by Grier Cooper
You work hard during ballet class because you know your hard work will pay off. But how do you know what’s working and what isn’t? Aside from occasional comments or critiques from your teachers, you don’t. But you can change that! By implementing this simple journaling process, you can track your progress so you have a clear idea.
You’ll be doing some writing so you’ll need a small sketchbook or journal (choose a pretty one!) and a pen. Be sure to give yourself a few minutes before and after class to read through the questions and write down your thoughts. This process is just for you, so keep it light, simple and fun.
Before class begins, do the following:
Set an intention
Take a few moments to set an intention. An intention is a purpose, or a desired action or result. Close your eyes and ask yourself what your intention is for this particular class. The answer may come as a thought, feeling or vision. Write down whatever comes to mind, even if it’s just one word. An example might be wanting to feel centered and grounded throughout class. Setting an intention can be quite powerful because it helps us focus on what’s most important.
Choose your goals
Next, write down 2-3 goals. Keep them simple and achievable. You may be struggling with en dedans pirouettes, for example. While you can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to pull off a triple turn by the end of class, your goal could be to ask your teacher or a friend to watch your turns and help you determine what’s off.
After class is finished, set aside a few moments to jot down responses to the following questions. Since this is a self-assessment, be honest (and fair… dancers are often their own worst critics) when you answer.
- What did I do well?
- Where do I need to improve?
List at least three answers to each question and make sure it’s a balanced list with the same number of things for each category. Remember: it’s just as important to acknowledge what you did well, perhaps even more so, since this area is often overlooked–most dancers are too busy being hard on ourselves.
Taking a few minutes every day to work with this journaling process is a powerful tool will help you stay focused and give you a clear picture of your performance in class. Work with it regularly and you’ll never leave class again wondering how you did. Over time you’ll be able to track your results and achievements.
Grier Cooper left home at fourteen to study at the School of American Ballet and has performed San Francisco Ballet, Miami City Ballet, and others, totaling more than thirty years of experience as a dancer, teacher and performer. She blogs about dance and has interviewed and photographed a diverse collection dancers and performers including Clive Owen, Nicole Kidman, Glen Allen Sims and Jessica Sutta. She is the author of the Indigo Ballet Series ballet novels for young adults. Visit Grier at http://www.griercooper.com
I’ve known Peter Quanz since our ballet training years at Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet Professional Division. I have always admired Peter for his courage as a choreographer in taking on supreme artistic challenges and creating inventive, thought-provoking art. It has been a joy to see Peter succeed in what is an incredibly demanding and difficult career path.
I was thrilled that Peter agreed to share with 4dancers readers a bit about his life-changing adventures; his passion and drive for creating cutting edge choreography; and of course, his lovely humanity in connecting with artists across vastly different disciplines and languages. We spoke for about an hour over Skype while he was on a break from rehearsals. – Karen Musey
KM You have had an illustrious career and have explored many different avenues of work as a choreographer. What has prompted you to branch out?
PQ I’m very excited that I’ve been working as a choreographer now for over 20 years. And that has given me an incredible life, with experiences that I’d never expected I would encounter. I’m looking forward to more.
I’ve really tried to choose projects that scare me. If I don’t face a project in sheer terror with the feeling of “I’m not skilled enough for this”, then there’s an excitement that’s going to be missing.
KM You make bold choices and continually seek out opportunities to collaborate – how have these different experiences informed your perspective as a choreographer?
PQ I am currently collaborating with Montréal Danse for the creation of a new piece. To spark the creative genesis of the piece, Artistic Director, Kathy Casey proposed a question to me – “How would you make a dance if you didn’t consider the audience?”. That flummoxed me, because for me, one of my hang ups is trying to gauge what an audience is going to relate to. But if you always try to make something an audience will like, soon you will end up only sitting in the audience with them.
We started out with an initial two week rehearsal period. We spent the better part of it figuring out different ways of connecting as a group of people, when I suddenly realized that what was most interesting about this collaboration was the bond that we had as a team. The idea became how to find a way to create a social connection with the audience: essentially, a “social experiment”.
We are now building a durational production where the whole audience is animated the whole time through technology. They will be using their phone and their signals will be turned on. We are playing with people’s connection to their phones. We are seeing the phone as an extension of their bodies, as an extension of themselves. We are playing with the idea of how we can be drawn together through this immediate technology while not getting so disconnected from ourselves physically that it ceases to be dance.
KM An interesting paradox.
PQ Oh it’s been fantastic! We are finding ways of using the phones to show us our bodies and our movement in ways you can’t see in a normal performance. We are using video that is taken live, utilizing different perspectives to see parts of an image; using the settings on the phone to both create light or diminish what you see in an image. This is how we build “community” in this performance; and we risk in being brought close together with an audience in an artistic relationship, which is very exciting.
No one on our team has ever done a project like this. We are learning how to define what is happening without over defining things, because this choreography is not about steps. One of our dancers coined the phrase “aesthetic of the situation”.
I’m interested in revealing how artists think in spontaneous ways, how they make choices based on their knowledge of movement and performance; I’m curious about dancers themselves being the vulnerable material from which our experience emerges.”
The work with dancers I have in Montréal requires a sensitivity to an ever shifting relational dynamic – between the artist, their relationships to technology and the structure we have all defined as a group. In contrast with that process, I’ve gone off to work with very classical ballet companies setting choreography that is highly determinate of the music and relates closely to architectural structures in movement, which of course has to be very precise.
KM What are you currently creating with your company, Q Dance?
by Alessa Rogers
Mixed repertory programs can be a tough sell for ballet companies. Audiences are more willing to shell out money and time to see something familiar; like the story ballets Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, of which they already know what to expect and are thus more comfortable. Marquis productions are what bring in the money with their splashy titles, character-driven works, happy or not so happy endings. But there is a younger sibling to the more traditional full-length narrative ballet that deserves just as much audience respect–the mixed repertory program.
Mixed rep defined
A mixed rep show is a stylistically diverse program of multiple shorter works–generally 3 or 4 pieces, each around 15-30 minutes in length, and usually all by different choreographers. Some follow a narrative arc where others are movement for movement’s sake. Unless an artistic director has chosen a unifying theme for the program the pieces stand-alone and are unrelated which leads to a surprising, fresh and exciting program.
In this day and age of instant gratification, a mixed rep show may just be what an entry-level balletomane needs. A 20 minute piece followed by a break to check in to the theater on Facebook and send a few selfies in your theatre-going finery followed by another 15 minute burst of culture a couple more times? Yes this is what 21st century audiences can do at a mixed rep show! No need to buckle your seatbelt for a 3 and a half hour show of the same tortured heroine (though that is perfect for some people). The commitment is less but the pay off is still great. It’s like being served 3 of the most exquisite appetizers and not even needing to order an entrée because you are so satisfied from that.
But besides the practical logistics of maintaining your social life while gaining some culture cred, mixed reps offer something really special. I did a little bit of market research while writing this post, i.e., I asked my boyfriend what he thinks about mixed reps. He is a typical young American male engineer who likes watching basketball, playing chess and not going to ballets (until he met me that is–now he is horrified that he might have missed out on all those Nutcrackers!) Turns out, mixed rep programs are his favorite shows to go to. “They are good for people with short attention spans and there is more of a chance to see something you really like because there are three distinct pieces. Sometimes a piece might be weird and polarizing but in the end that makes it more exciting. And you are exposing yourself to the most density of dance experience in a short amount of time.” (Did I mention he has a Ph.D.? He is very smart and should be trusted.)
21st Century ballet
Mixed rep programs are fun because you never know quite what to expect. This is not stereotypical ballet. In a single show you might see classical ballet, neoclassical, contemporary, a blurring of all of these, or something completely different. There was one mixed rep at Atlanta Ballet that had not one single pointe shoe the entire evening. There were cowboy boots and jazz shoes and bare feet but nary a pointe shoe in sight. This is ballet? Yes, this is ballet in the 21st century and it is glorious. Mixed reps are where ballet evolves and grows up and changes with the times. This is where performers and audiences stretch themselves to the limits, breathing new life into an old art form.
In a mixed rep program at Atlanta Ballet the audience is treated to some of the world’s greatest choreographers, like Christopher Wheeldon, Wayne McGregor and Jorma Elo. These in-demand dance makers from all over the world are heading South with their ballets. Atlantans don’t have to travel to places like New York and Europe to see these masters. They are coming here. At the same time, many companies use mixed reps to foster their budding in-house choreographers. In a 2014 mixed rep program, I was fortunate enough to be in pieces by internationally acclaimed choreographers Alexei Ratmansky and Ohad Naharin, but it ended up being Atlanta Ballet dancer Tara Lee’s premiere that was most special to me. There is a different dynamic in being choreographed on by a fellow dancer. She knows everything about me as a dancer, what I’m good at, what I’m bad at (and still cast me!), and it formed a kind of trust between her and her cast that was so strong.
In the program Atlanta Ballet is currently preparing for, all three works were world premieres on Atlanta Ballet at one point or another. When new pieces are being created, the studio is fecund with creativity, energy and excitement. Mixed rep shows are where we get to work with choreographers we have always dreamed of working with. I think at Atlanta Ballet this is really where we shine–in collaboration and in versatility. Working with these choreographers in such varied styles is how dancers become versatile artists. Young dancers often get their first chances to be featured and shine alongside virtuosic veterans. It can be hard on a body to go from Possokhov’s Classical Symphony to Gustavo Ramirez Sansano’s El Beso in the same night because the qualities are completely different but we crave the challenge. It fills us up. Mixed reps are where we find and push our edges. Even if there is one piece we don’t particularly like or isn’t suited to us we can work on growing in that one and really enjoy the next. There are extremes and there is balance and there is, always, beauty and joy.
When it comes to mixed rep programs, there are plenty of reasons to attend. Choreographer Gustavo Ramírez Sansano shares some thoughts on the value of experiencing a range of different contemporary dances:
Atlanta Ballet’s 20/20: Visionary program is a mixed rep offering that runs from March 18th through March 20th, 2016. Tickets are still available.
Contributor Alessa Rogers began her dance training with Daphne Kendall and left home at fourteen to attend the North Carolina School of the Arts. Upon graduation she spent one season with North Carolina Dance Theatre II before joining Atlanta Ballet where she has been for the past eight years.
Favorite roles at Atlanta Ballet include Juliette in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Romeo et Juliette, Margaret in the world premiere of Helen Pickett’s The Exiled, Lucy in Michael Pink’s Dracula, Ophelia in Stephen Mills’ Hamlet, Lover Girl in David Bintley’s Carmina Burana, and Princess Irene in the world premiere of Twyla Tharp’s The Princess and the Goblin.
She has performed works by Jorma Elo, Wayne McGregor, Ohad Naharin, Christopher Wheeldon, Christopher Hampson, Dwight Rhoden and Tara Lee. She has been a guest artist with the National Choreographers Initiative in California and Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance in Asheville, N.C.
In her spare time she likes to read, write, cook vegetables, meditate, travel and rock climb.0
Music and athleticism, the joy and shadows of childhood play, and the city of Atlanta itself inspire the works in 20|20: Visionary, presented at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre from March 18 – 20. A mixed bill of choreography created exclusively for Atlanta Ballet, the program features Amy Seiwert’s Home in 7, Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Boiling Point, and the world premiere of Douglas Lee’s Playground.
Seiwert’s Home in 7, made for the company in 2010, reflects Atlanta’s culture and diversity. The piece includes live music by Daniel Bernard Roumain and spoken word by Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Roumain, a violinist and acclaimed composer, is known for combining classical music, hip-hop, and funk. Joseph, an award-winning poet and Morehouse College graduate, will perform seven original poems about the city specifically written for this collaborative work.
“Home in 7 is a relationship between dance, poetry, and music,” says Atlanta Ballet’s 20-year veteran Tara Lee who appeared in the work in 2010 and will revisit it this week. “All parts are equal, and there’s a dramatic level change when we have all the live artists together for the first time. I remember that from the last time we rehearsed the piece; that’s the moment when we experience what the work is about. It’s about being partners with the words and the song, expressing something in that moment together.”
For Kiara Felder, now in her second season with the company, Home in 7 comes at a special time in her life. “This is unique for me because I am really starting to identify with and call Atlanta my home,” she says. “I also read a lot of poetry, so I feel a strong connection with this piece. It’s an interesting challenge to dance with words and emotions driving you.”
Boiling Point, created for Atlanta Ballet in 2008 by Darrell Grand Moultrie, is inspired by the music of Kenji Bunch and pushes dancers’ physical limits. “It’s all about the energy you feel and how much you can expand it beyond yourself,” says Lee. “Having danced the piece before with a different cast, I realize how different a piece can be depending on who’s interpreting it. The group dynamic can shift with just one dancer changing…and that’s the fun part–to be sensitive to that playing of energy.”
Felder agrees, “Boiling Point gives us an opportunity to showcase our technical skills, and the energy of our company builds on each dancer’s unique attributes. It is very exciting to be on stage together in that way.”
Douglas Lee’s debut work for Atlanta Ballet, Playground, draws upon his memories of childhood play—both its uplifting and sinister elements. “The physicality in this work is extreme and twisted, and yet it flows in such an organic and natural way,” explains Tara Lee. “This juxtaposition of beauty and distortion is visually fascinating, especially when Douglas plays with partnering between dancers. There are moments when the chaos becomes synchronization, and you realize there was a method to the madness the whole time.”
“Each piece in 20|20: Visionary incorporates different styles and approach to movement,” says Jared Tan, a member of Atlanta Ballet for six seasons. “I find it challenging as a dancer but, at the same time, I love it because it helps me be versatile. I can’t wait to perform these works on stage!”
Tickets start at $25.00. Purchase here.
From Atlanta Ballet’s website:
“Run time is approximately 2 hours and 8 minutes, including two 20-minute intermissions.”
“Home in 7 will be sign interpreted for the deaf/hard of hearing during the 20|20: Visionary performance on Saturday, March 19 at 2pm. Designated seats can be reserved online by clicking here or by calling 770.916.2852. Reserved seats are located in the Right Orchestra and the front right of the Center Orchestra.”
Margi Cole reflects on her journey as a choreographer and The Dance COLEctive‘s upcoming 20th anniversary performance, Revelry/20 Years.
What continues to inspire you to choreograph after 20 years?
I am quite simply inspired by the creative process. I am still curious. I want to experiment with new ideas, new bodies, new challenges. I want to see if I can be more creative than the last time. How can I challenge the bodies in the space? How can I challenge myself? I get excited about working with the dancers, creating puzzles for them to take on, challenging their weaknesses and amplifying their strengths. I am enamored with watching the dancers tackle the material and grow from it. I am inspired by the authenticity of the experience. It is a truly intimate and satisfying privilege to be present in that creative space.
What are some of the most valuable artistic insights you’ve learned along the way?
Gosh. So many. Probably the biggest thing I would offer is that it is OK to fail. It is not fun, but there is so much to be learned from not succeeding. I can’t tell you how many times I have tried and failed and tried again. I wish I had been less worried about failing when I was younger and more of a risk taker. I find myself taking risks more now but they are calculated, less organic. Do your research. Be brave. Be humble about your failures and modest about your successes. The other thing that is just as hard is balancing your creative self, your personal self and your administrative self. Be careful that they do not become so tightly wound that you can’t separate one from the other. It means making sacrifices along the way.0
by Janet Rothwell
This past semester I had the opportunity to teach a high school dance class to students with special needs. From this experience, I have learned the value of movement to all bodies and seen the positive changes that can occur for students because of the opportunity to move. Dance educators need to be empowered to teach all kinds of minds and bodies that we might come across, and all too often this population can easily be left out of the dance field.
Working alongside special needs teachers, I created a structure that supports multiple behavior issues, adheres to NCAS, and offers students opportunities to practice social and emotional skill-building, such as staying on task, showing respect and care for peers, and more. Creative problem solving activities that foster accomplishments and growth in confidence and competency help to create an environment of respect and student engagement.
My personal creativity has been challenged and fulfilled through working with these students. My students have a wide range of physical disabilities from wheelchair-bound, to walking with assistance, to slight physical limitations. They also have a wide range of intellectual disabilities, ranging from low functioning autism to slight cognitive impairments. Their unique needs push my skills in new and enlightening ways. I learned how to craft an effect movement lesson so that each student is engaged the whole time and few behaviors arise. I kept activities short and varied to maintain student focus in the class. Freeze dance with creative shapes in the body was a great way to introduce levels while transitioning to a new activity. Lessons included the use of Laban efforts, creative choreography projects and props. Some examples of props used are spots on the floor so students know where their place is in the space, and creating an obstacle course with hula-hoops, ribbon sticks, and plastic cones.
Every day I wrote the order of class on the whiteboard so students would know what to expect next. A consistent warm up helped my students get focused at the start of class each day. I used basic isolations throughout the body, followed by improvisation traveling across the floor. For example, “hop like a frog,” “travel low on the floor like a crab,” and “walk, kick legs across the floor,” etc. Constant positive encouragement made a big difference for my students. They really grew and took chances following my supportive feedback.
Creative Dance Project example: I will use the example of a scary Halloween dance that I did with my class to demonstrate what worked well for them. First, the students learned scary movements like spider fingers (wiggling fingers creepy), Frankenstein arms (walk like a Zombie), skeleton knees (knees shaking in and out), and ghost arms (arms floating at side). I wrote the names of the movements and the order we did them on the whiteboard. When the time came for them to create their own pattern, we had visual images of each movement on paper for students to use to assist in this process.
Students got a paper timeline and cut and pasted the movement images onto the timeline in the order in which they wanted to do them. Students practiced their sequence, some added a change of facing (walls had colored paper on them to help with this), then one by one each student performed their solo for the group. We talked about being a good audience member (watching, listening, applauding). Students also made scary paper masks that they could wear while they danced if they wanted to. This activity was great for students of all ranges of abilities. There were many ways to differentiate instruction and challenge those more advanced students like changing facings with movements. I also kept it easier for students with more severe disabilities by holding their timeline in front of them while they performed for the group.
After teaching this class I still have these lingering questions which I will continuously try to answer: How can we maintain a dance classroom of respect and safety with students with special needs? How can we utilize student aides in the most effective way? What is appropriate movement to expect from students within a large spectrum? How can we challenge creativity and performance with this group of students?
Have you taught this population before? Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share regarding your experience? We’d love to hear any comments you may have…
Contributor Janet (Neidhardt) Rothwell has been a dance educator for 10 years. She has taught modern, ballet, and jazz at various studios and schools on Chicago’s North Shore. She received her MA in Dance with an emphasis in Choreography from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and her BA in Communications with a Dance Minor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Throughout her time in graduate school, Janet performed with Sidelong Dance Company based in Winston-Salem, NC.
Currently, Janet teaches dance at Adlai E. Stevenson H.S. in IL. She regularly seeks out professional development opportunities to continue her own artistic growth. Recently, Janet performed with Keigwin and Company in the Chicago Dancing Festival 2012 and attended the Bates Dance Festival.
When she isn’t dancing, Janet enjoys teaching Pilates, practicing yoga, and running races around the city of Chicago.