Igal Perry's students can finish a ballet grand allegro, hop into a Limón technique class and end the day voguing. The founder of New York City's Peridance Capezio Center, Perry is a ballet teacher, but his goal is to mold versatile dancers prepared to work with any choreographer. "If a dancer is trained in one particular style, she is limited overall," he says. "Some dancers may look fantastic in ballet, with feet stretched and passés at 180 degrees, but they can't do anything but ballet repertory. My philosophy is to train dancers to be wholesome, so that they can do everything, including tap, including hip hop—forms that give you different approaches to movement."
As a young dancer with Bat-Dor Dance Company, Perry studied ballet and Graham and worked with a variety of choreographers, including Lar Lubovitch, Rudi van Dantzig and Alvin Ailey. His varied background is a draw for modern and contemporary dancers: Students clad in loose-fitting clothing flock to his professional-level ballet classes, even though they are classically based.
Enforcing clean lines with an anatomical focus, Perry draws on his own training in the Royal Academy of Dance and Vaganova methods, along with a modern-dance sensibility. “All the steps are strictly ballet steps, but my goal is to teach dance, not dancers training to become ballet dancers," he says. “I concentrate on good lines, good usage of torso. I don't let students do any movements artificially to fit a certain look."
Perry teaches all levels of students and says the key is to create a safe space for the dancers to feel comfortable and take risks. “When you teach beginners, you first have to teach them how to learn. They're usually so intimidated, so you have to create a positive environment," he says. “Professionals have been working for a long time and do what they're used to. The challenge is to create an atmosphere of trust, so they are willing to try my way. It doesn't always work, and in cases of resistance I've learned to say, 'If you don't, you don't. That's your choice—you're a pro. But I'm here to help if you want it.'"
Here, Perry and his student Nikki Holck demonstrate a développé à la seconde.
After performing with Karmon, an Israeli folk dance troupe, and Bat-Dor Dance Company, Igal Perry moved to the United States in 1976 and served as ballet master for Dennis Wayne's Dancers. He established Peridance Center in 1983, and the Peridance Contemporary Dance Company one year later. The school moved to its current location in 2010, and in addition to an adult open program with more than 250 classes each week, it operates a children's program, a teen performance ensemble, a two-year certificate program and an international program. Peridance is home to 100 regular faculty members, and guest artists lead frequent workshops and master classes. Outside of Peridance, Perry's work has been set on companies including Batsheva Dance Company, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Alberta Ballet in Canada and Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Along with frequent international teaching appearances, he was recently a guest teacher at The Juilliard School and a guest faculty member of The School at Jacob's Pillow.
Originally from Honolulu, Nikki Holck has been a member of the Peridance Contemporary Dance Company for two years.
Photo by Jim Lafferty