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Misty Copeland: "Dance Unifies, So Let's Get to Work"

Misty Copeland opened the 2018 Dance Magazine Awards. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

What does it mean to be human? Well, many things. But if you were at the Dance Magazine Awards last week, you could argue that to be human is to dance. Speeches about the powerful humanity of our art form were backed up with performances by incredible dancers hailing from everywhere from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago to Miami City Ballet.

Misty Copeland started off the celebration. A self-professed "Dance Magazine connoisseur from the age of 13," she not only spoke about how excited she was to be in a room full of dancers, but also—having just come from Dance Theatre of Harlem's memorial for Arthur Mitchell—what she saw as their duty: "We all in this room hold a responsibility to use this art for good," she said. "Dance unifies, so let's get to work."

That sentiment was repeated throughout the night.


Dance Magazine Awards 2018 www.youtube.com


Michael Trusnovec

Michael Trusnovec and Parisa Khobdeh in an excerpt from Paul Taylor's Promethean Fire. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

After giving a luminous performance of Paul Taylor's Promethean Fire with Parisa Khobdeh, Michael Trusnovec admitted that it might have been a "crazy idea" for him to choose to dance right before accepting his award. (For the record, we asked him to!) But he explained that he'd agreed to perform because dancing is "why I'm here—standing here—but also why I'm here, in general."

But most moving was when Trusnovec, a paragon of cool, collected strength, choked up when talking about what it feels like to know that there will no longer be any more "Taylor-made dances," sharing—in the most heartfelt way—what it's meant to him to have taken part in Taylor's genius.

Crystal Pite

Hubbard Street's Andrew Murdock and Michael Gross performed an excerpt of Crystal Pite's The Other You. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

In accepting her award, Crystal Pite told a story that most of us had never heard before: In the late 1970s, her mother and a friend traveled five hours by bus and ferry to see the Ailey company perform in Vancouver. When they got back to their room at the Holiday Inn, they spent the night reenacting their own version of Revelations.

Her mom's description of Judith Jamison sparked Pite's desire to dance. Later, when she was 13 or 14, Pite made her first solo for herself, and her mom sewed the costume: A long-sleeved white leotard and a floor-length white skirt with ruffles at the bottom. "I spent hours alone in the studio trying to channel the spirit of Judith Jamison and Alvin Ailey." It was what made her want to be a choreographer.

Last night, since she was coming to the house of Ailey, Pite brought along a photo of herself in that solo to give to Jamison. After the party, she sat on the floor of the studio in a second position straddle, writing a personal note to go along with it. Watching this insanely talented icon of our field pen a handwritten note to her idol (and how giddily excited she was to do it) reminded me of just how much dance artists can move each other, even when they don't realize it.

Crystal Pite holds up her photo of herself as a young teenager in the first solo she ever choreographed, in which she channelled the spirit of Judith Jamison. She brought it to give to Jamison herself, along with a personal note.

Raja Feather Kelly and Ephrat "Bounce" Asherie

Raja Feather Kelly and Ephrat "Bounce" Asherie accept their Harkness Promise Awards. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

The two Harkness Promise Awardees, Raja Feather Kelly and Ephrat "Bounce" Asherie, brought a blast of enthusiastic energy to the stage to accept their awards, which grant them each $5,000 and 40 hours of studio space. They gave a short joint speech, promising "we won't let you down."

Lourdes Lopez

Miami City Ballet's Tricia Albertson and Renan Cerdeiro performed an excerpt from George Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream in honor of Lourdes Lopez. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Until she said it, I had never realized that Lourdes Lopez was the first Latina principal dancer at New York City Ballet and is the only Latina artistic director of a major American ballet company. With her incredible poise and eloquence, she reminded us of the power of dance: "It widens your world, it broadens your perspective. It teaches you about life and how to live it," she said. "Dance is everlasting and all-inclusive, and all we have to do is serve it."

Ronald K. Brown

Ron Brown spoke about how dance has drawn him back to the studio over and over throughout his life. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

In presenting the award to Ronald K. Brown, his dancer and associate artistic director Arcell Cabuag spoke about how Brown's dances "take us away from technology and all the nonsense, and reminds us how human we are, and how much we all have in common." Having just watched Annique Roberts soulfully perform Brown's She Is Here, which seemed to heat up the theater with her incredible warmth, we knew exactly what he was talking about.

Nigel Redden

Members of Gallim, which has performed at Nigel Redden's Spoleto Festival USA multiple times, performed an excerpt from Andrea Miller's Stone Skipping in tribute to him. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

The last award of the night was a new Leadership Award, presented to festival director Nigel Redden. This addition is our way of recognizing "the people who make it possible for dancers to dance and choreographers to choreograph," as our CEO Frederic Seegal put it.

Redden ended the event by sharing a sentiment that seemed to sum up the whole ceremony: "Dance is what it means to be human, what it means to be truly alive."

Technique
Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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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.


The state of Alexis' health changes from day to day, and in true dance-teacher fashion, she works through both the good and the terrible. "I tend to be strong because dance made me that way," she says. "It creates incredibly resilient people." This summer, as New York City began to ease restrictions, she pushed through her exhaustion and took her company to the docks in Long Island City, where they could take class outdoors. "We used natural barres under the beauty of the sky," Alexis says. "Without walls there were no limits, and the dancers were filled with emotion in their sneakers."

These classes led to an outdoor show for the Ballet des Amériques company—equipped with masks and a socially distanced audience. Since Phase 4 reopening in July, her students are back in the studio in Westchester, New York, under strict COVID-19 guidelines. "We're very safe and protective of our students," she says. "We were, long before I got sick. I'm responsible for someone's child."

Alexis says this commitment to follow the rules has stemmed, in part, from the lessons she's learned from ballet. "Dance has given me the spirit of discipline," she says. "Breaking the rules is not being creative, it's being insubordinate. We can all find creativity elsewhere."

Here, Alexis shares how she's helping her students through the pandemic—physically and emotionally—and getting through it herself.

How she counteracts mask fatigue:

"Our dancers can take short breaks during class. They can go outside on the sidewalk to breathe for a moment without their mask before coming back in. I'm very proud of them for adapting."

Her go-to warm-up for teaching:

"I first use a jump rope (also mandatory for my students), and follow with a full-body workout from the 7 Minute Workout app, preceding a barre au sol [floor barre] with injury-prevention exercises and dynamic stretching."

How she helps dancers manage their emotions during this time:

"Dancers come into my office to let go of stress. We talk about their frustration with not hugging their friends, we talk about the election, whatever is on their minds. Sometimes in class we will stop and take 15 minutes to let them talk about how their families are doing and make jokes, then we go back to pliés. The young people are very worried. You can see it in their eyes. We have to give them hope, laughter and work."

Her favorite teaching attire:

"I change my training clothes in accordance with the mood of my body. That said, I love teaching in the Gaynor Minden Women's Microtech warm-up dance pants in all available colors, with long-sleeve leotards. For shoes, I wear the Adult "Boost" dance sneaker in pink or black. Because I have long days of work, I often wear the Repetto Boots d'échauffement for a few exercises to relax my feet."

How she coped during the initial difficult months of her illness:

"I live across from the Empire State Building. It was lit red with the heartbeat of New York, and it put me in the consciousness of others suffering. I saw ambulances, one after another, on their way to the hospital. I broke thinking of all the people losing someone while I looked through my window. I thought about essential workers, all those incredible people. I thought about why dance isn't essential and the work we needed to do to make it such. Then I got a puppy, to focus on another life rather than staying wrapped in my own depression. It lifted my spirit. Thinking about your own problems never gets you through them."

The foods she can't live without:

"I must have seafood and vegetables. It is in my DNA to love such things—my ancestors were always by the ocean."

Recommended viewing:

"I recommend dancers watch as many full-length ballets as possible, and avoid snippets of dance out of context. My ultimate recommendation is the film of La Bayadère by Rudolf Nureyev. The cast includes the most incredible étoiles: Isabelle Guérin, Élisabeth Platel, Laurent Hilaire, Jean-Marie Didière, who were once the students of the revolutionary Claude Bessy."

Her ideal day off:

"I have three: one is to explore a new destination, town, forest or hiking trail; another is a lazy day at home; and the third, an important one that I miss due to the pandemic, is to go to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, where my soul feels renewed by the sermons and the music."

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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