Monday, March 30, 2009

Performance Pics

Today was a loooooooooooooooong day.
Two performances, nonstop running and helping and fixing and so on. The few moments of actual dancing onstage were the best most relaxing part of the day, haha!

Will write more hopefully tomorrow when my sanity returns, but for now here are some pictures :) More to come soon.

my partner and i for sylphides

bunch of us getting ready

my sylph wings in action! i think they may have looked better from stage. at least, i hope

the insanely crowded holding studio. 150+ cast members!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Performance Today :)

Yay! Apparently both our shows this afternoon are SOLD OUT! Which is fantastic because, as mentioned in the previous post, it's our first time trying to fill up an actual theater, for two shows. This means I did my job well :)

I took barre this morning to get set for the day (although rainy Sunday mornings are NOT the best time for ballet. Creaky joints, tired muscles...) and now I'm doing some last minute prep before heading to the theater all day.

My family is visiting for the first show, but we have tech beforehand and lots of other stuff going on. I'll be all a-twitter throughout the day so check in if you wish :) It's going to be fun!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sylphs Wings and Tutus and Programs, Oh My!

This weekend is our latest student showcase at the Ailey Extension Program! It's Sunday 3/29 at 4:30pm and 7pm at the Ailey Citigroup Theater.

I'm dancing in excerpts from Les Sylphides and Napoli, but the program has lots of other fun stuff. We have guest stars Les Ballets Grandivas and works from Vic DiMonda, Ashley Carter, Tracie Stanfield, Ginger Cox, Funmilayo, Bev Brown, Sue Samuels, and more! And it's our first time putting it all together in a theater - yay!


(me in Les Sylphides corps when I was 12)

I'm officially billed as assistant to the director, which is exciting. I've been pretty involved in helping here and there with these things since our first one last February 2008 (with only 20 people in the studio audience!). It's exciting to see how it has grown since then (the past two we've done have sold out weeks in advance, and we upped it to two performances each time) and I'm honored to be such a close part of it, both as a dancer and a...helper. All week I've been working not only on cleaning up my sylph arms and feet and going over counts for Napoli's partnering, but I've finished making 30 pairs of wings, found the best safety pins for the cast, steamed my romantic tutu and the extra one, ordered last minute men's shirts, written some PR blurbs for Facebook etc, and - the most time consuming - coordinated the program order (and name spelling) of 150+ dancers. Phew!


(the lonely audience of our first show in Feb. 08. my family makes up about half that center section, haha. this weekend it looks like we'll have literally almost 25 times that amount!)

But I love doing this kind of thing.

I grew up with my family running their own dance studio with annual recitals every spring. My mom and my grandmother did EVERYTHING by themselves for that, from what I've mentioned above to securing theater space, hiring janitors, hanging the backdrop, taping off reserved seats, cueing the music, and more. Because of many things I was unable to help out there the past two years, and I suppose the first three years of my life didn't count - so for about 15 years I was kind of the assistant in training to the directors, haha. After watching my family as role models for wearing many hats and doing so myself for so long, it really comes natural to me now to step in and try to take care of as much as I can with the performance. I'm really happy when I can contribute beyond what I give onstage (and boy am I happy to be back onstage again!).

I'm lucky to be in a position where I CAN be so involved with a New York performance like this. In any other circumstance I would hardly have such an opportunity, and it's a great test of my multi-tasking skills, dancing and organizing simultaneously (which - I may have mentioned before - I'm always at my best when I'm absurdly busy). As always, I'm VERY grateful.



(from past showcases)

Besides the behind the scenes work, of course I'm thrilled to be performing. In the earlier show I'm in Napoli Pas de Six, which is one of my favorite favorite things to dance. We did an extended version of it at BAE a few years ago, but I only understudied this section (actually, I DID a lot of the rehearsals because a girl was injured, and then she got to do the real shows...). It's fun to be back on the same stage where I was a corps dancer now doing a bigger part.


(in Napoli, 2006)

That's only for the 4:30pm show, because there were too many people to have a single cast. But in both shows I'm doing a sort-of-principal part in an excerpt of Les Sylphides. By that I mean, we really don't have a hierarchy in the way we work this program because it's an open class with mostly adult students (which is FANTASTIC), so I am by NO means the "lead." But I come in and out here and there doing some fun things around the corps.

It should be a really great performance, so if you're in town do buy a ticket!
The 4:30pm show tickets are here.
The 7pm show tickets are here.

More updates and pictures to come after Sunday. I plan to be live-tweeting all day so check in on Twitter, too :)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Take 2: Take Dance

Last weekend was full of TAKE Dance Company.

On Thursday I joined fellow bloggers, patrons, and fans of Takehiro Ueyama’s company for an open rehearsal at the Ailey studios. The fabulous Jill Echo (Take’s assistant director) spoke about how often process is more interesting than product in dance. Maybe it’s because I’m a dancer myself, but I totally agree. If given the opportunity to see both rehearsal and performance I find myself preferring the more raw version in process.

That evening we saw sections of two new pieces to premiere at the company’s DTW season in July. “Footsteps in the Snow” is a visually stunning piece I saw parts of at The New School’s spring performance last year, where he choreographed the initial segments on students. "Snow" covers the stage as the dancers move through it, throw, and sprinkle it. Thursday a new section was shown. The dancers improvised instead of making a mess of the studio with "snow." It seems like it will complete the work well, and I'm looking forward to seeing it finished in the summer.

After that came a section of a brand new piece titled "Shabon," which means "bubbles" in Japanese. Take and the dancers spent quite some time working through this one before running it for the audience. There were two bubble machines that had to be maneuvered throughout the space, having their own choreography for spitting out bubbles into the action. The piece itself is a playful, athletic take on childhood conventions (At one point the men cradle the women in their arms as if on a swing set. Later Amy Young stands in the corner and blows bubbles herself). But again it was the preparation and the working through tough spots - like when Mariko Kurihara walks atop the shoulders of the others - that enhance the appreciation for the final product.

---
I had hoped a similar glimpse into behind the scenes would come from the premiere of Damien Eckstein's documentary film "A Year With Take Dance" on Sunday night at Village East Cinemas (part of the NY International Independent Film & Video Festival). But what could have been an opportunity to delve into the nitty gritty of company life to expose Take's true art coming together behind the footlights, the film was more of a home video, a multimedia yearbook of sorts that entertained but rarely enlightened.

From the first glance it appeared the film was made in iMovie with maybe a handheld digital camera. It had a very homemade feel, which was charming at points and something like nails on a chalkboard at others (performance footage was jarred and unfocused, interviews had noisy party clatter in the background).

Let me preface this by saying that I have a deep respect for Take's work and his company, especially after working with them at the intensive in January. What I didn't like about the documentary was not the subject but the way it was approached.

First of all, the only piece of Take's work shown, described, and discussed until about an hour of the way in was the 2006 piece "One." We learned a part of this at the intensive, and many audience members Sunday night could have stood up and performed along with the film. It's a beautiful work, but one of many Take has created. Seeing the same slow image of his dances looping and pointing to the sky, swaying and crawling, got tired after a while. It wasn't until towards the end of the film we got a chance to see parts of my favorite high-energy piece "Linked" and the passionate pas de deux "Love Songs." Saving the best for last is good, but a little variety in the middle might have been nice.

The film flowed between clips of performance, in-studio rehearsals (complete with a cameo by little old me and Philip watching this rehearsal), post-show parties, conversations with company members and supporters, and candid moments.

The interview segments were amusing, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. Yes, the impersonations of Take's hair tossing and indistinguishable accent rightfully garnered laughs (and more so if you've been in the studio with him firsthand!). But besides that there were moments when the dancers spoke of what an honor it was to work with Take. Yet their faces were as straight as a pin and their seriousness was only enhanced by the uncomfortably close-up shot. I couldn't help but giggle at what came off as sarcasm, even though I'm aware of their actual sincerity. If I read it as humorous, what did unfamiliar audiences think?

The documentarian Damien Eckstein has worked closely with the company before the film, notably as the composer for the lovely piece "Looking for Water" (my review of it here). He makes a few (cheesy for my taste) appearances throughout the movie but is very much part of the Take family. Besides the interviews, all of the personal footage is raw and real, a feat for a group fit for the stage. Everyone on screen appears natural and unaware of the camera. So much of today's other filmed dance(rs) are fake. Not so here.

There were a few narrative briefs that did take advantage of the ability to go behind the scenes with the camera. Then-apprentice (now company member) Gina Ianni got injured just before a performance, and we followed her from getting ice immediately to a physical therapy appointment the next day. Jill Echo spoke openly about being fired from the Paul Taylor Dance Company on film in the movie "Dancemaker" (I never knew that story!). Inclement weather threatened an important performance at Central Park's Summerstage to be nearly cancelled the day of the show.

These are the realities that come with dance company life that might have been more interesting to explore further - to show audiences more than just performance captures of something they could see better live. Still, the documentary entertained. Like with all art, one can either take it for what it is or pit it against what it could have been. With respect for the dance company, I had hoped for more.
--

Philip writes about the open rehearsal here and the film here. Ariel writes about it here, and Tonya here.. Good to see them and many other long-lost dance friends in the audience that night!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Copyright Rights?

I've come down with a bad cold over the past 24 hours, so besides class and a brief rehearsal this evening I've gotten positively nothing done.

While my post about TAKE Dance Company's documentary "A Year with Take Dance" will have to wait til tomorrow when the Nyquil wears off (though so far it's not working at all...), check out this interesting conversation going on about "content scraping" on blogs.

A Time to Dance brought it up, Danciti mentions it, and Marc at TenduTV writes more here.

I'm really interested in intellectual property law, and if I ever get the desire/guts/time/money to go to law school someday this would be what I would pursue...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Randoms from the Internet

Though I haven't blogged much the past few days, I've been keeping up with Twitter and Facebook and have found a few random, interesting things to share...

*First -my favorite - the NYTimes has released new standards for their online columns and blogs. Check it out here. I want to comment more on this sometime this week...

*ABT dancers Kristi Boone and Isaac Stappas are the NYTimes real estate section. Apparently arts and apartments go together, because didn't they just do this article with another ABT dancer?

*An interesting piece from Vanity Fair about SAB's 75th Anniversary last week. And while we're discussing the Balanchine side of Lincoln Center: State Theater gets aisles! What glorious news :)

*And this is random but amusing from the last day the Seattle PI Newspaper printed. Another paper down.

*More random: have you seen that Ellen Degeneres is on Twitter? Funny! If you're on Twitter, follow me.

Dance Brazil Webcast Tonight

The weather may be getting nice (but hey, where'd the sun go today?) but sometimes a Sunday night at home is just what you need.

While you're online tonight be sure to check into Dance Brazil's live webcast of their performance at NYU's Skirball Center at 7pm. Watch it here in real time, wherever you are. It should be fun to see...I didn't get to make it to their live performance this weekend as I'd planned, but I saw the company last year and wrote about it briefly here.

The recent rise of webcasting performances is largely thanks to Jaki Levy, who was responsible for Misnomer Dance Theater's online venture a few months back, and who has worked with Martha Graham's Clytemnestra Project a lot. He's definitely doing a lot to bring dance to a bigger audience, and it looks like he'll be speaking more about "Dance on the Web" later this week at Chez Bushwick. Of course it happens Wednesday night at 7pm, another time I'll have to miss out, but if anyone gets to go please report back!


photo of Dance Brazil from their website

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Play it Cool

The new production of "West Side Story" opens officially on Broadway tonight!

Oh how I would love to attend opening night. But I guess I'll have to wait a few months until standing room/student rush tickets open up (it was 4 months before I got into Billy Elliot finally!).

Check out James Wolcott's piece about the show on Vanity Fair's website here, and be sure to click into the photo portfolio they put together, which recreates images from the show using stars like Jennifer Lopez (though NY Magazine reports the photos were not initially taken to celebrate tonight's opening...). While you're reading up on it all, check out NY Magazine's great profile on musical theater genius Arthur Laurents.

In the past I've learned bits and pieces of this show, and it is such a fun and challenging one to dance. Big MERDE to the cast (many of whom are my "generation" of show biz folks)!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Upcoming...

Apparently I'm in short blurb-writing mode this week...

-I recently reconnected (via Facebook!) with an old ballet teacher of mine (who, I must be honest, I was honored even remembered me since I didn't have him often back then). He has a gala performance coming up this Thursday on Long Island. I won't be able to go, but for any of you Long Islanders out there who might be able to make it please let me know how it goes! NYCB principal Daniel Ulbricht is performing, apparently!

-TAKE Dance is having the premiere of their documentary "A Year With TAKE Dance" this Sunday. I'm really looking forward to this one, especially after working with them at the intensive in January.

I actually ran into Take and Jill this afternoon on my way to take class. Later this week I'm also attending an open rehearsal for their upcoming DTW season (report to come!).

Oh speaking of running into people, at the same time I saw them I also saw the dance captain of my cast of Rockettes today :) Nice to see her. I love how small the dance world is, especially in New York!

-Dance Brazil is performing this weekend (check out their new website here) and will be webstreaming their March 22 7pm performance live online here. Cool.

-As for my own upcoming performances...

March 29 I'll be in another extension student showcase at Ailey, in the theater this time :) I'm doing an article about our preparations, which I'll get done later this week for more details. But if you're interested in coming you can buy tickets for the 4:30pm here or 7pm shows here. We're doing excerpts from Bournonville's "Napoli" (yay!) and "Les Sylphides" (not so yay), plus a bunch of other small modern companies are on the program and guest stars Les Ballets Grandiva.

The following week, April 4th & 5th I'm doing a pas de deux in a show at Ballet Arts that a friend of mine choreographed. Should be fun.

Notes on Arts Journalism

Just for anyone interested - as I am - a mishmash of recent info...

Just came across an interesting webstreamed video of a panel discussion on "The Future of Arts Journalism" with panelists from Columbia's journalism school and the NY Times. Very interesting and worth sitting through, though the sound quality is annoying...mentions a range of issues, blurring marketing and journalism as things move online (a mention, though not by name, of the Performance Club), the state of journalism, and so on.

The Dance Critics Association posted plans for their 2009 conference - this time far away (from me anyway) in San Francisco in combination with the Society of Dance History Scholars. Anyone want to fund a Taylor-goes-to-California trip? Haha. Last year's conference was so insightful...

The 2009 NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Dance Criticism has its application deadline fast approaching. I'm sending mine in this week and crossing my fingers. Sounds like a great opportunity to learn and write!

Interesting, long article: "Will Critique for Food." At one point it says, "The situation is most dire for the journalists themselves, who find themselves no longer able to make a living pursuing their passion. But it is also of great concern to arts administrators, who are just now coming to grips with the impending cutoff of one of their strongest lines of communication with the community. (my emphasis). After complaining for years of unfair or insensitive reviews, they have come to the realization that the only thing worse than getting criticized is being ignored."

And PS- though NYCB and Cunningham are cutting dancers, looks like ABT avoided that trap for next season :)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Works & Process: Stiefel & Students

Last night I attended another Works & Process performance at the Guggenheim. Always insightful and entertaining, the program often includes conversation and discussion along with dance. This time it was "Ethan Stiefel and His Students" who were in the spotlight, with moderator Matt Murphy and guest Larry Keigwin. The evening centered around Stiefel's new position as Dean of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

Opening the night was "Tangled Tango" choreographed by contemporary faculty member Dianne Markham. Two dancers appeared chic-ly as black silouettes against red. their feet suspended as if they were on a swing. They move slow in near silence. As the lights come up a clear bench is revealed, which they returned to and rotated between music cues. The two students seemed to work well together in this dicy tango.

It was more interesting to hear the conversation that followed. Matt did a great job as moderator. He danced in ABT alongside Ethan, and throughout their conversation they had almost a brotherly congeniality. It would be like me interviewing my mother for my dance blog - I could probably answer my own questions for her. It was good to see both of them so comfortable.

Ethan spoke about the application process involved in becoming the new dean, and how he had sent a letter withdrawing himself from the pool on the same day he received the job offer. "You can't expect perfect timing for every next step in your life," he explained, but he knew it was something he wanted to do. He said he normally takes class himself in the mornings ("waking up at 6:30am took some getting used to") before teaching about 2 classes a day.

He also spoke about the culture of UNCSA that he's trying to create, which sounds inspiring from a potential student's perspective. He implemented a series of 8 initiatives that he described to create not just trained dancers but human beings. This concept is largely lost in today's rigorous technical training. He described other forms like improv, martial arts, and theater that he has added to his curriculum.

"We keep things in perspective. I owe them more than just training them to become professional dancers," he explained, especially because it is a boarding school situation. As Matt attested to, it's very easy for dance to become a one-dimensional life, for serious students particularly. Matt added, "Life and art fuel each other." Beautifully said.

A series of short performances followed. Two ballet students performed the pas de deux and coda from "Le Corsaire." Understandably, it seemed that nerves got to them in a few visibly shaky spots, but like professionals in training they continued on fluidly. Matthew Foley's entrance and coda series of jumps stood out for his line and strength.

Next was the all-too-familiar "Little Swans" dance from Act II Swan Lake. Before they danced Ethan mentioned that the ballet department had been eager to put on a full length production, which few schools are able to do nowadays. This excerpt demands precision and the four students danced quite cleanly.

Compared with those traditional works students often learn early, the next was a treat rarely seen. August Bournonville's "The Jockey Dance" is a sweet duet for two men dressed as...jockeys. Ethan spoke about working with legendary teacher Stanley Williams on the piece when he was at SAB and danced it with Damien Woetzel. It's a playful, brotherly dance where the two compete with fast footwork and chase each other with their whips. The two students had great timing, but I'd much like to see maybe Ethan do this with his host Matt someday (haha)!

After that choreographer and joker Larry Keigwin joined the discussion. He and his company participated in a 3-week residency at UNCSA and he spoke about the creative process of working with the students. He definitely added spice to the evening. Matt asked something along the lines of "what was the day to day like during the residency?" and Larry replied, "We did laundry. We did laundry in our washing machines and we were being domestic." He joked about how our small New York apartments were so different from being down in Winston-Salem, NC.

What was important about his actual work was the process and the mentoring aspect, which both he and Ethan commented on. Ethan made a remark about the old fashioned idea of being a "diva" and thinking that no students or anybody can talk to a teacher because of his status. This is not the most effective way to work, he believed - and I couldn't agree more.

The program ended with a piece Keigwin worked on with the UNCSA students during his residency, called "Natural Selection." He explained it was someone influenced by the theme of survival of the fittest, and that was clear in the animalistic movements and aggression of the dancers. It was in this movement language the students appeared most comfortable.

The piece is filled with choreographic intrigue. At one point two men support a woman who runs perpendicular to the back wall. Later she runs up and climbs atop a pyramid of people to reach the wall. At another point, the dancers make a bridge, one after the other lining the front panel in backbends as someone crawls underneath. It's a great game of strength and the students played well, doing their dean and their school proud.
--

Afterwards I enjoyed the lovely reception with Tonya (who wrote about the program here) and Doug. Oh and apparently there's more from the UNCSA students coming this weekend...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

"The Woman" at Columbia Stages

I don't venture out to see non-dance performances nearly as much as I should/would like to.

Last night I went uptown to see a friend perform in "The Woman" at Columbia Stages as part of an MFA directing thesis production. What a good show! The story revolved around the Greek and Trojan war, which I expected not to pique my interest. I was pleasantly surprised to find a very engaging, original story that evokes great emotion and even greater acting. I must say I was impressed - even though I'm slightly biased (you were great Alice! :).

(headshots of the actors)

This show ended last night, but if you get a chance to go see more work up there I'd recommend it. The program shows that "The Threepenny Opera" plays April 1-4, and even more interesting is the "New Voices New Play Festival," (April 15-26) which includes ten 60-minute plays featuring Columbia's MFA playwrighting class of 2009. Go!

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Great Trio

Ethan Stiefel. Larry Keigwin. And fellow blogger (and recent NYTimes photographer extraordinaire) Matt Murphy. Now there's a trio!

This weekend the Guggenheim is hosting another of its "Works & Process" events, and the program will feature the above three. It's focused on Stiefel's new appointment as dean of North Carolina School of the Arts, and sounds like a great evening. I'm looking forward to going on Sunday. These performances are always a great way to hear more from artists and get a different kind of look into dance. (I wrote about another Works & Process here, and check out Tonya's post about last week's one with Christopher Wheeldon.)

Happy Friday everyone :)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Being Productive

Today was the longest, busiest day I've had in quite some time...and for some reason I'm always happiest when I have far too much to do!

It all started in ballet class. I don't think I've been up to dance before 11am since Radio City's 9am shows in December. Today I forced myself for many reasons, but mostly because a particular teacher is back in town for a brief while teaching at 10am: Madame Darvash! I took her class on and off while she was in the city last spring and was pleased that she actually remembered me this morning after a year away in Europe. Her class is very technical and very hands on, which is rare in the New York open class scene. Nobody really takes the time to work through specifics in the crowded classes around, so it's a nice addition to my usual class schedule.

After that I ran to spend the afternoon working with my teacher as I've been doing to prepare for our student showcase performance at the end of the month. More details to come, but we're doing excerpts from "Napoli" (one of my favorites) and "Les Sylphides" (not one of my favorites). She had me make 30 pairs of sylph wings a while back for our costumes, so today we finished those up and decorated them, etc. Fun stuff.

Multitasking can be exhausting. Besides wing-making I did about a thousand other things in the span of those few hours. I had a short time to kill afterwards, so I ran uptown to pick up a book that I'll be reviewing for ExploreDance.com soon (again, details to come...).

THEN I had a 2 hour private class with said teacher. Two hours is a long time to be in a studio one on one, but between the two of us and our perfectionism we barely make it through barre in that time frame. We literally pick apart every single detail and work my technique for my own body, rather than how I usually force things in normal class. It's so difficult and very intense work but it's SO helpful and feels very productive. I'm not sure any other teacher would have the patience to work that long that closely with me, haha.

AND after that I had to run to a brief rehearsal. Last night a friend of mine asked me to be in a piece she's choreographing for a different showcase at the beginning of April. Fun! Yet again I'll say details to come, but the first rehearsal went well. It's a pas de deux from "La Traviata."

On top of everything, I spent the day contemplating accepting an unpaid internship at a magazine for a few months. For those who don't know, I have a master's degree in publishing and have interned at 4 magazines - one of which was The New Yorker. So the prospect of working for another magazine for free did not seem like a great idea at first. But the thing is, right now nobody in publishing is really paying, and jobs in general are few and far between. After much contemplation I decided to accept the internship to have something solid on my resume for the spring "semester" and to get my back working more closely at a magazine besides just freelancing articles. It's 1.2 million circulation doesn't hurt either.

Phew. It helps me to just organize my crazed thoughts on days like this. I love being busy - it used to be that literally EVERY day for probably 3 years was a day like this. Lately not so much, so I appreciate all the opportunities starting to come my way. Will definitely post more details on the goings-on soon!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

From Binky to the Barre

Just for fun:

My amazing grandmother (and personal archivist, haha) recently sent me this picture from when I was little. It was my first time dancing at the barre...age 1 1/2. Even back then I had no turn out, haha!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Oh Yoga

Just a quick post to say I have a newfound great respect for anybody who does yoga regularly.

Last night I was coaxed into taking my first real, intense ashtanga yoga class and...oh my goodness. Ouch! Haha.

I really enjoyed the class as it was happening, though a lot of the poses were painful on my knees and back (my joints are like an 80 year old woman from ballet...). It definitely opened everything up and actually felt I danced better today after doing it. BUT, oh the soreness! Of all the training I do, I kind of ignore my arms/upper body. Doing the "vinyasa" repeatedly (ie. plank position, into upward dog, into downward dog) is like doing a hundred push ups throughout the hour and a half. This morning it killed me just to put on a t-shit with my arms. Oy. I must keep going so it doesn't hurt so bad (is that a twisted way of thinking?)

Anyway, I highly recommend the class and teacher I took with. I'm hoping my arms won't feel like Jello tomorrow too. During my first barre today, just holding my arm to the side for a single combination made it start to shake, haha. Luckily it got better as I got warmed up (an popped an Advil, which I rarely do because it never helps). It's a fun new challenge, though.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Loss of a (teacher's) Dance Teacher

Maybe it's because the dance world is so small and communal, but whenever I hear news of a dancer (young or old) or a dance teacher passing away I feel that sense of loss, whether I knew them personally or not.

Tonight a ballet teacher from Tampa, FL, Anzia Arsenault, passed away. She was my ballet teacher's first teacher and a major influence on her. She was old and died of complications of pneumonia, apparently.

"She was the Artistic Director of The Tampa Ballet from 1964 to 1984, one of the first professional dance companies in the state. She founded the Dance Program at the University of Tampa which is now headed by one of her former students. She served on the Board of Directors of the State Dance Association of Florida and the Southeastern Regional Ballet Association."

I didn't know her myself, but I've heard stories of what she meant to my own teacher who mourns her loss.

For me it's another reminder of how eternally grateful I am for falling into the teaching hands of some extraordinary people in my ballet training life.

I've had many - MANY - a dance teacher I was afraid of, really couldn't stand, or was extremely ignored by. But the select few who have truly helped me grow as a dancer and person mean SO much to me, even if I don't say it enough. I've been lucky to work with a number of wonderful people, but there are two teachers who stand out to me from recent years - who have gone far beyond and helped me in more ways than they know.

And this one in particular...I would be devastated if I ever lost her.

RIP Anzia. K, so sorry for your loss.

More on the Blogger vs. Critic Conundrum

I was recently asked to speak on another panel about dance blogging later this spring, and after last week’s conversation regarding Alastair Macaulay’s power trip of a review of NYCB, I got to thinking more and more about the blogger vs. critic theme.

As a culture, the internet has given literally anybody with an internet connection and a few fingers to type the ability to produce – whether it’s homemade videos on youTube, Photoshopped party pictures on Facebook, or snarky opinions on a blog. But just because everybody CAN have the means to create (and distribute) doesn’t necessarily allow them to stand their own in the online media ecosystem.

Speaking of dance criticism in particular, one critic noted that the internet has allowed almost any ballet fan to become a critic. Here’s where the fun part comes: what’s your definition of a critic?

I like food. I mean, I REALLY like food. I eat out in Manhattan way more than my budget tells me I should, and I grew up in a big, healthy Italian family where eating is the primary task of the day. I know next to nothing about food preparation or high cuisine, but I definitely have opinions about food. In fact I’m a very picky eater and only want the good stuff. So if I ramble on about how good or bad a particular restaurant was just from a single meal experience, does that make me a food critic? I have an opinion, I write it, I’m critical. A critic am I?

In reality, nobody would care to read why I didn’t like Famiglia’s pizza. And I certainly wouldn’t have any influence on their chef at hand.

My point is, one cannot simply “become” a critic just because they have the password to a Wordpress account.

A critic has an audience, a duty, a context within their field, a unique insight to offer, a reason to be writing, an INFORMED opinion, a respect from their readership. It doesn’t happen over night. One critic last summer at the DCA conference argued that it takes 20 years before you see enough to become a critic.

In the dance world, there are many many many balletomanes with vastly varying opinions about the different companies, dancers, and issues today. Some of them sound off on message boards or in everyday conversation, and no doubt word of mouth matters. But few – very few – are critics.

For the purposes of conversation, let’s just focus on the New York dance scene and critics. Of the relatively few dance blogs out there (I count maybe 8 worth reading) I’d say only two post performance reviews as regularly as a print publication would (ie. The NY Times, maybe the only one left with regular print coverage). Neither of these bloggers are compensated for their writing, so you might not term them “professional critics.” But I’d argue that they know what they’re talking about.

Those that have been successful have started from scratch, built their audiences on terms of honestly and intrigue, marketed themselves smartly, and spent probably more uncompensated time (and money on tickets) than they should have. Yes, they (we) do it because they enjoy it, but blogging is not for everybody who simply loves dance. It’s an unpaid career where gratification comes not from the check or the byline in black and white, but from sparking conversation amongst readers, a thank you note from an artist, or a quote or link from other respected websites.

Following a lead by Cedar Lake Dance in early 2008, dance companies have begun to include bloggers on their press lists, seeking reviews from a new source that is most certainly the future of dance writing. We can beg and hope the economy and the publishing industry will turn around (God knows I do, after just finishing my master’s degree in the seemingly obsolete field) but the truth is most of those fabulous print critics are critics no more. If they don’t cross that jagged line to blogger and send their thoughts to cyberspace readers, what more impact can they have on the arts?

I tumble somewhere between the two poles. I became a blogger and a paid print freelancer writer just about simultaneously, but by no means do I compare with the experts in either medium. I’ve been paid for online reviews, and I’ve been paid by a print publication for a review. I’ve written features for quite a few of the dance magazines, and I’ve established my own online readership (all for which I am extremely grateful).

It’s not really the fight for the title “critic” that bloggers are looking for, I don’t think. It’s more the acknowledgement of their writing and it’s importance to today’s evolving landscape of criticism – acknowledgement from dance companies and fellow dance writers. Their readers, no doubt, already value that.

I’m not saying we should lose all professional criticism, by any means. I have enormous respect for the great dance critics, the depth of their knowledge, and their admirable writing abilities. But there’s no need to ignore the new voices broadcasting their love of dance online.

Friday, March 6, 2009

...And Another One Gone

This kind of news seems so passe' now. But I just read that yet another dance critic has been cut, according to NAJP. Tobi Tobias was apparently let go from Bloomberg. It sounds like she was already only freelancing, so I wonder if their dance coverage has bitten the bullet completely?

The NAJP article calls for journalists to take a stand and fight for their jobs in this economy. I'm pretty sure we can all agree that, with the recession at large and the state of the publishing industry in general, the only future for this will be online. Interesting then that other critics already largely ousted from print don't like that prospect (the internet has become "a miasma of amateur expression"). It's an issue to consider...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Rundown on Dancing w/ David Byrne

Last weekend was just amazing.

When I finished the Radio City Christmas Spectacular on December 30, I cried during the last curtain call (and I NEVER cry!). The thought of not having that incredible view from that gigantic stage for at least a year (or potentially never again) was terrifying. Little did I know I'd be back so soon!

The prospect of dancing in David Byrne's sold out concert at Radio City as part of his world tour was exciting to me for all the wrong reasons, haha. Though I shouldn't admit it, I wasn't really familiar with his music by name before getting involved. I was just thrilled to have the chance to get backstage - onstage - again. And it turned out to be way more fun than expected!



When I found out they were looking for dancers, I was only told it would be a kick line to "Burning Down the House." The person who asked me to do it also invited several actual Rockettes to do it at the same time (note: I was in the ensemble of the Christmas Show, not a Rockette. I'm too short...) so I was anticipating a line of actual Rockettes with little 5 foot 3 me showing up to hopefully be thrown on the end. When I arrived at the first rehearsal at a ballroom dance studio in midtown last Thursday, it was a surprise to see such a variety of dancers - short, tall, younger, older, and even some guys (and only 1 real Rockette)!

In an email earlier that week we were requested to wear "head to toe white" to the first rehearsal. I emailed back more than once to confirm this detail, because I sure as heck didn't want to show up to dance glowing like a marshmallow if everyone else would be in normal bland dark dance clothes. Since I'm more of a black-wearing person myself, I had to run out the night before to search for cheap white clothes to wear - not an easy task in the heart of winter. After a time-and-energy-consuming trip to 34th street I only came up with white tights and a white headband. Luckily the morning of rehearsal I ran to another cheap store to find a shirt and white sneakers. I was not looking forward to wearing this getup.

I walked into studio early to find just a few other dancers stretching and coordinating their whites. With my bag stuffed from carrying both white clothes AND normal clothes just in case, I was relieved to see others had followed (odd) orders too. I put my stuff down in the corner and tried to get ready without dirtying my fresh clothes. More people filed in chattering and waving to friends from the very small New York dance world.

A few familiar faces walked in. "Hey, it's Taylor from ballet class!" the real Rockette K. said as she came in. I waved and smiled. Not two seconds later another girl stretching in white leaned over. "Are you the Taylor who knows C.?" Yes! He is the guy that graciously got me the opportunity, and apparently recruited her as well for it because they work together. We started talking and laughing immediately as the other 32 people filtered in the studio.


(my all white getup)

Promptly at 2:30pm, the company manager fellow who coordinated the rehearsal schedule got our attention and took attendance. He introduced the 3 main dancers who have been traveling on the regular tour, and the assistant choreographer who would teach us later.

Then David Byrne introduced himself. Familiar with him or not, right away I could tell he was amazing. His snowy white hair matched his own white outfit, and he spoke with a friendly smile.

Soon all 32 of us dancers were up and standing in a random line of shapes and sizes waiting to be organized into our real formation. I made my way to the very end of the line, 1) because I'm short and 2) it would be more comfortable to kick on the end rather than squished between 2 people, if I can help it. The asst. choreographer shuffled people around quickly, but I have yet to figure out the exact pattern he was trying to make. It wasn't your typical tall in the middle, short on the ends kind of line. It was something of a wave of heights, but even from the show pictures it's kind of indistinguishable. Anyway, at the last second he switched me two spots to my right. I became the third one in, no problem.

We introduced ourselves to our kick line neighbors (D. to my left and S. to my right) and immediately began learning choreography. It went quick. We stayed separated to learn the steps before we hooked up in the crowded line, which was good for individual learning but bad for space: we kept kicking each other by using different timing, haha. Oh well, we all figured it out eventually.

After day one all the steps were taught. Day two was spent cleaning up the details and organizing steps in the actual line (like whose elbow goes in front of whose when you're so close together). We also added on the beginning part where we actually ran onstage and did a "peel" to get to our places in line. It was complicated with so many people and took several repetitive tries, but it helped the choreography feel more natural and comfortable to do it over and over. It definitely makes you appreciate the organization of the real Rockettes and the planning of the Christmas Show in general (they had all that stage traffic figured out for us before we even came in the studio!). Everyone was in a very light mood and laughing throughout the work.

Also on the second day, the actual choreographer came to give helpful hints and David's backup singers came to fit into the stage puzzle. Everyone was so friendly! What a treat to work with people like that. We got to see how the full song ("Burning Down the House") would run, with David starting it and his main dancers doing their thing.



It's important to note that David Byrne himself was present for the entire process. It's great for the artist to be so fully involved in such a seemingly trivial aspect of his show. He sat out of the way in the corner during our kick learning and even took some pictures (I think? He was down the other end of the line but I thought I saw a camera at hand). Then when we fit the whole song together on day two he got up, played the air guitar as if it were real, and helped the choreographer with traffic issues. It was great and very collaborative!

The best part came the next two days: the shows! Returning to the stage door of Radio City felt so good. We had to stop at security to get stage door passes (very cool) before heading up to our dressing rooms. We stayed in the Rockette dressing rooms, which even after living at the theater for 2 months I still hadn't seen! They're great, and quite different from my dressing room as an ensemble member at Christmas. I was one of the first ones there, so I stole a prime mirror spot and unloaded my makeup and white "costume."



We had sound check before the show, so we gathered in the house while waiting for David to get to our part. Walking into the audience through the pass door from backstage again was...surreal. I got the chills. Twice before I've done that: when I was 7 or 8 and came to see the Christmas Show on a visit to the city with my parents, and when we had our first day of tech this year for the Christmas Show. It's overwhelmingly large and just...beautiful.




David's music was blasting and the lights were a blinding kaleidoscope across the ceiling and seats. Save for the few of us earlybirds, the house was empty. I moved to the center section and sat reveling. The bass was deafening. Nobody was near. I let out a fantastic scream for no reason, and it felt SO good. Slowly others came out to stretch, and soon the aisles were filled with splits and hamstring tugs. Peace is when you can lay down on the floor of the theater (pretending to be warming up) and close your eyes.

Before we knew it David called us all up onstage to map out our section. It was quick. The immediate wing area looked so different from what I was used to at Christmas, with no Rockette tour bus or ballerina bear heads or candy cane scenery. It was a bit disorienting with all of the music and speaker equipment cables running everywhere. I nearly tripped more than once (a big stash went right across the wing we were supposed to run on through!). But we staged our dance successfully and were released for dinner during the crew's break.

Being the overachiever that I am, instead of going to dinner or hanging around backstage, I ran a few blocks uptown to take barre of ballet class during the break. I needed a real warm up even though we didn't really dance that much. That way I could enjoy the concert beforehand instead of worrying about getting my legs prepared.

The first show was a blast. I put on makeup quickly and spent the entire concert dancing in the wings with everyone else. It was so loud back there and the lights were blinding since we were staring almost straight at them. But it was like one big party back there. Everyone was energized. The stagehands must have thought we were all crazy bouncing around for an hour and a half. But some remembered me from the Christmas Show, haha.

Towards the end we got our cue to get ready, and all 32 of us went back to get "tutu'd up." So funny. 32 dancers in overly-fluffy tutus dancing in the dark to muffled music as a warm up. It was a priceless image.

video

Actually dancing was amazing, of course. Since it was already his second encore, the audience was wild. Unlike the Christmas Show, the orchestra pit was filled with seats, the house lights were brighter, and the people were standing and shaking in excitement. When we came out there was a HUGE roar. And an even bigger one when we started to kick. What a rush! Our full dance time was probably less than a minute, but it was a minute of bliss. Everyone from the fourth balcony to the fans touching the stage was standing and screaming when we finished. It was great, we got a second to stand there and just look out while David introduced his choreographers. Oh, that view...

The second show was just as fun, with perhaps an even wilder crowd. From the wings we could get a glimpse of the first few rows of the audience. They looked like they were having the time of their lives with all of David's fantastic music. His main dancers were excellent, too (and so nice!). What energy. I think they felt like Radio City was something special, too.

After the show while waiting for the elevator up to the dressing room David and his crew passed. "Good job you guys! We'll see you later?" he exclaimed. I don't know how he could not be exhausted and grumpy after the high-powered show he just finished - I would be! Anywyay, we heard earlier that afternoon that we were invited to the after party in the lower lobby. Great that they included us. I stayed for just a few minutes before heading home from an incredible weekend.

What an honor to be part of something so much fun, and for getting paid for it! Sometimes life (especially in these gloomy winter months and this even gloomier recession) seems so mundane and dark, but it's so worth it to save up the average times for a single weekend of glamour. I am SO SO SO grateful to have had this opportunity and I can only hope to experience something like it again.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Few More David Byrne

Here's the last of the good ones from David Byrne's concert.
Vanity Fair wrote about the concert here, and describes our part around the 8th paragraph down. NY Times review of David's music is here.

I made a last minute brief trip home to Boston for a few days (just in time for this crazy snow!) and will write more about the fun of dancing in the concert later this week upon my return.





Sunday, March 1, 2009

Pics: Night 2 of David Byrne @ Radio City

Tonight was even crazier than last night!
So much fun.
Hope to blog more about it tomorrow. Til then, more pictures (and still more to come!)...
(in the group pics, i'm the 3rd from the right! and the other random one is from the party afterwards)




A Bite into NYCB

UPDATED: See Tonya's take on the article, and some more very insightful comments after this post.

Wow, Alastair was really harsh with this one. Whether you agree or not with everything he says, it boggles me that one person can have the power to say these things in basically the one print medium dance criticism has left. Ouch.

Video: David Byrne @ Radio City!

I LOVE the immediacy of the internet!

Someone posted this video of us last night. We come out about 3:28 in this video, and then in the big line I'm third from the right!