Dancers Celebrate the Subway and All of Its...Charm
If you live in a city, you probably understand the struggle that comes with public transportation. Sure, you can get pretty much anywhere on the cheap, but you also never know how long it might take—or what grossness you might encounter along the way. (Just a hint, NYC newbs: The subway is not the best place to clip your nails.)
Many times, though, subway rides can be pretty fun, especially when the car is suddenly taken over by a mariachi band or a hip-hop dance crew. I've even experienced a magic act, complete with a top-hatted magician, a live bird and disappearing/reappearing underwear. I'm serious.
Jamie Benson in Party to Go, created for last year's PLATFORM (Photo by Marc A. Hermann/MTA NYC Transit, courtesy Benson)
Looking at subway happenings is the idea behind PLATFORM, an arts initiative by the New York Transit Museum that presents a series of cross-disciplinary performances inspired by commuting. Choreographer Jamie Benson and his Shakedown Dance Collective are participating in this season's PLATFORM on Wednesday, April 1. I spoke with Benson ahead of the performance.
Have you always been an NYC commuter?
I moved from L.A. to NYC a few years ago. I wanted to explore my "quirk" as a choreographer a little more, and I feel that in NYC, quirk is more respected than it is in L.A.
You've made a few other pieces inspired by mass transit. What interests you about commuting?
I'm fascinated by haphazard, or accidental, communities that get created when a big cross-section of humanity is in a tiny space. I love exploring what happens when people who wouldn’t normally ever be together are thrown together. That tension propels our understanding of a city, or just life in general.
How did you create Third Rail, your piece for PLATFORM?
I sent out an online survey to collect transit stories from the public. I asked a few questions about people's experiences, and I'm taking some of those moments and adapting them for dance. So it's a series overlapping moments inspired by real-life transit stories.
I imagine you got some crazy stories.
Some were pretty outrageous. There was a lot of people getting hit and hitting—both intentionally and unintentionally. There were stories about vomiting, and one about someone dressed as Jesus. But some moments were really touching, like when a punk kid falls asleep on an elderly woman's shoulder and everyone smiles.
Of course, there's also #manspreading involved. Take a look at this short preview of Benson's work in rehearsal, and visit his website and the New York Transit Museum's site for details and ticket info.
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.
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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.
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