The "Thrill" of It All

"Don't be afraid to test your balance," teased a short, muscular woman with a shaggy blonde bob. Laura Graham, ballet mistress for Dresden Semperoper Ballett, was spurring an ensemble of five long-limbed dancers to stretch beyond their comfort zones. "Take a risk. Make your movement say something. Dancing is exciting, and you need to be excited to do it. Or else I don't want to be involved."

The company was prepping for its second performance of William Forsythe's The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude at New York City Center's annual 10-day Fall for Dance Festival. Understandably content with the enthusiastic whistles and wild applause they had received the night before, the dancers needed reminding that dancing safely would not be tolerated for the festival's finale evening, occurring in just a few hours. Graham rehearsed various details of the piece she thought could be expressed more dynamically, sculpting her own body to exemplify the sumptuously long, diagonal épaulement lines and razor-sharp pointe work the piece required. The passionate sparks she set off demonstrating the most subtle movement made it clear she not only knew this piece inside out, but had also been a participant in its creation 14 years ago.

 

The ballet's signature flat olive green tutus, looking more like oversized Pringles, lay strewn along a corner of the studio floor, testaments to the classical themes at the heart of this highly-charged work. I was there on a personal mission to congratulate the dancers on their sparkling performance, to bow to the ladies for their technical and expressive excellence, and to view those wonderfully wacky tutus close-up.

 

Instead, I found myself awestruck by the display of a deeper knowledge of the ballet itself through Graham's brilliant demonstrations. Sporting a cobalt scarf wrapped around her neck that echoed the gleam in her blue eyes, she graciously agreed to sit down over coffee after rehearsals and talk about what she's been up to since taking this role five years ago, and what it's like setting Forsythe's ballets for dance companies around the world.

Graham grew up in NJ and knew she would be a dancer from the age of 9. “I knew ballet could be my freedom,” she laughs. She joined a regional company at eleven and went on to study and dance with Joffrey Ballet School. A top award at the International Ballet Competition Varna in 1990 propelled her onto the world stage. She accepted a principal contract with the Winnepeg Ballet, where she danced classical roles for six years. Her subsequent decision to join Frankfurt Ballett, led by William Forsythe, who some describe as the great de-constructor of classical dance, was a huge personal and professional risk that ended up defining everything dance means for her. She stopped performing about nine years ago, but continues to reside in Germany.

Last summer she helped stage 10 performances of a full evening of Forsythe, "Serata Forsythe", at La Scala, in Milan. In a few days, she will be in Bucharest checking in to see if the company there is ready to perform Forsythe's In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. All this while still attending to her full-time job coaching Dresden Semperoper Ballett. On her own clock, she has been working on getting her scuba and pilot’s licenses. “I’m an adrenaline addict,” she beams.

Dancer to Dancer

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.

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Dancer to Dancer

For more on choosing whether to compete or not, click here.

I started dance classes at a young age. By the time I was 3, I was training at The Dance Club, and I grew up there. I started with the basics—ballet and jazz—and eventually added tap, tumbling, contemporary, and hip hop.

Early on, I did compete. I remember my first time: I did a trio at a small local competition, and it got first place. The trophy was as tall as I was, and I loved it. I attended conventions as a mini, and had the opportunity to take classes from Travis Wall, Sonya Tayeh, Andy Pellick, and Joey Dowling-Fakhrieh. There was so much variety—I was in awe.

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Dancer to Dancer

For more on choosing whether to compete or not, click here.

My mom was a dancer growing up, and she went on to become a dance teacher, so I've really grown up in the studio. I started classes when I was 2, and by the time I was 9, I was training at The Dance Club and knew I wanted to dedicate all my time to dance.

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Win It
Courtesy CAA

You read that right, people—Dance Spirit's giving away two tickets to the "SYTYCD" tour in the city of your choice, complete with an exclusive meet & greet with select cast members! Read on for the complete prize listing and official rules.

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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.

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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.

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(From left) Nia Sioux, Kendall Vertes, Chloe Lukasiak, and Kalani Hilliker (via @chloelukasiak)

Hey, "Dance Moms" die-hards: Are you obsessed with The Irreplaceables? Well, four members of the elite team—Kalani Hilliker, Chloe Lukasiak, Nia Sioux, and Kendall Vertes—are coming soon to a city near you.

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Tiler Peck and Chase Finlay in Swan Lake (photo by Paul Kolnik)

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.

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