Performance Planner: A Fine Kettle of Fish

This year, take your show under the sea. Preballet students make adorable octopi. Tap students can be clams. Cast older dancers as mermaids in a lyrical number, or choose some jazzy tunes for a group of starfish. You'll find that the ocean is full of fresh ideas.  

 

Set the scene: — Standard under-the-sea fare can include a treasure chest brimming with gold bullion, an anchor, fishnets, starfish, coral and seaweed. Visit local prop and theatrical supply stores for an array of items for rent. Regional and even national companies also may have items available to ship. If you enjoy a sizable budget (and stage), commission a prop shop to create a sunken ship to substitute for a backdrop.

 

— You can build props yourself with papier-mâché. Enlist the help of your dancers and remind everyone to wear clothes that can get ruined. You’ll need newspaper, warm water, white glue and buckets. Mix one part water with two parts glue. Rip up the paper and saturate the pieces in the mixture. (They may shrink slightly after drying.) If you are making rocks, there will be no need to paint since the color will look like granite from the stage.

 

— An alternative to papier-mâché is multicolor fabric that drapes well, such as georgette. Lay the fabric over chairs or stools of varying heights along the back of the stage to create an uneven ocean floor and then pin or tape it down. — Prom and party supply stores are untapped resources for stage accessories. According to Scott Snyder, a prom business unit leader at Anderson’s Prom, it is not rare for dance companies or studios to order decorations, such as pink coral kits or sea castles. Many products are designed for prom photography, so they are large enough for stage.

 

— To add bubbles to your set, for instance, Anderson’s offers assemble-yourself balloon kits. Fill the clear or light blue balloons with helium, tie off and cut small holes through the balloon knots. String three or four balloons together by running a five-foot piece of fishing wire through the holes. Place them upstage or along the sides and anchor.

 

— Or, for the real deal, invest in a bubble machine, which you can cover with papier-mâché or fabric. Just be careful not to overuse or to place in an area of the stage where students will be dancing, as the floor may become slick. If you’re daring, point it toward the audience.  

 

Tune in: From familiar tunes to grand orchestral pieces, a few hours at your local music store will stir creativity. Here are some suggestions:

 

— For your ballerinas, check out “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship” from Scheherazade by Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov, “La Mer” by Claude Debussy and “Une Barque sur l’Ocean” by Maurice Ravel.

 

— Create a comical corps of hungry sharks to the theme from Jaws. The catchy “Under the Sea” tune from Disney’s The Little Mermaid makes a great finale. Other recognizable movie soundtracks include The Abyss, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Finding Nemo.

 

— “Ghosts of Cape Horn” by Gordon Lightfoot is a folksy throwback for a sailor number.

 

— “La Mer” by Charles Trenet makes a lovely pas de deux. You can also use the English version, “Beyond the Sea” by Jack Lawrence.  

 

Note: As with any recorded music, be sure you have the appropriate music license to avoid copyright infringement.

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.

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.