Michael Blake joined the Joffrey Ballet School faculty as director of the jazz and contemporary program five years ago and has since revamped the curriculum. Here, he teaches a jump-and-roll combination that helps students discover oppositional energy.
Despite worldwide theater closures, the Universal Ballet Competition is keeping The Nutcracker tradition alive in 2020 with an online international competition. The event culminates in a streamed, full-length video of The Virtual Nutcracker consisting of winning entries on December 19. The competition is calling on studios, as well as dancers of all ages and levels, to submit videos by November 29 to be considered.
"Nutcracker is a tradition that is ingrained in our hearts," says UBC co-founder Lissette Salgado-Lucas, a former dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. "We danced it for so long as professionals, we can't wait to pass it along to dancers through this competition."
How It Works<p>UBC has divided various scenes and divertissements that make up <em>The Nutcracker</em> into categories. (Think Party Scene, Battle Scene, Snow Pas de Deux, etc.) Studios and conservatories, along with individual dancers, are asked to submit footage of these scenes from previous performances or in-studio recordings (though costuming and makeup is encouraged) to UBC through the company's<a href="http://universalballetcompetition.com" target="_blank"> website</a>. The entry fee for each submission is $45, with multiple-entry pricing available.</p><p>The competition will be <a href="https://www.universalballetcompetition.com/virtual-competition-schedule/" target="_blank">livestreamed</a> on December 12, featuring all submissions that make up Act I, and on December 13, featuring all submissions that make up Act II. "We thought it would be cool for parents and directors to see, say, 20 different versions of Mother Ginger for future inspiration," says UBC co-founder David Lucas. "It's a fun way to promote the different studios who are all facing challenges, embrace the season, and learn from one another."</p>
Getty Images<p>The jurors for the competition include: Pennsylvania Ballet assistant artistic director Samantha Dunster, Kansas City Ballet School director Grace Maduell Holmes, Royal Winnipeg Ballet associate director Tara Birtwhistle, Orlando Ballet School principal teacher Charmaine Hunter and international master teacher Duncan Cooper.</p><p>An online awards ceremony announcing each scene's top three submissions (and their subsequent cast members) will be held on December 14. The first-place clips will then be strung together to create a final cohesive recording of <em>The Virtual Nutcracker</em>, which audiences can stream for free on UBC's website on December 19.</p>
Christy Funsch's teaching career has taken her from New York City to the Bay Area to Portugal, with a stint in a punk band in between. But this fall—fresh off a Fulbright in Portugal at the Instituto Politécnico de Lisboa, School of Dance (ESD), teaching and researching empathetic embodiment through somatic dance training—Funsch's teaching has taken her to an entirely new location: Zoom. A visiting professor at Slippery Rock University for the 2020–21 academic year, Funsch is adapting her eclectic, boundary-pushing approach to her virtual classes.
Originally from central New York State, Funsch spent 20 years performing in the Bay Area, where she also started her own company, Funsch Dance Experience. "My choreographic work from that time is in the dance-theater experiential, fantasy realm of performance," she says. "I also started blending genres and a lot of urban styles found their way into my choreography."
Robbie Sweeny, courtesy Funsch
Her favorite warm-up:<p>Funsch likes to start class by having her students bow (in non-COVID times, she had them bow in a circle.) "We see each other and touch the earth in some way to honor the space and our dance ancestors who have moved there before us," she says. "We honor the ancestry of the people who have been in this land before us, and add our own personal intentions for our own families and ancestors. Then, we do a five-minute improv to burn through the residue of what has happened prior to being in class."</p><p>For her own teaching warm-up, Funsch likes to "noodle around with my version of Bartenieff Fundamentals to recruit full-body connectivity and to scan my inner state for potentially relevant talking points."</p>
Must-have teaching attire:<p>"Joe Boxer sweatpants from the kids' section—they are inexpensive and durable!"</p>
Go-to teaching tool:<p>"Paper and pen for free-writing and processing of the moved experience." Funsch finishes her classes with stretch and recovery, during which she asks dancers to write and reflect on class.</p>
How she typically structures class:<p>Funsch has what she calls a "somatic idea" for each class. For example, "How the rotary function in the scapula can support access to a fuller kinesphere." She introduces this concept for the class to explore as a part of their improvisation practice. "Then we come into some movement forms, like folding at major joints, back articulations and foot articulations," she says. "From there, we do some center-floor work—folding, falling, and finding an interface between the back and the floor." Then, Funsch introduces some repertoire and pairs her dancers up so they can observe and coach one another. "Toward the end of class we do a version of the material where the vocab is stripped away and it becomes more about improvising the ideas of the vocabulary," she says.</p>
Recommended content:<p>"Recent books by Barbara Dilley and anything by Deborah Hay; John Cage's <em>Silence; </em>interviews with Tere O'Connor; antiracism<a href="https://docs.google.com/document/u/0/d/1BRlF2_zhNe86SGgHa6-VlBO-QgirITwCTugSfKie5Fs/mobilebasic?fbclid=IwAR0F63yjifEU8AJHYmULZuj8E-aVzQZWobZW9ACT8zcWZllqlbzG5c7OnIY" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> </a><a href="https://docs.google.com/document/u/0/d/1BRlF2_zhNe86SGgHa6-VlBO-QgirITwCTugSfKie5Fs/mobilebasic?fbclid=IwAR0F63yjifEU8AJHYmULZuj8E-aVzQZWobZW9ACT8zcWZllqlbzG5c7OnIY" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">resources</a>; Susan Sontag; Jill Randall's <em>Life as a Modern Dancer</em> blog; the Center for Performance Research <u>reading groups</u>; Melanie George's interviews and jazz scholarship."</p>
Her approach to virtual class:<p>"I've redesigned vocabularies to devour kinesphere space more than general space," she says. She's embraced voice-led improvisation that's conducive to Zoom, and incorporates filmed material of her moving in nature into class.</p>
Guilty pleasure:<p>"Film noir—except I'm not guilty about it!" Funsch especially likes <em>Le Doulos</em>, <em>Elevator to the Gallows</em> and <em>Laura</em>.</p>
What she never leaves home without:<p> "A love letter from long ago"</p>
As the presidential election approaches, it's a particularly meaningful time to remember that we are celebrating the centennial of the 19th Amendment, when women earned the right to vote after a decades-long battle.
Movement was more than a metaphor for the fight for women's suffrage—dancers played a real role, most notably Florence Fleming Noyes, who performed her riveting solo Dance of Freedom in 1914 to embody the struggle for women's rights.
This fall, Middle Tennessee State University director of dance Meg Brooker is reconstructing Dance of Freedom on 11 of her students. A Noyes Rhythm teacher and an Isadora Duncan scholar, Brooker is passionate about bringing historic dance practices into a contemporary context.
A still from the archival video of Noyes's "Dance of Freedom." Photo courtesy Dawson City Museum and Historical Society Collection, Library and Archives Canada
Brooker's students dance with a video of Noyes. Photo courtesy Brooker
Noyes in Washington, DC in March 1913. Photo courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Dawson City Museum and Historical Society Collection, Library and Archives Canada