ABT's Choreography Initiative

Corps de ballet members Grant DeLong and Lauren Post in Daniel Mantei's Stare Decisis

In 2010, American Ballet Theatre principal David Hallberg and artistic director Kevin McKenzie founded the Innovation Initiative, a two-week workshop for selected company members to develop their interest in choreographing. This year, for the first time, ABT invited artists from outside the company to participate. In addition to corps members Gemma Bond, Claire Davison and Daniel Mantei, Hallberg chose Jillian Peña and Pam Tanowitz—modern, “downtown” choreographers. “It’s important that ABT nurtures choreographic talent,” he says, “whether or not they’re involved with our seasons.”

Company dancers volunteered to perform in the pieces developed during the workshop, and those who worked with the modern choreographers experienced more of a shared process than they’re used to. “They went into the studio thinking, ‘OK, give us the material that you want.’ But Pam and Jillian wanted a more collaborative experience, more of a discussion,” says Hallberg. “It immediately posed a challenge. But I’ve always grown more as a dancer through challenges.”

At the end of two weeks, artists presented their works in progress in a public performance at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre. ABT arranged to partner with the university, which offers fine arts programming to students, as an audience development project. Columbia students of all disciplines were invited to attend rehearsals at ABT’s studios, which bolstered attendance for the final concert.

Photo by Erin Baiano, courtesy of ABT

Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

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