Language And Motion: An Elegant Relationship


RE|Dance Group, photo by Cole Witter

by Michael Estanich

As a dance artist I strive to build connections—between viewer and dancer, between music and action, between image and feeling. For me, moving is the purest way to do that, though its purity needn’t be exclusive. At RE|Dance Group, I develop work that explores the limitless range of human feeling. In order to accomplish this, I stack a variety of images atop each other in the hopes of crafting a multi-sensational experience for the audience. Because all of my senses so beautifully intertwine allowing me to feel deeply and experience life, I welcome all sensorial images into my work. I rely on the audience’s willingness to dispel tradition and embrace curiosity.

Text and visual design collide with movement in all of RE|Dance Group’s work. I create fully realized worlds where every action, sound, and visual carries important information in understanding the whole. I find that these multiple entry points invite the viewer to lean forward and feel.

I enjoy memories and remembering. There is visceral pleasure in retelling something from the past. To me, words and action are undeniably linked. I enjoy how memories translate in my body—through action and in words. I enjoy the process of connecting what I hear to what I see. It is remarkable how willingly the mind catches on and constructs truth and understanding when we engage with all of our senses.

RE|Dance Group, photo by Robert Roser

RE|Dance Group, photo by Robert Roser

There is comfort in language. We rely on it to let others know how we feel and what we need. To use language to share a part of myself seems so natural. To juxtapose language with motion excites me. Both together enrich the possibility to understand and to feel. This notion is important to me. I want the audience to know that we are complex, that we are moving, hearing, speaking, smelling, tasting, feeling beings and that they can recognize a part of themselves in a singular, special moment inside my work.

With that goal in my mind, I use whatever medium most potently communicates the idea—be it a sly, organic dancing trio, a cacophony of sound, a massive large-scale visual sculpture, or a simple connection through language. Each on their own is powerful art, but combined they produce a complex aural and visual landscape where, as an artist, I get lost in the beauty of my imagination.

See RE|Dance Group perform “It’s About Love Again This Year” at Links Hall, March 6-8 2015. Learn more about the company on the website.

Michael HeadshotMichael Estanich (Artistic Director, RE|Dance Group) is an Associate Professor of Dance at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He teaches modern dance, composition, dance pedagogy, movement analysis and dance history. He earned his MFA from The Ohio State University and his BFA from Denison University. His creative research currently examines ideas of space, architecture, landscape and habitation often resulting in dances supported by sculptural environments. He and Lucy formed RE|Dance Group in 2009 as a means to explore long distance collaboration. Michael’s performance credits include Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak, Cerulean Dance Theatre, Rebecca Rosen, Melanie Bales, Bebe Miller and a reconstruction of Mark Morris’ acclaimed choreography All Fours. He teaches annually at the Trollwood Performing Arts School in Moorhead, MN and at the American College Dance Association (ACDA). He is the North Central Regional Director of ACDA.


Ballerina Ashley Ellis Talks Pointe Shoes

Photo by Ashley Ellis

Photo by Ashley Ellis

by Ashley Ellis

You may have heard of dancers referring to their body as their instrument. It is so true, and we must constantly take care of our instrument so that we are able to ‘play our music’ to the best of our ability.

With this said, for a ballerina there is a whole other very important factor that comes into play. Pointe Shoes. Keeping with the same analogy, I’d say that pointe shoes are like the bow to our violin. They go together to create the ‘music’ of a ballet dancer. How she feels in her shoes can greatly affect her dancing experience.

There are a number of pointe shoe brands out there, and a dancer will usually try many different makes and models before settling on one. My very first pair of pointe shoes were Contempora by Capezio (they were pink and very small, hehe). After that I spent a few years in pointe shoes made by Sansha before settling on FREED Studios Professional, which is what I wear to this day.

I will admit though, that I am currently testing out the waters with a new pointe shoe, FREED Classic. They aren’t far from what I am using now but as any ballerina can tell you, once you find your shoe it can be a real challenge to switch brands. The reason for this is that after spending so much time in your chosen pointe shoes they become a part of your foot so to speak; you learn how to articulate and “use” your feet in these shoes.

Photo by Ashley Ellis.

Photo by Ashley Ellis.

The biggest difference between what I have been wearing, the ‘studios’, and the new (to me) ‘classics’ is that the studios are what we call a stock shoe and the classics are handmade. The truth is that I could go on and on about the differences between the two, but well, for your sake I won’t bore you with ALL of the details!

Because the FREED classics are handmade they can be custom ordered for the personal needs of individual dancers. This means that they will not only fit better by shaping them around a dancer’s foot, but can also accentuate strengths and give more support or pliability where it’s needed. In fact, the alterations that can be made to these shoes are seemingly endless–it’s really quite remarkable.

Despite all of the wonderful aspects of having a shoe made just for you, it takes time to get it just right, and when it comes down to it you must feel at home in them. As for me, I am still at home in my stock shoes.

It seems that the general thought that comes to mind when thinking of pointe shoes is, “ouch!”. I don’t know how many people have asked me if the box is made of wood (no, not wood, just many layers of fabric and glue). It’s funny because once you reach a certain point in your professional career you wear them so many hours throughout each day that it really isn’t all that painful. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t walking on clouds, but your feet become strong, and do toughen up over time.

Photo by Ashley Ellis.

Photo by Ashley Ellis.

That said, most dancers will still create some sort of little barrier between the toes and the actual box of the shoe for protection, some of which include: various kinds of sports tape, masking tape, duct tape, toe pads made of foam, wool, rubber—even gel-filled ones. I wear a simple toe pad made from a thin layer of lamb’s wool. I actually didn’t wear anything in my shoes until about two years ago. My teacher didn’t let us when I started out on pointe so that we would really have to feel the floor and articulate our feet better.

One of the most important things to know is learning how to break-in your pointe shoes. They are not the kind of shoes that you can just slide on your foot and wear. If you do—well—they will feel like wood and cause much more pain than they should. This ritual is yet another aspect of wearing pointe shoes that is individual to each dancer.

Photo by Ashley Ellis.

Photo by Ashley Ellis.

How I prepare my shoes:

  • Cut the shank.
  • Add glue to the middle of the shank where I need the most support.
  • Sew the insole back down so it doesn’t roll up under my arch.
  • Step on the box, then work it a bit to soften the upper box area.
  • Wear them a bit to break them a little more and form them more to my feet.
  • Bang them really hard on cement so they are quiet as well as easier to move in.
  • Glue the inside upper portion of the box.
  • Sew on elastic and ribbons.

Even though there are those days when I get to that 6th hour of rehearsal and my feet are simply swollen and ready to be soaked in a big bucket of ICE, I do truly love dancing on pointe; with the movement qualities that it allows, and illusions that it can create.

Boston Ballet presents Lady of the Camellias, running from February 26th through March 8th. Tickets are available here. See Ashley perform the lead role of Marguerite at the Saturday matinee.

Ashley Ellis

Boston Ballet’s Ashley Ellis

Contributing writer Ashley Ellis is a principal dancer at Boston Ballet. Ellis hails from Torrance, California and she received her dance training at the South Bay Ballet under the direction of Diane Lauridsen. Other instruction included Alicia Head, Mario Nugara, Charles Maple, and Kimberly Olmos.

She began her professional career with American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company and later joined American Ballet Theatre as a company dancer. In 1999, Ellis won the first prize at the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Award, and went on to become the recipient of the Coca Cola scholarship award in 2000 and 2001. She has performed in Spain with Angel Corella’s touring group and joined Corella Ballet in 2008 as a soloist. In 2011, Ellis joined Boston Ballet as a second soloist. She was promoted to soloist in 2012 and principal dancer in 2013.

Her repertoire includes Marius Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty; Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker; Natalia Makarova’s  La  Bayadère;  Marius  Petipa’s  Swan Lake; Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse, VIII and Polyphonia; Harald Lander’s Études; Michel  Fokine’s  Les  Sylphides;  Rudolf  Nureyev’s Don Quixote; Christopher Bruce’s Rooster; George Balanchine’s  Serenade,  Coppélia,  Symphony  in Three Movements, Symphony in C, and Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux; Clark Tippet’s Bruch Violin Concerto; Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room; Stanton Welch’s Clear; Angel Corella’s String Sextet; Wayne McGregor’s Chroma; Jorma Elo’s Awake Only; Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free; Jiří Kylián’s Wings of Wax, Symphony of Psalms, and Petite Mort.


The Bliss & Pitfalls Of Making The Ultimate Solo: A Group Therapy Session For Choreographers

by Jamie Benson

Lights come up on a lone figure, the one burdened with putting a trance over a packed house of smart phones. It’s a tall order to be sure. You don’t just have to dazzle, you have to captivate, ooze an indisputable it-factor that dares an audience of TV brains to look away, as if they could. The best/worst part is that you probably put yourself in the position to be this dance mystic. It’s your fault.

It’s your solo after all.

In an attempt to simplify my life as a choreographer (Ha!), I recently dove headfirst into the idea of making new solos. This was after previously doing a lot of ensemble pieces. It’s more freeing and more terrifying than ever. You’ve been there right? (Or will be.) Let’s have some group therapy real quick and see if we can come out the other end a little wiser, a little more capable of entrancing our next packed house. Game? Good.


Photo by Stacey Adams.

Potential Pitfall: How Does It “Read” (a.k.a Do I look nuts?)

It can be tricky to clearly represent the source of whatever emotion one is exploring as a soloist and harder to suss out how it might “read” to an innocent audience-goer. There’s a more immediate response when working with other performers. They laugh when it’s funny, look at you cross-eyed when it’s too complicated or unintentionally awkward, and so on and so forth. As audience members, we’ve all experienced that performance where a soloist goes from poised dancer to insane person in seconds flat. As choreographers we think we know how something looks from the outside because we feel it so deeply. But as an audience member, one can become perplexed and feel alienated really fast if there’s no immediate access point, such as a topical reference, a common emotional gesture, something. Even if we deliberately create space for the audience to make their own choices about what we’re doing, our job is still ultimately to communicate something through movement.

Read more


Student Spotlight: Genevieve Eveleigh

Genevieve Eveleigh

Genevieve Eveleigh is 16 years old and currently trains at English National Ballet School in London alongside 400 other candidates. Before ENBS, Genevieve attended a non-vocational school, but was allowed time away to pursue additional ballet training during Year 10. This resulted in spending time with Autrand Ballet in St. Raphael in the south of France alongside regular schooling in the UK.

Genevieve has studied the Royal Academy of Dance syllabi up to and including Advanced 1. She was a pupil at Milton Academy of Dance and also attended the Associate Programme at The Royal Ballet School in London and The Tring Classical Ballet Academy at The Tring School for Performing Arts.

In 2014, Genevieve was the winner of the Genée Dance Challenge Level 3 semi-final but, unfortunately, couldn’t attend the final due to injury. She was also a finalist for the Molly Lake Award. Having just watched the Prix de Lausanne, Genevieve has aspirations to compete in 2017, and her ultimate goal is to secure a contract with a classical ballet company.

How did you become involved in dance?

My Mum signed me up for ballet when I was probably three, thinking that it would be good for discipline – I think that I was quite strong willed. As I got older, I used to dread my once-a-week class and my Mum used to drag me along to my local dance school, telling me that “I would thank her one day.” I have to admit that she was right – as always!

Now I love the challenge; the ability to push myself through self-imposed boundaries, working with my body to master what it is I have been trying to achieve – it’s incredibly fulfilling when that moment arrives.

What do you like least about class?

My least favourite thing is choreography, which is where I am really out of my comfort zone. I find it really challenging.

What is the hardest part about dance for you?

Confidence and patience. Lots of people think that ballet is all about sparkles and glamour. The truth is that it is tough and brutal. I think that if art is your passion, it’s one of the many reasons that you fall in love with ballet. You do get knocks but you still have to hold your head up high and carry on with confidence.

Patience for me is a work in progress and I struggle with it. If I can’t achieve something I have a tendency to get frustrated and beat myself up. Things don’t get mastered with a click of your fingers… blood, sweat and tears is no lie. If you want it you have to work for it, but give yourself time and notice your improvements as well as recognising what you need to improve on.

What advice would you give to other dancers?

The dance world is competitive. Don’t be fazed by the girl next door on the barre or the one doing triple pirouettes – focus on you and compare yourself to the dancer you were yesterday.

How has dance changed your life?

Dance has made me stronger as a person – more focused, more disciplined, and more mature. Through ballet I have learned to express myself far more eloquently than with words and I have found a world of people to connect with. I love my life and, yes, I’m so grateful to my Mum for not allowing me to give up all those years ago.


Ribbons, Ice, Everything Painful and Nice: A Pro Dancer Talks Pointe Shoes

Alabama Ballet company member Nadine Barton on pointe shoes and foot care.

Nadine Pointe 1

1. What brand and model of pointe shoe do you wear?

Capezio Aria.

2. How long have you worn this model?

For about five years.

3. Why does this model work best for your feet?

I like the way the model shapes to my feet as well as provides support in the right ways. I never liked having space from the floor when I am up on pointe, and, with these, I can always feel the floor.

4. Does anything about the structure of your feet create challenges for pointe work?

Read more


Joffrey Shows Range With “Unique Voices” Program

The Joffrey Ballet in "Tulle". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The Joffrey Ballet in “Tulle”. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

by Catherine L. Tully

The Joffrey Ballet displayed determination, range and energy as they tackled three disparate pieces on Wednesday night at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre. “Unique Voices” offers the work of two choreographers who explore the various aspects of relationships, and one who delves into the very nature of ballet itself.

Maninyas by Stanton Welch

“Maninyas” – April Daly and Miguel Angel Blanco. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Stanton Welch’s “Maninyas” examines the layers of vulnerability and openness in love relationships, and a range of related feelings are explored throughout. As a backdrop, panels of fabric hang from the ceiling and the dancers are dressed in vibrant hues, moving to Ross Edwards’ “Maninyas Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.”

Five couples whirl and leap through a series of movements so complex that it’s exhausting just to watch. The choreography is extremely challenging and the dancers attack it with strength and energy–although they fall a little short of perfection. That said, “Maninyas” is not an easy piece to dance flawlessly, and the company holds nothing back–women fling skirts around with abandon and men bravely tackle the most harrowing of lifts.

Specific movements are often repeated, reflecting various stages of self-protection—or abandon. At times dancers cover their eyes, while in other moments they wildly hurl their arms open to the heavens as if giving up—or giving in. Women arch backward and “trust fall” onto the backs of their partners, and in the final moments of the piece the women’s legs open widely in submission as men carry them off into the darkness.

The Man In Black ballet

“The Man in Black” – Edson Barbosa, Joanna Wozniak, Fernando Duarte amd Derrick Agnoletti. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

James Kudelka’s “The Man In Black” offers a totally different take on relationships. A decidedly non-showy piece, it meanders quietly through six different Johnny Cash covers—and what feels like many years of relationships between four people. Set for three men (Derrick Agnoletti, Edson Barbosa and Fernando Duarte) and one lady (Joanna Wozniak), it is a very emotional piece that examines the impact each person has on the group as a whole.

Although it takes some time to settle in and get invested after the wild intensity of “Maninyas,” the simplicity of this piece is as beautiful as it is pure. The dancers drift in and out of relationship with one another; sometimes fighting, sometimes desperate to help one who is troubled, and sometimes just going along on the “journey.” Cowboy boots are used both as costume and as a rhythm tool, and Cash’s voice couldn’t be more moving.

“The Man In Black” nearly comes across as an easy piece—until you begin to realize that many of the movements are like a Jenga puzzle, with one person completely reliant upon another for stability. Unlike the complexity of “Maninyas,” here almost everything is stripped down to the core—but paired with Cash’s tremendously powerful voice, it has everything needed to make a striking impact. And that it does.

The Joffrey Ballet in "Tulle". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The Joffrey Ballet in “Tulle”. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

And then there’s “Tulle.”

Hailed as a “ballet about ballet,” this program-ending piece by Alexander Ekman is more theater than dance at the outset. Large LED panels serve as the backdrop, flashing images of eyes, clowns, and close-ups of what appears to be actual tulle fabric in a blue hue. The marvelous soundtrack by Mikael Karlsson is varied, and includes counting, heavy breathing, stomping and more fun/funny sounds punctuating a variety of “scenes” throughout the piece. The five positions are called off, a dancer talks about why she loves ballet and the history of the art form is examined in narrative.

At one point a bevy of “swans” wanders over to the edge of the stage and stops—looking out at the audience in silence for an uncomfortable amount of time. In an unexpected move, they all nervously begin to whistle the music to “Swan Lake”. It’s silly bits like this that add breadth to “Tulle,” and Ekman manages to deliver just the right amount—without mocking the art form in too terrible a fashion.

Ultimately, this behind-the-scenes, humorous take on ballet dissolves into a tight display of technique and a powerful ensemble piece with music to match. And while Ekman may make light of this dance form in some ways, it is clear that there is also a reverence and respect for the beauty it unveils when all the elements come together on stage. That was on display for all to see on opening night.

And indeed—it was pretty fantastic.

Joffrey’s “Unique Voices” program runs through February 22nd at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago.

Disclosure: Joffrey dancer Cara Marie Gary and conductor Scott Speck are contributing writers to the site.


Recipe: Tasty Cherry Smoothie


Sometimes you just need something tasty to give you a little pick-me-up. This cherry smoothie recipe is easy and delicious. Just grab your blender and combine the following ingredients:

  • 1 cup frozen cherries
  • 1 cup vanilla almond milk
  • 1/4 cup lowfat Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 scoop vanilla protein powder

The protein powder and Greek yogurt add some staying power to this drink, but if you’re just looking for a great tasting drink with less calories, you can just use the frozen cherries and the almond milk. It won’t be as creamy–but it will still taste great!



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