How do you sum up an evening that includes performances of stage-shaking passion; heartfelt speeches that make you laugh and then make you ugly cry; and an inescapable sense of beautiful, joyful, warm-and-fuzzy #dancerlove?
You can do it the way legendary Merce Cunnigham dancer Valda Setterfield did it last night: By declaring that there's nothing better than being in a room full of dancers, whom she called the world's bravest, most generous souls. (Not too shabby.) Or you can do it in six words: Welcome to the Dance Magazine Awards.
Last night's ceremony marked the DM Awards' 61st anniversary, and this year's crop of honorees included luminaries from all corners of the dance world. None other than Mikhail Baryshnikov graced the stage to present the evening's first award to Karen Kain, one of the National Ballet of Canada's loveliest ballerinas and now its artistic director. Kain was one of the first people Baryshnikov met after he defected from Russia, and the two have kept up a beautiful friendship for decades—though Baryshnikov lamented in his speech that he was too short to ever dance with her. (That honor went, instead, to slouches like Rudolf Nureyev.)
Baryshnikov and Kain: BFFLs.
Also representing #teamballet was honoree Marcelo Gomes, the gorgeous American Ballet Theatre principal and choreographer who charms the heck out of both audiences and his adoring ballerinas. We were treated to a pas de deux from Gomes' recent premiere for ABT, AfterEffect—lushly danced by Cassandra Trenary and Thomas Forster—that put Gomes' deep understanding of the intricacies of partnering on display. And recently retired ABT star Julie Kent made a sweetly teary speech in which she noted that even babies "immediately feel safe in Marcelo's arms, just as I do." D'awwwwww.
Kent in her safe place
Setterfield (wearing the world's most amazing plaid pantsuit ensemble) paid tribute to David Vaughan, a dancer who basically invented the job of "dance archivist" and has served in that role for Merce Cunningham's company since 1976. Now 91, Vaughan shows zero signs of slowing down: In his lovely acceptance speech, he talked about the fact that his old friend, dance artist Pepper Fajans, had convinced him to return to the stage next month. May we all be that awesome in our tenth decade.
We saw a vividly drawn excerpt from honoree Jawole Willa Jo Zollar's Walking with 'Trane—a musing on John Coltrane's legacy—performed by Zollar's company, Urban Bush Women, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Zollar spoke movingly about the fact that reaching a "point of stability" in one's career was actually a bad sign: On a heart monitor, ups and downs indicate a pulse, while death is a stable flatline. She urged everyone to embrace life's natural rises and falls—though now, she added, whenever she's feeling low, she can look at her Dance Magazine Award and say, "Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, you are a bada**." FACT.
The highlight of highlights for me, though, was watching flamenco virtuosa Soledad Barrio blaze through Solea, accompanied by three masterful musicians (and the "Olés!" of the appreciative crowd). Tattooing the stage with her heels, slicing the air with her arms, searing our souls with the depth of her passion, Barrio illustrated exactly what the DM Awards are all about (Charlie Brown): honoring the most extraordinary of extraordinary dance artists, the people whose brilliance is life-enhancing and life-affirming and, sometimes, life-changing.
Check out video highlights from the awards here:
Well, this is one of the best ways we can think of to celebrate International Women's Day!
The wonderful Julie Kent—former American Ballet Theatre principal and, odds are, one of your all-time ballerina idols—has just been named artistic director of The Washington Ballet. And it's a family affair: Kent's husband, fellow former ABT principal and longtime ABT associate artistic director Victor Barbee, will join her at TWB as associate artistic director.
(Kent photographed by Ken Browar and Deborah Ory/NYC Dance Project)
Why is that a brilliant move? One, because Kent—who danced with ABT for 29 years, longer than any other company member—has a profoundly deep knowledge of ballet. In addition to being an exceptional performer, she's a gifted teacher and coach; she has a lot of wisdom to share. Two, because the ballet world desperately needs more women in leadership roles. And there are few more natural leaders than the ballerina we've collectively looked up to for so many years.
So, what changes do Kent and Barbee have in store for TWB? Will the company take on more of the large classical works that ABT is known for? Will its school adopt ABT's National Training Curriculum? It's not clear yet (though there's a press conference at noon today that may answer some of those questions). But we're excited to see what's next.
Congratulations, Julie—and happy #IWD2016, everybody!
Julie Kent has danced with American Ballet Theatre for 30 years. That's an impressive career in any context, but it's especially impressive in the world of ballet, where dancers are subject to the whims of their fabulous but frequently fickle bodies.
And Kent isn't just any ballerina. For a whole generation of dancers and dance lovers, she's the ballerina. Who didn't grow up idolizing her? She's Kathleen Donahue from Center Stage. She's the star of that glorious production of Le Corsaire that used to air on PBS every five minutes. If you've been lucky enough to see her live, you know that she's even more luminous onstage than she is onscreen; her willowy frame and beautiful face are made for the spotlight.
Kent will take her final bow with ABT tomorrow night, dancing Juliet in Romeo and Juliet (oh, lord, get those tissues ready) at NYC's Metropolitan Opera House. To help us brace ourselves for that blow, Vanity Fair just published "4 Lessons Learned from a Prima Ballerina," in which Kent shares some of the considerable wisdom she's acquired over the course of her career. One of the highlights is a poetic "merde" note from legend Natalia Makarova—"Someone once said that beauty could save the world. What a great responsibility you have"—that has become a kind of career philosophy for Kent.
There's also this incredible drawing of Kent wearing a dress composed of all the ballets she's performed:
By Michael Arthur, based on a photograph by Roy Round
Click here to read the whole story. And while Kent's farewell performance is, naturally, sold out, the magical internet does have several clips of her dancing Romeo and Juliet. I'd suggest watching the video below—of Kent and Roberto Bolle in the iconic balcony pas de deux—around 9 pm tomorrow, when Kent will actually be dancing it, one last time, at the Met.
So, remember when New York City Ballet honored designer Valentino at a big gala that was attended by a gazillion movie stars, and it was awesome?
Well, American Ballet Theatre just announced the details of its Metropolitan Opera House gala this May, and it sounds like it's going to be equally glittery. Yay!
Providing the high-fashion connection is Christian Dior Couture, which is sponsoring ABT's gala. No word yet on whether or not that'll involve designing costumes for the ballets performed, but hey, at the least our favorite ballerinas will probably be decked out in some gorgeous Dior gowns at the dinner afterwards.
And what high-wattage stars will be attending? Honorary chairs Caroline Kennedy and Blaine Trump, for starters. But take a look at this honorary committee list: Kim Cattrall, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Stacy Keibler, Lea Michele, Kelly Rutherford, Zoë Saldaña, Ashlee Simpson, Aaron Sorkin, Stephanie Szostak and Uma Thurman. Straight A-list.
Finally, of course, there are the stars us nerds care about most: the company's principal dancers! And the gala cast list is enough to make your knees weak: Roberto Bolle, Herman Cornejo, Irina Dvorovenko, Marcelo Gomes, David Hallberg, Paloma Herrera, Julie Kent, Gillian Murphy, Natalia Osipova, Veronika Part, Xiomara Reyes, Polina Semionova, Hee Seo, Daniil Simkin, Cory Stearns, Ivan Vasiliev and Diana Vishneva. We haven't heard what they'll be dancing yet, but frankly even if they all just came out and stood next to each other onstage we'd be happy.
See you on the red carpet on May 13! Or, uh, no, we probably won't be walking the red carpet. But we'll definitely be stalking it. Close enough!
Tonight CBS broadcasts the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors—and one of the honorees is a true ballet legend.
There are many incredible ballerinas dancing today, but nobody can ever quite measure up to Natalia Makarova. She first rose to fame at the Kirov Ballet in the 1960s, but after she defected from the USSR in 1970, she became an international superstar. Though she's tiny and delicate, she nevertheless had a steely technique and a huge, passionately dramatic presence onstage. A frequent partner of fellow stars Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolph Nureyev, she captivated audiences around the world.
But you don't have to take my word for it. Here she is showing off her exquisite control and dramatic sweep in Odette's variation, from a 1980 performance of Swan Lake:
And to give you a sense of not only her formidable technique, but also her sly sense of humor, here's a clip from the 1985 documentary In a Class of Her Own, in which Makarova narrates footage of herself in ballet class—mercilessly.
We can't wait to see Makarova celebrated tonight— especially since the ceremony (taped a few weeks ago) features performances by a slew of current ballet stars, including Alina Cojocaru, David Hallberg, Tiler Peck, Angel Corella, Julie Kent, Marcelo Gomes and Veronika Part. Tune into CBS tonight at 9/8 c to watch all that awesomeness.
And for those of you who just can't wait: Here's a sampler of classic Makarova photos. Enjoy!
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Last night I attended the second annual Bright Lights, Shining Stars gala benefiting the New York City Dance Alliance Foundation. We were told the event would be star-studded—and it sure was.
While DS managing editor Rachel Zar was positively giddy about standing in the lobby next to a Real Housewife (Ramona Singer), I was more excited to see some familiar faces in the crowd, like former Cover Model Search winner (and one of my favorite dancers of all-time) Ida Saki, Joey Dowling, Andy Blankenbuehler and Jakob Karr.
As always, I do my best thinking in list form, so here are 5 Reasons Bright Lights, Shining Stars Was a Hit:
1. It helped kids go to college. Since its inception just two years ago, the New York City Dance Alliance Foundation has awarded more than $5 million in college scholarships to more than 100 dancers. This is huge. Many dancers aren't sure if they want to go to college (do it!), and some aren't in a financial position to attend. NYCDAF helps with that, and it's so incredible to watch executive director Joe Lanteri bring a talented young dancer onstage and tell her she's getting a full ride into the life of higher education (hello, Montana Michniak). Lives change, and we get to watch it happen. It's awesome. (You heard me when I said go to college, right? Great.) It's especially fun for us because our sister publication, Dance Magazine, is one of the foundation's gold sponsors!
I only teared up once last night, and it was when Utah comp kid Mattie Love spoke to the audience, thanking everyone for coming and for helping her get to college. Thanks to the foundation, she just took her first class as a freshman at Marymount Manhattan College. Too cool. And congratulations, Mattie! We hope you have a rockin' first year.
2. It was like Dance Spirit's competition issue come to life! Logan Epstein! Noelle Meers! Alexia Meyer! Alyssa Ness! Hannah Seiden! Teeny tiny Kayla Mak! All the cool kids you read about after Nationals each year were onstage performing as NYCDAF scholarship recipients. They danced choreography by Andy Pellick and you could tell they were loving every minute of the stress-free performance. No judges! No scores! No pressure.
3. Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Natalia Alonso, will you be my best friend? The two pieces by Complexions—Testament and On Holiday—were so stunning and were definitely my favorites of the evening.
4. Julie Kent! Julie Kent is the epitome of a prima ballerina. She's lithe and lovely and sweet spoken in a way that makes me hold my breath a little while she's talking. The American Ballet Theatre principal delivered a wonderful speech about honoree Mikhail Baryshnikov, talking about how he hand-picked her to be in the film Dancers and, ultimately, to join ABT. I especially loved one quote that she shared with the crowd from Mr. Baryshnikov himself: "It's not what you did, but how you did it." Kind of makes you want to go do something really full-out doesn't it?
5. Misha and Liza. It's hard to imagine a cooler duo, isn't it? The standing ovation when these two got onstage lasted longer than Kim Kardashian's marriage (sorry, had to go there). So Mikhail Baryshnikov (affectionately known in the dance world as simply "Misha") was awarded NYCDAF's Ambassador of the Arts award, and Liza Minnelli got to hand it over to him. She was so sweet talking up her friend, and she referred to Misha as "my honey," which just about made me melt. She called him "the greatest ballet dancer the world has ever known." Misha, upon receiving the award, was humble and without a speech. He did, however, imply that he would like his next honor to be Czar of the Arts. We're on board.
All in all it was a fun, heartwarming night at NYU's Skirball Center for the Arts. Congratulations, Mikhail Baryshnikov, on your fancy new title and thank you for the endless inspiration.
(L to R) Devant (pointed), devant (wrapped) and relaxed (Erin Baiano)
Sur le cou-de-pied (French for “on the neck of the foot”) can be so confusing. Sometimes it’s wrapped. Sometimes it’s not wrapped. Sometimes it’s relaxed; other times, fully pointed. You’ll probably be asked to do all of its various versions at some point in your ballet career. But how can you keep them all straight? And how do you know when to use which type? Read on to learn the sur le cou-de-pied basics.
Here are the four basic sur le cou-de-pied positions:
• Devant (pointed). Point the working foot and touch its little toe to the front of the standing leg just above the ankle bone.
• Devant (wrapped). Wrap the working foot around the standing leg’s ankle, with the heel forward and the toes back.
• Derrière. Touch the working leg’s ankle bone to the back of the standing leg’s ankle bone, with the working foot’s toes pointed.
• Relaxed. Relax the ankle of the working foot and touch its heel to the standing leg, just above the ankle bone.
How They’re Used
American Ballet Theatre’s Julie Kent demonstrates sur le cou-de-pied derrière in Les Sylphides. (Marty Sohl)
How and when you use sur le cou-de-pied varies from style to style. The Russian school uses a wrapped foot for frappé and petits battements, for example, while the French and Italian schools use a relaxed ankle for frappé. Most styles begin développés with a wrapped sur le cou-de-pied, but in Russian technique the toe comes up the front or back of the standing leg, while in the French and Italian styles it continues up the side of the standing leg.
Teachers usually have preferences about when each position should be used. But if it’s permitted, experiment with the different variations of sur le cou-de-pied to see which work best on your body. Some of them have benefits you might not expect. If you’re not a great jumper, for example, try using a relaxed ankle during frappé exercises on flat. The relaxed ankle makes the metatarsals and toes work as you brush against the floor. “It activates those muscles so that when you jump, you’re using the lower foot to really point in the jump,” says Raymond Lukens, a teacher in the pre-professional division at The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre. The extra bit of point from the lower foot will add height to your jump, as well as polish to your line.
You can also use sur le cou-de-pied to help present your legs and feet. “If you’re stepping up to sous-sus, go through that scooping around the ankle joint before you step forward,” says Sarah Van Patten, a principal at San Francisco Ballet. “It adds a pretty little flourish—the foot comes up and around, rather than just lifting off the floor.”
Figuring out how to work the foot in sur le cou-de-pied can be tricky, especially when you go away to a summer course and find that it’s used differently than the way you were taught. As a student, it’s to your advantage to learn all uses of the position—not just because you’ll be more versatile, but because doing so will help you gain strength in your feet and ankles and learn about maintaining alignment. “If you only work with a wrap,” Lukens says, “you won’t extend the foot fully and develop flexibility in the ankle. On the other hand, a dancer who works mostly in the pointed variations might end up sickling her feet.”
“It’s important to be versatile,” adds Kara Zimmerman of the Joffrey Ballet. “As dancers we need to be able to adapt quickly so we can be ready for whatever is asked of us.” Though it may feel confusing, practicing frappés with a relaxed ankle one day and a wrapped foot the next can only help you. Training that way will improve your versatility.
Sur le cou-de-pied is not a position you’re typically in for a long time. But a transition step is as important as any other. “Doing it well,” Zimmerman adds, “can be the difference between a clean, refined dancer and a sloppy dancer.”