This year, the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) USA will offer two different summer programs: a two-week Performance Course and a six-day Vocational Graded Syllabus Intensive. Both programs have been gaining popularity, and RAD USA expects there to be a larger international student body this year.
The Performance Course, held from July 8-20, is a specially-designed program that gives students insight into how it feels to be part of the creative process, while also allowing them to develop their skills as dancers and performers. Students will work with professional dancers and teachers to be a part of original pieces of choreography in preparation for a public performance.
RAD USA’s second program, the Vocational Graded Syllabus Intensive, is an intensive coaching session for RAD students who are preparing for Vocational Graded Examinations. This program, which will take place from July 22-27, is open only to RAD students.
For both RAD USA summer programs, auditions are not required. However, participants in the Performance Course must be between the ages of 12 and 22, and students in the Intensive must be between the ages of 11 and 22, with at least five years of ballet training. RAD USA will accept up to 80 students, with no more than 25 students per class. The Performance Course will be divided into two levels; the Intensive into four levels.
A culminating performance opportunity will be offered to students enrolled in the Performance Course, as its focus is primarily on choreography and performing.
“The [Performance Course] students work extremely hard over the two-week period learning new choreography in ballet, modern and musical theater to perform for a public audience on the last day of the program,” says RAD USA’s Special Projects Coordinator Ferrell Alexander. “The performance is an important aspect of the summer program, as it gives the students an immediate and tangible goal to work toward.”
A group performs during the 2012 RAD USA Performance Course. Photo by Colleen Dishy.
Students in either summer program have the option to reserve accommodations on campus at California State University Long Beach. They will be closely chaperoned by parents and teachers, with a ratio of one chaperone to 10 students.
In addition to studio time, participants will also have the chance to venture on a field trip each week. Performance Course students will attend a performance of American Ballet Theatre and will also visit the Long Beach Aquarium. Intensive students will attend a musical theatre performance.
“Each year, we hope that the students come away from the program with a greater sense of self – confidence not only as dancers and performers but also as young people moving through the world,” Alexander says.
Music and dance — there was a time when the two were inextricably linked as live arts. Music was written for and tailored to movement; movement was created in conversation with that music; and performance was a continuation of the creative dialogue. But with the increasing availability of recorded music, that standard has changed. Choreographers save money by forgoing live music and commissioned scores, and musicians lose nothing by taking on more lucrative gigs.
For New York City-based dance-maker Leigh Schanfein and composer Jonathan Howard Katz, the rift between the two artistic disciplines is cause for concern. “When we showed one of our collaborative pieces at a dance showcase last fall, it was the only one of 11 pieces on that program to feature live music,” Katz recalls. “In a city where musicians are coming out of the woodwork, we had to wonder why.”
Thus was planted the seed for Periapsis Music and Dance, Katz and Schanfein’s venture to bring composers and choreographers, musicians and dancers together in the studio and on the stage. What began as a mere mutual thought last September blossomed into a full-fledged show in February, and will fuel the production of two more performances this month, at the Secret Theater in Queens on May 16 and the Actor’s Fund Arts Center in Brooklyn on May 20.
Leigh Schanfein and Mike Hodge in rehearsal. Photo by Alex Agor.
Though their first collaboration dates back only a year, Schanfein and Katz now find themselves facilitating what they hope will become a large-scale movement to reunite and revivify their artforms. Considering the massive response they gleaned from their initial calls for composers and choreographers, there is more than enough momentum coming from their respective realms to turn their vision into a reality.
“For the February show, I made only a mini call for composers and ended up with a playlist of about 40 pieces for the choreographers to choose from,” says Katz. “Most of the composers had never worked with dancers before, and they were flattered and impressed to see their work transformed into movement.”
Schanfein received similarly enthusiastic responses from the four other choreographers on Periapsis’ inaugural program, all of whom enjoyed some level of interaction with the composers behind their chosen music. A high priority for next year’s projects is to increase coactivity amongst participants, allowing for a more integrated creative product.
“So far, we’ve only worked with previously composed scores,” Schanfein says. “Even Jonathan and I have collaborated only on concepts. He writes the music with our ideas in mind, and I choreograph on top of that. We’d like to move toward a 100% collaborative process. That means extra rehearsal time, more back and forth, a lot of unused music and choreography… It would be really cool and also kind of scary.”
But heightening the artistic intensity of their work will likely prove to be somewhat of a creative release, given the plethora of logistical challenges Schanfein and Katz have faced in the less than six months they spent producing their first show. Of primary concern is, unsurprisingly, funding — an aspect of Periapsis’ well-being that its directors are determined to stay on top of.
“Freelance dancers especially are used to being poorly paid. But we need to have the budget to compensate our artists — all of them — in a reasonable manner,” Schanfein asserts. Katz is equally adamant on the topic of payroll, and with this point in mind, is eager to see through the group’s application for 501(c)3 status. “I seriously want to address the issue of pay with the grant writing we have coming up because we’re working with people who should not just be surviving, but actually making a living as artists.”
Composer Jonathan Howard Katz at the USF Robert Helps Competition and Festival. Photo by Kyle Scharf.
Finding suitable performance venues for Periapsis is another problematic task, considering the various technical requirements of productions incorporating not just one, but two live arts. Quality of acoustics, proper flooring, availability of less transportable instruments (pianos, drums), soundproof rehearsal rooms, warm-up studios — Katz and Schanfein take all of these details into account when scouting venues. And when the pair is not scouring the city for the perfect performance space or piecing together a non-profit budget, they are making moves to cultivate an audience and get more people involved in their cause. The greater their following, they believe, the greater the opportunities for their fellow artists.
“We don’t just want to produce our own shows; we want to help other musicians, dancers, composers and choreographers to collaborate,” Schanfein says. “If a music group wants to have dance in its next show, we can help them make connections. We want to see these visions realized.”
To learn more about Periapsis Music and Dance, or to find out how you can become a part of its next season, head to periapsismusicanddance.org to snag a ticket to one of the group’s spring shows.
Photo (top): Dancer Robin Gilbert in a Periapsis Music and Dance rehearsal. Photo by Alex Agor.
In recent years, an increasing amount of dance studios have begun to offer classes and programs for special needs youth and adults with various forms of developmental and mental disabilities. Merging dance techniques with theatrical activities and therapeutic exercises, these classes are witnessing frequent physical, emotional and social improvements in the students involved.
As the field of dance therapy has grown in the last two decades, so has the appeal to incorporate a broader range of students in the dance studio. Three organizations across the country that are actively exemplifying this development are: The Ballet Academy of Arizona, The Georgia Ballet’s Dance-Ability program, and Merrimack Hall Performing Arts Center’s Johnny Stallings Arts Program in Huntsville, AL.
Ballet Academy of Arizona dancers perform
Caroline Atkinson, a 2012 Arizona Governor’s Arts Award Finalist, is certainly a pioneer in this dance sphere. The Founder, CEO and Artistic Director of the Ballet Academy of Arizona, a dance studio specializing in teaching special needs students, Atkinson has the education and expertise to speak to this field.
Atkinson holds diplomas in anatomy and kinesiology and child psychology and development, and is classically trained in both Cecchetti and Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) syllabi. A current tutor, mentor and practical teaching supervisor with RAD USA, she also has a wealth of experience to pull from, including teaching dance in Swaziland at an orphanage for 500 AIDS children and once leading 600 dance students at her ballet studio, Ballet Academy of Westport, CT, for 17 years.
“I have always worked with dancers with special needs, whether they have physical disabilities or emotional needs,” Atkinson says. “Drawing out the inner dancer and inner strength of the children and young adults that I work with is my passion and gift. Promoting the importance and acceptance of inclusion in our society is what I am trying to do.”
At Ballet Academy of Arizona, special needs students can participate in holistic dance classes, periodic group performances and inclusive community. Through these programs, dancers with any disability, whether it is Down syndrome, mental retardation, autism, cerebral palsy or even rare genetic disorders, can experience the joys of dance, movement and community.
Atkinson says that the programs set “high expectations of all dancers, promoting positive attitudes and behavior.” Classes select and use a range of learning styles appropriate to the learning outcomes and needs of all dancers, taking into account strategies for inclusion and differentiation.
Dylan in ‘My Holiday Wish’ in ‘Dance Your Dreams!’ performance. Photo courtesy of Merrimack Hall.
“I also concentrate on working on fine and gross motor skills, sequencing, counting, musicality and complete music saturation, confidence, the knowledge that nothing is ever wrong when dancing, and above all, the joy of dance –whether the dancer is able to move or not,” Atkinson details.
In addition to teaching at the Ballet Academy of Arizona, Atkinson is also teaching in Charleston, SC and southern California, where she was awarded the 2011 Inclusive National Leadership Award from K.I.T. in San Diego. This year, she is excited to launch several more teaching locations within southern California, which will serve the “typical as well as the disability community.”
Likewise, Debra Jenkins, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board at Merrimack Hall Performing Arts Center in Huntsville, AL, has seen a growing desire for special needs dance programs. Through a program called ‘Dance Your Dreams!’, youth with various disabilities can partake in quality dance instruction. The program launched its first class in October 2008 with nine girls and one boy aged 3-12 years. Now more than 40 students participate per semester.
“We conduct our classes exactly as you would any traditional dance class. We begin at the barre, move to the center for floor work, learn combinations and variations and make use of props such as exercise balls, hula hoops, scarves and others to stimulate our students’ participation in dance,” Jenkins says.
“Many of our kids are non-verbal, but they certainly know what to do when the music is turned on! Movement brings great joy to our students, particularly those who are immobile due to cerebral palsy.”
A dancer and volunteer interact at Camp Merrimack. Photo courtesy of Merrimack Hall
The Dance Your Dreams! program is also offered free of charge to its participants, with students even being provided class dance attire and costumes for performances. Each participant is also paired with a trained teenage volunteer, or a “coach,” who offers whatever level of assistance students require.
“Our volunteers are recruited from local dance studios, high school theatre and choir groups, service clubs and others. Coaches are provided with training at the beginning of each year and are asked to commit to one semester at a time, “ Jenkins explains. “By pairing the kids one-to-one with assistance, and limiting our class size to 10, we are able to offer quality dance instruction to children with a variety of disabilities, including Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, cancer and a host of other debilitating conditions.”
Similarly, a newer program on the national radar, The Georgia Ballet’s Dance-Ability program, utilizes teaching assistants who enable dancers and provide one-on-one attention. Rebecca Geiger, Arts in Education Associate at The Georgia Ballet, has established the program as a 12-week class designed for students with special needs, ages 6 and up.
“I tailor the class to the different abilities of each dancer and I rely heavily on my volunteers to be able to push each dancer to achieve his or her potential,” Geiger says. “I look to strengthen muscles, reinforce neuromuscular control, increase balance, coordination and motor planning, develop vestibular input and strengthen social skills.”
Some ways Geiger does this is by teaching basic ballet positions and steps, and working on jumping, galloping, walking on tiptoes and remembering choreography. Her background as a certified therapist is able to help her tailor the class to the different abilities of each dancer.
Classes at Ballet Academy of Arizona
“I have to be ready to adjust my expectation to each child in terms of what steps they will be able to master and to what degree they can perform them correctly. I also have to be a lot more tolerant of talking to another person in the class since social skills are difficult to understand for some,” she says.
Yet, for all the additional work and preparation that go into planning and leading special needs dance classes, the reward is multiplied. Jenkins shared numerous stories of dancers improving motor and social skills.
“We have one student, Amelia, who started with us at age six completely confined to a wheelchair. Today, Amelia not only walks, but she can chasse across the floor,” Jenkins exclaims. “Amelia is profoundly developmentally disabled, wears cochlear implants and is non-verbal, but she takes to the stage like a pro at our frequent performance opportunities. Her mother and physical therapist are convinced the only reason Amelia is walking today is because of her participation in dance.”
Jenkins adds, “We have testimonials from physicians and physical therapists stating that our students have made great improvement in their core strength, agility, balance and even in their social and communication development because of their participation in dance.”
Overall, in talks with many teachers, instructors and volunteers, one consistent outcome of special needs dance classes and performances was evident – inspiration for all involved.
“I have learned more in the past five years from people who our society tells us are ‘less than’ than I’ve ever learned from anyone who is ‘normal’. And I’ve learned that it’s through the arts that we are able to express our humanity, regardless of the level of our performance,” Jenkins says.
“One of our students, Abbey, is 13 and has cerebral palsy. Smart as a whip, Abbey has suffered through multiple surgeries, wears hearing aids, is visually impaired and walks with great difficulty. But her indomitable spirit is contagious, as is her love of dance. This summer, Abbey shared this wisdom with me. She said, ‘I’ve decided that everyone has special needs and that we all have two special needs in common. We all have the need to be loved and we all have the need to be accepted. Some people’s special needs are on the outside, like mine. And some people’s special needs are on the inside.’ She went on to say that when she’s dancing at Merrimack Hall, ‘I feel beautiful and graceful no matter what anyone else says.’”
For more information on these programs, visit the links below:
Project UP (a performing company for teens with special needs) traveled to Atlanta in January to compete at NRG Dance Project. They performed Waiting on the World to Change, a piece about bullying, acceptance, and loving everyone regardless of our differences.
Photo (top): Dancers performing at ‘Dance Your Dreams!’ Eve of Dance, courtesy of Merrimack Hall.
Since 1995, professional dancers have traveled to Helena to spend their offseason working with Ballet Montana. This summer haven operates under the artistic leadership of Sallyann Mulcahy. Now, faced with legal battles, diminishing funds and artistic limitations in a community that struggles to comprehend the cultural advantages of supporting professional dance, Ballet Montana is taking a break.
A life-long lover of ballet, Mulcahy returned to her hometown in 1991 after performing with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Finis Jhung’s Chamber Ballet and the New Jersey Ballet. She accepted an adjunct-professorship at Carroll College. Four years later, she formed Artisan Dance, Montana’s first and only professional ballet company, which would eventually become Ballet Montana.
When the going gets tough
Ballet Montana has always been a DIY project. From teaching class, to choreographing, rehearsing, even sewing costumes, Mulcahy has done everything. She’s survived this long thanks to help from dancers and Ballet Montana’s Developmental Director Michael Russell. However, the years of work have taken their toll.
The company has struggled to find a foothold in Helena and Mulcahy can no longer afford to be there. “I’ve not made a dent,” she says of this artistic stagnation. “Now, I’m faced with the rest of my life.” This includes a necessary hip replacement surgery. “I’m exhausted and have been in pain for six years.”
She relates to a recent article in Dance Teacher Magazine about Edward Villella stepping down as Artistic Director of the Miami City Ballet—Villella and Mulcahy are former colleagues. Villella is quoted as saying, “When you are dealing with a community that doesn’t have enough exposure, interest and support, it’s exasperating, and you feel like you have not fully done what you started out to do.” He continues that he could never get Miami to “speak his language.” This is how Mulcahy feels—she cannot get Helena to speak her language.
Halliet Slack (Dayton Ballet) and Nathan Powell (Ballet Idaho) in “Voices.” Photo by Michael Russell.
What’s in a name?
The final straw in Mulcahy’s financial woes materialized in a battle over the very name that gave the company more national recognition. In March 2010, Mulcahy and Russell rebranded the 17-year-old company as Ballet Montana. This ignited a legal dispute with Bozeman-based, student company, Montana Ballet Company (MBC).
According to an article in The Bozeman Daily Chronicle, MBC’s co-chairman Dean Derby asked Montana’s Secretary of State to force Mulcahy to change the name, claiming the companies were too close geographically and too alike in their offerings to share such similar names. He said the names generated confusion and stated, “We are the premier ballet company in the region…It’s our name.”
The Secretary of State sided with Derby, but Mulcahy appealed the verdict. She argued there was a gross misperception of the situation. A nonprofit, summer company composed of professional dancers was the only one of its kind in the entire state and, thus differed greatly from a student company.
For over two years, Mulcahy was caught in the throes of this contest. At first, she didn’t want others to know about it; she was embarrassed. “Ballet dancers are brought up to be obedient and one of our greatest desires is to do everything right,” she explains. “The response to this name change felt degrading…like people thought I was doing something wrong. It turned into a deep, personal crisis.” – Mulcahy was heart-broken.
Professional ballet versus pre-professional ballet
Ballet Montana presenting ‘Zinzkharo.’ Photo courtesy of Ballet Montana.
In Helena, there appears to be a lack of understanding about what constitutes professional dance. By definition, to be a professional means to be an expert in a specific field and to receive monetary compensation in return for this expertise. Russell believes the state would have ruled differently had there been a more accurate perception of this.
Russell has seen how Ballet Montana can elevate its dancer and patrons. Yet, he understands that people in this country don’t always see the relevance of ballet. Unfortunately, the push to educate audiences otherwise became a loosing battle.
A company like none other
Unlike many other directors, Mulcahy takes the time to fine tune dancers’ technique and artistry. For six weeks, she trains, choreographs and rehearses an ensemble of 10 to 12 dancers, culminating with a weekend of performances at the Myrna Loy Center for the Performing Arts. She has inspired many to keep dancing and cherish their individuality.
Ballet Idaho member Nathan Powell spent five summers dancing in Helena. He claims he made some of the most significant progress of his career there, including receiving the opportunity to choreograph. Another five-year veteran, Company C Contemporary Ballet dancer Megan Steffans, struggles to find the perfect words to sum up her experiences. “What [Mulcahy] created wasn’t just a place for dancers to keep in shape during their offseason, but truly a home for us to grow as dancers and individuals,” she says. Steffans also comments on the lifelong friendships she’s gained—many of the dancers stay in touch, even if they don’t return for subsequent summers.
Ballet Montana presents ‘Zinzkharo.’ Photo courtesy of Ballet Montana.
Dayton Ballet dancer Halliet Slack calls Mulcahy “the ballet whisperer” because of her ability to draw the best out of everyone. She adds, “It takes someone truly gifted and special to be able to reach a dancer the way she does.” Slack says her summers with Mulcahy are “the most beneficial happenings” of her career.
Rochester City Ballet dancer Jesse Campbell found Ballet Montana after dancing with Slack in Dayton. His summer in Helena was challenging, but changed his perspective on ballet for the better. “[Mulcahy] teaches ways to become a full person, a complete artist,” says Campbell. He explains how involved pre-professional training can be, but when a dancer reaches the professional level, one is often left to his or her own devices—not the case in Montana.
Campbell was unsure about his voice and abilities as an artist. “Prior to last summer, I think my dancing was affected by insecurity and confusion,” he says. His time in Helena gave him “a clear picture of my abilities and potential”—a common theme for many of the dancers.
Powell thinks “the balance between the creative atmosphere and the serene surrounding” is what makes Ballet Montana so special. Campbell adds, “There are few artistic directors or teachers in the ballet world who are as invested in the success of their dancers or uphold the integrity of the art form as high as she does.”
Mulcahy promises this is a hiatus and not ‘the end’. “Love is still pumping in my veins,” she says. “I want to get back out there and work again.” For now, Mulcahy plans to take time off to heal her body and spirit. While it’s unlikely she’ll return to Montana, her official nonprofit name is Ballet M, Inc.—could Mulcahy rise like a phoenix and resurrect her impressive portfolio of repertoire as Ballet Mulcahy? Only time will tell.
Photo (top): From left to right, Dakota Crist (Sacramento Ballet), Megan Steffens (Company C Contemporary Ballet) and Lauren Stenroos (Dayton Ballet) perform in The Dance of Life. Photo by Michael Russell.
Roger O. Hirson and Stephen Schwartz’s PIPPIN is back on Broadway for the first time since it first thrilled audiences 40 years ago! Previews began on March 23, with opening night scheduled for April 25 at the Music Box Theatre on West 45th Street in New York City. Produced by Barry and Fran Weissler and Howard and Janet Kagan, and directed by Diane Paulus, PIPPIN is sure to enchant audiences.
A beloved coming of age musical, PIPPIN is noted for many Broadway standards including “Corner of the Sky,” “Magic To Do,” “Glory,” “No Time at All,” “Morning Glow,” and “Love Song.” In the story, royal heir Pippin is spurred on by a mysterious group of performers to embark on a death-defying journey to find his “corner of the sky.” Will he choose a happy but simple life? Or will he risk everything for a singular flash of glory?
The original production of PIPPIN, directed by none other than Bob Fosse, premiered on Broadway in 1972. It won five Tony Awards and five Drama Desk Awards, and ran for close to 2,000 performances before closing in 1977. This production of PIPPIN made its debut at American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) in Cambridge, MA, where Diane Paulus served as Artistic Director from December 5, 2012 to January 20 of this year.
The show will include circus creations by Gypsy Snider of the jaw-dropping Montreal-based circus company Les 7 doigts de la main (also known as “7 Fingers”) and choreography by the talented Chet Walker.
“The choreography is based in the Fosse Style,” explains Chet Walker, who was in PIPPIN’s original Broadway company. “I have used my years of working with Mr. Fosse to choreograph this new production.”
The cast, all of whom appeared in the premiere of Diane Paulus’s production of PIPPIN at American Repertory Theater, features Matthew James Thomas as Pippin, Tony and Olivier Award-nominee Patina Miller as Leading Player, Tony Award-nominee Terrence Mann as Charles, Tony Award-nominee Charlotte d’Amboise as Fastrada, Rachel Bay Jones as Catherine and Tony Award-winner Andrea Martin as Berthe.
Other members of the company include Erik Altemus as Lewis, as well as Gregory Arsenal, Andrew Cekala, Lolita Costet, Colin Cunliffe, Andrew Fitch, Orion Griffiths, Viktoria Grimmy, Olga Karmansky, Bethany Moore, Brad Musgrove, Stephanie Pope, Philip Rosenberg, Yannick Thomas, Molly Tynes and Anthony Wayne.
The design team includes Tony Award-winner Scott Pask (Scenic Design), Dominique Lemieux (Costume Design), Tony Award-winner Kenneth Posner (Lighting Design) and Tony Award-winner Clive Goodwin (Sound Design). The orchestrations are by Tony Award-winner Larry Hochman with music supervision by Nadia Di Giallonardo, and music direction by Charlie Alterman.
So what can audiences expect from this production of the classic? “We have combined an element of circus to this production,” says Walker excitedly. “The show has not been seen in Broadway for over 35 years. I think a new generation will have the chance to see PIPPIN as a new show!”
“I think the story, the character and the amazing songs, wrapped with a circus filled with magic, dance and acrobatic elements, makes it an amazing production.”
Tickets for PIPPIN are available through www.telecharge.com/pippin, by calling 212-239-6200, and in-person at the Music Box Theatre Box Office, located at 239 West 45th Street. Tickets range in price from $59 to $142. For more information, visit www.PippinTheMusical.com.
Photo (top): From left, Anthony Wayne, Patina Miller and Andrew Fitch performing in PIPPIN atAmerican Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) in Cambridge, MA. Photo by Michael J. Lutch.
Flamenco dancers have a reputation for being fiery, dynamic and full of emotion, with percussive footwork juxtaposed against soft circling hands. Behind that strong image is a tradition of musical codes that puts dancers in the role of accompanist, part of a synergy within the group. Flamenco dancers listen carefully to live music to use their vocabulary to build the emotion expressed by a live singer. The code of nonverbal communication was the final lesson of a four-day workshop by La Compañía Manuel Liñán in March, while the company was in Atlanta to perform at the Rialto Center for the Arts.
Flamenco as we know it on theater stages and dance studios today originated nearly 150 years ago in southern Spain, called in Spanish “Andalucía.” It rose from a musical tradition, when gypsies extemporaneously belted out lines of poetry to express themselves in private gatherings. Flamenco dance came along later as an accompaniment to the live singing, as did the guitar. In the late 1800s, flamenco exploded into theater stages, and audiences around the world quickly embraced it. Today, based on its roots, flamenco dance is still created as an accompaniment to the singing, which can vary and sometimes completely change from one day to the next, depending on how the singer places emotive lines of poetry in standard melodies. In live performance art, this creates structured improvisation that is thrilling for many.
“Everyone has a role. In flamenco, no one is an island,” said Erica Poole, a flamenco student for six years and a participant from the singing and dance classes during the Liñán company workshop in Atlanta. “It requires synergy and attentiveness to one another.”
Using a mix of common and individual vocabulary, dancers react to ever-changing live music. The changes lead dancers to delay or arrive early at times with accents, such as splats of footwork, to enhance the expression of the song. And, in return, dancers influence the next lines of the song.
“The singer brings the flamenco song (the story), which is the basis of the flamenco work. The other disciplines create their works around their interpretation of it,” said Yolanda Bell, a flamenco dance student who attended the workshop in Atlanta.
During the workshop, guitarists, singers, and dancers met separately in classes to learn new material “por tangos” (to the rhythm and melody of tangos, a form of song in flamenco.) Classes culminated with all disciplines in the room together executing the new work in its gestalt form, allowing students to experience the disciplines intertwined.
“I could find my movement and my body rhythm coming along with the singers, and with the guitarist, even though Manuel is a perfect teacher who makes you hear the music in his moves without any guitar or singer in the room,” said flamenco dancer Fani, who teaches and performs flamenco in Atlanta.
In the workshop’s final run of the piece, the singing began eight counts later than expected. Dancers and guitarists took that opportunity to listen and react accordingly to the unexpected change. According to the improvisational structure, they waited those eight counts to begin their next action for the group to continue.
“As a dancer, you really have to listen to the music and ‘cante’ (song) to be part of the unit, especially when you’re with your back towards the musicians and can’t see what’ they’re doing,” said Debbie Fung-A-Wing, who has been studying flamenco for several years in Atlanta.
Dancers’ skills as accompanists come from understanding the music, becoming musicians themselves as they percussively embody melody. Singers’ ability to lead dancers comes from understanding the needs of the dancers. Dance student Bell saw this when she attended singing classes, as well as dance classes during the workshop. She explained of her singing teacher Juan Debel, “When [a student] asked why the count seemed longer, he said that would accommodate the dancers. He also emphasized the ‘remates’ (strong endings to song verses) with ‘palmas’ (hand clapping) and where the entry of the dancers would be. Later, when we sang with everyone, it helped us to understand how all disciplines fit the flamenco work into one beautiful piece.”
Bell attended the singing class to better understand the music that she accompanies as a dancer. “It is necessary that all of the disciplines understand how the others integrate into the flamenco work especially regarding the ‘compás’ (musical timing) to have that clean constant communication within flamenco,” said Bell.
Putting the disciplines together reveals lessons that complement individual training and practice. “The singer can know when it is best for the dancer to ‘rematar’ (accent the end of the song verse or musical phrase), when to wait or when to listen for when the dancers will ‘rematar,’” said Liñán.
Just as dancers can create magic – that moment that makes people say, “flamenco is so passionate” – they can also kill the opportunity. “Flamenco is the only art where, in the learning process, everything can come crashing down if each component is not truly accompanying the other,” said Poole. “‘Baile, cante, and toque’ (dance, song, and guitar) all have to ride the same wave. If not, then any element could crash at any time losing momentum entirely for everyone.”
That responsibility to one another is part of the communal spirit of flamenco that inspires moments of rapture for witnesses, as well as the artists in action. Being able to work together live and in the moment is a goal for many who participated in classes in Atlanta in March.
“They have the material. Now they have to practice it,” said Liñán. “They have to practice a lot, many hours,” added guitarist Víctor Márquez “Tomate.” Singer Juan Debel explained, “When they dedicate much time to practice, they are able to come together. We taught them material to complement each other. Now, they practice on their own and then come back together, they will improve.”
And so it goes that flamenco dancers and the musicians whom they accompany work for years on their own to develop technique, repertoire and an ear for the music so that they can be great team members of a ‘cuadro.’ All the time, they must also hone their skills to listen, watch and react in the group setting. In time all of the gear turning that must take place inside the mind of the flamenco dancer, becomes second nature. Thinking gives way to feeling, as they say in flamenco.
Dancer Poole said of accompanying musicians during the Atlanta workshop, “There was no thought as to whether I had to wait two beats because I could feel where I was supposed to dance with the ‘cante’ (song), plus I recognized when I was specifically calling for more cante.”
Some say it is when the dancer feels, as Poole explains, that she is able to fully communicate to witnesses the singer’s emotion that she is embodying. That connection to the music helps create the moments when flamenco hits witnesses, sends goose bumps across the skin and coaxes cheers of “¡Olé!” The strong flamenco dancer often gets the credit for the upwelling of emotion, when unbeknown to many, she was led there by her singer.
Photos: Dancers participate in a four-day workshop with La Compañía Manuel Liñán in Atlanta. Photos by Erik Voss.
The holiday season is typically filled with family, friends, music, goodies, traditions and joy. This year, why not add to the list a Christmas-themed dance production? Here, Dance Informahas compiled a list of dance performances of nearly every genre that will be sure to heighten your holiday glow. Enjoy!
Emily Bufferd’s A Ho Ho Holiday Show
With the inaugural year of A Ho Ho Holiday Show, choreographer and producer Emily Bufferd wanted a chance to do some good via dance in a manner in which everyone, dancers and non-dancers alike, could enjoy.
“I think almost everyone can relate to the joy that a song like ‘Jingle Bells’ is meant to exude,” Bufferd said. So, she created this evening of ten choreographers’ work that she calls a “lighthearted, fun…holiday dance shenanigan”, which will benefit Toys for Tots. Admission will be $5, plus the donation of a toy.
“I really am hoping it will prove successful in bringing a lot of toys,” Bufferd said. “Toys for Tots is an organization that can never have too many items sent their way. I think a holiday show is a wonderfully entertaining way to get deeper into the spirit of the season.”
A Ho Ho Holiday Show will be presented at the Salvatore Capezio Theater at Peridance in New York City, on Saturday, December 8, with shows at 8:30 and 9:30pm. For more information, check out http://emilybufferd.com/Emily_Bufferd.html.
San Diego Musical Theatre’s White Christmas
The stage version of Irving Berlin’s timeless White Christmas opened on Broadway in 2008, but this year will mark the musical’s first appearance in San Diego. San Diego Musical Theatre, led by Erin and Gary Lewis, will offer San Diego audiences their musical adaptation of the timeless classic, which will feature 17 Berlin songs.
The story follows Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, who have a successful song-and-dance act after World War II and who follow a duo of singing sisters en route to their Christmas show at a Vermont lodge. The production includes many well-known standards and of course the holiday favorite, “White Christmas.” San Diego Musical Theatre’s version features a 22-piece orchestra on stage, extravagant costumes and lots of singing and dancing.
“Berlin’s White Christmas is an uplifting, heartwarming production,” said Executive DirectorErin Lewis. “Especially at holiday time, people want to see something familiar, something to help them get into the holiday spirit and bring their family to. White Christmas will definitely fit the bill!”
The performances are at the Birch North Park Theatre and run from December 13 to 23. For tickets and more information, visit www.sdmt.org.
Radio City Christmas Spectacular
Perhaps one of the most well-known Christmas dance traditions is the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, which features over 140 performers (including the always pristine Rockettes), extraordinary sets and costumes and an original musical score.
This year marks the 85th anniversary of the holiday favorite, presented at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall. Shows run throughout December. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.radiocitychristmas.com/newyork.html.
Bayer Ballet Company’s A Winter Fairy Tale
Inna Bayer and her youth ballet company, Bayer Ballet Company, in Mountain View, California, will present A Winter Fairy Tale, a holiday ballet set to music by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. The story is a Russian New Year’s Eve fairy tale about a Bat Queen who kidnaps a little bunny and interrupts the forest creatures’ wintertime celebration. The ballet continues to follow the Magician and a beautiful Rose Maiden, who journey to return the bunny to its family.
Bayer launched Bayer Ballet Company in 2010 to give performance opportunities to her pre-professional students. This year, A Winter Fairy Tale can be seen at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts from December 14 through 16. For more, check out www.bayerballetacademy.com/winterShow.htm.
Smuin Ballet dancers Darren Anderson and Terez Dean ride waves on “Christmas Island” in ‘The Christmas Ballet’. Photo by Keith Sutter.
Smuin Ballet’s The Christmas Ballet
This year, California’s Smuin Ballet will bring back The Christmas Ballet, a ballet in two acts – Classical Christmas and Cool Christmas – that has an array of ballet, tap, swing and world dances, reflecting the company’s signature blend of classical and pop styles.
“Our founder, Michael Smuin, sought to branch out from the traditional and create an original holiday program that could change to reflect new work and his dancers’ strengths,” said Celia Fushille, artistic and executive director of Smuin Ballet. “We’ve continued our tradition of breaking tradition, changing the content and running order every year.”
This year’s production includes new choreography by the company’s Choreographer in Residence, Amy Seiwert, and Smuin artists Darren Anderson and Jane Rehm.
Smuin Ballet will take The Christmas Ballet on the road in California’s Bay Area throughout December, with stops in Livermore, Mountain View, Carmel and San Francisco. For more information and for tickets, visit http://smuinballet.org
Mary Anthony Dance Theatre’s Ceremony of Carols
Mary Anthony, a modern dance pioneer who celebrated her 96th birthday in November, will present her Mary Anthony Dance Theatre in a work to celebrate the holiday season. The work, Ceremony of Carols, which first premiered in 1971, is set to the music of Benjamin Britten and retells the nativity scene. Also on the program will be works by Daniel Maloney and Ellen Robbins.
This year, performances of Ceremony of Carols will be held on December 15 and 16 at the Mary Anthony Dance Studio in New York City. For ticket reservations, call 212-674-8191 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moody Gardens presents A Magical Christmas
A Magical Christmas is an evening of dinner and performance that combines magic, comedy for the whole family, music and dance in celebration of the Christmas holiday. Illusionist Curt Miller leads the show, as Christmas narratives are told through his magic and also well-known holiday songs.
A Magical Christmas runs from December 14 to 16 and 20 to 27 at the Moody Gardens Convention Center in the Houston area of Texas. Tickets include not only the one-hour show and a holiday buffet dinner but also admission to the Moody Gardens Festival of Lights, the area’s largest holiday lighting event. For more information, visit www.moodychristmasshow.com.
Top photo: Smuin Ballet in “White Christmas” in The Christmas Ballet. Photo by Keith Sutter.
The world of classical ballet in America is riddled with abbreviations, from the training level — SAB, JKO, CPYB — through to the highest echelons of the profession — NYCB, ABT, SFB, PNB… The ponderous list of schools, companies and styles could easily send a dance parent attempting to determine the educational and professional fate of an eager, talented child into an anxious state. After all, choosing the wrong training program could positively destroy a promising career, could it not?
One successful school in New York City is leading by example to oppose this narrow mentality. Founded by Rose Caiola as Studio Maestro in 1995, Manhattan Youth Ballet (a.k.a MYB) provides pre-professional classical education to young dancers from around the nation. Alumni have gone on to dance with companies such as American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Nederlands Dans Theater, and Barcelona Ballet, among a wide range of others.
What makes MYB more than just another abbreviation for high-quality classical training? “We don’t try to be like any other school,” MYB Head Faculty Deborah Wingert says. “We just want the best out of our kids.” Wingert’s phrasing highlights a key aspect of the MYB ethos: talent, intelligence, and artistry all exist within the school’s students. The job of its teachers is to draw these possibilities out of their pupils — understanding that these possibilities vary from child to child — rather than impose a particular aesthetic or notions of right and wrong, good and bad upon them.
This open and encouraging atmosphere does not, however, bar the development of solid technique. MYB adheres to a clean, graded curriculum with a firm basis in the Vaganova method. But whether in the classroom or on the stage, students are reminded that ballet is not always black and pink, nor is it an insular, stagnant art form. “It’s important that our students get a strong base, but are well-rounded,” Director of Programming Erin Fogarty affirms. “Every company you see, from NYCB and ABT, to the Bolshoi and Nederlands Dans Theater — they’re all doing everything. The technical aspects of each style are so important and really relevant in today’s world.”
New York City Ballet’s Daniel Ulbricht leading a men’s class during the 2012 MYB Summer Intensive. Photo by Igor Burlak.
In light of this reality, MYB both nurtures individual aptitudes and nudges its charges in new directions, a strategy facilitated by the academy’s diverse roster of educators. The permanent faculty includes Wingert, NYCB alumna and Balanchine repetiteur; Fogarty, once a member of Carolina Ballet and Ballet NY; Head of Classical Repertoire Marina Stavitskaya, a former Kirov dancer and a graduate of the Vaganova Academy; Head of Primary Levels Natalia Boesch, whose performance resume features contracts with PNB, ABT, and Staatsballet Berlin; Artistic Advisor Daniel Ulbricht, a current NYCB principal and frequent MYB guest star; and Choreographer-in-Residence Brian Reeder, an internationally-respected dance-maker whose performing career spanned continents.
Given this all-star team of artists, one might imagine that MYB has more than enough resources to provide its students with a comprehensive, versatile dance education. Yet one of the school’s greatest assets, its leadership insists, is that it refuses to remain an island. “The fact that we have a rotating group of guest teachers that is constant and consistent is a huge help” in creating the ideal learning environment, Wingert says. “We [the faculty] also try to go out and teach various places… We share those experiences and inform one another of those different worlds.”
By reaching into the greater dance community, MYB is not only enriching life within its studio walls, it is building an extended family for itself — a family upon which Wingert and her colleagues frequently call on their students’ behalf. “We have students in companies around the country, and we stay in touch with them,” says Boesch. “Erin knows a lot of directors, I know a few… and we call them when we’re sending our kids out to audition.” It is this notion of palpable care for and pride in its student body that sets MYB apart from the region’s larger schools.
And that sense of care and pride is naturally non-discriminatory. Wingert, Fogarty, and Boesch speak about alumni who chose to pursue other interests upon leaving the school with as much respect and admiration as they express for those working as dancers. “Sometimes, the kids realize they’re not going to be dancers,” Wingert reflects, “and that’s okay with them because they know that what they’re doing is real.” Boesch adds, “It’s a professional level of training, whether they’re going to be professional or not.”
A crucial facet of that professional education revolves around attitude — how students behave with teachers, peers, and guests. The positive, familial philosophy surrounding MYB comes from the top down, according to Fogarty, who cites the magnanimity and vision of Executive Artistic Director Rose Caiola as an inspiration to the faculty and their ever-receptive pupils. “I don’t want to paint a perfectly rosy picture that there’s no competition [amongst the students],” Wingert admits, “but there is a sense of generosity and sharing, and they do look out for one another.”
As far as competition is concerned, none of the school’s dancers need fear that he or she will be left off stage. MYB presents shows throughout the year in the black box theater of Manhattan Movement and Arts Center (MMAC), the modern performing arts complex that the academy has called its home since 2008. Caiola’s vast experience as a producer in the performing arts world ensures that students will always have ample opportunity to learn and present classic repertory and to experience new works, often as they are being created.
In June of 2012, MYB made history as the first school to perform Jerome Robbins’ jazzy Interplay. Earlier in the year, Wingert and Boesch collaborated to set A Midsummer Night’s Dream on their students, with Ulbricht guest starring in the role of Oberon. “We’re always lucky that we get beautiful Balanchine,” Wingert says, and with a full-length performance of Serenade in the works, this year is no exception. Selections from The Sleeping Beauty, set by Stavitskaya, will round out the spring season.
But before ringing in the New Year, MYB will revive a work that is rapidly becoming a local classic in its own right: The Knickerbocker Suite. Much more than a mere alternative to that other holiday staple, The Nutcracker, the hour-long Knickerbocker — scheduled to run from December 12 through the 16th at MMAC this year — presents a richly entertaining, family-friendly story set in culture capital New York City. The show gives kids and their parents something they can relate to, Fogarty and Boesch explain. It brings recognizable aspects of the city, like the Statue of Liberty, the angels at Rockefeller Center, and iconic sports teams, to the stage. The festive ballet even offers up a dancing posse of peculiarly coordinated pigeons. “Knickerbocker reminds our kids that art can be made out of what we live with every day,” Wingert asserts. “That’s the magic.”
For students at Manhattan Youth Ballet, such lessons about their practice are integral to the education they receive year round. The thriving school, fast approaching its 20-year anniversary, continually strives to address not only dance technique and artistry, but the intelligence and flexibility necessary to truly excel in the art form. And that type of three-dimensional training, Wingert says, “prepares you for life — it’s not just ballet.”
In our digital world how can dance stay relevant and expand its audience? Luckily, there are dance innovators in New York City, who are doing more than breaking choreographic barriers in the dance studio. These individuals are technology-savvy and possess a knowledge and appreciation of dance. Combining technology and dance performance, TenduTV and Dance Films Association (DFA) are collaborating to bring more awareness to the New York City dance scene.
The two organizations have announced plans to create three high-definition, three-dimensional feature dance films; with a goal to make these films available all over the world for both public and in home viewing. Additionally, they will launch a new collaborative project titled NYC Dance Export. Backed financially by the Rockefeller Foundation’s Cultural Innovation Fund, the initiative will highlight selected New York City dance companies as they undertake the process of producing a dance film.
TenduTV is an online network dedicated to providing digital dance-centric content to people all over the world. The company has been working with Dance Films Association “slowly and steadily since TenduTV was created,” explains Founder and General Manager Marc Kirschner. After a 3D collaboration with the New York City Downtown performance troupe 3-Legged Dog (3LD), Kirschner wanted to expand on this experimentation of performance and technology. Because TenduTV is a for profit organization, Kirschner needed to seek out a nonprofit partner to help spearhead his idea. He approached Dance Films Association, an easy choice for him due to the history between the two organizations. European dance companies are already tapping into advanced media and incorporating it into their work, but this type of dance/technological undertaking has yet to exist anywhere in America.
Based on a similar advocacy for dance and digital media, Susan Braun founded Dance Films Association in 1959. She brought together some of dance’s biggest contributors to form the first Board of Directors, including Jose Limon, Ted Shawn, and Alicia Markova. Today, DFA Executive Director Christy Park carries on Braun’s mission through the preservation of dance films and creation of new, innovative content by collaborating with some of dance’s finest artists and companies on both a national and international level. Park believes the partnership with TenduTV has enormous potential. She deems it, “a catalyst for future innovation and preservation of dance on camera.”
Both Park and Kirschner are particularly excited to present the beauty of dance in 3D. “Dance in 3D if it’s done right is gorgeous, it’s an organic fit,” said Kirschner. However, shooting dance in this format presents many challenges. Elements such as fast movement, stage lighting, set design, and raked stages can be problematic for filming in 3D. Kirschner also pointed out that the standard film frame rate of 24 frames per second is too slow to capture dance adequately. They hope to shoot at a much faster rate, in the range of 48 to 72 frames per second.
In terms of an overall distribution plan, DFA and TenduTV intend to follow a ‘Hollywood model’, broadcasting the films in theaters, on television, in festivals, and, eventually, making them available in both 3D and 2D on Bluray, DVD, and digital download. They are in conversation with potential partners in all of these ventures.
Each of the two organizations plays a distinct role in the projects. While Dance Films Association supervises and guides companies through the process of creating and producing the films, TenduTV chooses the company or artist to highlight and distributes the final product. Everything will be easily accessible through popular media distributors, such as iTunes. The media can be found by a search for TenduTV in the iTunes store.
With a constant shortage of finances and resources, TenduTV and Dance Films Association demonstrate how much stronger the arts can be when united. International organizations are taking note of this concept and transitioning into similar alliances. Kirschner thinks it’s an essential move in order for American dance “to survive and thrive in this new paradigm.”
The organizations already have an outline of the first production in mind. If the proper funding can come together in the near future, then filming will begin at the end of November. Additionally, funding efforts are already underway to nationalize and expand the programs. “This is not just about great New York City dance companies. There are great companies throughout the country. We want to make sure American dance can be competitive throughout [an international] marketplace,” expressed Kirschner.
The response from the local dance community is optimistic. Dancers, directors, choreographers, and companies will keep a hopeful eye on the partnership, tracking its evolution and reception. This could be a huge leap into a new direction for the dance profession.
Honoring the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 in New York City
By Katherine Moore.
September 11th, 2001 was a tragic day we will all remember forever. Now, 10 years later, New Yorkers honored the anniversary of this tragic event in a myriad of ways. Some chose to stay home with their families. Others attended church services and memorial events. Artists of all genres produced work and organized their own events to reflect upon and remember 9/11, and the dance community was no exception.
Uptown to downtown, dancers and choreographers honored those who died on 9/11 with the movement of their bodies. Jacqulyn Buglisi, artistic director of Buglisi Dance Theater, orchestrated The Table of Silence Project at Lincoln Center Plaza in partnership with Dance/NYC and The September Concert.
Beginning at 8:15am on Sunday, September 11, 2011, 100 dancers from various dance institutions, including Buglisi Dance Theatre, The Julliard School, STEPS on Broadway, and several others, performed this site-specific work. The dancers, all dressed in flowing white costumes, moved in geometric patterns surrounding the fountain, using intermittent gestures of pain and prayer, until they finally found themselves seated with arms raised. At 8:46am, the exact time the first plane flew into the World Trade Center’s North Tower, the dancers were entirely still with their arms lifted to the sky.
The Table of Silence Project was a collaborative work between Buglisi and Italian artist Rosella Vasta. Vasta’s sculpture 100 Terra Cotta Plates, a work symbolizing the banquet table that unites humanity,gave Buglisi inspiration for this piece. According to Buglisi, the dancers at Lincoln Center Plaza were intended to be the personification of the plates. “I wanted to create a work where people could come to the table to listen,” Buglisi said.
Buglisi hoped that through her movement, she could bring about healing energy to the community of New York and beyond. “I have a very strong, powerful belief in the universal language of movement to promote peace and tolerance,” she said. “The energy we send out can change the world.”
Farther downtown, The Joyce Theater, one of New York’s premiere dance performance venues, presented two concerts at Nelson A. Rockefeller Park on September 10th and 11th at 5:00pm. These commemorative performances featured the Limon Dance Company with Voices of Ascension and the Paul Taylor Dance Company with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Also on the program were Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Matthew Rushing, and a world premiere by choreographer Jessica Lang featuring dancers Clifton Brown and Jamal Roberts with musicians Yacouba Cissoko and Sam Dickey.
Lang said that it was an honor to have been asked by The Joyce to choreograph for this event. “I think it is a wonderful opportunity for the audience to recognize how important the presence of art is in the efforts to rebuild the community,” Lang said.
Lang mentioned that this piece was very important to her, and she also noted that choreographing a commemorative work like this had altered her typical approach to choreography. “I want to carry the message of hope, but I also want to be respectful to all the emotions that come along with the memories of that day. Most of the time when I make a piece it might be something of a personal idea to me that carries universal images which speak to the audience. But this time, it is a universal event that everyone experienced and there is a different sort of responsibility I am feeling.”
Taking her work all over the city, choreographer Sarah Skaggs presented “9/11: A Roving Dance Memorial” at Union Square Park, Washington Square Park and Battery Park. These 11-minute dance installations occurred at various times throughout the afternoon on September 11. The installations, based on a solo Skaggs choreographed after the attacks in 2001, also took place in Washington D.C. and Shanksville, PA.
Dance New Amsterdam, one of New York’s most progressive and prominent downtown dance centers, moved to their current location shortly following the 9/11 attacks 10 years ago. Part of their larger mission was to revitalize the Lower Manhattan community after 9/11. DNA commemorated the 10th anniversary by asking dance artists how 9/11 affected their work and then showcasing their video submissions on a flat screen in DNA’s lobby.
Dancers all over New York found ways to use their art form as a way to honor the victims of 9/11. Amalgamate Dance Company even honored working dog teams, veterinarians, and VMATs who served during 9/11 with their work In the Beginning at Liberty State Park. Dancers and dogs alike were affected by the tragic events 10 years ago, and the anniversary offered an opportunity for dance artists to reflect and remember how their lives and their work has changed.
Jacqulyn Buglisi was in New York when the towers fell. “Artists here in New York have a deeper appreciation of our freedoms since 9/11,” she said. “Art always reflects the time in which we live. We are making that imprint in many different ways. “