What would you do if someone handed you a check for $10,000? Go on a Paris shopping spree? Buy a new car? Or follow your dreams all the way to Israel to learn a whole new approach to dancemaking and movement?
Doug Letheren, 23, opted for the last. Fresh out of New York’s Juilliard School, he has already been singled out by dance players like Mikhail Baryshnikov. Last spring, Baryshnikov nominated Doug to receive a Movado Future Legends Award, given annually to four young artists with extraordinary promise. With the honor, Doug received a $10,000 check. Now this dynamic dancer with a poetic soul is using his award to push himself as an artist.
Doug grew up in Manchester, NH. At 7, he took his first dance class—a funk, MC Hammer–style class for boys—and instantly felt at home. He continued dancing when he went to the prestigious St. Paul’s boarding school in Concord, NH. Doug spent his junior year training at the Conservatoire Nationale de la Region in Rennes, France, and came back ready to audition for Juilliard.
He impressed his Juilliard teachers from the start. “He’s an extremely charismatic performer with the potential to become a major artist in dance,” says Lawrence Rhodes, director of the school’s dance division. While he was still a sophomore, Doug was one of a handful of dancers selected to perform in Baryshnikov’s Hell’s Kitchen Dance. He also performed with the Public Dance Theatre—now called Borderline Dance Circle—a company that wants to bring dance to impoverished communities. One month-long trip with PDT, to teach and perform in Peru, helped shape Doug’s perspective on dance.
“We went into a Lima ghetto,” he says. “It was a real shanty-town with dusty shacks made out of garbage. During the last performance, we were dead tired, but giving it our all.” At that moment, he realized dance was meant to be shared, that it could have a larger impact.
Hoping to develop the vision and skill to make a difference, Doug decided to go to Israel to dance with the Batsheva Dance Ensemble. Not only will he be mentored by artistic director Ohad Naharin (one of his heroes), he’ll also choreograph. (Batsheva provides its dancers with whatever they need to carry out their visions.)
Doug wants to keep following his heart. “Dance, in many ways, is an education, an outreach program,” he says. “It can be a mirror that makes you feel and think. And that can inspire change.”
Much of Janelle Ginestra's career has been about helping others shine. She's dedicated herself to supporting and cheerleading her partner, WilldaBeast Adams; the emerging talents in their dance company, ImmaBEAST; and the countless dancers she inspires at master classes and conventions. Her YouTube channel has become a launching pad for young talents like "Fraternal Twins" Larsen Thompson and Taylor Hatala, thanks to viral videos featuring Ginestra's creative vision.
But Ginestra's a skyrocketing success in her own right—an in-demand choreographer, a social media influencer, and a dance entrepreneur, building a legacy one eight-count at a time. It's time for her turn in the spotlight. And she's more than ready. "I want to be a legend in whatever I do," she says. We'd argue that she already is.
Daphne Lee is a queen, and not just in the "OMG Girl Boss Alert" sense of the word. She's an actual queen—a beauty queen. Crowned Miss Black USA in August, she's been doing double duty as she continues to dance with the Memphis based dance company, Collage Dance Collective. Lee's new title has given her the means to encourage other black girls and boys to pursue their dreams, while also pursuing dreams of her own. The scholarship money awarded with the pageant title will assist her as she earns a Masters of Fine Arts degree at Hollins University.
When a choreographer finds a composer whose music truly inspires her, it can feel like a match made in dance heaven. Some choreographers work with the same composers so frequently that they become known for their partnerships. New York City Ballet soloist and resident choreographer Justin Peck, for example, has tapped composer Sufjan Stevens numerous times (last spring, the two premiered The Decalogue at NYCB, to rave reviews); L.A. Dance Project's Benjamin Millepied's working relationship with composer Nico Muhly has spanned a decade and two continents; and when tap dancer Michelle Dorrance premiered the first-ever Works & Process Rotunda Project, a site-specific work for New York City's Guggenheim Museum, last year, percussionist Nicholas Van Young was by her side as an equal partner. Successful collaborations require compatibility between artists, direct and honest communication, and flexible, open minds. But when the stars align, working with a composer can be extremely rewarding.
For ballerinas, it's the dream role to end all dream roles: Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, the type of part dancers spend years preparing for and whole careers perfecting. And it's a role that New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck never thought she'd dance. Though Peck is one of the world's preeminent ballerinas, her short stature made Odette/Odile, typically performed by longer, leggier dancers, seem (almost literally) out of reach.
Then—surprise!—her name popped up on the cast list for NYCB's fall season run of Swan Lake.
Lani Dickinson's power, grace, and raw presence make her a standout with AXIS Dance Company, whose mission is to change the face of dance and disability by featuring a mix of disabled and non-disabled performers. Born in China, Dickinson was adopted by an American couple and started dancing at 8 in Towson, MD. She attended the Boston Ballet School for two summers, studied at the Idyllwild Arts Academy for the last two years of high school, and graduated with a dance degree from Alonzo King LINES Ballet's BFA program with Dominican University of California. In 2015, she joined AXIS and won a Princess Grace Award. Catch her this month during AXIS Dance Company's 30th-anniversary season—and read on for The Dirt!