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“Krug’s ‘Sanctuary,’ A Critical Analysis,” Up Yer Sleeve website and cd jacket, November 2002

Krug’s Sanctuary Critical Analysis

In 1955, the great African-American ex-patriot, James Baldwin, whose works include Go Tell it on the Mountain, and 220px-Roasted-Marshmallow, published a short story set in New York City about a musician, a drummer, whose artistry took the form of near demon possession, and who sluiced the overwhelming nature of his creativity with heroin. The story is called “Sonny’s Blues,” and I still see it anthologized, mostly in freshman Introduction to Literature texts. I guess college students are still reading it. I hope they are.

In addition, of course, to being a wonderful piece from a literary point of view, the story addresses two important questions about the effects of fame and the nature of composition. The questions are important because we still ask them. My students ask them all the time. The first is: Why is it that so many artists suffer from addictive behaviors? The second is: Does the artist know what the critic knows during the act of composition? I.e., does he put all that stuff in there on purpose?

Gail Krug’s lyrically fascinating song “Sanctuary,” which appears on Utah band Up Your Sleeve’s first cd, Deceptive Little Sweets, takes on both of these questions from the artist’s perspective. Like the character, Sonny, in “Sonny’s Blues,” the speaker in this song is possessed by her creativity to the degree that it has become an alien being she would rather live without. “I would stop you if only I could.” I believe it is typical to think about the experience of inspiration as something noble. But Krug shows it to us otherwise, as a dybbuk she must wake with, a dybbuk that lurks in her face, a dybbuk that has got into her very breath. “[I]t’s like arguing with breathing.”

What we must realize as a thinking audience is that her experience is not exceptional, but normal to the artistic endeavor. The creative process is not a matter of, as Mark Knopfler so coolly put it, “Maybe get a blister on your little finger/Maybe get a blister on your thumb.” Composition is a painful process that rakes the soul clean, allowing “no secrets remaining,” and has few rewards even for those who are successful. It leaves her “bleeding … just dead.” The final irony is that those who are most accomplished are frequently the most misunderstood; the clearest statements are often misinterpreted. All that anguish and no one even gets the point! Meanwhile the demon has wrung the soul of all its juice, and the pain of experience, or memory, rendered however symbolically brings with it not catharsis, but more pain.

There’s a 1978 Jack Nicholson movie called Terms of Endearment in which old Jack tells Shirley McLaine that she needs a lot of drinks “to kill the bug that [she has] up her ass.” For artists it should only be that simple. Krug’s metaphor for sanctuary is more to the point, “needing/A sanctuary, a sanctuary, a sanctuary from my very own soul.” Rather than drowning the demon it must be isolated. Any incantation that sings such a demon to sleep and thereby allows the speaker to separate herself from it, however briefly, is viable.

So I return to my original questions. First, why do artists need so many incantations? The answer is: they don’t. It seems that they do because they live so much in the limelight, but really it’s the high profile cases we hear about. Artists, like other people, indulge in disciplined escapes that rather than being about their work, constitute the only relief they have from their work, and therefore make the work possible. Perhaps not all artists have demons that need to be pacified. But for those who do, the luxury must be controlled, or in the end there will be no demon to tame. The artist will be dead.

As for the second question, do artists really intend to express all that we as audience tend to find, the answer is: yes. Of course they do. “You’re in my face and in these lines.” But we must make a distinction between conscious and unconscious intent. Think of Michael Jordan throwing a basketball. He has a certain perceptual ability, a sense of the relation between space and time that the rest of us perceive but dimly. There is no doubt that he makes those baskets deliberately, but I don’t think he always makes them consciously. The perception of what is right and fitting for the situation is simply there, and he acts on it. So the artist’s perception of what is right and fitting for her endeavor is there, felt consciously or not. And she acts on it; it “{j}ust pour[s] out of [her] head again.”

So why do it? If it hurts so damn much (Yeah, I know. So cry me a river.), why go through it? There are two answers to this question, too.

The first is: no choice. We may invite the muse, that is, the object our imaginations spring upon, but inspiration itself waits for no summons. If we suppress it, it wrecks life, ruins love, and leaves us in the gutter. If you think I’m being melodramatic, or making metaphors, just look into the next gutter you see.

The second answer is: hope. From a biological standpoint, only time can tell us – in it’s measurement of how well we’ve survived, and how many of our genes have made it one more step into the future – whether or not we’ve made the right choices, done the right things. Created works are packed with a similar chemistry. You hear writers talk about “killing their children,” that is, scrapping their favorite sentences and paragraphs to preserve the beauty and integrity of the whole piece. In the end, we paint, and make films, and dance and write songs like “Sanctuary” in hopes of survival.

Some piece of ourselves, perhaps the best of ourselves is carried forward into the future.


“A Fire that Can Thy Light Relume: Paul Taylor Company: ‘Promethean Fire’ American Dance Festival, Page Auditorium, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina June 6, 2002,” Ballet-Tanz Magazine, August 2002

Ballet-Tanz Magazine, August/September 2002

Ballet-Tanz Magazine, August/September 2002

Paul Taylor’s new work, Promethean Fire, set to a combined score of Johann Sebastian Bach’s tocatta and fugue in D minor; prelude in E flat; and choral prelude is in many ways an entirely classical ballet piece in spite of the Martha Graham-inspired vocabulary and contemporary costumes. The spliced-together Bach music effectually presents a formally satisfying dance composition in three movements: the first and third performed by a sixteen-member corps, joined together in the second by a pas de deux.

Like the neo-classic dance pieces of the mid-twentieth century, Promethean Fire is primarily about the music.  Its inventiveness is grounded, first, in its freedom from what Igor Stravinsky termed “ the tyranny of the beat.” Sustained, slow musical passages are often expressed through rapid, complex choreography. Some of this movement is, in fact, so fast that the kaleidoscopic lines and patterns, pattern upon pattern, blur in the fluidity of movement. This fluidity is sustained throughout the composition.  There are no pauses for photo moments, although arrangements of lines for such tableaux are there for the viewer, in plenty. A second element in the originality of this piece is its calling upon a spirit of celebration, a joy in its own humanity, without ever collapsing into sentimentality.  The pas de deux, performed by Patrick Corbin and Lisa Viola, is poignant but impersonal, like Bach’s score.

This classicism in form is mirrored in the theme. Prometheus, the peer of Zeus who brought fire to mankind, is distinguished from other Greek gods by his sympathies, which were always with humanity. The program notes offer a quotation from William Shakespeare as a subtext to the title: “…fire that can thy light relume.” This line comes from Act IV of the play, Othello, and is delivered by the title character, who soliloquizes on his intended murder of Desdemona: “If I quench thee, thou flaming minister… I know not where is that Promethean heat/ That can thy light relume. When I have pluck’d the rose, I cannot give it vital growth again.” Fire that comes from the gods ignites and illuminates, in brevity, our human light.

On opening night, June 6, 2002, the program included two of Paul Taylor’s consummate works, Cloven Kingdom (1976) and The Word (1998). The former juxtaposes passages of soaring, extravagant beauty with self-parodying, barnyard gestures. The latter uses the shadows of the dancers in motion to show the grand span of the human condition, in time, and the similarity between elements of the unrecorded past  and western culture that we consider endemic to the 20th century. Both pieces are distinguished by the effective use of taped music, making it a necessary element of the composition rather than a regrettable fact of arts funding in the United States.


ORecently, during a university class discussion of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, I asked students to list – deliberately ambiguous here – what the bound, shadow-show viewers must necessarily “make” of their experiences. One student suggested: “They will make sacred dances.”

However much we seem to be emancipated from it now, the element of the sacred is basic to dance and culture. In the US, this is especially evident in the work of choreographers like Alvin Ailey, Alonzo King, Dwight Rhoden, Bill T. Jones and Waverly Lucas, whose companies perform ritualistic and celebratory works that employ the mixed vocabularies of African dance and ballet.

Of course, cultural integration and globalization of religion in the arts is not limited to dance, or even to American art. European choreographers Jiri Kylian (Stepping Stones, 1991), Val Caniparoli (Lambarena, 2000) and Nacho Duato (Jardi Tancat, 1983; Sinfonia India, 1984; Na Floresta, 1990) have been doing it for years. Likewise, for the Passion 2000 Project in Stuttgart, Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov premiered his La Pasion Segun San Marcos, a retelling of the Gospel of St Mark. It is a piece that is filtered through JS Bach’s Passions and fused with the minimalism of Steve Reich, but it includes elements of Latin and African music such as chanting, drumming, flamenco, basa nova and samba. The incorporation of costumed dancers gives the entire production the atmosphere of a street festival.

In dance, this fusion of forms may arguably have begun with the work of American dancer and choreographer Alvin Ailey, who formed his company in 1958. Its mission is to create and perform works that celebrate the essential American multicultural mix. It integrates

modern dance with ballet and jazz, and in many works incorporates an African influence. Two dance suites, The River and Revelations, which employ spirituals, song-sermons, gospel pieces and holy blues that Ailey himself describes as “sometimes sorrowful, sometimes jubilant, but always hopeful,” have acquired icon status in the US.

Choreographer Alonzo King also repeatedly returns to folk forms for inspiration. A writer of commissioned pieces for dance companies around the world, and artistic director of his own company LINES, formed in 1982, he has composed several works based in African music: The People of the Forest, 2001; Sighs and Wonders, 1997; Song of the Aka, 1991; IV Short Stories, 1985 and Zulu, 1975. These ballets are clearly related to one another not only thematically, but also musically. Each attempts to explore central truths about humanity, individually and collectively, but divorced from canned culture. In his somewhat epigrammatic, 1996 essay “Look Behind the Eyes,” King writes: “Contrary to public opinion art is not a matter of whimsy and emotion. Art is the knowledge of how things are done.”  Tradition is a key to understanding core human values, a key “which has always existed, always will exist, and to which we all have access…Art doesn’t need to be novel, only original. [It] is not progressive—it either is or isn’t. There has been no improvement on the primitive masters—only a joining in the dialogue.”

Specific choreographies bear this concept out.

King’s The People of the Forest, premiered by LINES in 2001, is an artistic collaboration between the choreographer, company dancers and Nzamba Lela, a 16-member ensemble of musicians/dancers of the BaAka Pygmies. Nzamba Lela toured France and Switzerland for three weeks in 2001, and performed in Germany.  One of the world’s last hunter-gatherer societies, the BaAka live in the Lobaye region of the Central African Republic, a forest zone particularly dense and intersected with stretches of swamps. The People of the Forest, choreographed to live BaAka music, is King’s most recent attempt to show, through folk forms, the concept of transcendence through ritual. For the BaAka, hunting, marriage, trade, teaching, and games were ritual social activities carried out by ancestors in an Eden-like past. Their practice in contemporary life allows the group to relive this past and thereby enter sacred time, infusing actions with sacred meaning. Through dances that convey this sacred experience, King attempts to show connections between the religious life of the pygmies and all religious practice.

BaAka music also is linked to particular social functions.  The musical event, the type of dance that goes with it, the percussive formula, and the length of each musical piece reflect specific rituals. This music is distinguished by the practice of highly elaborate vocal polyphony particularly suited to dancing.  It appears at first to have no structure, but once begun it becomes a collective effort – all members of the community – men, women and children – participate equally. Improvisation, seeming to dominate, is actually restricted by a rhythmic and melodic framework. When someone intones a new song, the old one is abandoned or becomes a series of rhythmic cries.

Another example of the phenomenon can be found in the choreography of Bill T. Jones.  His Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane company performs works such as Duet (2000), reincarnated in 2002 as Power/Full, set to folk music from various cultures: work songs from Madagascar, funeral chants from the Ivory Coast, and Mahur-Persian traditional tunes. It employs an engaging modern vocabulary of rolling shoulders, flex-point-extend, mirroring of bodies, and passages from rapid to sustained movement without transition. We hear tools beating out a odd, tricky sort of rhythm, achieved by skipping an unpredictable number of beats, while broad, erect, sharp movements of the performers’ bodies match the music evenly.  Just when we think we have got it figured out, we know where the choreographer is going, the dancers laugh in unison, and we see how we have been deceived.

The successful and relatively new company formed by Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson in 1994, Complexions, A Concept in Dance, showcases dancers from various companies and celebrates beauty in diversity. The New York Times calls Complexions “a big happy party on stage and in the audience.” Both men have enjoyed illustrious careers. Richardson has principaled with Alvin Ailey (1987 – 94), the Frankfurt Ballet (1994 – 96), and American Ballet Theatre. Critics hailed his role in Lar Lubovich’s “Othello,” performed with ABT at the Lincoln Center’s Metropolitan Opera House in 1997, as “majestic” and “larger than life.”  He also received a Tony award nomination for his performance in the Broadway production, Fosse.

Richardson began as a street-corner breakdancer, of the poplock school, a lyrical style of rhythmic movement that collapses, contorts and dislocates the frame. Dancers appear to lock and unlock the joints in staccato motions that have a certain robotic poetry.

“His original training in poplocking is what makes him such a formidable dancer,” says Danielle Gee, previously of Alvin Ailey. Hip-hop made him so limber that he quickly appropriated the contours of ballet, but the fixed technique seemed to pluck the joy from his dancing. Then, one afternoon, watching the Ailey Company rehearse, he saw dancers moving “from the gut with real passion. I saw how I could incorporate street dancing with the technique I was learning. I saw how I could bring some magic to the stage.”

Combining the two techniques became a way of commenting on the past while remaining true to the personality of contemporary dance, and to his own personality. Mastering the hybrid choreography of Complexions’ Artistic Director Dwight Rhoden, however, required not only a physical but also a cultural bilingualism. “You have to have exquisite control of your weight and your center, moving with clarity and force at the same time.” Another dancer who worked with Rhoden for about a year has said, “His style is very physically and technically demanding, but it’s also quirky and individualistic. He makes you feel that what you’re doing with your body is what you’ve been trying to say all along. Complexions is very much on the edge, about taking risks physically and mentally.”

Such risks are typical of Rhoden’s Verge, which North Carolina Dance Theatre premiered March 8, 2002, with Richardson guesting. Set against the background of a target, the ballet is a series of almosts. Each episode bears a stoned-humorous title: Hypothetical Nuance, The If and Or of It, and Duplicitous Ironies, for example. Richardson is languid, latent energy, then suddenly poised and hunter-like. His hip-hop inspired head movements punctuate the jazz/ ballet fouettes, petit battements and long horizontal jetes reminiscent of Balanchine’s The Four Seasons. Partnering in Verge also upsets tradition, with male dancers mirroring other males, and women lifting men. NCDT’s Edgar Vardanian is a good choice height-wise to mirror Richardson, but is so far out-classed technically that their partnership is a sad joke.

The popularity of this style of dancing has brought about a huge upsurge, in the US, in the creation of African-dance-based regional companies. A glance at the roster of performing groups attending any one of the dance arts festivals held yearly all around the country will bear out this fact.  One particularly distinguished troupe, Ballethnic, whose choreographer Waverly Lucas emerged from the soloist ranks of Harlem Dance Theatre, has the singular commitment of infusing Vaganova tradition with African movement. “The Russian technique is the best blend with the African vocabulary. It offers the most power and attack.”

A source of this dance style’s popularity may be the joy, novelty and challenge dancers feel in the choreography. Lucas visited Portugal as a lecturer (1999) and teacher (2001), focusing on the mixing of classical ballet with African vocabulary and rhythms. During his choreography of Accusations for the Royal School of Lisbon, students came to Lucas’s classes, “Ballethnicize” and “Afro-Jazz,” thinking they already knew what would be taught. Once they’d seen the work, however, dozens of unregistered students began slipping in the doors, so many the school had to hire someone just to keep track of attendance.

Lucas likes to work with oppositions. “One area of body follows the classical mode – say feet – while the trunk is moving off center. Between the body and feet you have two rhythms in syncopation. Or you can go the other way.  The body can move to the base rhythm, and the feet to the melody.” In a rehearsal of Lucas’s new choreography, Soulitude, set to music by Ayub Oganda from the Mombasa Luo tribe and world premiered October 5, 2002, at Atlanta’s Robert Ferst Center for the Performing Arts, dancers execute a series of backward hops, dragging toes. Between classical ballet steps, they bounce forward leading from the hips. Heads drop rather than being snapped or bobbed on the downbeat. Meanwhile feet execute a modified pas de bouree, punctuated by a low and flexed develope. Some hip hop-looking steps come directly from West Africa, as does the vocabulary of hip-hop itself, movement having to do with speed, slight of hand, chest rolls, rotations inward. We also see a bit of yoga: a tree, a plow, and a scorpion all performed in pointe shoes.

For dancers, the progression to pointe is demanding because so much of ballet training requires the fixedness of the trunk. “They simply are not taught to move this way en pointe. So, in teaching, my focus is similarities in styles rather than differences. We work in stages, and start with finding movements dancers can relate to their classical training. They say, ‘That’s Graham or jazz or Balanchine.’ But after awhile, you forget about the categories.”

As to the question of authenticity, Lucas remarks: “In Africa, they argue about authenticity!  Tradition – old school verses contemporary dance, or scholars’ dance – they have the same arguments we find in the west. Music has been international for awhile, but dance lags behind. Modern tries, but ballet needs to continue learning, especially in the uses of music. Music calls the body to move, and to move in a particular way. For choreography to be good it must be true to that music and to the human heart. It must relate to the soul of the community – it’s not just personal.”

The difficulty for now seems to be that this choreography has limits.  Critics complain about redundancy in the work of Complexions, arguably the strongest of these companies, while the regional organizations can look amateurish, and have problems with technique. Even the iconization of Alvin Ailey company’s output indicates stasis. Still, developments in the dance vocabulary help to keep it a living artform, even if they are not always good.

“City Slippers,” Dance Spirit Magazine. July 2002

Dance Spirit Magazine June/July 2004

Dance Spirit Magazine June/July 2002

City slippers

Dance Spirit
July 1, 2002 | Payton, Colleen M
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Think you’re the only one who counts down to summer? This year, members of the New York City Ballet looked forward to June 30, the day of their final spring performance. Though not the beginning of a real vacation, the date marked the start of an annual getaway from the city, to Saratoga Springs, NY, located In the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. On July 9, the company opens Its 37th summer season at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, with George Balanchine’s Serenade, Ago” and Who Cares?. With little time to waste following their demanding spring schedule In Manhattan, you might wonder what keeps them motivated. So, Dance Spirit asked NYCB members to share the secrets of their summers.


During the regular season, the company dances at the New York State Theater in Manhattan’s Lincoln Center. In contrast, SPAC is surrounded by acres of woodland park and has an open-air stage that exposes the dancers to elements they normally aren’t aware of indoors, like changes in temperature, the sky, stars, mosquitoes and a truly live audience-many observers picnic on a lawn behind the amphitheater seats. As Pauline Golbin, a NYCB corps member since 1994, says, “It’s a wonderful treat, coming to Saratoga. Summer audiences are laid-back; it’s a good feeling.”


Every afternoon during their summer engagement, company members will rehearse one of the 26 ballets included in the summer repertory. Over the three-week residency, there are performances every night and matinees on Saturdays. “[This is] about the same number we do normally,” says Principal Jenifer Ringer. “There’s no real break from our busy schedule.”

With various NYCB alums teaching company class, Ringer says, “Summer is a great time to learn. Trying new things, taking time with no distractions, can enrich your life as a performer.” Some dancers, like fellow Principal Damien Woetzel, choose to be on the giving end of this summer study hall by teaching in the mornings. Woetzel is also the artistic director of the nearby New York State Summer School Of The Arts’ ballet program, whose facilities on the SPAC grounds train 60 students every summer.

With mornings free and no commuting hassle, there is time for fun. Some NYCB dancers swim every morning, and the National Museum Of Dance in Saratoga is open year– round for browsing. Plus, there are the horse racing tracks-the city’s claim to fame. “The races are truly fantastic,” says Ringer. “It’s amazing to see those horses move.” As Golbin knows from many summers spent in Saratoga, “Almost everyone goes [to the tracks], but the dance and racing seasons don’t always overlap. If you want to see races it sometimes means staying on after the company leaves.”


Each company member finds his or her own place to stay and usually comes back to the same spot summer after summer. “I stay in a condo close enough to the theater so I can walk,” says Golbin. Many of NYCB’s dancers enjoy the fleeting privilege of small town living, complete with walks down quiet streets, before gearing up for another year of hard work and city life.


This year, the transition between their two worlds is different from years past. After Saratoga, NYCB traditionally embarks on a summer tour, offering the dancers a great opportunity to travel and perform abroad. For instance, two years ago, after the company performed at the Verdi Festival in Parma, Italy, Ringer and her husband, Soloist James Fayette, stayed on for an extra 10 days to travel through Spain. This year, however, the company members will have time to plan even longer vacations, since they’re off from the end of the Saratoga season until The Nutcracker rehearsals begin in early fall. For more on NYCB’s summer season, see


“Summer is a great time to learn. Trying new things, taking time with no distractions, can enrich your life as a performer.”

-Jenifer Ringer,principal, New York City Ballet


“Summer audiences are laid-back; it’s a good feeling.”

-Pauline Golbin, corps member, New York City Ballet

[Author Affiliation]

Colleen teaches English and humanities at American InterContinental University in Atlanta, and writes about dance, music and culture both here and abroad.

Copyright Macfadden Performing Arts Media LLC Mar 2009. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All inquiries regarding rights or concerns about this content should be directed to Customer Service. For permission to reuse this article, contact Copyright Clearance Center.

“CARMEN IN SEATTLE,” Dance International Magazine, April 2002

Arianna Lalone In Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Carmen"

Arianna Lalone In Pacific Northwest Ballet‘s “Carmen

If medals were awarded for the number of ballets that take a particular opera as their text, Bizet’s well-worn Carmen would carry the prize away, far and away in the case of Kent Stowell’s multimedia work for Pacific Northwest Ballet, premiering January 31, 2002 at the Mercer Arts Arena, in Seattle.  Like other Carmens of recent note (Matthew Bourne’s gratuitously bloody Car Men, or Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal’s hip and world-wise treatment of 2001, for example), Stowell’s choreography illuminates the original work while exploring a thematically related aspect of contemporary culture.  Discovery is achieved through the recorded element, created by video artist Iole Alessandrini.

It is a remarkably literary ballet. It places Carmen among several other familiar dance pieces in a frame story of love, loss and disenchantment that unfolds in a dance company (a dance factory, rather than a cigar factory). Stowell depends largely on flamenco for choreography of ensemble dances: bravura and sexuality rooted in conflict.  The set is made up of tubular, movable frames with a video screen backdrop. These structures delineate, alternately, studios and performance venues.  Within them, dancers practice and perform, in addition to Carmen, Five Tangos and Le Corsaire; Balanchine’s La Valse, Chaconne and Apollo; and Stowell’s own Romeo and Juliet, and Cinderella.

Like the cast of Bob Fosse’s Cabaret, dancers in practice clothes leak onto the stage before the house lights are dimmed. Their warm up is paralleled by an orchestral tune up, and a collage construction of live video and rehearsal tapes fills the screen.  The goal is to bring the audience on stage with the dancers, showing the action from angles it otherwise could not possibly see, and to foreshadow events.

During the Habanero, for example, as Ariana Lallone, in character as Carmen awaits the attention of Jeff Stanton’s Jose, the rehearsal tape behind them is run in reverse.  Therefore, on video, the characters are already making love, and we see something of motivation, and the psychology of intent.  This juxtaposition also reflects  upon – if choreography is a form of contemplation – the nature of time.  Stowell shows us a smear in which multiple versions of the present moment occur simultaneously, rather than unwavering forward progress.

The other dancers in the piece serve as foils to the central characters. The superb technician, Patricia Barker, as Michaela, in a Nocturne of poignancy and tenderness, captures our hearts, and nearly steals the show. Stanko Milov’s Escamillo, in a pyrotechnical portrayal of the insouciant matador, is a flashing mirror of the heedless Carmen. An interesting element of characterization is that Lallone’s in-the-studio Carmen, the ballerina en alter ego, is reserved, thoughtful, cautious. In the coda, Lallone is ahead of the corps by one beat, out of sync with her society. Stanton’s martial performance with a mini-corps of picadors reveals him as a boy among boys, and draws attention to his sense of entitlement as the real source of his love and sorrow

The second cast, with principals Carrie Imler and Olivier Wevers in the lead roles convey different personalities.  Imler is a cupie-doll Carmen, and Wevers, her would-be lover, an adolescent egoist. Lallone’s Carmen neither asserts nor embodies, but simply is mystery. She exists outside of what is knowable, and her abandonment, her wildness, and her independence finally elude us.


April 2004

April 2004

For many teens, summer means relaxing days by the pool. But thousands of
serious, young dancers spend their summer vacations in the studio
working harder than ever. Intensive summer training sessions are a great
way to try out new teachers and styles—or to delve more deeply into the
technique you enjoy most. They can also give you a feel for what
rigorous, conservatory training is like. Indeed, some young dancers use
summer programs to sample schools they might want to attend year-round.
That’s true for twelve year old Jane Yoon. The fact that she was
shopping for a great summer program that might also become her
year-round school made her choice especially exciting and challenging.

“I know I’m choosing good places to audition,” said Yoon, “but sometimes
it feels like I’m just going by the pictures in brochures. I’m glad my
parents helped me figure out what I really want. All schools have
hierarchies, and things that go on under the surface. I’d like to know
in advance if those things are ones I can handle, or maybe even ones I’m
looking for. How competitive will it be? Will I make friends easily?”

Whether your main interest is great summer experience or a long-term
program, deciding where to go can be a daunting task. There are many
great schools and programs that differ widely. Becoming familiar with
their different focuses and offerings will help you find a program that
meets your goals and interests.

At Idyllwild Arts Academy, for example, the emphasis is development of
the individual through the arts. Summer programs for students in every
age group are offered: ballet, jazz, tap and theatre dance among an
abundance of other art forms. Situated in the mountains above Palm
Springs, California, the academy’s curriculum concentrates on classical
technique and artistic expression. All dance students takes courses in
ballet, modern, and jazz. Says Tia Dionne, a senior in the year-round
program, “It’s not competitive. It’s all about inspiration. I’d like to
get into a company, but there are a lot of other things I’m planning,
too. The teachers here give you the tools you need to make it.” Most
graduates of the year-round program go to college and into a variety of

According to William Lowman, Headmaster, “Idyllwild students are highly
individualistic. They represent a cross-section of the world, but they
share one important character trait: a burning desire to do something
different with their lives.” Students view themselves as valued members
of an artistic community, and explore multiple avenues for
self-expression. Nearby Los Angeles, a 45-minute drive away, provides
opportunities for year-round students to view performances and enjoy the

Interlochen Center for the Arts, in Michigan, is distinguished by its
affiliation with University of Michigan, and its 1,200 acre rural
setting. Although more than 2,000 students attend summer camp, just 100
are dance majors. The rest study creative writing, music, theater and
visual arts. Dancers live in cabins with students from any or all of
these programs, and in addition to dancing 5 to 6 hours per day, engage
in a variety of outdoor activities. The focus of the dance program is
modern and ballet, with courses in improvisation, composition, and
repertory. For school-year students, the academy offers an outstanding
academic education to students in grades 3 -12. Distinguished alumni
include: Mike Wallace, CBS News Correspondent; Tom Hulce, who played the
title role in the film Amadeus; and Tom Rawe of Twyla Tharp Company.
Each year, Interlochen presents more than 750 performances involving
students. Summer dancers are involved in two performances during each
four-week session (there are two dance sessions each summer). The school
also hosts prominent guest artists during the summer who perform and
offer master classes.

The Kirov Academy of Ballet offers a more urban experience. Located in
Washington, D.C., the school shares facilities during the summer
(swimming pool, residence hall) with nearby Trinity College. The
five-story building contains two large, world-class studios and three
smaller ones, air-conditioned dormitories, library, Pilates studio,
costume shop and classrooms.

Of the approximately 280 dance students who attend summer school, ten
percent continue in the year-round program. There are classes in ballet
(Vaganova method), pointe, character, Spanish, hip-hop, jazz and, during
winter months, Russian. SAT scores of graduating students are high,
averaging between 1100 and 1300, and most go directly into dance
companies. Students view one another as ‘family,’ and older students
look after younger ones.

Kirov is unique in its affiliations with the Kirov-Mariensky Ballet and
Universal Ballet companies. Many Kirov Academy graduates have gone on to
dance with Universal Ballet Company, or to study dance for another year
in St. Petersburg. Summer school students get the benefit of taking
classes with the same teachers who work with academy students year
round. One of these, Angelina Armeiskaya, was a student at the Kirov
Maryinsky Theatre School, and the lead character in the 1977 documentary
film, The Children of Theatre Street. Summer and academy students alike
become the beneficiaries of a tradition, transmitted from student to
teacher to student again—minds meeting minds across the years. The
academy also boasts a string of Prix de Lausanne and Varna medallists,
including Michele Wiles, who presently dances for ABT, and Rasta Thomas,
at NYCB.

Canada’s National Ballet School, set in the vital arts community of
downtown Toronto, provides access to overseas exchange in an
international setting. The school has partnerships with 12 other ballet
programs, including the Hamburg and Royal Ballet schools that offer
year-round senior students the opportunity to spend a summer in a ballet
academy abroad. The program has evolved its own style, combining
Vaganova, Bournonville and Cecchetti, giving graduates a “clean line and
exciting style, outstanding preparation for dancing with any company,”
says director Mavis Staines.

The expanding facility includes residences, nine studios, a theater,
pool, computer room, and physiotherapy clinic, all available for
supervised use by summer school students. For year-round students, the
academy offers a full curriculum of requirements and electives,
including French. In addition, students take courses in nutrition and
overall body fitness. All students who wish to attend the academic
program must audition and attend summer school first. It is a way for
the dance school and the potential student to try each other out. “The
atmosphere of learning is highly supportive,” says one administrator.
“The total package is a ‘home-away-from-home’ along with exceptional

National Ballet School alumni are in high demand. Currently, graduates
dance at more than 35 companies around the world. Audition tours are
held in each year, and approximately 25% of students admitted to the
summer program are invited to attend the school.
Another school that turns out sought-after graduates is the North
Carolina School of the Arts. The campus sits in a mixed
residential/warehouse district near historic downtown Winston-Salem, and
offers both a college-preparatory high school diploma and a BFA. The
dancers occupy a large building shared with both drama and music
students. Since summer programs are offered in other areas of
concentration besides dance, students meet contemporaries in other
fields and share ideas. (During the school year, students from different
disciplines even share dorm rooms.) At the conclusion of the 5 weeks of
summer study, there’s a demo performance, mostly for friends and
families. In the year-round program, however, dancers perform for the
public, both on campus and in a downtown theater. NCSA stages eighteen
performances of The Nutcracker each December. Revenue from these
performances funds scholarships. The department is also endowed with
Lucia Chase and Nureyev Guest Artist fellowships.

A distinguished faculty, including NYCB’s Melissa Hayden, Varna
medallist Gyula Pandi, and Kirsten Simone of the Royal Danish Ballet,
represent a variety of dance and teaching styles. “Most schools focus on
a single style,” says the school’s dean Susan McCollough, “Bournonville,
Vaganova, Graham, Limón, Arthur Mitchell. We do that [ALL THOSE?] and
more. Our faculty is diverse, and students show the effects by
developing strength in multiple areas.” The real focus is on perfecting
technique, from step to movement. “Your knees have to kiss each other,”
Hayden told one group last summer. “Otherwise, it’s not doing you any
good.” Students emerge with experience in Balanchine, RAD, de Mille and
Ailey among others. “It makes you flexible to change,” one student said.
“I’ve gotten a lot stronger.”

Summer school is used for recruitment, while year-round students tend to broaden

their horizons in other programs during the summer months. Graduates include Deanna

Seay, Miami City Ballet; Lynnette Hitchens, Pacific Northwest Ballet; Jeanne Ruddy,
Martha Graham Company, Mark Dendy, and Mark Dendy Dance.
So once you gather all the facts, how do you decide? One thing to think
about is whether you’re looking for exposure to a plethora of dance
styles or in-depth concentration on one. Many bright, talented dancers
with academic potential are happy in more diverse, less focused
programs. Also, every school has a “personality.” Administrators and
teachers create a culture that is modeled in class and even in the
dorms. You should look for programs that will challenge you—but that
also create an atmosphere where you enjoy learning and feel comfortable.
Attending summer study program auditions is a good way to check this
out. Trying out for a program can teach you a lot, even if you don’t get

And once you find the ideal place, it’s important to remember that you
still have to take responsibility for learning what’s taught. “It’s not
enough just to appear,” says Yoon, who decided to attend Kirov last
summer, and to put off year-round academy study until she’s older. “It’s
hard, but it’s fun, too. I don’t think I really knew how much I love
dance until I went there. If you’re lucky, you get a lot of corrections.
And nothing’s better than hearing, after all that work, ‘That’s right!’”


Dance International Magazine

Dance International Magazine

In a conversation about the Golden Age of the Broadway musical, a character created by John Guare asked, “Why were the musicals [from 1932 to 1964] so great?  For one reason alone.  There were no ballet companies …Lincoln Kirstein thinks he’s doing the world this big favor by founding New York City Ballet.  He hires Balanchine, who never does another show.  It’s corporate raiding.  By 1964, the plundering was through.  Jerome Robbins did his last Broadway show, Fiddler on the Roof …Fosse…moved in with a new kind of show-dancing, but it wasn’t ballet…I go to NYCB.  I see Robbins’s I’m Old Fashioned, Glass Pieces, they break my heart.  All I think is they would have been great numbers in Broadway shows.”

Since the establishment of ballet as a form of performance, each century is has produced a handful of great choreographers, often – but not always – clustered at a single locus.  In the eighteenth century Jean-George Noverre and Maximilien Gardel dominated in Paris.  In the nineteenth, the center of dance thought moved eastward, with Petipa, to Russia. However, it is in America that the great twentieth century flowering of dance took place. This development stemmed from a single man, George Balanchine, and through him not only ballet, but theatre dance experienced transformation in the hands of, first, Jerome Robbins, and later, Bob Fosse.

Hired by Diaghilev to replace Bronislava Nijinska as a composer of opera ballets, Balanchine was, at 21, ballet master of the world’s finest, most innovative company, the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. From Diaghilev he learned staging and the value of bringing together the best work available in a variety of fields to create new ballets.  He said, “It is because of Diaghilev that I am whatever I am today.” But Balanchine was independent, too, and could abandon Diaghilev’s influence without a glance backward – as seen in his frequent eliminations of costumes and sets – his so-called “black and white” ballets.

Neoclassicism, the style Balanchine eventually embraced, is grand in manner without being pompous.  It is inventive, lucid, witty, ironic, sometimes poignant, and full of the pleasures of the dance. With his ballet, Apollo (1928), he summoned this precision and richness, and in so doing created a work of originality that impressed even the avant guard. The theme of Apollo is creativity itself, energetic, crystalline, refined. Prodigal Son, following in 1929, was entirely different, wrenching, disturbing, harsh in its vision.  It was a pattern that held sway until the year he died: the assemblage of ballets that differed radically in scope, style and theme, one following another, sometimes in a matter of weeks.

Balanchine’s most important relationship was with Igor Stravinsky, whose artistic vision emerged from the same post-war ferment that informed Balanchine’s. The dynamic personal relationship enjoyed by these two artists overflowed into the composition method itself. For example, during the creation of Orpheus, in 1948, Stravinsky asked Balanchine about the length of the pas de deux.

“Oh,” Balanchine replied, “about two and a half minutes.”

“Don’t say ‘about,’” Stravinsky said reprovingly. “There is no such thing as ‘about’. Is it two minutes, two minutes and fifteen seconds, two minutes and thirty seconds, or something in between?”

As a choreographer, Balanchine explored spheres of movement not seen before in ballet, and made his discoveries a part of the dance vocabulary. He was able to demonstrate, without dancing a part full out, the essence of a movement, so that dancers would mourn their inability to reproduce the elegance, the gusto, the earthiness – whatever the part required – that Balanchine demonstrated in the studio. His understanding of music freed him from what Stravinsky called “the tyranny of the beat,” and he was able to create dance phrases that have independence and integrity of their own, yet are linked to the music’s internal patterns. Balanchine believed that if ballet is any good, it doesn’t need program notes or other explanation, only the title and composer. “The curtain should just go up and if the spectators understand what’s going on it’s good, and if not, not.”

Balanchine shared an office and artistic directorship of New York City Ballet for 20 years with Jerome Robbins, who composed only three ballets before hooking up with Balanchine, Fancy Free, Interplay, and Facsimile. The Guests was his first ballet for NYCB. Balanchine gave Robbins tremendous support during the composition of this first work, offering not only dancers and space, the raw materials, but educated interest and encouragement. “Here I was, just a young choreographer, and there was the master of our age bringing in props to help me, as if he were some fourth assistant to the stage manager,” Robbins reported with amazement.

As a businessman, Robbins worked hard for fair billing, credit and wages when choreographers were notoriously underpaid and undervalued.  Like many of his colleagues even now, he felt the scorn of people in his own profession and of the public, who felt dance was not real work. From Balanchine, Robbins learned the key to satisfaction in the creative life: it’s the work itself that counts not the success of it. “He made me see that the work was more important than the success, that work in progress was what mattered most.”

Highly sensitive to the idea of his Jewishness and “outsider” status, Robbins reflected upon, with his work, the conflicts that determined his personality.  These include: passion to succeed as an American; longing for the traditions of the old country; desire for intimacy and all that surrender of ego might entail; and the necessity to create. This urgency to make dances for public consumption was supported – necessarily – by an enormous ego.  It is impossible that it be otherwise. Without the certainty that one’s work is valid and worthy, the self-exposure it requires would be intolerable.

As a dancer, Robbins had a knack for upstaging ballerinas with his inventive comic turns and mischievous sense of humor.  Agnes de Mille noted the rapidity with which he learned difficult combinations. Great dance critic Edwin Denby was moved by the nuances of expression that allowed Robbins to embody a role unforgettably, as in Petrouchka, where he had “a forlorn, sawdust quality that lingers in the memory even after 40 years.”

As a choreographer, Robbins continued to perform in Balanchine’s dances while creating some of his own best ballets and theatre pieces.  These include: The Concert, Age of Anxiety, Afternoon of a Fawn, Dances at a Gathering, On the Town, The King and I, Gypsy, Fiddler on the Roof, Peter Pan, and West Side Story. In spite of thorough preparation, Robbins tended to study his work in progress by creating a number of variants.  Dancers rehearsing his ballets often had to remember multiple versions of the same basic phrase.  He was also continually on the lookout for accidents in the studio that might be borrowed to create an exciting moment.

Robbins’ most powerful and defining collaboration was with composer Leonard Bernstein with whom he worked on several of his most well known Broadway shows. The two men had in common the goal of using dance theatre to convey “pertinent ideas about ourselves and our world.”  The Guests, like West Side Story, explores class conflict.  On the Town contained the first truly integrated cast.  It has been suggested that Robbins and Bernstein as artists and as human beings lived “in two worlds simultaneously…able to see into both…and to translate for the audience.”

Bob Fosse, in some ways Robbins’ Broadway protégé, was progenitor of a pure Broadway dance style that was, perhaps, a happy consequence of his lack of ballet experience. The splayed fingers, the thirties-era bowler hat tipped forward or to one side, and the basing in dark, funny scripts that take humorous shots at cherished institutions are all elements of Fosse’s style.

Fosse revolutionized dance on Broadway by infusing a jazz-inspired sensibility with gritty, burlesque-style movements. He created light-hearted, comedic sequences along side sexy, down-and-dirty dance numbers that suggest, often with great irony, the temporality of pleasure and passion. There is something tongue-in-cheek, in Gwen Verdon’s strip-tease romp, “What Lola Wants” (Damn Yankees), in the frank appeal to the wallet in “Big Spender” (Sweet Charity), or in the bruised limbs of the ensemble dancers in Cabaret. The plot reversals and sexually explicit humor disguise universal themes of personal identity and role-playing, exploitation of the poor and disenfranchised, and the inevitability of human suffering, recovery and renewal.

Certainly these are matters about which Fosse had first-hand knowledge. Inspired by the dancers he met at the dive clubs where he first performed, his choreography contained a characteristic  ferocity and subtlety teristic throughout his career. Fosse dancers move with a loose-jointed, declarative pinache. Heads bob. Pelvises thrust. Shoulders arch and revolve. Knees knock. Eyes roll. Heels kick clownishly high. Perhaps the most engaging quality in his body of work is its tender reference to vaudeville.

The jazz style Fosse created has become the measuring rod for contemporary theatre dance, and is as evident on Broadway as it is in music videos. Hip-hop, disco, and funk all borrow from his work.  The 1999 Broadway revue, Fosse, was a greatest–hits collection of Fosse’s most celebrated song-and-dance numbers, and played at New York’s Broadhurst Theatre for more than 1,000 performances, closing in August 2001. Its repertory included pieces from his most popular productions, and featured veteran Broadway stars such as Ann Reinking and Candy Buckley, New York City Ballet principal Julio Bocca and soloist Edwaard Liang, and American Ballet Theatre’s Desmond Richardson. Fosse’s choreography has also become the subject of a wonderfully filmed installment of Great Performances: Dance in America, airing on public television stations this season.

Since the deaths of these choreographers, there has been great flap about the tensions sometimes felt in the studio between themselves and those who danced for them. In Prodigal Son: Dancing for Balanchine in a World of Pain and Magic (1998), Edward Villella relates a humorous anecdote that perfectly illustrates the conflict.  Villella was rehearsing a ballet, and was suffering from pain caused by an at-that-time undiagnosed joint condition.  He was frustrated with the part itself.  He didn’t believe he had time enough to learn it.  In sum, he was grumbling, or at least emitting dissatisfied vibrations.  One afternoon, George Balanchine summoned him to the basement of the State Theater, and began to dig through some boxes of dusty, abandoned costumes. At last he resurrected a bright orange tunic, and a pair of garish yellow tights.

“Put these on,” he commanded.

Feeling foolish, Villella complied. The effect, apparently, was not good, but Balanchine was delighted.

“Perfect!” he announced with a flourish, then strode away, leaving Villella to absorb the lesson: If you’re going to play the fool, why not dress like one?

At the heart of this antagonism was a debate about what is most important.  For Balanchine, the answer was always, even during the well-publicized debacle with Suzanne Farrell, dance.  For Jerome Robbins and for Bob Fosse, the value was similar.  Dancers who threatened to quit were told some version of: “Good thing you decided.  Go in peace.” Dancers who failed to appear in company class or rehearsal simply were not cast. But with Balanchine no longer around to set and exceed the standard, nor Robbins, nor Fosse, nor their colleagues, (and someday, not even their students), how will their choreography survive? Some already say it has not. Maria Tallchief has noted leveling in sequences created for her in the years of American Ballet Company and Ballet Society, for example. Some, of course, is preserved on film, and the Broadway shows, at least for now, continue to experience revivals. Balanchine, who lived his life very satisfactorily in the present, may have sniffed, “Who cares?” Certainly he showed almost no concern for the fate of either his choreography or for NYCB after his demise. “Apres moi, the board,” he said, characteristically.

The influence of these choreographers is so profound that it is difficult to conceive of the world without it. They offered, on the one hand, loving tribute to the past (as in Balanchine’s Nutcracker and Swan Lake, Robbins’ Fiddler on the Roof, or Fosse’s vaudeville-inspired number, “Who’s Got the Pain?” in Damn Yankees), while at the same time translating American culture into a performance milieu that all can access. In so doing, they transcended barriers of language, mores, ethnicity and expectation to offer a broadened vision of humanity, “the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals.”