by Matt de la Peña
It’s a ghoulish Halloween morning in Chicago (winds reaching up to 50 mph, hail projected for the afternoon) and Septime Webre is talking America’s “first great ghost story.” The Washington Ballet artistic director, now in his 15th season at the helm of one of the country’s most versatile dance companies, is in the midst of his latest creation, an adaptation of Washington Irving’s spine-tingling classic, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Webre has found a distinctive niche during his tenure at WB, a company he took over from the legendary Mary Day in 1999. His vision of The Nutcracker — set in 1882 Georgetown — has become a must-see event of the season. The Washington City Paper called his adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland “an incredibly creative spectacle, pure and simple.” His adaptations of The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises have proved to be ambitious ventures, offering a brand new vision of two American classics.
Webre and I spoke at length about Sleepy Hollow, his fascination with literature, and his plans for Halloween. Below are excerpts of our interview.
Can you tell me about Sleepy Hollow and how it came to be?
So about five years ago I launched a project called the American Experience. It’s a project to develop full-length ballets using great works of American literature. It seemed to me that our American story has not really been told in the ballet medium. [The Washington Ballet] started by adapting F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, then last year I adapted [Ernest] Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Sleepy Hollow is the third installment about America’s first great ghost story.
That’s interesting you say that our American story has not been told; it seems odd that we, as Americans, wouldn’t take more interest in our own stories when it comes to ballet.
American ballet came into its ascendancy under Balanchine and the aesthetic has been abstract — a modernist aesthetic. So much of our stories are still stories written by old dead white guys. They’re so Eurocentric. The [American Experience] project is an effort to develop works in a different direction. It’s been fascinating to build these new ballets from scratch. In the case of the Hemingway and in the Gatsby projects, those works are so rich; it was a process of editing out information. In the case of Sleepy Hollow, it’s a thrilling, twenty-page short story. It’s very concise. The process has been the opposite; it’s been one of exuberance and extrapolation. It struck me early on that the headless horseman is haunting Ichabod Crane but one doesn’t know why. So I’ve developed Ichabod’s back-story. In a moment of anger, Ichabod picks up a sword and decapitates [a British soldier], essentially creating the Headless Horseman. The haunting is a Karmic guilt that Ichabod carries with him through his life. He moves to Sleepy Hollow to escape that torment.
Your fascination with 19th and 20th century literature is well known. You’ve created The Sun Also Rises, The Great Gatsby, and you’re in the midst of tackling Sleepy Hollow. What intrigues you about those particular time periods?
by Alessa Rogers
For most ballet dancers, the holiday season means Nutcracker as much as it does Santa and presents under the tree. It’s a tradition- something that we know will be there, that we can count on every December. But we can also count on that dreaded moment of walking into any coffee shop, bookstore or mall from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day and hearing the Waltz of the Flowers playing on repeat. It’s enough to drive many dancers absolutely crazy. Nutcracker is not without its flaws and the first Nutcracker rehearsals of the year- some as early as September- are always the scene of good-natured grumbling. Dancers love to hate Nutcracker. But despite the endless repetition, the strain on our bodies after many consecutive shows, being away from our families for the holidays and the music that we can’t get seem to get away from, maybe this year we should have a different perspective on Nutcracker, one that’s a little less Scroogey.
Benefits Of Nutcracker For Dance Companies
After all, ballet companies depend on Nutcracker to keep them afloat. 72% of total tickets sales for the entire 2013-2014 season at Atlanta Ballet came from Nutcracker tickets. That’s over two million dollars in revenue that can go towards putting on financially risky but perhaps more inspiring (to dancers) repertoire later in the season. While we might wish that audiences would crave those expensive mixed rep shows and cutting-edge choreographers as much as we do, maybe we should try to be more grateful that Nutcracker, at the very least, fills the seats.
Last year, almost 50,000 people came to see Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker. In an economy where support of the arts can be sluggish that is incredibly gratifying. People want to come to this ballet! So while I might groan when I hear the Sugarplum music on every other commercial on TV, when the curtain goes up I have to remember that the people in the audience chose to be there and it is my job to make it memorable. It should be an honor to the dancers that the audience chose to spend their holiday at the ballet. This might be the only ballet they see the whole year and it might very well be the first time they have ever seen ballet at all. So regardless of if this is my 30th and last Nutcracker of the season, it is something that I remind myself before every single show- that for somebody out there, it is their first time. You never know how one performance might affect and inspire someone. Think of how many of us dancers got our first exposure to ballet by seeing the magic of Nutcracker!
Benefits Of Nutcracker For Dancers
by Christopher Duggan
Jacob’s Pillow Dance just announced four dance companies that will be performing at the festival next summer 2015: Martha Graham Dance Company, Michelle Dorrance / Dorrance Dance, Jessica Lang Dance and New York Theatre Ballet.
I have photographed three of these dance companies at the festival in past years, and I’m looking forward to photographing more dance next summer. A look back below.
Jessica Lang Dance
See more by visiting Christopher’s blog entry on Jessica Lang at the Pillow.
Martha Graham Dance Company
See more by visiting Christopher’s blog entry on Martha Graham Dance Company at the Pillow.
Michelle Dorrance / Dorrance Dance
See more by visiting Christopher’s blog entry on Dorrance Dance at the Pillow.
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.
The National Dance Education Organization (NDEO) held its yearly conference in Chicago earlier this month (November 5-9) and 4dancers attended for the first time. We wanted to learn more about the offerings this organization extends to the community of dance educators, connect with other dance writers and bloggers from across the country, and share our conference experience with readers here on the site.
The theme for 2014 was “Collaborations–A Mosaic of Possibilities” and the first thing you noticed when browsing all of the sessions available is that there were a staggering variety of them to choose from. Here is just a brief sampling of some of the titles:
- Collaborating Between Dance and Illustration Students
- Deep Core Stabilizer Muscles and Global Movers; Finding Collaboration in Movement
- Technique Class for the Mature Mover
- Common Core & Dance: Let’s put it together!
- Mambo to Hip-Hop
- Preserving dance in collaboration with photographers and filmmakers, past and present
- Moon Phases: A Collaboration Between Dance and Science Education
- Dance, Pilates and PT: A Collaboration for Dancer Health
- Community Collaborations: How to Create and Fund Partnerships with Performing Arts Organizations
And that’s just a small taste of all that was offered.
Both a hard copy of the schedule and an app were available to help conference attendees navigate their choices. We used both to fine-tune what we were going to see/experience. The sessions that we attended were well thought out and informative, and Q&A time brought some great perspectives to light as well.
In addition to our “learning time” we also browsed the tables that were set up for sponsors, exhibitors and advertisers and talked with people in the halls about their conference experience along the way. The overwhelming majority were excited and energized–thankful for this “time-out” to talk with other educators and people in their field. Many remarked on how busy they are and how this type of event allows them some much-needed time to re-fuel and remember why they went down this path in the first place.
We met up with other writers and bloggers and had some time to talk about everything from what they were getting out of the conference to how we were all connected on the web, and how exciting the possibilities are for extending education in various forms online through blogs and other platforms. We bonded. Big time.
Sometimes there is just no substitute for face-to-face communication. As a dance writer on the web, all too often I am alone. I have this in common with many dance educators in classrooms everywhere. It’s easy to lose perspective. It’s hard to stay connected to others who can help inspire you, guide you–and sometimes–just walk beside you along the way.
But don’t just take my word for it. Below you’ll find some thoughts from two other “first timers” at the NDEO Conference this year. And you can read more thoughts from dance educators about their experience over on Dance Advantage as well.
I was a “first timer” at the 2014 NDEO Conference in Chicago this past weekend.
I was happy to be involved in the Conference in a number of ways. Thursday morning, my New Trier MENZ dance students performed a work I choreographed for them at a two-hour session led by my colleague Christopher Rutt. I started Friday morning by presenting at my own paper session with my artistic partner, Michael Estanich. Our session, Long Distance Collaboration: Thriving Artistically Across State Lines was well attended and well received. Michael and I look forward to returning to future NDEO Conferences to present on other topics that are pertinent to our classrooms and our artistic work.
I had the opportunity to take a great movement class with good friend Rebecca Bryant. Her session on using the Number Score to assist in Embodied Collaboration was creative and got a lot of laughs. Other notable sessions I attended were Elizabeth Lentz’s paper, Beyond Dancer and Actor and the awesome trio of artists known as AGA Collaborative whose panel on The Collaborative Voice was the perfect way to end the Conference.
The main reason I’ll be back though is for the invaluable amount of networking that took place for me. I had lunch with dance bloggers from across the country and saw some face-to-face for the first time. I spoke on behalf of RE|Dance Group and got us some future performance opportunities. And most importantly, I connected with a lot of teachers from across the globe who share a collective desire to bring dance to our students’ lives.
This was the first NDEO Conference I attended and I am already writing my proposal for a movement workshop for the 2015 Conference.
Arriving on the first day of the conference in my “proper” Pendleton blazer and stretchy red velvet leggings, I felt too formally dressed. What? Me–too formally dressed in a blazer and leggings? The following days I came more suitably dressed in my teaching clothes—yoga leggings and layers of shirt and sweater to take off as I warmed up.
Being surrounded by women and men as passionate as I am about dance, the wisdom of the body, and the art and craft of the teaching of both, was an honor. I engaged in dialogue with many professors, teachers, and emerging artists who are creating and honing genuine, authentic, and educationally sound methods of dance education.
One such dialogue was with California State University Professor Rebecca Bryant who led a movement workshop that inspired creative collaboration through a structure that lessens the “preciousness” of being on stage. Her workshop was centered on the Number Score from Ensemble Thinking. I brought the Score to Brave and Barefoot Dance Troupe’s practice session with great success just a day after Professor Bryant’s workshop.
Thanks for an inspiring conference, NDEO!
NDEO Conference 2015
NDEO’s next conference will be in Phoenix, AZ in 2015 and it will run from October 7-11. They will be accepting proposals until February 1, 2015, and the theme will be: “Engaging in the Artistic Processes: Creating, Performing, Responding, Connecting“.
4dancers received free admission to the NDEO annual conference for review and promotional services.0
by Jessika Anspach McEliece
The brisk fall air accosts my face as I push through the Phelps Center doors, home of Pacific Northwest Ballet. I scurry down the steps toward Mercer Street. I only have an hour. I only have a month, and some change…
An hour for lunch; a month till I have to say goodbye.0
More Sounds of Christmas
‘Tis the season to frappé to Jingle Bells.
Christopher Hobson’s “More Sounds of Christmas” is full of familiar favorites like “Frosty the Snowman”, “Feliz Navidad”, “Sleigh Ride”, “White Christmas”, and “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year”. It also includes some less-well-known pieces like Nat King Cole’s “Take Me Back to Toyland” and the Irish-themed “Christmas in Killarney”.
Hobson’s arrangements show taste and sensitivity to the musical needs of different ballet exercises. “O Christmas Tree” is perfectly adapted for pirouettes. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” is lyrically channeled for pliés. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” becomes a buoyant piece for grand battement en cloche. “The Chipmunk Song” is tamed into a peaceful melody for rond de jombe. And, throughout the collection, Hobson finds the balance between arranging a song and changing it into a different piece.
“More Sounds of Christmas” features 24 tracks and is sure to bring holiday cheer to any ballet class.
Disclosure: 4dancers accepts compensation for promoting More Sounds of Christmas0
This month I’m offering you some thoughts on turn-out, that often-debated subject in dance (especially ballet) that we all worry over / strive for / get obsessed with. I am especially indebted to long-time dance medicine colleague and researcher, Dr. James Garrick, MD, for his insightful comments on this article–and a special “thank you” also to Dr. Matthew Wyon, PhD – Research Centre for Sport Exercise and Performance @ University of Wolverhampton (UK) / Vice President of IADMS, for his input as well.
Enjoy–and Pass It On!
- Jan Dunn, MS, Dance Wellness Editor
OK, so let’s talk about turn-out…that elusive external rotation of the legs in the hip socket that dancers (especially ballet dancers) all strive for.
This post is going to be just a brief foray into that (often thorny) discussion. I’m not going to give you detailed anatomical information–there are various online resources (as well as books) especially written for dancers that can give you excellent, very specific anatomical detail (I’ve provided a partial resource list at the end).
What I do want is to share with you what I feel is important for every dancer / teacher (and parent) to know–gleaned from 40 years of teaching dance / 35 years in the dance medicine field / 32 years of teaching Anatomy, Kinesiology, and Injury Prevention to dancers in university dance departments.
Just the Basic Facts, Ma’am
Turn–out, as every dancer and teacher knows, involves rotating the legs outward from the hip socket. It enables us to be able to have full range of movement in dance, especially in sideways directions.
A Brief History of TurnoutTurn-out has historical beginnings going back to the French and Italian courts, evolving from a combination of different things–such as fencing / having to move sideways or back your way out of the king’s presence (so that you wouldn’t ever turn your back on him) / and (my particular favorite) – in court, turning one’s leg out to show the intricate designs on the heels of one’s shoes (France’s King Louis XIV – “The Sun King”, who founded the Royal Academy of Dance in 1661 – was actually one of the first to do this, to show off his elaborately decorated shoes to the court!).
For many years, the desired “perfect” turn-out meant (especially in ballet) that you had your feet completely turned out, straight side to side, in a 180 degree straight line. But unfortunately…
Very few people have a hip socket that is capable of rotating the femur (thigh bone) completely out to the side–so the extra slack instead gets transferred to the knee joint and foot (for a full detailed analysis of how this all works, see some of the resource articles mentioned at the end). This is called, as you probably know, “forcing” your turn-out–which means that you are using compensatory movements at the knee, foot (rotation / twisting), or lumbar spine (hyperextension, or “swayback”) to increase the apparent range of your turn-out.
The problem is–if dancers “force” their turn-out from the knees / ankles / lumbar spine, not-nice things can result, especially over time.
The structure of our hip joint is something we are born with—different factors determine how much / how little turn-out we have at the actual joint. For example:
- The shape of the bones
- How deeply set into the hip socket the femur (thigh bone) is
- How tight or loose the ligaments are
You will find some online sites that say you can possibly change your structural, inherited turn-out with early training (between ages 8-12), but this is still very much debated in the dance medicine and science field, and some of the people who are most knowledgeable about this, from a research perspective, do not think it is really possible.
What can be changed, however, is muscle imbalance–both strength and flexibility–around the hip joint, which can limit hip external rotation.
Interested? Read on!
The average person on the street usually has turn-out in the range of 40-45 degrees. We know that dancers usually average around 55 degrees, and occasionally slightly more–but very few people have that 90 degree turn-out in the hip socket that equals 180, when the heels are together in 1st position.
So when you see dancers standing at the barre in 180-degree first position, the chances are pretty good that they are “forcing” it, and taking the extra stress in the knees and feet.
Why Forcing Turnout Is Not Good
Over time, forcing turn-out puts undesirable force and pressure on joints / body parts that were not designed to do that–in particular, the feet / knees / lower back.
Be aware that there are some dance blogs that will tell you that’s it OK to do this (force at the knee / foot / lumbar spine), but those sites are ignoring the majority of the dance medicine research–which tells us that it is potentially detrimental and injurious to those body parts, over time. To quote well-known dance science researcher / author, Karen Clippinger, MS, in her textbook “Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology” (Human Kinetics, 2007):
“Failure to maintain turnout at the hip and excessive twisting from the knee down are believed to be a contributing factor to many injuries of the knee, shin, ankle, and foot”.
Other prominent researchers in this area will all tell you the same thing–and add injuries of the lower back to the list as well.
Interesting Things To Know About Turnout
Testing how much turn-out you actually have at the hip socket should ideally be done by a dance-familiar physical therapist or trainer (or physician).
There is one prone (lying on your stomach) “eyeball” test that I like to use, which can give you / your teacher a fair idea of where your range falls–and while physical therapists would use a goniometer (the instrument used to measure joint angles) to give an exact reading, it is possible to use this same test to give an approximate estimate of the dancer’s hip external rotation.
Muscular Imbalance Issues
I mentioned above how muscle imbalance can affect your turn-out (remember our article on Causes of Injuries? – the importance of muscle balance….?). If the muscles on one side of the joint are stronger (or less flexible) than the other, it will limit full range-of-motion for that leg, in all directions–including turn-out.
It’s important to note that the hip internal rotator muscles are weak and tight in many dancers (especially ballet)—and that this will limit the amount of external rotation that can happen. Dancers can sometimes increase their measured degree of turn-out by as much as 20 degrees when they do have this imbalance situation and are put on a program for stretching and strengthening the internal rotators.
And sometimes, you aren’t actually using all the natural turn-out that you do have, simply because the external rotator muscles aren’t strong enough to hold it. So that principle of equal muscle strength and stretch is really important here…and remember that weak muscles = tight muscles.
We usually have one leg that naturally has more turn-out than the other–but be aware that muscle imbalance can also make that happen as well (here is where you need a PT to do some analysis / muscle testing). Assuming that there actually is a structural difference between R and L (there is with me, as with many dancers), you should never try to force the lesser-turned out leg to match the greater one. That will only lead to more problems down the road. Determine which of your legs is less–for example, R is 55 degrees, and L is 50–and then always match your legs to that lesser angle, to avoid stress and potential long-term injury.
Turnout In Performance?
Research in dance medicine has shown that in performance, we don’t use the same amount of turn-out as we do in class–we use less. This begs the question: If this is indeed the case, why do we insist on emphasizing extreme turn-out in class, when it does not transfer to performance?
Tibial Torsion Issues
We are often told that in a well-aligned turn-out position (i.e not forcing), we should aim our “knees over toes” – specifically, the 2nd toe (or the joint space between the 2nd/3rd toe, which is the center of the forefoot).
This is indeed correct for a leg that has a straight tibia (shinbone) – but if you are among the dancers who have tibial torsion (where the tibia rotates inward slightly, with a slight curve to the outside of the leg), that knee / 2nd toe alignment doesn’t quite match up.
There is nothing wrong with tibial torsion–it is just a different structure than a straight-line tibia–but it is important to know about, as both a teacher and dancer. (In dance screenings that I’ve participated in, as many as 40-50% of students had this type of leg structure).
Dancers with this type of anatomy often need to line the knee up with the great toe, as opposed to the 2nd, or between 1st / 2nd toe joint–as opposed to 2nd / 3rd. Forcing the knee over to the 2nd toe can cause supination (rolling outwards) in the foot, and additional problems at the knee joint.
It’s best to work with a knowledgeable dance teacher / trainer / physical therapist, if you have this type of leg alignment so that you can find the optimum position for your own individual structure.
Last, But Not Least, Turn-In!
Having a lifetime in dance and preventing injury is what it’s all about, and in that light, listen up, folks:
Turning in is equally important for dancers–maybe more so than turning out. It’s the imbalance around the joint that leads to injury, remember? So if you’re only always turning out (as many ballet dancers do) and never doing exercises in parallel, or more importantly, turn-in, you aren’t really using some of the important muscles around both the hip and knee joints…and that pre-sets us up for injuries down the road.
Plus, an important thing to realize is that those turn-in movements are keeping our actual hip joint healthy, over long years of use. It is full range of motion in any joint that keeps it healthy, and works to avoid arthritis. By only doing turn-out movements, and never / rarely doing parallel / turn-in, we are ignoring a good segment of the joint capsule…and joints that don’t move fully develop arthritis way faster than joints that move all through their natural range of motion!
So if your dance environment doesn’t provide good opportunities to use turn-in, find outside activities like Pilates, that will help keep your body in good overall balanced strength and flexibility.
And Remember–Turn-Out Doesn’t Make or Break You As A Dancer
There are so many things that all come together to make a good dancer. It’s not only the body we are born with, but the training, the artistry, the personality, the musicality…the list could go on and on.
Dr. James Garrick, MD, one of the pioneers of dance medicine, long-time physician for the San Francisco Ballet (among other companies), and researcher on turn-out, always counsels dancers to not get hung up on how much turn-out they do or don’t have. He reminds them that some of the world’s greatest dancers do not have that magical 180 degrees, and that working within your own natural turn-out, and focusing instead on all the many things that make us beautiful dancers–is what’s really important.
So – dance on – and don’t force your turn-out!
Resources for further reading
There are many sites that discuss turn-out online–here are some that I like:
(Editors Note: this is an extremely detailed anatomical description)
“Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology” – Karen Clippinger –Human Kinetics, 2007
“Dance Medicine Head to Toe: A Dancer’s Guide to Health” – Judith R. Peterson, MD – Princeton Book Company, 2011
“Finding Balance” Fitness, Training, and Health for a Lifetime in Dance” (2nd Edition) – Gigi Berardi – Routledge, 2005
Editor Jan Dunn is a dance medicine specialist currently based on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, where she is owner of Pilates Plus Kauai Wellness Center and co-founder of Kauai Dance Medicine. She is also a Pilates rehabilitation specialist and Franklin Educator. A lifelong dancer / choreographer, she spent many years as university dance faculty, most recently as Adjunct Faculty, University of Colorado Dept. of Theatre and Dance. Her 28 year background in dance medicine includes 23 years with the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) – as Board member / President / Executive Director – founding Denver Dance Medicine Associates, and establishing two university Dance Wellness Programs
Jan served as organizer and Co-Chair, International Dance Medicine Conference, Taiwan 2004, and was founding chair of the National Dance Association’s (USA) Committee on Dance Science and Medicine, 1989-1993. She originated The Dance Medicine/Science Resource Guide; and was co-founder of the Journal of Dance Medicine & Science. She has taught dance medicine, Pilates, and Franklin workshops for medical / dance and academic institutions in the USA / Europe / Middle East / and Asia, authored numerous articles in the field, and presented at many national and international conferences.
Ms. Dunn writes about dance wellness for 4dancers and also brings in voices from the dance wellness/dance medicine field to share their expertise with readers.