What Ballet Could Learn from Bausch

Ballet and modern dance constantly steal from each other. The styles sometimes become so closely entwined that labeling a piece as just one or the other doesn't even make sense. But there's still so much more we could learn from one another. Watching Pina Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last night, I couldn't stop thinking, Ballet could use a little more of this. Here's why:

 

1. Bausch's women are gorgeous and feminine without being weak, or manipulated, or helpless victims. Often dressed in elegant floor-length gowns with long, flowing hair, these female dancers are jaw-droppingly beautiful in a way that makes no apologies for their strength. They don't wait for princes to save them; they turn men into blubbering idiots.

 

2. Although "...como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si..." has no overarching storyline, hints of scenes break up the movement. It's non-linear, dreamlike dance theater that sucks the audience in. Bausch knew that something doesn't have to make sense to be compelling. In ballet, Alexei Ratmansky seems to be the only choreographer today who's brave enough to play with this balance between abstract and innuendo.

 

3. Speaking of Ratmansky, I absolutely love that he recently told The New York Times' Brian Siebert, "You can’t really sustain the interest of the audience with just dancing for more than 20 minutes, 30 maximum for me. Then you need some special effect or story." Bausch got this. No matter how captivating one of her ideas was, she knew when to move on to the next motif, when to change the mood, when to add a bit of zany humor, when to give the audience a jolt of pure, awesome dance.

 

4. Her movement eats up space. The Tanztheater Wuppertal dancers flow from one side of the stage to the next so effortlessly that it makes even something as simple as running look exquisite. When her dancers do stay in one place, it looks like a conscious choice for contrast, not like she stopped the larger movement across the floor because it was time to show off some steps.

 

5. Bausch also knew the power of the tick of a finger: The littlest movement can have a huge effect, if it's the right movement. And if it's done with enough conviction. Sure, fouettés and barrel turns are impressive, but so is the right well-timed port de bras.

Ballet Careers
Sisters Isabella Shaker and Alexandra Pullen. Photo Courtesy Alexandra Pullen.

This is the second in a series of articles this month about ballet siblings.

My mom was in the corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre. A generation later, so was I. As if that's not enough for one family, my younger sister Isabella Shaker dreams of following in our dancing footsteps. Her endeavor, and her status as somewhat of a child prodigy, stirs feelings of pride and apprehension within me, since I have lived through the ups and downs of this intense yet rewarding career.

Ballet will always be my first love and the thing that brings me the most joy, and my dance career has opened endless opportunities for me. However, it's a difficult career path that requires a lifelong dedication. It's super competitive and can lead to body image issues, physical injury and stress. Most dancers will face some of these problems; I definitely dealt with all three.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Photo by Jayme Thornton

It's National Bullying Prevention Month—and Houston Ballet breakout star Harper Watters is exactly the advocate young dancers facing bullying need. Watters is no novice when it comes to slaying on social media, but his Bullying Prevention Month collaboration with Teen Vogue and Instagram is him at his most raw, speaking about his own experiences with bullies, and how his love of dance helped him to overcome adversity. Watters even penned an incredible op-ed for Teen Vogue's website, where he talks candidly about growing up queer. Catch his amazing anti-bullying video here—and, as Watters says, "Stay fabulous, stay flawless, stay flexible, but most importantly, stay fearless."

Keep reading... Show less
News
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

Keep reading... Show less