Your passport to life behind the curtain!

Category — Dance

When Boxers Dance (and Dancers Box)

steven-hoggett-rocky-musical

Terence Archie & Andy Karl

How fighting and dance combine in Broadway’s Rocky

The new musical Rocky, now on Broadway at the Winter Garden, incorporates everything you’d expect from the classic film about a down-on-his-luck Philadelphia fighter who boxes his way to glory. The iconic run up the stairs, the climactic battle between Rocky and Apollo Creed, and even snippets of “Gonna Fly Now”—they’re all present and accounted for.

But it’s the movement of the boxers—a fascinating blend of dance and fighting—that reminds us we’re in the theatre, not the cinema.

Behind all the punches (and the groovy 70s numbers) sits an unpredictable team of Broadway choreographers: Kelly Devine and Steven Hoggett. Devine, of Rock of Ages fame, has a knack for high-energy sequences that pop with sass and pyrotechnic kicks and turns. Hoggett, whose diverse projects include Once and Peter and the Starcatcher, crafts phrases built largely on pedestrian movements that evolve into transcendent gestures.

Once this partnership was in place, the duo searched for performers who could maintain their agile dancers’ minds and move like authentic boxers. The choreographers say that while both dancers and boxers have intrinsic body awareness and an ability to memorize movement, the similarities end there. “We had to find dancers who could flip a switch to go from choreography to boxer movement that’s more about shifting weight than pretty shapes,” Devine says.

This proved challenging both in group numbers and when working with principals. “We’ve had this ongoing creative process where our two leads have to learn the choreography, then unlearn it and do it as boxing, and then find the middle ground between the dance and the fight,” says Hoggett. “It can’t be too heavily in the boxing arena because that increases the risk of injury. But if it looks like solid choreography, we’ve lost the battle, too.” [Read more →]

March 12, 2014   No Comments

Are You Brave Enough To Walk Through a Heart?

jody-oberfelder-4chambers

In her new dance piece, Jody Oberfelder turns biology into art

While big-budget extravaganzas and classical dance are firmly planted uptown, it can seem like the world of downtown dance–the one that inspires awe with its inventiveness—has gone the way of the landline.

But fear not: The avant-garde’s heart is thumping quite loudly in 4CHAMBERS, a new dance-theatre piece from Jody Oberfelder.

Running through March 22 at Williamsburg’s Art@Renaissance, 4CHAMBERS asks audience members (12 per performance at most) not only to share physical space with the performers, but also to engage in myriad activities themselves, providing an opportunity to explore the most intimate subject of all: the heart.

“When you see dance on a proscenium stage, you watch and are dazzled,” says Oberfelder. “You feel connected in a way. But I always wondered: How does watching dance physically affect someone—affect their heart? That’s the point of the immersive aspect. Since each audience member is personally led by a dancer-docent who engages with them, the individual is truly connected to the performance when the dancer dances or when they join in [themselves]. I was hoping to find out: How and why is the heart a metaphor for love and life? Can you go through the chills and spills of the performer yourself as an audience member? And most importantly, how are we moved by something?”

Throughout the hour-long performance, each patron is led by a dancer-docent through four veritable heart chambers, connected by veins of hallways. The rooms contain a mishmash of experiences: a free-form dance party, a learning lab filled with books and videos, and spaces to watch long phrases of Oberfelder’s athletic choreography performed at close proximity. (The movement includes complex partnering with massive lifts and pendulum kicks, and daring jumps off walls). There’s even a room where spectators wear heart monitors while they answer existential questions asked by an on-screen, interactive narrator. Throughout, the dancer-docent often takes a moment to place a hand on the watcher’s heart or rest the watcher’s hand on his or her own chest.

For Oberfelder, this is the latest iteration of a long-time fascination. In an earlier piece, Throb, dancers wore heart monitors onstage. Oberfelder knew she wanted to take the idea further in a way that would immerse the audience, but at first, she wasn’t sure how. “My process is usually just to create movement in the studio,” she says. “But I had to figure out how to move an audience member and see how people can feel different connections. I knew I had to change my approach.” [Read more →]

February 25, 2014   No Comments

Jessica Lang’s Unexpected Dance Company

jessica-lang-dance

Jessica Lang Dance performs”Lines Cubed”

The surprising evolution of Jessica Lang Dance

Jessica Lang already had one of the busiest freelance choreography careers around, with commissions coming at a steady clip. Since the Juilliard graduate committed herself to choreography, ballet companies from San Jose, California to Birminghgam, England have sought her services, not to mention the Joffrey Ballet and Ailey II.

“I was happy as a freelancer,” she says. “It was great. I’ve made my entire career out of that.”

Why, then, in 2011 did she form the nucleus of what is now Jessica Lang Dance, which has its first full New York season at the Joyce Theater this week? After all, a full-time troupe brings added responsibility, new financial pressure, and the assorted worries that freelancing never involves.

“After about ten years of that, I just started to question myself,” Lang says. “I was thinking, ‘Is there anything else? Am I happy? What is my goal?’ I was creating 12 works a year. It was nonstop and exhausting.”

More reflection came after she was one of four choreographers selected for a unique 2011 creative residency initiative administered by the Joyce Theater. She realized she was the only resident that didn’t work with a regular group of dancers. [Read more →]

February 19, 2014   No Comments

Longtime Friends, Unexpected Collaborators

balletnext

Michele Wiles and Jens Weber

At BalletNext, two stars forge a vital new partnership

At first, Brian Reeder and Michele Wiles had no reason to suspect they’d be such close collaborators. When they were both dancing at American Ballet Theatre, they were certainly friends—they particularly bonded over Japanese films during a tour in Tokyo—but they rarely worked together in rehearsal. As a principal, Wiles performed the standard catalog of ballerina roles, while Reeder, a corps de ballet dancer with a flair for character parts, wasn’t front and center.

But then, near the end of his tenure at ABT, Reeder found his voice as a choreographer of quirky, dramatically detailed works. Then Wiles became a co-founder of BalletNext, a plucky chamber troupe. Suddenly, it became easy for their aesthetic worlds to collide.

Now Wiles has turned to Reeder for a series of new ballets, and he has discovered that as a dancer, she is “an unexpected muse.” The fruit of this thriving artistic partnership will be on display in a BalletNext program that plays through Saturday at New York Live Arts.

As is evidenced in the current program, both artists are pushing each other to break new ground. By committing so seriously to Reeder’s work, for instance, Wiles seems to be altering her style as an artistic director. Since it was founded in 2011, BalletNext has ranged all over the choreographic map, but now the troupe is digging deeply with one artist. “I felt it was going to be much more focused,” Wiles says of the collaboration. “Over these past two years, we have developed very interesting relationships, and I believe [Brian is] someone who’s part of the core of creating BalletNext.”

She appreciates Reeder’s serious commitment to the classical vocabulary—all three works in the current program are danced in pointe shoes—as well as his unusually varied background with three major companies. In previous works, she notes, he’s shown an endearing individuality and a willingness to explore unusual characters and scenarios through the classical vocabulary.

For his part, Reeder has responded to working with these particular artists. “I looked in my little purple notebook of ideas and started thinking about what would work for more of a chamber dance troupe and for Michele’s specific dance abilities,” he says. Wiles impressed him when he saw her take on roles in Antony Tudor’s psychologically exploratory ballets at ABT. He—and many others—observed new shading in her performances, beyond her formidable technical strength. “It was interesting to watch her grow,” he recalls. “She went beyond her technique and grew into more of an artist.” [Read more →]

January 14, 2014   No Comments

Chance Encounters Create a Major New Show

cheri-martha-clarke

The unlikely development of Martha Clarke’s Chéri

Like any good romance, timing was key to the flowering of Chéri, the new dance-theatre piece conceived, directed, and choreographed by Martha Clarke and currently playing at Signature Theatre.

But even though a pair of chance encounters recently made the project a reality, Clarke had been thinking about it for years. Now in her late 60s, she was in her 20s when she first read “Chéri” (1920) and “The Last of Chéri” (1926), a pair of novellas by the French author Colette. Back then, Clarke was intrigued by the tale of Chéri, a 25-year-old Frenchman, and Lea, his almost-50-year-old lover. As they try to stay together, they face obstacles like her advancing age, his arranged marriage to a young woman, and the ravages of World War I.

“Probably when I was younger and living in more stormy relationships myself, I responded to the writing,” says Clarke, a founding member of Pilobolus Dance Theatre and now a “vagabond” (her word) interdisciplinary director, marrying text and movement. “The freedom to love and to lose and to move on, I found very moving.”

Today, she responds to Lea’s resiliency. “As one goes through some personal travail in living, the truth is, you do get tougher. One survives. Now that I’m where I am in life, the aging Lea thing—she loved her past, she loved her present—makes sense to me.”

But if Clarke’s late-career return to Colette was a matter of personal growth, the casting of her leads was a stroke of good luck. [Read more →]

December 17, 2013   No Comments