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Category — Dance

Longtime Friends, Unexpected Collaborators

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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

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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

Your Guide to Holiday Dance

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Along with the indulgent taste of eggnog, a general sense of good will, and the smell of pine needles in the air, the holidays usher in a season of dance, including several productions of the beloved classic The Nutcracker. The ballet tells the tale of wide-eyed Clara as she travels to the Land of Sweets via magic created by Drosselmeyer, her mysterious but benevolent godfather. During her coming-of-age journey, she meets a host of fantastical characters including warring rats, a gallant Nutcracker Prince, and the gorgeous Sugarplum Fairy, who all sparkle with holiday cheer.

Here’s your guide to many of this season’s Nutcracker productions, as well as other holiday options.

The Traditional Take:

* American Ballet Theatre
The Nutcracker
December 13-22
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House

Choreographed by ABT’s phenomenal Artist in Residence Alexander Ratmansky, this offering dazzles with classical technique and choreography that references Petipa’s/Ivanov’s well-known version without being reductive. Ratmansky’s unique style shines and the dancers sparkle in classical fashion. The pairing of the elegant Veronika Part and powerful Marcelo Gomes is particularly enticing this year.

* New York City Ballet
George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
Through Jan 4
David H. Koch Theater

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker uses the same narrative and structure as most, but is infused with the ballet master’s iconic style and tweaks (Clara is called Marie, among other variations). Spectacular production aspects, like a famous one-ton Christmas tree that grows from 12 to 40 feet, are visually stunning, making it a dazzling option for new-to-Nutcracker watchers. To many New Yorkers, in fact, this is what Nutcracker memories are made of.

[Read more →]

December 13, 2013   No Comments

How Does Carole King Dance?

Beautiful the Musical

Inside the choreography in Broadway’s Beautiful

With a canon that includes “I Feel the Earth Move,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” Carole King is one of rock’s most iconic singer-songwriters. Now her journey from Brooklyn girl to Grammy-winning superstar is being shared onstage in the new Broadway musical Beautiful, which is in previews at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.

And while you might not automatically equate King’s style with dancing, her music was indeed produced amidst a swirl of movement (think of the pony, the twist, and those gentle side sways during ballads). As they developed their material for Beautiful, choreographer Josh Prince and associate choreographer Alison Solomon worked to create moves that would both honor this era and make sense on the Broadway stage.

“The story of Carole is that of a composer at the piano, so the dance is clearly about singers who move well; the dance needs to support their vocals and be, most importantly, true to the period,” says Prince. “I wanted to avoid anachronistic aspects, but still explore a romanticized, theatricalized version of the era.”

Before rehearsals began, Prince tested a variety of moves through his own project, The Broadway Dance Lab. (Founded in 2012, the Lab offers choreographers time and space to bring in dancers and create work without the pressure of looming deadlines.) “The more you practice, the more you can explore different elements, like timing, vocabularies of movement, and patterns,” he says. “You learn your own sensibility, and then when you’re working on an actual project, you have a technique and perspective you can rely on. I’m a big fan of simple gestures making a strong statement. I was able to investigate that at the Lab, and I’ve used that repeatedly in the show.”

To manage Beautiful, Prince needed an associate choreographer like Solomon. Responsible for everything from writing the “bible” (a written record of all the movement in a show) to giving dancers notes and training the dance captain, the associate is essentially the choreographer’s right hand. “The best associates get into your head and guess what you want,” Prince says. “For instance, during [one performance], Ali and I went into the lobby during the show and re-choreographed a number in the mirror. She adds ideas and also reminds me, for example, everyone on stage right is on a different foot. Sometimes I can just look at her and know it’s not right from her input. That’s invaluable.” [Read more →]

December 3, 2013   1 Comment

What Do We Feel Like When We’re Dancing?

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Susan Marshall has seen us dance, and she wants to know more

Although she’s an established creator in the contemporary dance scene, Susan Marshall recently found herself intrigued by the way people dance when they’re just having fun. “I was interested in the way popular dance and rock music function in our lives—the roles they serve and our relation to them in our emotional lives and identity,” she says.

The result of her exploration is Play/Pause, which has its New York premiere this Wednesday-Saturday as part of BAM’s Next Wave Festival. With an original score by David Lang, performed live by three musicians, the work poses intriguing questions about the reasons we dance when we’re not in front of an audience. Marshall says the piece investigates “how the [personal] experience of dance is very different from how we approach it as something that we watch. I’m drawn to its power, its rhythm, and the way it can provide a kind of catharsis for whatever excess of emotions we’re experiencing in our lives.”

She continues, “I think I was a little frustrated with the separation between the very omnipresent, popular social-dance world and our little niche of the dance world. And [I was] wanting to cross that line myself.” [Read more →]

November 18, 2013   No Comments