We love how creative ballet companies have been getting with their promotional videos recently. The latest company to eschew the traditional (and kind of stale) beautiful-shots-of-beautiful-dancers-dancing route? San Francisco Ballet. Not that its new short film—a teaser for SFB dancer and choreographer Myles Thatcher's upcoming premiere, Ghost in the Machine—doesn't include tons of gorgeous dancing. But rather than asking us to simply admire gifted bodies, director Ezra Hurwitz asks us to consider the creation of the work from Thatcher's perspective.
When dancers audition for Paul Taylor Dance Company, they’re often thrown by one particular request: to walk across the studio by themselves. “Paul can see a lot about a
Michelle Fleet (center) and Company in Paul Taylor's Also Playing (photo by Paul B. Goode, courtesy PTAMD)
person by the way they walk,” says Michelle Fleet, a veteran Taylor dancer. “But many people get cut at that point, because they’re terrified—a walk can be so revealing.”
What is it about walking and running that makes even the most talented dancers clam up? These pedestrian actions seem so simple (we do them every day!), but they’re tough to get right in front of an audience. And they’re important, too: Whether you’re strutting through
the commercial scene, running in pointe shoes or stepping out on Broadway, how you walk and run can say a lot about you and the character you’re portraying. Here are the experts’ tricks for keeping these “natural” movements looking, well, natural.
Don’t Overdo It
Walking and running are such basic movements, it’s easy for dancers to overdo them, adding dance-world mannerisms—overly pointed feet, exaggerated arm swings—that end up looking affected. “Don’t be tempted to make a walk or run too dance-y,” says Ryan Ramirez, a commercial dancer and “So You Think You Can Dance” alum. “Choreographers often put runs and walks into dances because they want to show humanness or vulnerability. A simple run is powerful because everyone, not just dancers, can connect to it.”
Ballet dancers in particular tend to have a hard time with simple walks and runs, since they’re trained to stay super–turned-out and maintain a high demi-pointe. But those restrictions can make you look stiff. Make a conscious effort to let them go. “I have to remind myself to bend my knees a little bit, and to take bigger, easier steps,” says San Francisco Ballet principal Dores André.
Use Intention and Imagery
Pedestrian steps are valuable tools because they can speak volumes about the kind of character you’re trying to portray, or quickly communicate a particular attitude onstage. Big, slow struts, for example, show a sense of command; tiny, fast runs demonstrate a sense of urgency, or a spritely personality.
San Francisco Ballet in Jerome Robbins' Glass Pieces (photo by Erik Tomasson, courtesy SFB)
Think about why you’re walking or running. Are you running away from someone? Walking onstage to start a variation? The right intention will help guide your movements and make them feel more natural. “If you have no purpose, that’s when the steps start to look flat and stop saying anything,” says David Bushman, dance captain for Chicago on Broadway. “Clarify your intention so you have the correct energy.”
If it’s a joyous run, for example, think about everyday situations in which you might actually run joyfully. “Remember what it feels like to run on the playground,” Fleet suggests. “Your chest is open and free, like you’re feeling the light of the sun shining on you.” Or maybe the mood of the piece is darker, and you want to look like you’re slogging through mud, hunched over and curving your back. Real-world metaphors will help you capture the feel of real-world movements.
Find Your Own Style
Remember that there’s no “textbook” way to walk or run onstage. These movements should look different on everyone, and finding a signature way of doing them will help you establish your identity as a dancer. “When you see someone walk on the street, you see their personality,” André says. “It should be like that onstage, too.”
Watch other people—not necessarily dancers!—who have an interesting or singular way of running and walking, and study the components that make up the whole. Film yourself walking or running around the studio, so you can identify your own natural movement patterns. Figure out what it is about your gait that makes you look like you. Above all, don’t neglect your walks and runs, however worried you may be about the difficult turn sequence that follows them. They’re not “filler”—they deserve as much scrutiny as any other step. “Nowadays, everyone is caught up in technique and tricks,” Fleet says, “but it’s just as important to have the basics, like walking and running, and to be able to do them well.”
Top Troubleshooting Tips!
- Be aware of your entire body.
“Maybe you have an arm that’s dangling instead of being still. Don’t let one component betray the whole picture,” says David Bushman, dance captain of Chicago on Broadway.
- Never mark a run or walk.
“If you don’t do it full-out in rehearsal, it’ll show onstage,” says San Francisco Ballet principal Dores André. “It’s not a break from the dancing—it’s part of the dancing!”
- Be thoughtful, but don’t overanalyze.
“Know what you’re trying to accomplish and work on it, then let it go,” says Paul Taylor dancer Michelle Fleet. “Sometimes we get into trouble when we overthink things.”
Looking for some dance inspiration? Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is beaming no fewer than FOUR works, including the beloved classic Revelations, to a movie theater near you this Thursday, October 22!
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Linda Celeste Sims in Wayne McGregor's Chroma. Photo by Paul Kolnik
In addition to Revelations, theatergoers and dance lovers alike will also get the chance to view Chroma by Wayne McGregor, Grace by Ronald K. Brown and Takeademe by Robert Battle, AAADT's artistic director.
This screening is part of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ exciting new cinema series, Lincoln Center at the Movies: Great American Dance, which also includes performances from San Francisco Ballet, Ballet Hispanico and New York City Ballet. Check out the news section of our November issue for more info.
To purchase tickets, visit fathomevents.com or participating theater box offices.
Gap has featured plenty of mainstream celebrities in past ads. (Remember that adorable Claire Danes khaki commercial?) But we're especially excited about its fall ad campaign this year, because it highlights a couple of familiar dance faces: "jookin'" star Lil' Buck and San Francisco Ballet's Yuan Yuan Tan.
Called Shine, the marketing campaign recognizes "emerging artists and musicians that inspire people creatively to make their mark on the world," according to the company's chief marketing officer. (Not sure if we'd call Tan, a veteran SFB principal, "emerging," but she's definitely inspiring!) Also on the lineup are musicians Karmin, Lia Ices, the Avett Brothers, Kaki King and Nicki Bluhm.
In addition to appearing in ads in a bunch of national magazines—we found Tan in the September issue of Women's Health!—the group will be showcased in videos and how-to tutorials on Gap's social media outlets. Check out this clip of a Gap-clad Li'l Buck, who's currently the star of the Gap Facebook page, showing off his (crazy amazing) skills:
The New York City Ballet soloist's first work for San Francisco Ballet, In the Countenance of Kings, is set to debut on April 7. #TeamBallet is excited about this one, and for good reason: It features a score by Sufjan Stevens, with whom Peck seems to have an especially powerful chemistry. (See exhibits A and B.)
Curious as we are about what Peck will do with Stevens' cinematic melodies this time—and about how he'll use the talented SFB dancers, a brand-new pool of muses? Or just looking for an especially lovely way to kick off the weekend? Then you'll want to watch the short film SFB released yesterday. Shot by dance filmmaker Ezra Hurwitz and set in a cavernous abandoned train station, it features sneaker-clad company dancers looking especially free as they blaze through Peck's choreography. (Or maybe, as a clever framing device implies, the whole thing is a dream, swirling in the head of principal Dores André.) It's dynamic and joyful and gives us a solid sneak peek at the goodies Peck and Stevens have in store for SFB audiences.
Happy Friday, bunheads!
(Photo by Erik Tomasson, courtesy SFB)
Isabella DeVivo is taking the ballet world by storm: During her first year as a San Francisco Ballet corps member, she danced featured roles in Alexei Ratmansky’s From Foreign Lands and Liam Scarlett’s Hummingbird. Before joining SFB in 2013, she studied dance at the School of American Ballet in NYC and was a San Francisco Ballet School trainee. DeVivo has also performed with New York City Ballet, and appeared in the Broadway production of Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life in 2006. Want to know more? Read on for The Dirt.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A geologist! Honestly, I owe it to the TV show "Dragon Tales." I was on the hunt for a magical rainbow stone of my own.
What's your dream role?
I'd love to perform the role of Kitri, but the principal in George Balanchine's Square Dance is a dream as well.
What can always make you laugh?
A good fall! (As long as no one got hurt.)
What's your favorite costume?
The costume for Myles Thatcher's ballet, Manifesto. The designer Mark Zappone made me feel like I was the winner of "America's Next Top Model."
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Filling in for Maria Kochetkova during a Saturday night performance of Alexei Ratmansky's From Foreign Lands. It was the first month of my first season with San Francisco Ballet.
What was your most embarrassing moment onstage?
After performing the principal in Parrish Maynard's Light Lime, I slipped running out for the final bow. The bow. Really?!
When you need a boost of inspiration, what do you watch?
Sofiane Sylve in the YouTube video "Super Pirouette." Perfection does indeed exist.
Who is your dance role model?
Frances Chung, an extraordinary principal with SFB, because she embodies just about everything you'd dream of.
It's Mother's Day weekend—which means it's a good time to remember that every mom is, basically, a superhero. Being a mom requires incredible strength and patience and all kinds of other superpowers.
But ballerina moms? Ballerina moms are simultaneously superheroes and fairy princesses. They somehow balance the demands of momdom with a physically strenuous job—one that asks them to transform themselves onstage every night. Doing all that requires not just superhuman strength, but also a little magic.
Photographer Lucy Gray spent 15 years following three San Francisco Ballet moms—Katita Waldo, Kristin Long and Tina LeBlanc (all now retired)—as they conjured that particular magic. The resulting book, Balancing Acts, came out this spring. Unsurprisingly, it's full of beautiful, touching and crazy adorable images. And just in time for Mother's Day, San Francisco's Harvey Milk Photo Center will be presenting an exhibit of Gray's photos, also titled "Balancing Acts," from May 9–June 7. (You can find more info about the exhibit here.)
Not in the Bay Area? Never fear: Check out a few of our favorite images below, and click here to order your own copy of Balancing Act.
Happy Mother's Day, everybody!
All photos © Lucy Gray
Happy Friday, ladies and gents! Does it feel like this has been an especially long week? It does, right? I have this theory that the colder it is, the slower time passes.
Anyway, here's a little something to reward you for making it through: a #FouetteFriday video!
Our friends over at TenduTV recently posted this INSANE clip of San Francisco Ballet principal Maria Kochetkova flying through the 32 fouettés at the end of the Don Quixote Act III pas de deux. (It's from the Youth America Grand Prix film Ballet's Greatest Hits, which is fantastic—go get it.)
Here's the thing about Masha: She's not just tossing these guys off. Her form is pristine. Look at that placement! It's perfect, turn after turn. Naturally, she sprinkles the series with doubles—complete with fan action—and caps the whole thing off by repeatedly changing her spot, like the total boss she is. Basically, our fouetté dreams are her fouetté reality:
Have a happy, dance-y weekend!