NYC Review/Traces

New York is truly an embarrassment of riches when it comes to dance—and we, as dance editors, are so very lucky to live here—so I hope you will enjoy the occasional post from us about some of the shows passing through our city.

This weekend I saw two performances, one small and unheralded, and the other the sort of “must-see” that everyone has been buzzing about this season. Saturday night, I took in the former—a show put on by Montréal-based company 7 Doigts de la Main that showcased the seemingly boundless talents of five young performers who jumped through hoops, bounced off poles, danced, skateboarded, sang and played piano, among other things.

OK, so it was technically circus, not dance. But it’s been hard to ignore the blurring of the two genres over the past few years, as the level of athleticism and even acrobatic skill demanded by contemporary choreographers has slowly crept upward—and “aerial dance” troupes like NYC’s own Antigravity have enjoyed a moment in the sun. Hence, too, we have the controversy, everywhere from the concert stage to the competition scene, over “tricks” and whether they have a place in an artform that, for the most part, still emphatically thinks of itself as just that.

Traces, which opened at the handsome New Victory Theater in Times Square on February 8 and closes this Sunday, March 2, was enjoyable and even thrilling. The strongest sections were spectacles of audacity, as when the performers jumped between two vertical poles, alternately leaping from one to the other, hanging perpendicularly and surrendering themselves to gravity in death-defying, head-first slides toward the ground. The “ooh aah” factor was undeniable, especially for the little ones in the crowd.

But as the show lurched, at times, between a flimsy narrative frame (five people go stir-crazy while stuck in a bomb shelter) and the almost clinical execution of tricks, the dancer in me couldn’t help but wonder if I was peering into the future of dance, a future in which performances are reduced to high points of technical accomplishment strung together by a nominal storyline. Arguably, anyone who has been to a competition and watched a frighteningly proficient 8-year-old stop in her tracks to execute nine pirouettes would say we are already there. I hate to join the crotchety chorus, but where is the artistry?

Traces was not to be faulted, since it didn’t aspire to be dance, or perhaps even anything grandly artistic. And for all my renegade thoughts, I was charmed—by the performers’ genuineness even more than their considerable skills. Here were four immensely talented guys and one girl (Brad Henderson, Will Underwood, the brothers Francisco and Raphael Cruz and the piquant, pixie-haired Héloïse Bourgeois), all friends in real life, just messing around, daring themselves and each other to attempt the next feat, and the next. In that sense, the show had the pleasing air of a workshop or even rehearsal; more than anything, it was an intimate look at the performers’ creative process. There was a contagious joy in their experimentation. They were having fun, and that, sometimes, is the most important thing of all.

Click here to read what I thought of Diana Vishneva's show the next day.

Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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Teaching Tips
Getty Images

After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy TUPAC

When legendary Black ballet dancer Kabby Mitchell III died unexpectedly in 2017, two months before opening his Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center, his friend and business partner Klair Ethridge wasn't sure she had what it took to carry his legacy. Ethridge had been working with Mitchell to co-found TUPAC and planned to serve as its executive director, but she had never envisioned being the face of the school.

Now, Ethridge is heading into her fourth year of leading TUPAC, which she has grown from a fledgling program in an unheated building to a serious ballet school in its own sprung-floor studios, reaching hundreds of students across the Tacoma, Washington, area. The nonprofit has become a case study for what it looks like to carry out the vision of a founder who never had the chance to see his school open—and to take an unapologetically mission-driven approach.

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