Books and DVDs: Summer Sampler

Ballet Pedagogy: The Art of Teaching

by Rory Foster

University Press of Florida

 

In a nutshell: A must-have manual for ballet teachers.

 

With this book, author Rory Foster, professor of dance emeritus at DePaul University, provides a valuable instruction tool for ballet teachers of all experience levels and training methods, whether Bournonville, Royal Academy of Dance, Vaganova or Cecchetti. The former American Ballet Theatre dancer urges teachers to focus on not only what to teach but also how they utilize their pedagogical skills. In nine chapters, including a foreword by master teacher David Howard, Foster explains the mechanics of teaching ballet. He briefly covers the genre’s extensive history—encouraging teachers to incorporate historical facts into lessons—and all aspects of conducting class, including musicality, the student/teacher relationship, injury prevention, proper demonstration, corrections and counting. Foster even gives readers advice on establishing a dance school. But what teachers will find most useful are the precise diagrams and photographs that illustrate how to correctly work with a dancer’s body.

 

 

On Technique

by Dean Speer

University Press of Florida

 

In a nutshell: Insight into the teaching philosophies of 18 respected artists.

 

Dean Speer, director of Chehalis (Washington) Ballet Center, presents a well-rounded cast of respected teachers, including Finis Jhung, Gwenn Barker and Yvonne Cartier. Each contributor provides a context for their training philosophies and addresses the questions: What is the difference between skill and technique? What does a good class look like? What are the expectations of a good teacher? Readers will learn how Pacific Northwest Ballet Artistic Director Peter Boal defines technique and how Nina Novak of Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo describes the always elusive concept of perfection. By allowing contradictions to exist amongst the various viewpoints, Speer lets readers decide which methods work best for their teaching practices.

 

 

Site Dance: Choreographers and the Lure of Alternative Spaces

edited by Melanie Kloetzel and Carolyn Pavlik

University Press of Florida

 

In a nutshell: A window into the theory and practice of site-specific dance.

 

Two university dance faculty members have produced the first anthology ever to examine site-specific dance performance. Editors Melanie Kloetzel of the University of Calgary and Carolyn Pavlik of Western Michigan University seek to raise awareness about the lack of support for this 40-year-old dance genre and push it into the realm of serious art. Through poignant personal interviews and essays from American choreographers, including Meredith Monk, Joanna Haigood and Eiko Otake, the editors reveal “what compelled these artists to find a way of working outside the norm, why site dance developed when it did and what continues to make it relevant in our current cultural framework.” Readers will find the book’s four sections easy to navigate—the choreographers are grouped together by similar themes in their processes and works—and will enjoy seeing the dances come to life through more than 80 black-and-white photographs.

 

 

Photo by Emily Giacalone

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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