It's spring! It's spring! It's finally, finally spring!
Actually, it's 40 degrees and rainy here in NYC (womp). But the spring signifier that REALLY matters to me and my fellow bunheads is the kickoff of ballet season—and that happened last night, aka opening night at New York City Ballet.
Over the next couple of months, both NYCB and American Ballet Theatre will be performing at Lincoln Center. (For a few weeks they'll even be there simultaneously, right across the plaza from each other. Eee!) But every year the NYCBers get the ballet party started first—and do they ever know how to start a party.
NYCB's big glittery spring gala, the event that brings out A-list celebrities in their A-game finery, isn't until next Thursday. (This year's gala also includes a premiere by the wonderful Justin Peck—check back here next week for more on that.) And yet the theater last night was filled not only with amazing dancing, but also with some pretty amazing celebs.
Why, you ask? First of all, because ballet is the coolest. But also because last night's program included the premiere of French artist JR's first-ever dance work, which starred none other than jookin' sensation Lil Buck.
Lil Buck—no Photoshop required. (Photo via JR's Instagram)
Titled Les Bosquets, the piece brought together fantastic costumes (including a pretty amazing paper tutu), music by French music phenom Woodkid, and choreography—dreamed up by JR with an assist from NYCB artistic director Peter Martins—that had Lil Buck and NYCB soloist Lauren Lovette swimming in a surging sea of corps dancers. (The whole thing was inspired by JR's experiences during the 2005 Paris riots.)
Bows after the premiere of "Les Bosquets." THEY'RE WATCHING YOU! (photo via JR's Instagram)
The dance featured some fascinating moments, including the opening sequence, which had men carrying women as if they were guns. And in the audience cheering on the project were both the fabulous Janelle Monáe and—wait for it—Madonna. Madonna!
After recovering from starstruck shock, I realized that Lil Buck has danced for both divas. How great is it that they came out to support their friend? And both stayed for, and seemed to enjoy, the rest of the program, which included Alexei Ratmansky's incredible Namouna: A Grand Divertissement. Have Lil Buck and JR made ballet converts of them? Here's hoping.
Speaking of Lil Buck being awesome, did you see him over on Vogue.com yesterday? I'll leave you with their haunting video of him doing what he does best. And ballet peoples, if you're in or around New York, get yourself to Lincoln Center, STAT!
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.
But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?
Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.