Martha Graham said that “the body never lies.” She built her technique and vocabulary on contractions. That is what my body involuntarily, automatically did upon entering my former dance teacher’s home. My dad caught the Roanoke Times update, so my mom and I stopped by Saturday afternoon. Everything was up for auction to support her move to an assisted living facility. I went mostly to say hello and be supportive, unaware I would have such a visceral experience.

Then I saw the box. My hips tilted, my stomach lunged towards my spine, my breath escaped upward in a contraction that brought tears to my eyes. The small wooden box held student registration cards and fees. Something we saw everyday when we signed in to class, something she touched everyday. I took ballet class Monday and Wednesday, morning and evening; contemporary class on Tuesday or Thursday maybe; afrocentric movement a couple evenings a week; and the occasional tap class on Saturday morning. I started teaching class there – a pre-ballet class on Monday and subbing a beginner ballet class on Thursday afternoon – before starting my own ballet ensemble.

IMG_1331It was like walking through a museum with the reverence of being in church. We all walked slowly, spoke softly, offered hugs while we pondered the greater significance of the moment. Besides being a stunning dancer, Carol Crawford Smith is a prolific visual artist. Much of the artwork that was familiar to me was already sold, but one print remained that hung in the Draper Road studio. As a dancer and as a woman of color, Carol celebrated the diversity of bodies. Hers was the only studio I ever attended without a strict dress code; instead, we were encouraged to wear bright colors that represented our personalities, that inspired us to move. Part of the Africanist aesthetic is the “get down” or ability to flex one’s joints and muscles which symbolizes one’s ability to live and ownership of the body. The Center of Dance and UJIMA both celebrated the fullness of living in one’s body and sharing that energy. She frequently shared with us from Kwanzaa traditions, such as:

kujichagulia (koo-jee-cha-goo-LEE-ah) which means self determination, to   define ourselves, name ourselves,    create for ourselves and speak for   ourselves.

Carol Crawford Smith changed my life, and many lives in a small town in Southwestern Virginia. It was our good fortune that a former Dance Theatre of Harlem artist chose to make this community her home. Carol’s beautiful spirit bears witness to the power of choice. Life handed her harsh battles and she responded with joy.

I’ve been home for about a month as I’m in the process of a job/life change. At first glance, it seems like nothing changes in this town. But with this extended visit, I am able to peel back the many layers of who I am. There is something powerful about an embodied remembrance. When I picked up Carol’s registration box, it signaled to me that a new chapter was coming. My life changed as a knock-kneed twelve year old walking into her studio, and it changed again as I stood in her house, a monument to her determined spirit.

The Society of Dance History Scholars’ Special Topics Conference, Contemporary Ballet: Exchanges, Connections, and Directions, gathered an international cohort of scholars, artists, and educators in New York City on May 20-21, 2016. Curators Jill Nunes Jensen of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and Kathrina Farrugia-Kriel of the Royal Academy of Dance in London initially collaborated on the 2015 issue of Conversations across the Field of Dance Studies: Network of Pointes. From that endeavor, they worked with artistic advisor Lynn Garafola to stage the conference. With over fifty presenters, conference attendees engaged in a vibrant discourse on ballet structure, technique(s), and form; race; gender; and, sustainability at New York University’s Center for Ballet and the Arts and Barnard College, Columbia University. As inquiries on defining contemporary ballet launched, scholars referenced Thomas F. DeFrantz, on the “assumption that dance is a unified thing.” How can the field define its work from within, when the process is an ever-producing labyrinth of possibilities and experiences?  Continue reading, here.

uprintingmailing_guide [Converted]A company that’s making it work:
Anna’s Americana by the Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble on December 4th provided a glimpse into Anna Sokolow’s investigation of the human condition in the intimate space of The Theater at the 14th Street Y. Alan Danielson’s Are We There Yet (2000) accompanied three works by Sokolow, Preludes (1984), Homage to Edgar Allan Poe (1993), and Frida (1997). Directed by longtime Sokolow dancer and Bessie recipient Jim May, the program underscored the focus of Sokolow’s voice through the decades of her work.

Continue reading, here.

Jessica Lang Dance premiered The Wanderer at BAMFisher in a wintery diorama that showcased Artistic Director and Choreographer Jessica Lang’s comprehensive design. Starting a few minutes late on Friday, December 5th allowed time to observe the stage. Five white trees made of coiled rope hung from the ceiling, four white ledges protruded from one wall, a white ladder dangled in the balcony, and a white marley floor tracked a U-shape filled with black marley. In this minimalist scape, Lang’s dancers morphed from beings to elements of nature with Schubert’s libretto (The Fair Maid of the Mill).

Continue reading, here while you listen to Schubert below:

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Mikhailovsky Ballet paid homage to universal struggles for justice in their opening performance of The Flames of Parisat the Koch Theater, Friday, November 15th. Originally created to mark the 15th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, The Flames of Paris as a narrative succeeded because it appealed to the people (any people group experiencing the desperate, unifying force of oppression) while paralleling the arch of a traditional story ballet. The ballet’s three acts moved swiftly, another reason for the ballet’s success and poignancy. The choreography avoided frivolity, which allowed the energy of the story to remain high throughout the evening. Russian ballet history endured numerous revolutions of its own and, for the dancers performing this work a very prescient, perhaps cathartic experience (turmoil still present in light of acid attacks on Sergei Filin of the Bolshoi Ballet and on a broader scale, the more polished peer to the Pussy Riot).

Continue reading full review here, or enjoy a bonus full video courtesy Ivan Vasilyev, below:

No ghouls or ghosts in Program C at John Ryan Theater in the annual Wave Rising Series, although the three piece program had its share of tricks, treats, and characters. Deviated Theatre’s The Short Forever presented aerialists in its dance opera; The People Movers Not So Shiny bicycle jaunt dwelt on the meaning of success; and White Wave Young Soon Kim Dance Company‘s Eternal NOW excerpts put the dancers through a virtuosic obstacle course.  Continue reading, here.

 

Cory Stearns as Prospero in Alexei Ratmansky's The Tempest at ABTAmerican Ballet Theatre‘s Shakespeare Celebration on July 2nd delved into magical mishaps while bidding adieu to dancers Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews. The evening began in a lush wonderland of Frederick Ashton‘s The Dream and ended with the choppy waters of Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky’s The Tempest. Driven by patriarchy, both ballets presented hierarchy and tradition as precariously shifting power schemes.

Continue reading at Broadway World

 

Boston Ballet’s fiftieth anniversary tour culminated in an in-your-face Lincoln Center season. Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen took risks – a victory lap outside of the company’s home city on the home stage of hallmark American ballet companies – but he looked pretty pleased as he strode up the aisles of the David H. Koch Theater on the June 29th matinee. Rightly so, since his company delivered three New York premieres in Program One with William Forsythe’s The Second Detail, Jose Martinez’ Resonance, and Alexander Ekman’s Cacti for a full throttle experience.  Continue reading, here.

Wednesday, May 28th, New York City Ballet presented a program bookended by Balanchine. Concerto Barocco articulated propriety and decorum in delicate glances; Jerome Robbin’s Other Dances promulgated gentle desire in the pas de deux; Benjamin Millipied’s Neverwhere delved into power plays; and Balanchine had the last laugh with the exuberant laissez-faire Who Cares? In each of the four works, the progression of relationships unfolded.  Continue reading, here.

Dancing with the Stars underwent a makeover.  Like beauty, reinvention can be painful.  The edits left no stone unturned – format, dancers, hosts, and musicians – in ABC’s process.  While some of the changes seemed harsh, ABC demonstrated it’s desire to keep a hit-making show making hits with the most important part of the show – the fans.  The new format (from two nights to one) which might seem restrictive, actually pushed producers to focus more closely on the dancing rather than the extraneous (but interesting) extracurricular activities of rehearsals, the life and times of the performers.  The backstage gossip continues, though, with new host Erin Andrews.

Even with regular guest judges, the mainstays (Inaba, Goodman, Tonioli) biases and preferences continue to run unbridled.  The sexualized portrayal of glamour at the domination of the female gender continues with former child star Candace Cameron Bure as the bullseye.  Bure certainly came out guns blazing, emphatically stating what she would and wouldn’t do before her partner Mark Ballas even took a turn with her.  Surprisingly, she and Ballas wowed in their opening contemporary number.  The costume shop’s vengeance on Bure evident in her lollipop recital costume.  Bure herself directly delineated between sexual and sensual but DWTS doesn’t do nuance.  Either you’re a willing sexpot or you’re not.  Bure hasn’t exactly sought to endear herself to the judges, but should know that doing great dances isn’t enough.  What’s disappointing though, is that Bure actually has great facility and love for movement that the judges seem disinclined to reward or acknowledge.  The partner switch landed her with Tony Dovolani for a somewhat jerky, frenetic quickstep that judges passed over quickly.

Let’s talk about Nene Leakes for a moment.  Leakes, a Real Housewife and growing actress, is known for some rather outrageous one-liners and altercations.  However, one might notice that her costuming is rather conservative, coverage-wise.  She simply didn’t vocalize it on camera.  Obviously, Bure’s body is of “sexier” proportions which again conflicts with the DWTS standards: sexy bodies must be shown off, while the less taut ones should be covered with humor and feathers.

Bure trumps Leakes in technique, polish, effort, and appearance.  It’s a tie performance-wise.  Both ladies know how to put on a show.

Bure’s personal convictions have not hampered her product while Leake’s casual “I just like to dance” vibe is keeping her product as one-note.  Bure’s hesitations over performing the rumba did not outshine her artistry completely.  The conflict with her partner Ballas was evident as he felt restricted and dominated in choreographic choices which would normally be his domain (again, on DWTS the male voice projects a particular vision for its female counterpart).

DWTS wants your sex
Bure’s costume simmered but not enough for DWTS.  Since her detailed input was made public the lack of cleavage seemed to be the focal point rather than Bure’s softly sensual sweeping dance.  As Bure has mentioned, she is more concerned with the example she sets for her daughters than for placating the powers at be.

DWTS wants your sex and seems to think the choice is theirs.

Leakes
Leakes and partner Tony Dovolani delivered a rumba in honor to her first/second husband.  Note the similarities between Leakes and Bure’s costumes, the difference being the visibility of Leakes’ cleavage and bustier outline.  Leakes husband sat cheering in the audience and references were made that suggested he contributed ideas to maximize sexual energy in the choreography.

Leakes does not have the emotional force and dynamic (especially her rumba) of Bure. Leakes does however have an ease in her delivery whereas Bure’s performances can’t always conceal the tension in her effort.

Is her delivery a little Bristol Palin-esque? Yes, but does that matter?  Bure is taking charge of her body and sexuality (not ignoring it as her predecessor did) just in a different manner than say Rihanna or Miley Cyrus.  Earlier in the season Leakes submitted herself to a grueling jive at the whimsy of her non-competitor husband.  Although a picture-perfect poster woman for the conservative, religious right, Bure is the lone female on DWTS choosing to take charge of her sexuality, her body, and her equal place along side her male peers.  If her fans come through on her behalf, she might just outlast the judges’ apparent disdain for her independence.