In November a brand new dance chat show hit the web called Dance Chat, hosted by two of Australia’s leading choreographers Yvette Lee and Paul Malek.
Be sure to join the conversation at:
Posted on 03 December 2013.
In November a brand new dance chat show hit the web called Dance Chat, hosted by two of Australia’s leading choreographers Yvette Lee and Paul Malek.
Be sure to join the conversation at:
Posted on 02 April 2013.
By Grace Edwards.
‘Success is sweeter and sweeter if long delayed’ is a saying that will find no argument from 18 year-old Sydney native and new Houston Ballet apprentice, Joel Woellner. Though he chose not to compete the first time he qualified for the semi-finals, Woeller’s patience has been ultimately vindicated after winning two prizes at this year’s Prix de Lausanne.
Over 250 hopefuls aged between 15 and 18 years old submitted DVDs to this year’s Prix, from which 20 competitors made it to the final round. Woellner was the only student from an American ballet school [Houston Ballet Ben Stevenson Academy] to win a prize. Ranking sixth overall out of 78 international competitors, he was awarded not only a scholarship but the competition’s contemporary prize.
Congratulations on your success Joel! How would you describe what you were feeling when you heard that that you had won two prizes?
Surprised, yet a huge amount of satisfaction! Having had such a vigorous training schedule, putting so much energy into Prix, then having it rewarded, is one of the best things I have felt. But even if I hadn’t placed, just being on stage at the finals of Prix de Lausanne is a moment in my life that I’ll never forget.
How did you prepare for the Prix?
The first time I was accepted [for the 2012 competition], Houston Ballet decided to hold me back for a year, so I didn’t go. This time though, I started my training for the Prix as soon as I heard that I was accepted. My teachers had agreed on my variation, so I went to YouTube to learn the choreography and to draw inspiration from the videos of professional dancers who had done it in the past. Once I’d learnt the steps to the variation I began visualizing myself in costume on the stage of Prix de Lausanne.
I was then given rehearsal time with one of the Houston Ballet teachers, Andrew Murphy. Together we set the steps to music and slowly began to correct the variation. A few weeks later we were running the variation through and working very hard on perfecting every step. Mr. Murphy is well-known for running variations multiple times to build stamina and I was not an exception. After each rehearsal my legs were on fire, my lungs burning and my heart about to pump out of my chest. In each rehearsal, however, I visualised myself onstage dancing the variation perfectly.
I found that once I had gotten to Prix, dancing my variation on stage was easier because I had already been onstage in my mind. For me visualising is essential and a great tool that gives me confidence.
How did you select and prepare your contemporary solo?
I first saw my contemporary solo on the website of the Prix de Lausanne and instantly fell in love. The combination of the music, and the fluid and effortless movements of it captured my attention. I really love to tell a story through movement and emotion and I knew this solo was going to let me do that.
I started rehearsals with my contemporary teacher, Pricilla Murphy. Her coaching was incredible! She taught me how to articulate my movements, as well as to keep a strong centre. Throughout my rehearsals with her I learnt so much about my body and how to dance in a truly contemporary style.
The day before I left for Switzerland a showing was put on in the studio theater at Houston Ballet. The company members, the artistic staff and the Artistic Director were invited to watch, so many people came. This experience was a ‘dress rehearsal’ of what the Prix was going to be like. I was very nervous but I was well prepared so the performance went smoothly and the experience gave me so much confidence. I felt very self-assured afterwards and I knew that Prix was going to go well.
What do you think the judges were looking for most in their potential Prix prize winners?
I think the judges are looking firstly at the dancers’ technique and physique — can they dance steps confidently and do they physically look the part on stage? I also think they look at whether or not a particular dancer can survive in a professional environment.
From the small amount of company life that I have witnessed, I have noticed that the ability to learn and apply corrections to choreography is crucial. Someone that can take on board what a choreographer or artistic director is asking will always succeed. Having rehearsals with the choreographers of the contemporary solos represents a chance to showcase and improve upon this ability.
How have your wins affected your training goals?
Being a scholarship winner allows me to receive an apprentice contract with an associate company of the Prix de Lausanne. I’m proud to say that I have been offered and have accepted an apprentice contract with Houston Ballet. However, I know I’m not the ‘finished product’ as a dancer. Being a part of the company and dancing beside so many amazing artists will push me even more. I aim to work as hard as I can so that one day I may be as good as the people I’m dancing next to.
Prior to the Prix, you had also competed at the YAGP in 2010, at which you were offered and accepted a Houston Ballet II full scholarship. Do you think international competitions are important to a dancer’s development?
It’s clear that international competitions provide exposure and the chance to be offered places in professional schools. International competitions also allowed me to compare my abilities with the rest of my age group around the world.
That year [at the YAGP], I didn’t make the finals. I remember being disappointed, but I have always looked at this experience as a positive and I really think that’s how all competitions should be viewed. I knew that I wasn’t yet up to scratch with the rest of my age group so I was determined to make sure that I was.
For me, competitions are what started my professional career.
Without whom do you believe you might not have made it this far?
I decided that being a professional ballet dancer was what I wanted to do with my life around the time I started high school, so I moved dance schools and started taking ballet classes with Jo Ansell and Kim Traynor [at Ettinghausens Dynamic Arts, Sydney, Australia]. Both took an immediate interest in my career. Their wisdom and knowledge helped me to improve my technique and choose the best path for my career. Ms. Jo and Ms. Traynor have been so influential in my career, and I want to thank them for their dedication and the hard work they have put into me. I truly believe that I would not be where I am today without their help.
What advice would you give young dancers who want to compete in the Prix?
The advice I would give is: Number one, absorb everything you can from the week. Every correction the teachers and coaches give you is invaluable. Stay in contact with every friend you make because the ballet world is so small that at some point down the road you are likely to bump into them again.
Number two, try not to think of the Prix de Lausanne as a competition and get hung up on whether you make the finals or not. Instead, look at the week as a way of enhancing your abilities technically and artistically.
Photo (top): Joel Woellner competes at Prix de Lausanne 2013. Photo by Gregory Batardon.
Posted on 04 December 2012.
By Laura Di Orio.
At the age of 18 months, when most kids are perfecting their walk, Reed Luplau was beginning to dance. His mom ran a dance studio, Jody Marshall Dance Company, in Perth, Australia, and there Luplau grew up in the studio learning jazz, musical theater and acrobatics. His dancing allowed him a successful, memorable career in Australia and has since landed him in the United States, where he is now a permanent resident and lives in New York City. But he’s much more than just a dancer now; he also has choreographing, teaching and, most recently, acting, under his belt. And his expectations are still sky high. With his plate of skills forever growing, it is no doubt that Luplau, already a star, is growing brighter and brighter every day. He is a man on a mission, and nothing seems to stop him.
“I pretty much didn’t know any other life than dancing,” said Luplau, who ironically says he didn’t discover ballet until 14 years old when he saw his first classical production, West Australian Ballet’s Coppélia. He said he thought, “What is this? What’s going on? You can be paid to dance?”
This first sprouted more trips to the ballet, where he was also exposed to the company’s more contemporary works by choreographers such as Hans van Manen and Nacho Duato. Luplau was hooked. He decided to seek out a ballet school to train part-time, and then, at the age of 15, was accepted into The Australian Ballet School and packed his bags, left his family behind and moved to Melbourne to train full-time.
From there, Luplau ventured to Sydney to dance with the Sydney Dance Company under the direction of Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon. His dance career was beginning to blossom – he was the poster boy during his second year with the company for one of Murphy’s new works, he was nominated for numerous awards and he was often a chosen dancer for outside choreographers.
One of those choreographers was Aszure Barton, a New York-based choreographer who created a work on Luplau and two other company members.
“She really changed a lot of my view of dance in Australia,” Reed recalls. “She kind of pushed my buttons and was like, ‘Reed, do you need to move? What are you doing here? Grow up. You need to come follow me to the States.’”
So, when Luplau was offered another contract with Sydney Dance Company, he turned it down and, in February 2010, moved to New York for good. “Just a hunch,” he says of his decision to move.
Since arriving in New York City, Luplau has danced with Stephen Petronio Company, Aszure Barton and Artists, Lydia Johnson Dance and Compagnie Julie Bour, among others. In September 2011, Luplau joined Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, which, for him, has been extremely rewarding.
“[Lar] is such a legend and he’s a dancemaker. It’s been such an honor to be involved with him, create with him and dance his beautiful work,” Luplau says.
Also in New York City, Luplau works with his agent and books gigs, such as a promo for Teen Nick and a dancing stint for the Lucille Lortel Awards opening night. In this way, he finds life as a dancer in the Big Apple different from the life of a concert or contemporary ballet dancer in Australia.
“The opportunity to be able to do things that come up has been fantastic – the versatility that comes with it,” Luplau says. “It’s not so one-stream. In this city the way you survive is you’ve got to book that job and take whatever you can get.”
Still, as an Australian with an O-1 Visa, there were jobs that Luplau couldn’t go for because of his status. So, rather than renewing his Visa, he made the investment in his career and applied for permanent resident status. It became official in August of this year.
“I didn’t want to reapply for another Visa because I was just going to be doing the same things, and, for me, I need to keep evolving and I need to keep pushing my boundaries,” Luplau says. “That’s why I moved here. I would not have moved out of my home and become the struggling artist, to be honest, if I didn’t believe in it and if I didn’t want to push it. It’s expensive, but it was something I had to do.”
Luplau is convinced it will be worth it. Already he has been to his first Broadway call and did The Last Goodbye workshop, where he met Sonya Tayeh and Alex Timbers, both of whom Luplau says he never thought he would have met in his life.
Then one day, Luplau got a casting call for a feature film, 5 Dances, a predominately dance-focused film directed by Alan Brown. Luplau, who had never read lines before and had never had to portray someone else, went in for the call. A month later he was called back, and after a less-structured, improv-based callback, Brown told him, “I really like you. You can’t act, but we’re going to hire you.”
So Luplau, ever-evolving in his skill set, tried his best. The movie wrapped and is slated for an early 2013 release. By the end of the process, Luplau was so inspired that he sought out an acting school in order to serve his next quest: Broadway.
“It’s doable and I can do it,” Luplau says. “I want to do so much in the short time that we have on this earth, and Broadway is the next thing I want to do, so it’s time to figure out what to do and how to get there.”
With the help of the 5 Dances casting agent and Alan Brown, Luplau found an acting school that would fit in well with his dance schedule, where he has been studying since September.
“It’s a struggle,” Luplau admits, “but it’s something I believe in and it’s something I want to transition into. It’s challenging. I’ve been dancing for so long. Not that I don’t find dance that challenging anymore, but to be able to speak and portray someone else is difficult. I’m only two months in and I’m like, ‘Give me more.’”
It is this determination and thirst for more that makes Luplau’s goals seem just an arm stretch away. He understands that the world of Broadway is a competitive and challenging one, but he continues to strive.
“I feel that with all these extra tools that I’m picking up, it’s something that I want to do, and I’m very serious about it,” Luplau ensures. “That’s what I’m focusing on.”
That said, however, Luplau points out that New York City is one that is best lived moment to moment. “I remember I used to have such a clear vision,” Luplau says. “I mean, I have a vision of where I’d like to be, but five years from now I can’t tell you where I’ll be. Not that it sets you up for failure, but sometimes it sets you up for disappointment because it’s just life. Life just changes like that. This city and the way that everything is, you have to live day by day. Or check by check.”
But no matter where Luplau may be one year from now, one month from now or one week from now, it is sure that he will still be pushing his boundaries.
For more on Reed Luplau, head to his website at www.reedluplau.com/index.html.
Top photo of Reed features fashion by Energetiks dancewear. www.energetiks.com.au
Posted on 02 April 2012.
By Rebecca Martin.
Dancer Stephanie Williams has gone from strength to strength since leaving The Australian Ballet in 2011 and joining Het Nationale Ballet in Amsterdam for six months before settling into her new home of New York where she is one of American Ballet Theatre’s (ABT) newest recruits.
Since commencing her ballet training at the age of 8 with the Marie Walton-Mahon Dance Academy in Newcastle, Australia, Stephanie has been a dancer to watch. Moving to Melbourne as a teenager to train at The Australian Ballet School, she received the Gold Medal at the 10th Asian Pacific International Ballet Competition in Tokyo, graduated at the top of her class, and performed the dual role of Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. In 2007, Stephanie joined The Australian Ballet as a Corps de Ballet member before being promoted to Coryphee the following year. While with The Australian Ballet, Stephanie performed many Soloist and Principal roles and was a guest artist with Christopher Wheeldon’s Morphoses, again performing Principal roles.
In the lead up to the world premiere of Ratmansky’s Firebird in California, Stephanie found time to speak with Dance Informa about life since leaving Australia…
You’ve done quite a bit of travelling lately, having gone from The Australian Ballet to Het Nationale Ballet in Europe, and now with American Ballet Theatre in New York. How are you managing so far away from friends and family?
The past year has been a whirlwind of travel, exploration and life change. At times it’s been wonderful and exciting and at other times scary and daunting, but all part of an incredible journey that has given me a fresh perspective on life and dance. The beautiful people that have come into my life have had a huge impact on me and they have helped me with the major changes that come with moving to the other side of the world. I have to say I am extraordinarily fortunate to have the most beautiful, supportive family whose love and belief in me has never wavered, even when I’ve felt lost at times. And although I miss them terribly, I am in an extremely positive, motivating, passionate and inspiring environment every day at ABT. This fills me with a sense of happiness and allows me artistic fulfillment, of which I couldn’t have ever imagined and appreciate so much. And thank goodness for Skype!!
Any interesting cultural differences you’ve come across?
New York is incredible in that I feel like it’s so open to different styles and foods and that’s why it’s so exciting because there is always something new and interesting to try and seek out. I’m not a good sleeper so the fact that I live in ‘The city that never sleeps’ works perfectly for me!
Amsterdam is like no other place, with canals and bikes everywhere you look. I used to love seeing an entire family on a bicycle – the mum riding with the two kids on the front, baby in arms, perhaps an umbrella and mobile phone in hand and some groceries hanging off the handle for good measure. All executed without a care in the world! And then parked amongst another hundred bicycles so the street looks like a twisted metal junkyard! What a truly amazing sight and the epitome of Amsterdam.
Is living in New York and dancing in one of the world’s best companies a dream come true?
I have to admit I do pinch myself most days. I have found a happiness and an appreciation for what I am fortunate enough to do every day. Living in New York is incredible. It is a city to get totally lost in, to explore and to dream. American Ballet Theatre is a very special organisation and to be a part of it is very humbling and inspiring. But over the course of the last 15 months I have grown up a lot (as stereotypical as that sounds). I have found such beauty in people, places, dance and life and to be able to recognise and appreciate it. That, to me, is the dream I have journeyed to.
What shows do you have coming up with ABT?
At the moment I am in Costa Mesa preparing for our triple bill which consists of Merce Cunninghams’ Duets, Christopher Wheeldons’ 13 Diversions and the world premiere of Ratmanskys’ new Firebird. I will be dancing in 13 Diversions and Firebird which I am really excited about! Being involved in the creation of Firebird has been incredible and inspiring each and every day. Working with Ratmansky and seeing this ballet come together has been amazing and I’m so excited about the premiere this week!
Top photo: Stephanie Williams dances in La Bayadère with American Ballet Theatre. Photo Gene Schiavone.
Posted on 31 January 2012.
Dance icon Debbie Allen is one of the most respected talents in the entertainment industry. With 3 Emmy Awards for choreography, Debbie is internationally recognized as a director, choreographer and author and is currently the Director for television drama Grey’s Anatomy (which she has also starred in). She is well known for her role in the hit television series FAME, winning two Emmys and one Golden Globe for her work. Her dancing, choreography and directing credits across television, film, stage and Broadway are numerous and enviable, yet she continues to inspire dancers at all levels of training at her prestigious dance studio – The Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles.
In an exclusive interview, Dance Informa spoke with Debbie Allen in early January about the world premiere she is developing for this year’s Brisbane Festival in Australia.
Posted on 03 January 2012.
Australian ballet star Paul Knobloch is dancing his way to America. After eight years as a leading dancer with The Australian Ballet, Paul left at the invitation of Artistic Director Gil Roman to join the prestigious Béjart Ballet Lausanne in Switzerland. Now the US is calling as Paul has landed himself a position to dance in San Francisco with the renowned Alonzo King LINES Ballet.
Alonzo King is a bona fide visionary in the ballet world today. He communicates ballet as a science – founded on universal, geometric principles of energy and evolution – and continues to develop a new language of movement from its classical forms and techniques. He is one of few known for connecting audiences to a profound sense of shared humanity in dance and it’s no wonder Paul’s creative energy is being pulled to his realm.
Knobloch’s exceptional artistic talents have propelled him from a young age to achieve national and international recognition as an outstanding dancer, artist and partner of the highest caliber. His continued success as one of the few elite world-class Australian dancers is highly acclaimed by critics and peers alike in both classical and contemporary dance. He has graced the stages of the world and danced throughout Australia, the United Kingdom, Europe, China, America and Japan.
Paul made his mark as a choreographer with The Australian Ballet in 2006 whilst still in high demand as a leading dancer within the company. He continues to enjoy the benefits as both a dancer and choreographer on the international stage, having created works for the Australian Ballet and the Australian Ballet School as well as new works entering the repertoire of Canada’s Ballet Victoria. Paul hopes his exposure to the American dance scene will also open up new opportunities for future choreographic collaborations.
But for now, dancing is his priority and the excitement of “working with the King” is what he most looks forward to.
“Alonzo is a true master of dance, equal to that of Balanchine, Kylian, Forsyth or Béjart. His philosophy about dance and his knowledge appears endless. He brings the best out of his dancers and has given me a new breath of inspiration and love for dance that I thought was not possible. I can’t wait for the new journey that lies ahead”, said Paul.
Photos: Silas Brown
Posted on 02 December 2011.
By Rebecca Martin
“With over 20 years of experience behind me I have seen the evolution of dance through the 90′s and the following decade and can honestly say that MBC has evolved faster than I ever would have dreamt. The technique and quality of the dancers do justice to the demanding choreographic works. The dedication and skill of our artistic team, our dancers and, of course, our audience has brought us this far. In order to maintain a high quality of dance and a well earned high profile we now look to New York for dancers with goals and drive, passion and precision and a true adoration of dance.” -Robert C Kelly, Ballet Master/Choreographer
Melbourne Ballet Company is thrilled to be holding its first auditions outside of Australia in 2012. On January 15th, Artistic Director Alisa Finney and Principal Dancer Sharon Fernandez will utilize the world famous Ailey Studios on 55th Street, New York, for its auditions. Consisting of a classical class, MBC contemporary repertoire workshop, pointe work, and partnering, the audition will put dancers through their paces, ensuring the high standard of performance expected of Melbourne Ballet Company is upheld. Short-term season contracts will be offered as well as traineeships to young graduate dancers.
Having returned from Las Vegas in August 2010 where Finney and Fernandez were guest lecturers at the Dance Teacher Web Conference & Expo, they realized there was a huge demand from dancers in the US to work with Melbourne Ballet Company. In addition to interest from American dancers, Australians living abroad were also keen to have the opportunity to dance back home.
Melbourne Ballet Company has previously featured international dancers including Mikhael Plain from California, Shannon Ellis from Canada, three dancers from Paris, two from Italy, two from Japan, three from New Zealand, and one from South America. The company hopes to take a full season to the US in 2013.
Alisa Finney and the staff at the Gay Wightman School of Ballet in Melbourne will also be taking 100 people to Los Angeles in April 2012 for a 10-day student performance and study tour. The dancers have five performances in venues including Disneyland, California Adventure Park, Universal Studios and Hollywood Boulevard. The students will also be attending Master Classes and workshops at top LA dance institutions.
Alisa Finney in 2007, with resident choreographer Simon Hoy and Principal dancer Sharon Fernandez founded the Melbourne Ballet Company. The team had a vision to create a contemporary ballet company that upheld a commitment to classical technique. Over the past four years the company has presented nine original programs, incorporating over 30 works that have been acclaimed by MBC audiences.
New York Audition
Sunday January 15th 2012, 3pm – 5pm
The Ailey Studios The Joan Weill Centre for Dance
405 West 55th Street New York, NY 10019
Candidates will be auditioned in a classical ballet class, pointe work, partnering and contemporary workshop conducted by Melbourne Ballet Company Artistic Staff. Depending on the number of candidates, there may be more than one class. Candidates will be grouped into classes in order of sign-in. A recall class may follow the initial audition class, and a brief interview with Artistic Staff will also normally be conducted for the final short-list. Audition cost: $30.00 payable on the audition day.
Posted on 02 December 2011.
By Laura Di Orio
When a dancer steps down from the stage and “hangs up his or her shoes”, it doesn’t always mean an end to a dance-centered career. Many go on to teach, open a studio, direct a company, design costumes, and several choose the route of choreographer. Those who make the shift from dancer to choreographer may find a most freeing, creative outlet to express themselves. And a former life as a dancer just may make that transition smoother and richer.
Dance Informa hears from two established choreographers, both former professional dancers, on how and why they made the jump and what their life as choreographer provides them artistically.
Did you always know you wanted to choreograph? When did those desires begin to surface?
Edwaard Liang, freelance choreographer, USA
I never had the thought or desire to choreograph. I had a one-track mind in terms of what I thought I wanted in my career. When I was dancing with Nederlands Dans Theater, I was urged to try my hand creating in their annual choreographic workshops. I had such a great time with the process. I had no clue what I was doing, but loved it.
Where are you along this transition from dancer to choreographer? Have you completely shifted?
I have completely shifted from dancer to choreographer. I don’t feel sad about not performing, I think because I’m still a part of this world. I get to take class and feel like a dancer and move when I want to, but don’t have the same pressures I used to before to be perfect. I get to enjoy movement for movement’s sake. Plus, I never got the ‘juice’ or ‘high’ from performing, so it was not hard to leave.
What does your life as a choreographer offer you that life as a dancer has not?
As a choreographer, I have relinquished the challenge and fulfillment of performing but have been challenged and fulfilled in a different way by creating my own dances and seeing them interpreted by wonderful artists.
My life as a choreographer has given me more freedom and input into what I want to say. Making ballets are like making mini movies. You get to decide the music, costumes and sets. You feel like you’re able to mould the whole package.
For dancers who want to either delve into choreography or who want to transition completely, what suggestions do you have?
Be very sure that you really feel you have something to say. Try to get as much experience in making dance as you can. It is a very practical endeavour and needs constant practice, but that can be difficult. More than anything else, search for your own voice, which doesn’t always mean that you can be completely original, but at least it is uniquely yours.
Keep working and creating, whether it’s a big or small project. The only way to get deeper, better and do richer pieces of dance is to get in there and create. Try not to edit. Find your own voice. Enjoy the process and time. This profession is one of the hardest, physically and mentally, so try to find joy in some of the little things that happen. Don’t always wait for the big promotions to celebrate yourself.
What’s next for you as a choreographer?
I finished presenting my work at Fall for Dance at City Center in New York. I am now starting my first full-length ballet – a new production of Romeo and Juliet for Tulsa Ballet and also new works for San Francisco Ballet, Washington Ballet, Joffrey Ballet and a project with Yuan Yuan Tan and myself.
I am busy with commissions until the end of 2012, including a full-length Swan Lake for The Australian Ballet’s 50th anniversary, and hopefully there will be more after that.
Top photo: Edwaard Liang rehearing with Victoria Jaiani. Photo courtesy of Edwaard Liang
Posted on 02 December 2011.
By Leigh Schanfein
Last year at this time, I was offered a pretty sweet deal: go to Sydney Australia, where housing and various other expenses would be covered, work with a colleague whose unique movement style I found truly intriguing, create and perform a new work with a group of pre-selected enthusiastic and experienced dancers, and serve as rehearsal director for the work in subsequent settings. Oh yeah, and I would go halfway around the world to do it. Giving purpose to my meager savings, I bought a flight and flew from New York City to Sydney to work with emerging choreographer Ian RT Colless, his company Untitled|Collective, and the DirtyFeet dance organization.
If you haven’t already heard of it, you should. DirtyFeet is a non-profit contemporary dance organization founded in 2005, with the intent to provide opportunities and workspace for emerging independent dancers and choreographers in Sydney. As part of this effort, DirtyFeet offers choreographic labs for emerging choreographers, performance series for independent dancers, and dance workshops for the community at large. The beautiful thing about this organization is that it functions much like a collective, bringing independent dancers together with the common objectives of creating dance and developing as dancers. DirtyFeet members pay a small annual fee for the privilege of taking part in residencies, performances, and classes organized by DirtyFeet’s co-directors Anthea Doropoulos and Sarah Fiddaman.
As a freelance dancer in New York City, I face the challenges that come with jumping from choreographer to choreographer and from project to project, without always feeling as though there is time or room for my own development as an artist within each role I undertake. There is immense pressure for choreographers and directors to prove something with every expense, and the very fact that the choreographer is putting together a performance, along with the efforts required to put the project together, is often what negates his or her efforts as an artist. Choreographers do not have the luxury of cultivating their dancers. This is the primary reason why I am impressed with DirtyFeet. The collective experience can give both choreographers and dancers the freedom so necessary to artistic development.
This brings me to the choreographer who invited me “Downunder”, Ian RT Colless. If you haven’t already heard of him, you will. Ian, who hails from the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, holds degrees in dance from Queensland University of Technology and Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. He has won accolades and awards for his choreography for musical, opera, and dance performance, and is now based in NYC, where he held an internship with Battery Dance Company. The internship was funded by the Australia Council for the Arts – Skills & Arts Development Grant from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board. Indeed, Ian is a descendent of the Gundungurra Nation of Aboriginals from the Blue Mountains.
Upon first meeting, one would never guess Ian’s full heritage. The tall, lanky, and fair-skinned man could be any dancer at any studio, until you see him move. How can I describe Ian’s style? Quirky doesn’t quite cut it. With the angles of a stork blended with the fluidity of a snake, he mostly does things that you can’t imagine anyone else being able to do. However, what any dancer will come to realize through working with Ian is that the way all of us with our different training, flexibility, strength, technique, and heritage can all move as one, is by cultivating a shared intent. If a hundred different bodies perform a movement with the same engagement and purpose, then they will look as one because the audience feels the commonality.
When we began work in the DirtyFeet choreographic lab, we quickly realized we were not trying to emulate Ian’s movement, or even to dance in a way that fits within the parameters of his influence. Instead, we were to perform as individuals in a communal context. Ian never said, “Do this move in your interpretation of an Aboriginal way”. That would have been absurd considering the lack of exposure someone like me has had to Aboriginal dance; it probably would have ended up an accidental mockery of something to be honored. Instead, Ian informed our movement by exposing us to his land, his family, his community (Gundungurra Nation), and his understanding of traditional dance and philosophies so that we could use it as motivation while dancing explicitly as ourselves. We were given information with which to shape our intent.
I believe one of the reasons we, as a group of dancers from a surprisingly diverse background, were able to accomplish what we did within a three week choreographic lab was because Ian shaped the project to double as a cultural residency. We learned about Ian’s Aboriginal heritage and how it influences his work. We were subsequently asked to use our own backgrounds as a driving force. We drew upon our memories, externalized them, reinterpreted them into movement, and re-internalized them through the absorptive power of dance. By doing so, we ended up with a way to realize other people’s memories in our own bodies, creating a very powerful device by which we understood each other.
It seems to me that DirtyFeet provides the perfect format for choreographers and dancers who work with the understanding that that which makes a dancer unique is what should be enhanced through performance and not subdued to fit a mold. If you ever have the opportunity to work in this way, I’d certainly recommend giving it a try. You may even make it to a new part of the world in the process, and you’ll certainly make it to a new level of understanding about your own dancing. If you haven’t already had the opportunity to explore yourself through the exploration of others’ culture and experiences, you definitely should.
Since the residency, I’ve served as rehearsal director for performances of this work, Ripple, in Manhattan and Queens, NYC, and performed with Untitled|Collective in Boundaries.3, Ripple, and the newest work Meeting Place, at various Manhattan venues. I never imagined at this early point in my career that I would be able to hop on over to Australia for a choreographic residency, and then find such unspoken self and shared cultivation amongst a group of dancers. I certainly got a sweet deal.
Top photo: A performance of ‘Ripple’. By Hayley Rose Photography
Posted on 02 August 2011.
How dance is shaping fashion
By Rebecca Martin.
It would appear that dance is centre stage in the fashion world and is dominating the catwalks . The New York Times proclaimed that the look currently dominating women’s high fashion is a long stretch of leg, ankle boots, and a new posture. According to the publication, fashion has replaced the “truckdriver” look of knee high boots with the “showgirl” style of ankle boots and elegance. As with any major fashion shift, with the change of style comes a change in posture, and on this occasion, fashionistas everywhere can be seen posing with crossed legs to emulate a dancer en pointe.
The seduction of dance and fashion continues to grow, with every type of dance becoming intertwined with clothing and style, and dancers are now influencing fashion in ways never seen before. From music video clips to opulent theater stages, dance defines what we wear, and just as often, what we wear influences how we dance. Dancers have been at the forefront of fashion since Marie Taglioni tossed her heels and replaced them with soft ballet flats. She was also the first person to dance en pointe in La Sylphide back in 1842, instigating the sylph aesthetic which became a popular fashion statement during the period.
Both dance and fashion have come a long way since then, with ballets like In the middle, somewhat elevated, Divergence, and come, been, and gone pushing the limits of costume design and mixing street fashion with the high art of the stage. Last year, The Australian Ballet chose fashion as the theme of its yearly Bodytorque season, and this year has employed the services of Akira Isogawa to design the costumes for Graeme Murphy’s Romeo and Juliet.
Ballet flats are ubiquitous as street wear, tutus are in department stores, the urban wear of hip hop dancers has become mainstream fare, and burlesque glamor is making its way onto catwalks and into closets. Then of course, we have Black Swan the movie. Rodarte’s costumes impressed dancers and cinema-goers alike, making dance even more fashionable. Lately, we have seen dancers from some of the world’s best ballet companies appearing between the pages of glossy fashion magazines and emerging as film stars.
Global fashion house Hermes has taken cues from ballet for recent collections, Chloe has utilized dancers to showcase its lines, and of course Dali, Picasso, Chanel, Matisse, Prada, Alexander McQueen and Valentino have collaborated with dancers for street wear and costumes alike.
There are challenges for designers when making the leap from couture or street wear to the stage. Costumes must be heavy duty in order to counteract potential wear and tear from performing while maintaining the ability to move easily and remain lightweight. There is also the additional challenge of bright lights, sweat and make up, not to mention, that the costume needs to be impressive even to the patron in the back row of the balcony.
Designers and photographers want to work with dancers because they can perform on demand, have more grace, balance and flexibility, and photo shoots are able to explore more daring visions, with dancers being stronger and more fearless than most models. For those models not trained in dance, many agencies are sending them to movement classes because the demand is for the range, scope, and elegance that trained dancers provide. Dancers have an extraordinary knowledge of their own bodies and they know what looks good. It is no wonder many fashion professionals prefer to work with dancers than models!
Watch this video to see New York City Ballet’s Justin Peck and Janie Taylor model Chloe for a magazine photo and video shoot.
Choreography (c) Justin Peck, 2011.
Cinematography (c) Bon Duke, 2011.