by Emily Kate Long
With March upon us, and no end in sight to Mother Nature’s blustery hostility, is it redundant to even mention winter weather? The aching cold of drafty studios, the slushy trudge to rehearsal, and the stale film of salt laying everywhere are enough to dampen anybody’s spirit.
For this late-winter installment of Finding Balance, I offer you a collection of dance humor. It’s my hope that these comic nuggets will bring some sunny distraction to your day. Enjoy!
First up is the “Mistake Waltz” from Jerome Robbins’ 1956 The Concert (Or, the Perils of Everybody). From start to finish, hilarious flubs in this five-minute dance for six women get me laughing every time. Every dancer can relate to wrong arms, wrong timing or that one member of the corps who never quite knows what’s going on. Do yourself a favor and watch all the way to the end—Robbins saves the best for last as the music ends and the mistakes continue.
The errors in The Concert will elicit laughs of recognition. The Ballets Trockadero give us another kind of laugh in this parody of “The Dying Swan.” The Trocks know how to do funny, and this piece stands out for just how far they take irreverence for the iconic Fokine solo. From the molting entrance to limb-by-limb paralysis and campy curtain calls, Maya Thickenthighya really hams it up. What’s best is that for all the silliness, his (her?) pointe work and port de bras are actually lovely enough to do justice to the original.
Last on the list is none other than Rudolf Nureyev and the Muppets in “Swine Lake.” I laugh at this clip for several reasons. I love the Muppet renditions of everything from Bizet to Queen, so of course I take delight in their customary butchering of a ballet. The irony of a life-sized pig dancing with an international ballet star is wonderfully ridiculous. The other irony here is time. As much as Nureyev revolutionized male ballet dancing, the feminine affectations of his style that some audiences in his time found objectionable stand out even more when compared to today’s best male dancers.
So there you have it, readers…some light-hearted treats to brighten up a winter’s day. If you have other funny favorites, please share them in the comments section!
Assistant Editor Emily Kate Long began her dance education in South Bend, Indiana, with Kimmary Williams and Jacob Rice, and graduated in 2007 from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School’s Schenley Program. She has spent summers studying at Ballet Chicago, Pittsburgh Youth Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, Miami City Ballet, and Saratoga Summer Dance Intensive/Vail Valley Dance Intensive, where she served as Program Assistant. Ms Long attended Milwaukee Ballet School’s Summer Intensive on scholarship before being invited to join Milwaukee Ballet II in 2007.
Ms Long has been a member of Ballet Quad Cities since 2009. She has danced featured roles in Deanna Carter’s Ash to Glass and Dracula, participated in the company’s 2010 tour to New York City, and most recently performed principal roles in Courtney Lyon’s Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, and Cinderella. She is also on the faculty of Ballet Quad Cities School of Dance, where she teaches ballet, pointe, and repertoire classes.
Both Nel and I have been working with Sumi Clements and Taryn Vander Hoop for a few years helping them with most of their dance photography and filming for Summation Dance.
We’re enjoying watching them grow. They’re very motivated and smart, and they really appreciate the value of excellent quality photo and video as a smart way to move their dance company forward. Summation Dance has a show coming up at BAM in Brooklyn and we wanted to have great dance images to use for promotion. Below you’ll see some more photos from our dance studio shoot.
He photographs dancers in the studio and in performance, for promotional materials, portraits and press, and he often collaborates with his wife, Nel Shelby, and her Manhattan-based dance film and video editing company Nel Shelby Productions (nelshelby.com). Together, they have documented dance at performances from New York City to Vail International Dance Festival.
Christopher Duggan Photography also covers the finest wedding venues in the Metropolitan and Tri-State areas, in Massachusetts and the Berkshires, and frequently travels to destination weddings.
His photographs appear in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Knot, Destination I Do, Photo District News, Boston Globe, Financial Times, Dance Magazine, and Munaluchi Bridal, among other esteemed publications and popular dance and wedding blogs. One of his images of Bruce Springsteen was added to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and his dance photography has been exhibited at The National Museum of Dance and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.
His Natural Light Studio (http://www.christopherduggan.com/portfolio/natural-light-studio-jacobs-pillow-photography/) at Jacob’s Pillow is his most ambitious photography project to date – check out his blog to see more portraits of dance artists in his pop-up photo studio on the Pillow grounds.
As we continue our series on choreographers we are pleased to welcome Val Caniparoli – Resident Choreographer for San Francisco Ballet…
You have had a long and varied career as a choreographer. Can you describe a few of the highlights?
It’s difficult to describe highlights in the years since my first creation in 1979. Many highlights for me are when a dancer that I have chosen gets promoted or gets more attention after they have performed my work. I love to give underdogs a chance in major roles.
The response from the World Premiere of Lambarena from the audience opening night with San Francisco Ballet in 1995 was huge.
Creating two successfully different Nutcrackers for two different Company’s (Louisville Ballet and Cincinnati Ballet) is a highlight.
I guess highlights for me are when I create works that audiences love to watch and dancers love and want to be in them. Also when the work exceeded my expectations and the concept, choreography, design and dancers all synch together perfectly. Ibsen’s House and Incantations are examples.
What comes first for you in the process of choreographing a new dance? How do you begin?
When creating a new work inspiration from the music that I came across is the easiest and the best way to begin. When I am commissioned I first need to know what is on the program with me if it’s not a full length work I’m creating. Does the director want an abstract or a story? How many dancers does he or she want me to use?
Some other questions I ask are: Does it need to fit in the beginning, middle or end of the program? What is the budget? How long is my creation process? Can I pick my own designers? Can I have a set or decor? How long are the stage and tech times before the opening? Can the project fit into both my and the company’s existing schedule?
These (and many more) questions need to be resolved before I can even begin working on the artistic side of the new creation.
What is your process like when you are making dances?
The response above answers the first part. The next part is to solidify the music choice, pick the design team and get to work. I collaborate with all the designers from the very beginning on concepts and vision. I’m not one to create the work and then paste on the designs.
We all start work on each project at least a year in advance. Many meetings and telephone calls. Now we have the advantage of Skype. I try to include the Artistic Director in my progress as much as possible.
What role does the music play for you?0
by Lauren Warnecke
When I first started contributing at 4dancers, it was a place where I could process my thoughts from a choreographic standpoint and share my views about dancemaking – as a dancemaker.
Everything was going fine, and then one day people started calling me a dance critic.
In the past year, Chicago has experienced a huge shift amongst the dance writers – a shift of which I was a very fortunate benefactor. The head of state in the world of Chicago dance criticism retired, and everyone sort of just shuffled about and moved up the ranks. The shift in my local community of writers, combined with the impending collapse of print publications, has brought dance bloggers to the forefront. Bloggers are now participating in dance criticism on a pretty significant level.
This is a shift that makes lots of people uncomfortable (journalists and dancers alike). There is an old-school model of arts criticism that requires the critic to be from outside the community in order to remain objective. Bloggers are often working artists themselves, and may, at times, appear to simply be advertising for themselves and their friends. The problem with this way of thinking is: without bloggers, there are only a handful of writers left. The old-school infrastructure is caving in, and can’t support the writers. One-time dance critics have now opted for jobs in PR, marketing, and consulting within the dance community because it’s impossible to make a living as a critic alone. To deny that bloggers don’t carry weight in today’s press is not just narrow-minded – it threatens dance criticism as a whole. In a city such as Chicago with dozens and dozens of dance companies, the odds of getting press from one of the four or so writers left are pretty slim. Enlarge the concept of what a critic is, and you enlarge the possibility for press.
Personally, I never considered myself a dance critic, and it’s a title I’m still not entirely comfortable with. At my core, I’m one of you. I’m part of the community. I just express my voice through a different medium now.
As a dancemaker I used to wonder what the critics were looking for. Artists pour their hearts into everything they do, and expose an enormous amount of vulnerability onstage. For a stranger to come in and, in 500 words, say that you sucked… well… that doesn’t feel good. A bad review might lead to you think you need to change your dance, or change your process, or quit altogether. A bad review makes you not want to enter the theater the next day and do your show again. A bad review feels intensely personal, and what’s worse is that you know it’s not personal to the reviewer. A bad review can (occasionally) affect what other people think, because a dance critic is a trusted source who is supposed to understand dance better than most people.
All of that is true, except the part about you quitting altogether. I know it is, because I’ve been there. I’ve been the subject of some not-so-awesome comments, and know what that feels like. I’ve had to remind myself that this is just the opinion of one person, who isn’t nearly as invested in the work as I am – that there are very few right and wrong answers in dance.
Guess what? I carry those feelings with me every time I sit down to my keyboard. That’s not to say that I think every review should be glowing. Just like dance, a review comes from a place of vulnerability and authenticity. Telling the truth is the hardest part of the job, because I know exactly how hard each choreographer works to develop a piece. But it is pointless to give blanket praise to everything, or to say things I don’t don’t mean or don’t feel because I’m afraid people will be mad or hurt.
Above all else, criticism is about discourse. By its nature, the job exposes the critic to lots and lots (and lots) of dance. While you’ve been working really hard on your own thing, we are out watching everybody else’s thing. So the leg up is not that a critic can kick as high as you can, or make a dance that is better than yours. The cred comes from the fact that we’ve just seen more, and have a broader base of comparison than most people. The longer you do it, the bigger the inventory to draw from. None of this answers the question on the day, which is: what the heck are dance critics looking for?!?
Easily asked, and not as easily answered. I can only speak for myself here, but the next little bit of this manifesto is devoted to telling you, the choreographer, what I look for in a successful dance performance.
In a word: everything.
I consider the dance and the dancers. Are the dancers dancing strongly? Are they in unison when they are supposed to be? Are they pushed outside their comfort zone? Are the better or worse than previous appearances? Is your dance choreographically sound? Does it have a beginning, a middle, and an end? Is there a through-line, or any sort of “letting in” to your audience? Is it new, or innovative, or somehow different from everything else? What sort of adjectives does your dance evoke?
I consider the performance experience. Is this dance appropriate for this venue? Is it a good weekend for this concert? Is your concert worth the ticket price, or the bad parking situation, or the lumpy, uncomfortable chair I’m sitting in? Who is your audience? What does their response appear to be?
I consider collaboration. How are elements of lighting, sound, costume, set, etc. used to enhance (or, in some cases detract from) the performance? Is anything new or different or innovative about these collaborations?
At the end of the day, it comes down to my gut. How do I feel after leaving this performance? Was it awesome? Thought-provoking? Uncomfortable? Memorable? How does this performance stack up to others I’ve seen recently? If I know the choreographer or the company, was this a good effort from them, this time?
Maybe hearing what goes through my head at a dance performance informs your process, and maybe it doesn’t. Your art is your art, and plenty of people have created successful careers while being consistently reviled by the critics. It’s up to you to decide whether or not it really matters.
Love us or hate us, we need each other. We depend on one another, particularly in the live arts, to continue to push, question, and provoke new things from an art form that creates only fleeting moments. After disclosing what I’m looking for from you, the question is: what are you looking for from me?
Contributor Lauren Warnecke is a Chicago-based dance writer. She holds degrees in Dance (BA, ’03) and Kinesiology (MS, ’09) and is currently on faculty for the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
In 2009 Lauren created Art Intercepts, a blog focused on dancer health, education, and editorial criticism. She is a regular contributor to SeeChicagoDance, Windy City Times, and the Huffington Post, with occasional contributions to Dance Advantage, 4dancers, and The L Stop.
Lauren has freelanced as a production/stage manager, curator, choreographer, and grant writer. She is a Certified Personal Trainer (ACSM) and Functional Training Specialist (ACE). She enjoys coffee and vintage apparel, and believes in the Oxford comma. Follow Lauren on Twitter @artintercepts.4
Ladies and gentlemen…join me in welcoming back the marvelous Margi Cole. For those of you who don’t know her, Margi is a choreographer in the Chicago area and is the Founder/Director of The Dance COLEctive.
I had the good fortune to finally meet her last year at an event and found her thoughtful, interesting–and extremely nice. We are pleased to share this interview with her here so you can get a glimpse of what it is like to work as a choreographer in Chicago…as well as what it is like to be a dance maker–from her point of view…
You have been choreographing for a long time. How has your view about making dances changed over the years?
When I started making dances for me, it was all about making the steps. It has evolved over a long period of time into me creating puzzles my dancers must navigate to invent movement vocabulary. I come in with an idea, share it with them, put mechanisms in place for them to begin to investigate and let them have at it. I then become an editor, director, shaper – the girls call it adding the “Margi Spice”. I identify places in the material that are of interest or that don’t seem to work just right, and we explore them and edit it them. Sometimes that even means me inserting myself physically into the moment so that I can help make choices. It also means that lots of material “ends up on the cutting room floor.” I truly enjoy this process, especially watching the dancers engage with each other. I am always working to find new ways to challenge them and myself.
How important do you feel the music is to the dance-making process?
For me, the music always comes later in the process. I always want it to inform/rub against the material so it can be pushed further rather than be consumed by it. I want the movement itself to be interesting enough to exist on its own, then I seek out its partner. The music for me is sometimes a last step. Fortunately, for the last couple of works I created, I had the luxury of working with someone to create a sound score. In some ways that has proven more satisfying than trying to find existing music.
If a dancer came to you and asked how they should pursue a career in choreography, what would your advice be?
Make lots of dances, see lots of dances, listen, have verbal discourse, be a risk taker, ask more of yourself every time and don’t work in a vacuum. Sometimes the answers to things can be found in the strangest places, not necessarily in the studio or during the process. If you have the good fortune of establishing a relationship with a mentor along the way treat it with respect and care. It is so rare to have someone with an outside eye and ear who can support and challenge you like no other. Treat your collaborators the way you would want to be treated. Allow yourself to fail. Sometimes the trip/journey ends up being the most important part of the work and not the work itself.
Do I sometimes hit a wall and not know which direction to turn? Yes! And I have found that it is really much simpler to be honest and say, “Hey, I really need to think about this some more. I don’t know what to do next.” Yes! Inevitably I have to walk away from the material for a bit and then come back to it in order to see it differently. It is like being stuck on a move in Words with Friends. You can’t think of anything and then you go back later and you can’t believe you didn’t see this great move sooner. Throughout the years, I have also given myself permission to turn a corner from my original ideas. I call it listening to the material and letting myself see where it takes me/us.
You are a Chicago-based choreographer. How do you feel about the state of dance in the area?
I feel like dance here in Chicago has a strong prescence on numerous levels. There are many unique voices. It has been wonderful to see the dance community grow and the work become more sophisticated over the years. I think Chicago is more recognized as a city for dance, and I am proud of to that and feel good about my involvement in helping that to happen. I am seeing more people work collaboratively across disciplines. Our emerging and mid-career artists are both working hard seeking out new models for ourselves to ensure more thriving and less surviving. Our biggest struggle is that we are all scrambling for the same resources, but that is true of the dance community at large, not just in Chicago. With all that in mind, I would say there is a lot of innovation and enthusiasm around creating a sustained presence here and beyond.
If you had to do your career as a choreographer all over again—what would you change?
I would be less judgmental and more open. Less fearful and more risky. Less conservative and more bold. Less know-it-all and more curious. I would see challenges as opportunities. In short, I would have given myself permission to fail. But, that is just one of those things that it takes time to figure out.
What have you been working on lately?
Right now the company is working on three duets. They are sourced from the same initial topic and movement vocabulary but are developing into three very different studies. It is fun to watch how they are evolving so differently. I also have a deep curiosity for site specific work and an interest in finding new ways to engage the audience. I am trying to wrap my brain around how I can do both those things in a different way. We will see what happens.
Bio: Margi Cole is Founder and Artistic Director of The Dance COLEctive. She graduated from the Alabama School of Fine Arts, received a Bachelor of Arts in Dance from Columbia College Chicago and a Masters of Fine Arts in Dance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As a teacher and guest lecturer, she has taught for numerous educational and professional organizations such as the Alabama Ballet, the American College Dance Festival, Ballet Tennessee, Northwestern University, Columbia College Chicago, Lou Conte Dance Studio, the Joffrey Academy of Dance, the American Dance Festival, and various other institutions throughout Illinois, the Midwest, and the Southeast. As a choreographer, Margi has been commissioned by The Alabama Ballet, Springfield Ballet Company, Sanspointe Dance Company, the Birmingham Museum of Art, Girl’s Preparatory School of Tennessee, Beloit College and Columbia College Chicago.
As a performer, Margi has danced with well-known choreographers and companies, including Ralph Lemon, Joe Goode Performance Group, Liz Burritt, Stephen Koplowitz, Ann Boyd, David Rousseve, Bill Young, Douglas Nielsen, Peter Carpenter, Timothy O’Slynne, Paula Frasz, Colleen Halloran, Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak, Mordine & Company Dance Theatre, Renee Wadleigh, and Ellie Klopp. In August 2011, Cole traveled to Findhorn Scotland to join 19 international performers to participate in the Deborah Hay Solo Commissioning Project.
Awards and acknowledgements of Margi’s accomplishments include making the list of “Teachers Rated Excellent by their Students” four consecutive semesters while on faculty at the University of Illinois, receiving two Dance Center of Columbia College Choreographic Mentoring Scholarships, two Illinois Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowships, a 2005 Chicago Dancemakers Forum grant, a American Marshall Memorial Fellowship, and winning a Panoply Festival Choreography Award for Contemporary Dance in Huntsville, AL.
Margi is active in the Chicago dance community, serving on grant panels and in public forums as an arts administrator, dancer and choreographer. In 2011, she was integral in organizing both the Dance/USA and Marshall Forum annual conferences in Chicago. Cole is currently a Chicago Dancemakers Forum Consortium Member and was a part of the Marshall Memorial Fellowship Selection Committee. She is currently on faculty at Columbia College Chicago, where she has served as a Lecturer and Associate Chair. In 2012 she was named one of The Players in New City”s “Fifty People Who Really Perform in Chicago” List.0