish contemporary dance company, makes its American debut August 18–22 at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket, Massachusetts, with 3xBoléro, a full-length production of three diverse works, each inspired by Maurice Ravel’s classic score, “Boléro.”
The three works showcase 20 of the company’s classically trained dancers and three leading European choreographers in pieces that employ a wide range of dance vocabularies, in musical styles ranging from minimalist electronica through full-scale orchestral recordings.
Walking Mad, choreographed by Johan Inger in 2001 for Nederlands Dans Theater, features a traditional rendition of Boléro spliced with Arvo Pärt’s Fur Alina. In OleroB, by Finnish choreographer Kenneth Kvarnström, the steady thrum of Ravel’s composition sits in the background of Jukka Rintamäki’s electronic score. Episode 17, a work for 19 dancers by Alexander Ekman, is a collection of solos, duets, trios, and ensemble dancing, set to a score incorporating spoken word with traditional renditions of Boléro, a Boléro-inspired piece by jazz composer Nat Simon, and samples of “Rock ‘n’ Flamenco” by Jan Davis and the Spain Gang.
Tickets range from $58 to $63. To buy them, visit jacobspillow.org or call 413.243.0745.
Göteborg Ballet artistic director Johannes Öhman will discuss 3xBoléro in a PillowTalk session at 4 p.m. August 21. Admission is free.
“A Dance Called Baltimore” seeks to bring the city’s sights, sounds, and rhythms to life through contemporary dance, video, soundscapes, snow cones, sprinklers—and free pizza supplied by Joe Squared.
The performances at 12:30 p.m. August 13 and 6 p.m. August 14 will begin on the sidewalk outside the city’s Historic North Avenue Market, 20 West North Avenue, and then move inside. Admission is free.
“A Dance Called Baltimore” is a collaboration between the University of Baltimore and Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. Meghan Flanigan is choreographing and facilitating the piece with Mika Sellens, a London-based musician, and students from Peabody Dance.
To learn more about the project, visit http://www.ubalt.edu/template.cfm?page=3959.
Some new faces will be popping up on the teaching staff at the Peridance Capezio Center in New York.
Kristin Sudeikis will teach advanced-intermediate contemporary, starting September 19, from 9:00 to 10:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Sundays. Deborah Wilson teaches commercial jazz from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. Fridays (beginners) and Sundays from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. (adv-beg). And Devika Wickremesinghe will be taking over Alexandra Shilling’s Tuesday-Thursday Pilates classes.
They’ll be replacing teachers, Jack Chambers, who is returning to Australia; Courtney Wissinger, who’s bound for Texas; and Shilling, who is moving to Los Angeles to study.
Also, the center is offering new classes in belly dance (open-level sessions at 8:30 p.m. Thursdays and beginner level at 5:30 p.m. Sundays with Andrea Beeman) and physical theater (at 11:30 a.m. Thursdays, starting in September, with Antonia.
Contemporary dance might get boys through the door, but to keep them dancing you’ve got to let guys be guys
By Brian McCormick
The world of contemporary dance is luring boys like never before, glamorized by movies and TV shows like High School Musical, So You Think You Can Dance, and Glee. Guys who are taking modern classes are doing it because studios are making it part of their overall package, and they’re making it attractive—sending graduates on to conservatory dance programs and professional careers in which well-rounded dancers have the best options.
But getting boys into your studio is only half the battle—you’ve got to keep them. The three studio directors in this story have developed effective ways of doing both.
The holistic approach
Dori Matkowski, artistic director of Dance Dynamics in the Detroit suburb of Walled Lake, Michigan, has been training boys for 27 years. About 100 guys take classes at her studio, and out of the 80 dancers in the performing company, 16 are men.
Matkowski attributes the success of her program to her own training. “I was trained by a strong masculine teacher and have always had a personal knack for teaching guys,” she says, adding that she picked up additional tips about teaching boys at Tremaine Dance Conventions.
Her 24-year-old son has always danced, and Matkowski found that he could help bring other boys into the studio. “When he was in sports when he was young,” she says, “I’d pay him $5 for every boy that he could get to come to the studio. It kept him in dance and the business exploded. We’ve had 60 to 100 guys at a time every year since.” Matkowski encourages all boys who come to Dance Dynamics to take an all-male class at first. “Once they are comfortable,” she explains, “we encourage them to take both all-guys and co-ed intermediate classes.” Although 3- to 6-year-olds are all in classes with girls, Matkowski says, “we make sure all the boys are in the same class together. We don’t want them to feel isolated.”
She makes sure that the studio holds appeal for males of all ages. “We don’t teach only one class for boys. We have male teachers,” including the vice president of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Matkowski says. “He’s a great role model, and it’s absolutely important to have those. We try to get a male demonstrator in the classes.”
Matkowski’s attention to the boys goes beyond classes, so that they are as comfortable onstage as in the studio. “We make sure the choreography is appropriate for the guys—that they don’t do the same things as girls and are not just props,” she says. “Some guys come in dancing like a girl because they’ve been in classes that have them doing the same things as the girls. We put them in workshop classes where there can be more male influence.”
And then there’s the masculine culture outside of the classroom and the stigma of dance as a feminine activity. Matkowski understands that boys often have a hard time socially because of their dancing. At her studio, “all the guys have mentors,” she says. She pairs them with older male dancers who have experienced the peer pressures and can help the younger boys navigate some of the social and emotional stuff associated with the stereotypes.
“To be honest, more time is spent in therapy about being a male in the entertainment world than on technique,” says Matkowski. “Dancing through middle school can be a dreadful experience in a Detroit-area suburb like this one. A lot of the boys can’t tell their friends at school [that they dance]. What they go through is horrible. When they get to the studio, we have to train them to let it go, to come in and be what they want to be. There’s a lot of nurturing.”
One way Matkowski tends to the boys is by working with their fathers. “They are dealing with some of the worst stereotypes,” she says. “We let them know there are other things their sons can do, that dancing can lead to careers in entertainment, improve coordination, and even improve abilities in sports.”
As a way to get the fathers more involved, the studio has a group called “Dancing Dads,” which provides comic relief and helps with technical support. An average of 24 dads and grandfathers participate each year. “It’s a very tight group,” says Matkowski, “and some of the men have developed lifelong friendships through their involvement.”
Matkowski says having the men present and actively involved sends a strong and positive message for her boys. They can also offer constructive criticism when it comes to moves some might consider too “girly,” and that helps reinforce the school’s overall masculine image.
The comprehensive program at Dance Dynamics includes requirements for choreography and teaching proficiencies that have to be fulfilled by high school—what Matkowski calls “survival skills.” Each class at Dance Dynamics includes some modeling, acting, improvisation, and public speaking. These exercises are designed to help build self-confidence and prepare dancers for real-life situations. Some classes also include an introduction to commercial theater and film and auditions, plus other tips about how to get into show business. “Advanced boys,” Matkowski says, “need overall training so they can get jobs in everything.” She holds her son up as an example of what the studio can produce: “He’s booked out for master classes, has worked at Disney, is currently working with the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, and he has also worked in film.” Recent male studio graduates have gone on to study at Juilliard and New York University and dance in West Side Story on Broadway.
“In the beginning, we only had a few guys,” Matkowski says. (The studio opened in 1982.) “Now, guys move here to train [at my school], and guys who are already out there working come in to take intensives and to be exposed to our really strong, really masculine program.” But, she adds, “our boys are not treated like they are special or king of the studio. Most of the time, boys transfer here because they want to go into show biz, and they like to be treated normally. When my son started working as a dance captain and swing assistant, he told me, ‘It’s a good thing we don’t treat our guys as special.’ They are more ready for the real world.”
Start them young
The Gold School in Brockton, Massachusetts, founded in 1964 by the late Sherry Gold, has been under the leadership of her son Rennie (twin brother of Dance Studio Life publisher Rhee Gold) since 1996. The studio offers classes in ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop, and “a lot of modern. We have lots of kids who want to go into college programs,” Rennie Gold says.
“In our lobby you won’t see a lot of pink and pointe shoes. For classes, in the beginning, the boys wear soccer shorts and T-shirts, so they can be comfortable as boys.” —Rennie Gold
Arguably the studio’s most famous male progeny is Juilliard graduate Kyle Robinson, who was named “Mr. Dance of America” in 2005 by Dance Masters of America. He dances with Aszure Barton & Artists and has performed with Mikhail Baryshnikov as part of White Oak Dance Project. “It doesn’t get any better as a teacher,” Gold says, beaming with pride.
“Right now in the intensive program, we have 18 boys, from age 9 through seniors in high school,” says Gold. “We do what everyone in the Dolly Dinkle world says you shouldn’t do. We sell combo classes—ballet, modern, jazz, tap. There’s no ‘I don’t take this or that.’ And by the time they’re 10, they all wear tights in ballet class.”
According to Gold, schools can build their enrollment of boys “if [they] can get a few in the door, start them young, and keep them.” Keeping them means making them feel comfortable, he emphasizes. “In our lobby you won’t see a lot of pink and pointe shoes. For classes, in the beginning, the boys wear soccer shorts and T-shirts, so they can be comfortable as boys.”
Gold doesn’t offer separate boys classes. “That environment isn’t so great for learning,” he says. “But we also try to avoid having only one boy in any class; having just one other boy in the class can make a big difference.”
Like Matkowski, Gold recognizes how important it is to please the fathers. “There’s no Lycra or sequins; that would be too much for the fathers,” he says. “We do a lot of performances in street clothes. One day a mother complained, ‘I want my son to have a real costume!’ Even in my mother’s time—and there were less boys than we have now—she would deal with the fathers. Mothers would come in and say that the dads didn’t want their boys taking dance classes. One mother, a few years back, didn’t want us to call the house. Those experiences have made me very conscious of the father factor.”
Break the rules
Amber Perkins opened Amber Perkins School of the Arts in her hometown of Norwich, New York, “right out of undergrad” and has been going strong for 12 years. She has a second studio in nearby Vestal.
When the studio where Perkins got her teaching certification closed, she took over the space and about 85 percent of the students, almost all girls. Around the same time, she took over the choreography for the high school play—West Side Story—as part of her internship. To bring boys into the world of dance, Perkins got her brother, “a jock type with artist friends who also played a musical instrument,” to get his friends to try out for the show. She also brought them into the studio to take classes.
“Partnering class was horrible. The boys would march from one end of stage and pick up the girls. We had to work with what we had. In the beginning, we broke all the rules. These were guys who played football and basketball. We were either going to do it the way they could do it, or we weren’t going to have them. So in class they don’t have to wear proper attire, and they don’t have to take ballet.” This tradition continues to work.
Perkins’ brother Mikey and his friends started taking classes at 16 and 17 years old. “One of his best friends, who used to play football for Empire State College, is now in Pilobolus,” Perkins says. The school also has graduates in Garth Fagan’s company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and others who have performed at Radio City.
Perkins’ studio has more than 20 boys now, “including a quarterback and guys who are strict dancers. They all take technique, and we’re a heavy modern [dance] school,” she says. Male teachers and choreographers, including Perkins’ brother and his friends, strengthen the masculine image of the studio. “Our men are modern choreographers, so the work is more athletic, and the guys grab onto that,” Perkins says.
Despite the number of boys at the studio, Perkins still allows the jocks to break the rules. “They’re great partners, they move well, and we get them once a week. If a girl has an opportunity to dance with a boy, especially if it’s a duet, we do whatever we have to,” she says. “Meet them where they’re at, break the rules, and put them in a costume that makes them feel comfortable. They don’t want to wear a dance belt, so put them in dress pants; do whatever you need to do to make them feel comfortable.”
With the fathers, Perkins says, emphasize the athleticism of dance. “If you can make them feel like [dance will] make their boy a better basketball player, that can be huge.”
New York-based choreographer Yin Mei returns to the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Massachusetts, from August 4 to 8 with City of Paper, an evening-length contemporary dance-theater work that merges movement, paper and ink, and video projections with live and recorded music.
Yin Mei will be joined by butoh artists Kota Yamazaki and Kanako Yokota and by Dai Jian, who performed with Shen Wei Dance Arts before joining the Trisha Brown Dance Company.
The four performers dance and interact with a digitally enhanced set, designed by Yin Mei, in a series of dreamlike vignettes inspired by the choreographer’s childhood during China’s Cultural Revolution.
The original score by Richard Marriott is performed live by violist Stephanie Griffin. The piece also includes music by experimental American composer Bora Yoon and French bossa nova singer/songwriter Camille.
Tickets range from $31 to $36, with $20 tickets available for those 35 and younger. Call 413.243.0745 for details.
Artistic personnel from Yin Mei Dance will lead a master class at the festival for intermediate and advanced dancers from 10 to 11:30 a.m. August 8. To register, call 413.243.9919, extension 5. The fee $15, or $8 for dance instructors with proper identification. Observation is free and open to the public.
In the final week of the annual Bates Dance Festival, the annual “Different Voices” concert showcases the internationalism of contemporary dance, with choreographers from Canada, Mozambique and Mexico bringing compelling styles and perspectives to the stage at 8 p.m. August 5 and 6 in Bates College’s Schaeffer Theatre in Lewiston, Maine.
On the program are new works by choreographers Claudia Lavista and Omar Carrum of Mexico’s Delfos Danza Contemporanea; the Middle Eastern performer Donna Mejia; Mozambican choreographer Paniabra Gabriel Canda; Ethiopian dancer Shiferaw Tarikou, in his first U.S. appearance; Connecticut-based company elephant JANE dance; emerging choreographer Deborah Goffe; and Quebecois choreographer Helen Simoneau, a recent winner of the first prize for choreography at the Internationales Solo-Tanz-Theater Festival in Stuttgart, Germany.
One of the festival’s most popular annual events, “Moving in the Moment,” features contact improviser Chris Aiken and more than 20 members of the festival’s community of artists performing improvisational dance and music at 7:30 p.m. August 3 in Alumni Gymnasium, 130 Central Avenue. The free event is open to the public.
“Young Choreographers/New Works Showcase,” a free, informal presentation of more than 20 new dances created by students and international artists during the festival, starts at 1 p.m. August 7 in Schaeffer Theatre. Later that evening, the “Festival Finale” features students performing modern, jazz, and Middle Eastern dance created by faculty members Lavista, Carrum, Michael Foley, Doug Varone, and Cathy Young.
Ad Deum Dance Company, a professional contemporary dance company based in Houston, is offering a summer dance and mime intensive August 1 through 6.
The faculty will include Randall Flinn, Ad Deum’s director; Wesley Brainard, a former member of Marcel Marceau’s mime troupe; Cynthia Newland, the dance chair at Belhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi; and Steve Rooks, dance chair at Vassar College and a former principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company.
The program offers 90-minute daily morning ballet classes and 90 minutes of modern each day in the early afternoon, followed by electives that include mime, jazz, tap, pointe, choreography and composition, worship dance, and musical theater.
Tuition is $350. To register or learn more, visit www.danceaddeum.com.
The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago, one of the city’s leading presenters of contemporary dance, will hold a free, daylong celebration September 25 to mark 10 years at its current location, 1306 S. Michigan Avenue.
The event, 1306 – Ten Years Later, will feature performances, workshops, classes, media installations, and multidisciplinary programs throughout the three-story building. Specific participants will be announced later this summer.
The center’s 2010-11 season continues with Emily Johnson/Catalyst Dance (October 7–9); Sankai Juku, presented with the Harris Theater and MCA Stage at the Harris Theater (October 20); Yasuko Yokoshi (October 28–30); Joe Goode Performance Group (February 3–5); Robert Moses’ KIN (February 24–26); Same Planet Different World (March 10–12); and Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group (March 31 to April 2).
For more information, call 312.369.8330 or visit www.colum.edu/dance_center.
An athletic dance-theater work for 10 dancers, MONGER fuses contemporary dance with humorous character narratives to tell the story of a group of servants trapped in the house of an abusive mistress. It was inspired in part by Jean Genet’s play The Maids and Robert Altman’s film Gosford Park.
The eclectic score includes music by Balkan Beat Box, Handel, Verdi, and Margalit Oved, the choreographer’s mother, who is a dancer and choreographer herself (she founded the Inbal Theater Dance Company) as well as a musician.
Marshall, born in Los Angeles, became the first-ever resident choreographer of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company in 1999. His company has performed at the Berlin Festival, Hamburg’s Sommertheatre Festival, the Biennale de la Danse in Lyon, France, and the RomaEuropa Festival.
Tickets to MONGER range from $58 to $63. To buy them, visit jacobspillow.org or call 413.243.0745.
The choreographer will participate at 4 p.m. July 11 in a free PillowTalk titled 21st Century Renaissance Man that will explore Marshall’s many artistic experiences and roles.
Robert Moses’ Kin, a San Francisco-based contemporary dance company, offers a pair of workshops in June.
Moses will lead “Collaborative Partnering” (June 7 to 11), which is meant to expose dancers, actors, and composers to practical and creative approaches to stage presentation through collaboration with their peers.
“The Intimate Act of Partnering” (June 14 to 18) is designed to allow intermediate and advanced dance students to create and perform movement in a supportive professional atmosphere—and to give them a taste of company life with Robert Moses’ Kin.
Students in both workshops will take technique class with Moses on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and participate in the creation of a new work, culminating in an in-studio performance Friday afternoon.
Each workshop costs $300 (or $550 for both) and will be held at ODC Dance Commons, 351 Shotwell Street, San Francisco. To register, call 415.863.9830, extension 100, or visit the ODC Dance Commons front desk.
The Scripps Performing Arts Academy is registering students for its summer camps in dance and musical theater at its locations in Scripps Ranch and Carmel Valley in California.
The programs include “Whirling, Twirling Tiny Tots” for ages 3 to 5, “Pirates and Princesses” for ages 3 to 7, “The Little Mamma Mia Mermaid” for ages 3 to 12, “iCarly” and “Pop Stars Rock” for ages 5 to 12, and “Broadway Bound” for 12- to 14-year-olds. To reserve a spot, call 858.509.2624 (Carmel Valley) or 858.586.7834 (Scripps Ranch).
The institute also plans a summer intensive in ballet and contemporary dance from July 26 to August 13 for intermediate and advanced dancers from ages 10 to 19. Admission is by audition only.
Doug Varone’s choreographic process
By Darrah Carr
For more than 20 years, choreographer Doug Varone has carved a career path that is as full of unexpected twists and turns as his remarkable dances are. A tap dancer by training, he instead became a contemporary dance choreographer. Though he is unable to read music, he nevertheless enjoys regular commissions from leading opera companies. Now a widely respected, prolific choreographer, he struggled at first to define his own movement vocabulary. These surprising facts were revealed during a conversation on April 6 with critic Deborah Jowitt as part of the “Breaking Ground” lecture series presented by New York’s 92nd St. Y Harkness Dance Center. The evening yielded valuable insights about Varone’s choreographic process as well as his unique journey.
“I was a tap dancer as a kid. I studied it for nine years and was weaned on MGM musicals,” Varone explained. “I always had the idea that I would go into musical theater and be on Broadway.” It wasn’t until Varone enrolled at SUNY Purchase that he was introduced to other dance forms. “I encountered Graham, Limón, and ballet techniques for the first time in college. When I first arrived, the contemporary dance world did not make sense to me,” he said. “Fortunately, I had wonderful teachers, like Mel Wong, who talked to me about the philosophy behind the technique. It was the first time anyone had discussed art with me. Still, it took me a while to make sense of it all. It wasn’t until my second year that I began to understand the power of contemporary dance.”
After graduating, Varone danced in the companies of José Limón and Lar Lubovitch. “As a dancer, I felt like I completely gave over to other bodies and ways of moving. Limón’s work felt right in my body, and when I joined Lar’s company, his work felt right in my body. I lived in that repertory. Yet I always kept my own way of moving, too—a way that came from my training in musical theater.”
In 1986 he founded Doug Varone and Dancers as a vehicle to further explore his own choreographic voice. The transition to working with a group of dancers proved to be difficult, however. “I moved really differently when I was in the studio by myself. But once I put three dancers, or six dancers, in a room, then I started relying on things that I had learned from being in someone else’s work,” Varone said. “It was easy for me to make up steps in someone else’s frame of reference. But they were all steps without a choreographic thought process. I couldn’t figure out how to make something and pass it on to other bodies.”
Looking for a solution, Varone decided to stop making work with movement and focus on gesture instead. He recalled, “I started making tiny duets and trios for dancers sitting in chairs. They were all about gesture and relationships. Exploring the theatrical side of myself helped me to create a vocabulary without movement.”
‘Exploring the theatrical side of myself helped me to create a vocabulary without movement.’ —Doug Varone
Twenty years later, Varone is well past his early choreographic stumbling blocks, but he still relies on gesture in his work. “Gesture is such a beautiful choreographic tool. It blurs the line between just being and this dancerly thing that we do,” he said. “I love choreographing in extremes—doing something small, tiny, and still, and then doing something enormous and explosive. I love being able to do both at the same time.”
Indeed, Varone has mastered the art of doing more than one thing at once. In 2007, as part of his company’s 20th-anniversary season, he created three major pieces—the full-length, multimedia Dense Terrain for the Brooklyn Academy of Music; Victorious, commissioned by Bard SummerScape; and Beyond the Break (7 Dances for Ukulele), commissioned by Wolf Trap. In addition, Varone has received multiple commissions from major opera companies, such as New York’s Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Opera, in recent years.
Surprisingly, Varone found that his tap dance background relates directly to his operatic work. “My tap training instilled an innate sense of musicality. I hear rhythms where they don’t usually lie in the score. I listen to a lot of music. It sounds mystical, but I wait for a score to tell me how it should be choreographed,” he said. “I don’t read music; I have no musical training. I played the clarinet for three months in the fourth grade. But I have a sense of the architecture of music when I listen to it. For some reason, my brain can hear and see things in an almost graph-like fashion.”
Having no opera training has given Varone great freedom to experiment within that world. “I find ways to use and reinvent operas using dancers as characters. The dancers are not just onstage doing dances; rather they have enormous, actorly roles,” he said. “The opera becomes a beautiful marriage of music and dance. There is a beautiful breed of singers now who are completely open to doing and trying anything. If you get the right mix of artists together, then it opens the doors to many things.”
For Varone, whether he is working with his own company of dancers or with an ensemble of opera singers, the rehearsal process remains fundamentally the same. He noted, “It is about respect. There is always a great deal of respect in our rehearsal room. The way you treat people within the rehearsal process becomes that process. Every work is informed and fueled by the people in the room. I feel as if it is all of our work.”