Subways Are For Dancing
(This is the first installment in a five-week series about choreographer Diego Funes' work on a NYC revival of the musical Subways Are For Sleeping. Stay tuned for more!)
Diego Funes discovers his best choreographic ideas riding the New York subways. With his i-Pod earbuds in his ears, he observes commuters as they bump, push, grind and sway to the syncopated rhythms of the city's underground trains. It's a natural laboratory for kinetic magic, and the inspiration for his urban contemporary style of making dance. Storytelling and emotion, he says, are at the core of his work. It's no surprise, then, that he's choreographing the first revival of the 1961 musical comedy Subways Are For Sleeping. It's a love story about a reporter who is assigned to write about a care-free group of people who live and work in the subway—and who ends up learning that there are many more ways to experience the world than she realized.
Diego has been experiencing the world from various perspectives all his life. Born in Argentina, he has also called Spain, Brazil, Tanzania, Israel, London and Rome home, and has lived intermittently in New York. A competitive gymnast until he was 15, his flexibility, athleticism and natural stage presence made him a natural when he tried his first ballet class in college at NYU. Hard work and determination won him a spot at the School of American Ballet and eventually contracts with the Cincinnati Ballet and Teatro dell' Opera di Roma. Worried that he may have started dancing too late in life to become a principal ballet dancer, he moved on to Broadway and musical theater tours, and then to television, music videos and concert tours with Aretha Franklin, Gloria Estefan and Geri Halliwell, among others.
For the past three years Diego has concentrated on teaching, directing his own dance company and choreographing in New York. His class has been a favorite among teenage students. "They tell me about their college plans and auditions, and ask me for advice," he says, "As their mentor, I feel I'm returning the favor for all the great mentors I had."
The first thing I notice about Diego as he teaches one of his open studio classes is that, clad in cargo pants and a t-shirt, he looks like a normal guy. But then he starts demonstrating. His powerful physicality plus his intense connection to the class converge in a unique combination that's fun to dance as well as watch. Elements of classical, modern, contemporary, hip hop, jazz and Limon sparkle through. "I love ballet. I admire technique," he says, "But I don't want to see it when you're dancing. You should have it but you shouldn't show it to me."
As for the choreography he is creating for Subways Are For Sleeping--"I'll have to be very minimalist, conceptual," he explains, "It's a tiny theater, and I'll have to tell the story with limited movement." Oh, yeah, kind of like dancing in the subway!
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!
Summer intensive auditions can be nerve-racking. A panel of directors is watching your every move, and you're not even sure if you can be seen among the hundreds of other dancers in the room. We asked five summer intensive directors for their input on how dancers can make a positive impression—and even be remembered next year.
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.
We always love a good halftime performance. And we LIVE for halftime performances involving talented kids. (Fingers and toes crossed that Justin Timberlake follows Missy Elliott's lead and invites some fabulous littles to share his Super Bowl stage.)
So obviously, our hearts completely melted for 5-year-old Tavaris Jones. Tavaris may have just started kindergarten, but during Monday night's game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, the Detroit native danced with the panache of a veteran pro at halftime.