One of the reasons I love going to see dance in small theatres is because I get the chance to watch the dancers up close, and really analyze their performance. This was the case on Thursday, when I went to see Dances Patrelle and Cherylyn Lavagnino Dance at Symphony Space. I sat very close to the stage, and enjoyed picking out the details. What impressed me most, though, was the dancers’ commitment to connecting with the audience and each other, which is sometimes hard to feel in a huge theatre or opera house.
“3Four1”, a plotless ballet for three women and one man by Cherylyn Lavagnino, led off the program and was a great example of the dancers’ communication skills. The upbeat and playful piece consisted of a seamless procession of duets, solos, and group sections, and this variety of combinations gave the dancers the chance to draw the audience in by either dancing for us, or by showcasing how well they danced with each other. No one seemed to be onstage to show off—this piece was about the relationships between the dancers. The pleasure they took in dancing together, and they way in which they always made eye contact and interacted with each other left no doubt or confusion on that score. The technical strength of all the dancers and solid pointework of the ladies (Selina Chau, Ramona Kelley, and Jackie McConnell) gave them the security to share their joy with us.
“Double Martini”, by Francis Patrelle, was the other piece on the program that reminded me how clearly dancers can communicate with the audience by committing to their interactions with each other. This piece featured the story of a young ingénue (Marisa Paull) who comes to audition for a rich producer (John-Mark Owen), unseating his current leading lady (Ilona Wall) and her own boyfriend (Jhonatan Mendez) in the process. The dancers played their parts with a clear understanding of who they were, without overdoing it to the point of becoming caricatures, and had a fine grasp of how the relationships between them were supposed to deteriorate or evolve over the course of the ballet. Add to that Paull’s sparkling performance as the young woman that comes ready to impress (by doing tap steps on pointe, no less!), and Wall’s perfectly haughty established diva in white satin, and you’ve got a well-rounded combination of dance and drama that left me wishing it were an evening-length piece.
Nothing's more impressive than a fluttery entrechat six. Here, School of American Ballet's Suki Schorer gives her tips for perfecting this tricky jump.
1. Your power is in the plié: One of the most common problems Suki Schorer sees is dancers taking too short of a plié. "They bounce off the floor and then don't have the power to go high in the air," she says. You'll need that height to create the beats. A juicy plié will also allow you to control the landing and hold on to the tempo.
2. Timing can help. As you plié, think "and-down-entrechat six" rather than "and-up-entrechat six."
3. Keep legs and chest forward: "As students start to jump, they often throw their upper bodies back and then their feet get behind their bodies," says Schorer. As a result, the legs swing front and back instead of scissoring through first and fifth. "You need your legs underneath you or a teensy bit in front, with your chest also forward."
New York City Ballet's Tiler Peck makes her curatorial debut this evening at the The Music Center's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, and she's brought an all-star dance cast with her to the West Coast. The BalletNow program will run through July 30, and features a mix of classical and contemporary works danced by 24 international stars.
But if you can't make it to LA this weekend for a performance, we've got the next best thing—courtesy of the BalletNow dancers themselves. We've been spotting rehearsal clips on Instagram all week, and we've gathered them right here. From Romeo and Juliet to Justin Peck's Chutes and Ladders, the dancers (which include Lauren Cuthbertson of The Royal Ballet and Jeanette Delgado who is currently on a leave of absence from Miami City Ballet) are as diverse as the program lineup. Just do yourself a favor, and watch with the sound on.
Five years after joining American Ballet Theatre, corps member Zhong-Jing Fang sustained a serious ankle injury. Not one to let a setback take her off course, Fang wondered: What other things can I do as an artist? She loved imitating movie actresses as a child, so she decided to try acting while she recovered. For two years, she went every Wednesday evening to a four-hour group class with acting coach Diaan Ainslee. There she learned to dissect a monologue, develop a character, listen and feel emotionally exposed. The experience thrust Fang out of her comfort zone and transformed her as an artist. “It's a different layer of becoming a person," Fang says, “and becoming much more real."
Acting classes, which often incorporate exercises aimed at self-exploration, can offer dancers tools to deepen their artistry. Even simple things, Fang notes, like working without mirrors, can inspire you to go beyond image and find a deeper sense of self. “There is a lot more to say, beyond just being able to dance," she says. Here, Fang and three other dancers explain how acting skills have made them better performers.
Do you have any tips for dealing with a stubborn partner? We both want to succeed, but we can't seem to communicate. —Jesse
We've all dreamt of it: dancing a romantic pas de deux with your real-life love interest. Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg have done it countless times as one of ballet's most beloved on- and offstage couples. In this immaculate 2003 performance with The Royal Ballet, where they were then principals, their chemistry brings magic to their roles in Sir Frederick Ashton's Cinderella.
Each year, the Princess Grace Foundation honors an extraordinary group of artists. This year, ballet got a major nod. Six of the eight winners in the dance performance and choreography category are ballet-related. (The other two are Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Jacquelin Harris and downtown dance-theater choreographer Raja Feather Kelly.) While you already know some of these names, we're excited to follow the careers of newcomers, like current Juilliard dance major Mikaela Kelly. Past Princess Grace Award winners include the likes of Carlos Acosta, Gillian Murphy and Tiler Peck, so they're in exceptional company.
What do you enjoy more: performing or being in the studio?
Performing, of course. It's like waiting and getting ready for your birthday party. The rehearsals are a hard process: It's a long wait for enjoyment.
What qualities do you admire most in other dancers?
A brain. Some say that a ballerina only needs good footwork, physical abilities, but I realized gradually that it's very important to have a good head on your shoulders. You go further if you think deeply about your roles.
What do you do to remain injury-free?
I always warm up properly, and I also have massages and water treatments to relax and soothe my body. Sometimes I go to the banya, a typical Russian sauna.
You created the lead role in Jean-Christophe Maillot's The Taming of the Shrew. What place does it have in your repertoire?
A very significant one. It's so precious when a ballet is made on you. So many dancers wait for that, try to find choreographers. If you are the very first person to do a role, it stays with you—and you stay in it, in a way.