Our friends at Dance Magazine announced their annual "25 to Watch" list on January 1, and we can't think of a better way to ring in 2021. The round-up of emerging talent features dancers, choreographers and companies you should know, spanning multiple dance genres. And, of course, we can't help but feel excited about the six young ballet dancers on the list (you may even recognize one from our 2020 Stars of the Corps). Read on to learn more about them, then be sure to read the full "25 to Watch" list here.
Daylilies Photography, Courtesy Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre
In a visceral solo in Ana Maria Lucaciu's Long Ago and Only Once, Laura Morton advances across the floor, energy streaming from her core as she scoops her limbs upward, retreats and pivots, arms swiping as if wresting herself from confinement. In George Staib's starkly contemporary fence, she propels her body across the stage with openhearted abandon, her intensity at once hyperalert and serenely calm.
"She has an uncanny way of imprinting herself into the space," says Staib. "Nothing is forced. It feels organic, and that comes from a lot of self-discovery—not residing in one interpretation, but knowing that everything can shift in a matter of milliseconds."
Morton trained with Appalachian Ballet Company and Houston Ballet before finding the wider scope she craved as a Fellowship student at Atlanta Ballet, then led by John McFall. Her apprentice year brought featured roles in works by Gemma Bond, Liam Scarlett and David Bintley. But then-incoming artistic director Gennadi Nedvigin's more classically restrained approach wasn't a fit for Morton—her full-body expressiveness couldn't be reined in.
Immediately, Atlanta's Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre snapped up Morton, who also joined staibdance a year later. Staib's collaborative methods, which involve interplay between tension and release and deep personal inquiry, have freed her to discover a softer and more pliable core, which now drives her expansive reach. Morton is gaining traction in Atlanta's contemporary ballet scene as quickly as the troupes themselves. —Cynthia Bond Perry
Vincenzo Di Primo
Mitchell Jordan, Courtesy Sin Gogolak PR
It can be hard for a dancer to stand out at Complexions Contemporary Ballet, where everything is more. The costumes are more dramatic, the music is louder, the dancers' legs soar higher, and they perform bigger, faster, further. It can be even more challenging for a dancer to stand out in their first season, as they adjust. But amidst the calculated chaos, Vincenzo Di Primo is a steadying presence. His power is measured—calm, uninterrupted and mature. Nothing in his dancing is forced as he shifts seamlessly from balletic movement to striking lines.
His versatility stems from experience. Di Primo's first exposure to dance was ballroom. He later studied hip hop, and then contemporary, before being introduced to ballet. Di Primo graduated from the Vienna State Opera ballet academy, and, after competing in the Prix de Lausanne, joined The Royal Ballet as an apprentice.
There, he worked with Crystal Pite and Wayne McGregor, before moving on to companies in Dublin and Athens, and performing on an Italian TV competition called "Amici." But now, he's found a perfect fit for his talents at Complexions. —Cadence Neenan
Scudamore in Giselle
Yonathan Kellerman, Courtesy POB
After the Paris Opéra Ballet School's annual performances in 2017, one student's name was on everyone's lips: Bianca Scudamore, who sailed through Forsythe's Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude with astonishing technical facility and the joyful ease of a seasoned soloist. Born in Brisbane, the long-legged dancer had realized her dream of earning a spot at the French school in 2015. Upon joining the Paris Opéra Ballet after graduation, she was quickly nicknamed the "baby ballerina" to follow.
She hasn't disappointed. In soloist roles, including the peasant pas de deux in Giselle and Olympia in John Neumeier's Lady of the Camellias, as well as successful appearances on the local gala circuit, the 21-year-old has found a balance between youthful virtuosity and the polished restraint prized by French ballet insiders. While foreigners are still in the minority at POB, Scudamore was promoted two years in a row at the internal concours de promotion, rising to the rank of sujet (demi-soloist) in 2019, and finished second in the Varna International Ballet Competition's juniors category that same year. With a little help from POB's artistic team, a charmed career beckons. —Laura Cappelle
Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB
Amanda Morgan will be heard. The Pacific Northwest Ballet corps member's long limbs paint through space with a gentleness that contrasts with the strength of her voice as a creator and leader. She founded The Seattle Project, an interdisciplinary artists' collective dedicated to creating and presenting community-accessible work, in 2019. The Project—whose collaborators have included dancers from PNB and Spectrum Dance Theater—held its first presentation, "The How of it Sped," at Northwest Film Forum last February. As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, Morgan and fellow PNB dancer Cecilia Iliesiu founded a mentorship program to connect PNB School students with company members. Last summer, she spoke out against racism and police brutality at protests following the death of George Floyd.
Morgan's community advocacy and delicate yet striking contemporary movement came together in "Musings," the digital work she created alongside Nia-Amina Minor for Seattle Dance Collective last summer, exploring spatial injustice against Black and brown people.
In the fall, PNB commissioned Morgan, who made pieces for the company's Next Step choreographic showcase in 2018 and 2019, to create a site-specific work as bonus content for its first-ever digital season. "Society may have tried to silence the voices of the marginalized, but you will never silence me," she proclaimed at a June demonstration.
The dance world is listening. —Lydia Murray
Brown as Stella in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's A Streetcar Named Desire
Heather Thorne, Courtesy Nashville Ballet
In 2019, choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa cast an apprentice in the lead role of Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire at Nashville Ballet. Displaying a potent mixture of sensuality and vulnerability alongside sleek technique, Kennedy Brown's performances more than substantiated Lopez Ochoa's faith in her.
The former competition dancer from Indiana capped her early training with Magaly Suarez at the Art of Classical Ballet in Florida. She was a Top 30 dancer on Season 14 of "So You Think You Can Dance" before joining Nashville Ballet 2 in 2017.
"There is a real warmth about her, about the way she moves and communicates out to the audience that I really like," says artistic director Paul Vasterling. "She is incredibly ambitious and focused, which is what it takes to be a leading dancer." With girl-next-door charm and a world-conquering stage presence, Brown, now a full company member, is well on her way. —Steve Sucato
Courtesy Tulsa Ballet
Making an instant impression is Maria Coelho's superpower. The 22-year-old's stage presence is awash with charisma, which she pairs with an exceptional attack-driven technique. "Every choreographer that comes in immediately notices her," says Tulsa Ballet artistic director Marcello Angelini. "She has a very particular physicality, powerful and commanding. Every time there is one of those strong female roles in our repertory, she is considered for it." Case in point: As a first-year corps member, Coelho was chosen by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa to dance the lead role of Rosalia in the second cast of Vendetta, A Mafia Story. (Performances were subsequently postponed due to the coronavirus.)
A native of Rio de Janeiro, Coelho studied dance at Balletarrj Escola de Dança and American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School before joining Tulsa Ballet II in 2016. She was offered a place in the main company as an apprentice in 2019, and was promoted to the corps de ballet in 2020. "She has been chosen by dance rather than her choosing to dance," Angelini says. Of the strong female roles Coelho has yet to perform, she says Kitri from Don Quixote is at the top of her wish list. No doubt she is destined to get there soon. —Steve Sucato
Header photo credits, left to right, top to bottom: Melissa Blackall, Courtesy Boston Dance Theater; Daylilies Photography, Courtesy Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre; David DeSilva, Courtesy Axis Dance Company; Kevin Calixte, Courtesy Désir; Yonathan Kellerman, Courtesy POB; Ian Teraoka, Courtesy Project Home; Beatrix Molnar, Courtesy Comitre; Vanessa Fortin, Courtesy Margolick; Heather Thorne, Courtesy Nashville Ballet; Quinn Wharton; Erin Baiano, Courtesy Flores; Jayme Thornton; Courtesy Tulsa Ballet; Mitchell Jordan, Courtesy Sin Gogolak PR; Amanda Gentile, Courtesy Sandoval; Rachel Neville, Courtesy Bhargava; James Jin, Courtesy Diaz; Tina Ruisinger/Rolex, Courtesy Touré; Natalie Tsui, with creative consultation by Marco Farroni, Courtesy J. Bouey; Daphne Jaramillo, Courtesy Davis; Ta Nycia Wooden, Courtesy Raianna Brown; Bogliasco Foundation, Courtesy Greene; Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB; Florian Thévenard, Courtesy Doherty; Devin Marie Muñoz/Muñoz Motions, Courtesy Minor; Saadat Maksat, Courtesy Yang