Here’s a scenario: You’re in the studio, building strength, stretching, and working up to faster speeds. You repeat steps over and over again to ensure muscle memory and to improve your aesthetic line. You’re in peak physical condition and ready to tackle any choreography that comes your way. But what if that piece is a drama? What if the part demands more artistic interpretation than athletic gumption? Will you be ready?
In school, very few of us are exposed to the subtleties of acting. Instead we drill our exercises and try to master the newest, craziest trick that someone came across on YouTube. While it is important to focus on technique, it is just as important to think about how to portray a character. For example, how can physicality enhance your emotion? How can you suck the audience into your story and make them feel something?
Suggestion #1: Pop in a video of Carla Fracci dancing “Giselle” and study, frame by frame, her brilliant mad scene. Though the images on screen might be fuzzy and dated, watch how she slowly loses her mind. She does it with such sincerity and uninhibited conviction—you can’t help but believe her!
Suggestion #2: Talk to yourself. At the beginning of a rehearsal process, it always helps me to speak the pantomime (if there is any) and to actually say what I’m feeling with each step. If you don’t make sense to yourself, the audience will be confused too. When I danced Kenneth MacMillan’s “The Invitation,” Lynn Seymour made me scream at the top of my lungs as I ran across the studio to my partner. It took me about 20 tries to muster up the courage, but I finally understood her purpose—you can’t be authentic without fully experiencing the moment.
Suggestion #3: Pay attention to your hands! Our fingers tend to be the most neglected extremities. Clench them in a fist to show anger, fiddle with the hem of your costume if you’re nervous, hold them limp if you’re about to surrender yourself…the possibilities are endless.
Suggestion #4: Use the mirror, and then forget about it. Try practicing different facial expressions and gestures in front of your reflection to see what other people will see—what feels over the top to you might barely register with the audience. Once you feel comfortable with your choices, work on expressing yourself from the inside out. Always remember that natural emotion is a million times better than forced, painted-on looks.
Given the choice, I’d almost always dance a dramatic role. It is the perfect opportunity to explore a character, make it my own, and then lose myself in the action. But I’m not suggesting that artistic interpretation should take the place of polished technique! The two are meant to enhance one another, to raise the performance to higher level. An evil Black Swan is mediocre without her 32 fouette turns just as a technically beautiful Juliet will disappoint if she has no passion. But if you can achieve both, you’ll find that you and the audience are transported to an entirely different reality. Dramatically speaking, of course!
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!