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The Atlanta Folk Art Festival, now in its 13th year, is probably the largest and most distinguished self-taught exhibit in the world, hosting 90 galleries and artists and attracting more than 12,000 visitors annually.
Housed in Atlanta Trade Center – 80,000 square feet, the aisles wide, cool and breezy in spite of crowds moving about the towering displays – painting, sculpture, fabric art, pottery, quilts – multicultural and mixed media – prices range from 5 bucks to 5 figures. At many booths the artists themselves are present, working while viewers gather around. (more…)
North Carolina Dance Theatre is bringing its program “Under Southern Skies” to Chattanooga during its national tour March 5, 2006, at Hayes Concert Hall, in the Fine Arts Center on the University of Tennessee campus. The program explores the theme of Southern heritage, and includes four pieces, “Shindig,” “Sweet Tea,” “Salt,” and “I’m with You.” Dancers are joined on stage by North Carolina bluegrass band The Greasy Beans, and critically acclaimed acoustic guitarist Christine Kane. (more…)
Violette Verdy is in love – with “the tenderness in the European character,” she says, “tenderness about life, food, children and the arts.” Verdy’s neoclassical piece, Inoui Rossini, meaning ‘Extraordinary’ and set to Rossini’s evocative music, draws upon this culture. “So much of my career has centered on teaching. I find my choreography seems naturally to be about educating dancers in what a disciplined body can suggest, and audiences in how ballet transforms the body into an articulate instrument. The Atlanta company dancers are receptive, generous. They can do extraordinary things. I had to show off their talents.”
Currently a Distinguished Professor of Ballet at Indiana University, Verdy is a retired NYCB principal, and has held artistic directorships for the Paris Opera and Boston Ballet companies. – Colleen M. Payton
May 5 – 6, 2006, 8pm
The open mic phenomenon is sweeping the nation, so it is not too big a surprise that it thrives in Gwinnett County. In fact, if you want, you can visit an open mic venue every weeknight (Sunday through Thursday) in Gwinnett. I know. I’ve tried it. But here’s a word to the wise: if you seen one, you have NOT see them all. Each has a unique personality. (more…)
School of the North Carolina Dance Theatre’s Conservatory Program
It is a crisp fall morning in Charlotte, North Carolina, and fourteen year old roommates, Lindsay Woodall and Jane Yoon, are getting dressed – not for a day at school, but for ballet class. Charlotte, once a sleepy southern town, is fast becoming an arts mecca and mini metropolis, with the Balanchine-inspired dance company, the North Carolina Dance Theatre, co-directed by retired New York City Ballet dancers Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Patricia McBride at its center. It is here the two girls, among the youngest ever admitted to NCDT’s Conservatory Program, are headed for a day of big sweat and small glory, as they work their bodies and brains to the limit to achieve their mutual dream of a professional dance career.
“Only three months ago,” says Yoon, “my future seemed to be up in the air.” She was a student at North Atlanta Dance Academy, in Georgia, attending three different summer programs in widely dispersed areas of the country. She was a favorite with her teachers, dancing the only solo in her class at the Universal Ballet Academy Summer Session II demonstration. But she was becoming more and more dissatisfied with her work at NADA. “My teachers in Georgia were awesome, but I was too comfortable there. No matter how hard I tried, I always felt like I was slacking.” It was time for a change. But Yoon was also plagued by a worry that at just under 5’ 10”she was too tall to dance ballet. She would tower over her partners, she feared, and would end up scrunching down in the back row of any professional company that accepted her. So NCDT’s standard that welcomed tall dancers was the opposite of what she expected.
“Have you seen our company?” Darleen Callaghan, retired company principal and director of the school, asks. “More than half the women are in the 5’7” to 5’9” height range. Jane and Lindsay (Woodall is 5”7”) fit right in.” And NCDT is not the only prominent American dance company that looks for taller female artists. “San Francisco, New York City Ballet, Houston, Seattle, Canada’s National Ballet, all have lots of tall girls on their company rosters.”
Woodall, too, who started dancing at age nine and has been en pointe for only a year, was surprised by the sudden change in her life. “I danced at a tiny school in Arizona,” she says. “It was just for fun. Then we moved here, and I started taking classes at NCDT, and all of a sudden I had a big problem: homework.”
Any serious dancer who attends a public school knows what she means. “You come home from school and you have to rush to make the carpool on time. Then you take three hours of dance class. By the time you get back it’s nine or ten o’clock, and you still haven’t started your homework. Some nights you’re up till midnight or later.”
“I never seemed to get enough sleep,” Yoon agrees, remembering the juggling of her schedule that was so much a part of her life only a short time ago. “On Sundays, I’d stay in bed till 2 or 3 in the afternoon, I was so tired. That is, if I didn’t have rehearsal.”
Acceptance with NCDT’s Conservatory has put an end to this dilemma, for both girls. Now, instead of waking up at 6:30AM to get ready to catch a school bus, they can sleep until 7:30 or 8:00. Technique class begins at 9:30, followed by courses in pedagogy, Pilates, floor barre, composition, or dance history. Frequently they are joined in these classes with company trainees, apprentices, and, occasionally, full-fledged company members. Afterwards, they shower, eat lunch, and spend the afternoon completing their high school credits through Indiana University High School’s Independent Study Program.
“It’s an excellent choice for any serious dancer,” says Callaghan, who helped in getting the two programs – the NCDT Conservatory and Indiana University – together. Students work at their own pace, completing assignments, essays and tests either through the web-based option, where students to work on line and submit assignments via the internet, or the more traditional, paper-based option, where they send finished work to their instructors by mail. If they have to stop working on assignments to get ready for a performance, there is no penalty and no catch up.
“You just pick up where you left off,” says Yoon.
A further benefit of completing a high school diploma through Indiana University is that for many courses students can take advantage of dual enrollment. This means the credits they earn count for both high school and college. It is possible, therefore, for IU students to finish a diploma with a year of college under their belts – a great leg-up whatever future they opt for.
In the evenings, Woodall and Yoon return to the NCDT studios for their classes in ballet, pointe, modern, partnering, variations and jazz. It’s a full day of dancing, and that’s not including rehearsals. Casting assignments and performance practices are posted on the bulletin board, usually with only a few days’ advance notice before rehearsals begin.
Being able to work with choreographers like Dwight Rhodens, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, Michael Pink, Mark Diamond, Jeanene Russell and Heather Ferranti-Ferguson is a second important benefit of the program. “When I began studying at the School of American Ballet,” Associate Artistic Director Patricia McBride explains, “I was fourteen years old, the same age Jane and Lindsay are now, but I didn’t have the advantage of working with a company. All we had was class – which is great for developing technique – but for discovering yourself as an artist, developing artistry, working with choreographers on new pieces can’t be compared with any other way of studying dance. It’s simply the best.”
It’s also a good way to find out if a career in dance is what you really want. “Our students live and breathe dance all day long,” Darleen Callaghan says, “and are fully prepared for employment in this profession – as performers and teachers, choreographers, program directors – they’ve even been exposed to the advertising and marketing and fund-raising aspects of a dance organization. They understand what’s involved. Of course there are no guarantees. But there is a significant value in training at a school that is affiliated with a company, and an advantage in seeing dancers every day in rehearsal and performance. It’s a whole different exposure.”
Woodall and Yoon are discovering exactly what it’s like to work with a professional choreographer. “I love being with the professionals, having them as fellow students in my classes, and being able to learn from them, as my teachers,” says Woodall. Currently Mark Diamond is rehearsing the girls for a revival of his dynamic and trend-setting Allegro con molto, Yoon as an understudy and Woodall in the cast. Both young women are also performing in Ferranti-Ferguson’s and Russell’s new pieces, which will premiere at one of several dance events in the upcoming year: the Winter Festival of Dance, in Gastonia, North Carolina, The North Carolina Dance Festival in Winston-Salem, The North Carolina Choreography Showcase, and SERBA (the South Eastern Regional Ballet Association) in Raleigh. “It’s exciting to be chosen,” says Woodall, and the work is so interesting you forget how hard it is.”
Yoon shares a page of her diary, written on the day she found out she had gotten the part:
Mr. Diamond’s class went well this morning, apart from my knee pain. He has decided that he would like Pauline [Huron], Alyssa [Botelho], and me to understudy his piece, Allegro, and Lindsay has the opportunity to perform it. I feel incredibly privileged, and see it as a sign of his interest in us.
Diamond’s choice reveals NCDT’s confidence in the commitment these young people demonstrate. “Our mission is to offer serious dance students the opportunity to incorporate college-preparatory academics with excellent dance training,” Callaghan maintains. “So we look for kids who are not only motivated to pursue a career in dance, but who have the focus and the discipline to do the work.”
Right now, there are eleven students in the Conservatory, and another six in the University of North Carolina Charlotte Dance Certificate Program, a course of study that allows them to obtain a certificate in dance while earning a college degree. “There’s a historical advantage in training in North Carolina,” says Callaghan. “It’s been just great for dancers. We perform Balanchine repertory, and we’ve also worked with a large number of upcoming and established of choreographers. With generous state funding and all the NEA touring grants – in the eighties NCDT was the number one touring company in the U.S. – we’ve always been financially secure, and consequently the company is very stable. We don’t see a lot of turnover among the professionals.”
What does this stability mean for trainees who dream of a dance future with NCDT? “We encourage the Conservatory students to take advantage of opportunities to prepare for employment with a dance company,” Callaghan affirms. “Maybe it will be North Carolina, but often not. Conservatory students attend every summer program audition that’s held in our studios. We believe that such exposure can only benefit the dancer.
“When you work with a variety of teachers and directors, you broaden your horizons, and the more you’re seen, the more opportunities you’ll have to do just that. We never hold students back. What would be the point of that? When a school or company shows interest in one of our students, it’s an affirmation for us. We know we’re doing good work. And we take part in the student’s decision to move on. Are this student and this company a good match? We counsel, we recommend, and we work with the dancer’s family. People want to know how to get into big companies. This is the way it’s done.”
This past year, several NCDT students distinguished themselves with substantial moves. One accepted a contract with Houston Ballet’s second company. Another was offered a full scholarship to Miami City Ballet School. A third, only twelve years old, has moved to the year-round program at Canada’s National Ballet School. “These are the success stories that tell us how well we’re doing,” says Callaghan.
As for the immediate future, NCDT is looking to start construction of a new building with state-of-the-art studios, classrooms, a student center, comfortable dressing rooms, and possibly, dormitories. Currently, there is another plan afoot to establish dorm arrangements with a nearby community college. Yoon, an out-of-stater, lives with a host family, the Woodalls, which is a clear advantage for her and Lindsay, since they attend the same classes, and even study the same courses together through IU. But many people prefer the convenience of living in a dorm, an alternative that will soon become a viable choice for students at NCDT.
For more information about NCDT’s Conservatory Program and Indiana University High School’s Independent study Program, please contact Darleen Callaghan at (704) 372-0101.
Two new books about master choreographer and dance teacher George Balanchine were published in November 2004. They are Wall Street Journal theatre critic Terry Teachout’s All in the Dances A Brief Life of George Balanchine, and New York City Ballet board member and New Yorker Magazine editor Robert Gottlieb’s George Balanchine the Ballet Maker, for Harper Collins’s Eminent Lives series. We might wonder how these additions to the growing Balanchine library can really be useful. Good biographies are available already, Bernard Taper’s Balanchine, for example. Then there are the catalogues, critical collections, and memoirs of dancers Toni Bentley, Suzanne Farrell, Tamara Geva, Allegra Kent, Peter Martins, Maria Tallchief and Edward Villella.
All, including Teachout’s and Gottleib’s new books, tell variations of the same story. The child that would become the greatest choreographer of the 20th century is abandoned by his family at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg. After suffering years of privation caused by the Revolution, he escapes to the west, is hired by Diaghilev as a composer of opera ballets, and at 21, is made ballet master of the world’s finest, most innovative company, the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. Diaghilev’s theatre became a sort of training ground, where Balanchine developed neoclassicism, dance that is grand in manner, inventive, lucid, witty, sometimes poignant, but never pompous or
sentimental. He composes ballets that differ radically from one another in scope, style and theme, and makes them one following another, sometimes in a matter of weeks.
At NYCB, Balanchine shared artistic directorship for 20 years with Broadway giant Jerome Robbins, and gave him tremendous support during the composition of his ballets, offering not only the raw materials – dancers and space – but educated interest and encouragement. Greg Lawrence, in his Dance With Demons: The Life of Jerome Robbins (2001) quotes Balanchine’s longtime administrative partner. “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. But he learned from Balanchine the key to satisfaction in the creative life. “He made me see that the work was more important than the success, that work in progress was what mattered most.”
What conflicts occurred seem to have been spawned by differences in values between dancers who cared for themselves first, and Balanchine who was interested primarily in work. In Prodigal Son: Dancing for Balanchine in a World of Pain and Magic (1998), Edward Villella illustrates this friction. Villella was rehearsing Donizetti Variations, frustrated with the part, with the time he had to learn it, all compounded with his chronic hip pain. In fact, the only aspect of the piece he felt happy about was his handsome costume. One afternoon, Balanchine summoned Villella to the basement of the State Theater, and began to dig through the wardrobe. At last he resurrected a bright orange tunic and a pair of yellow tights, “the color of baby vomit.”
“Put these on,”
Villella, already slight of stature, appeared to be cut in half by this outfit. He looked as though he were dancing on his knees.
Villella saw the episode as an exercise in domination, Balanchine beating his chest and demonstrating his power.
But we see at the heart of their conflict a debate about what is most important. For Balanchine, the answer was always, even during the well-publicized debacle with Suzanne Farrell, dance. Dancers who threatened to quit were told some version of: “I’m glad you’ve decided. Go in peace.” As Peter Martins relates from his own surprised experience, in Far From Denmark (1982), those who failed to appear in company class or rehearsal simply were not cast. Balanchine’s “do-it-now” attitude and rhetorical, “What are you saving yourself for?” were a revelation to Martins. But all the dancers who have published memoirs, and this is a failing that most strongly marks their descriptions of Balanchine, saw him through the necessary prism of their self-absorption. All can tell what happened, their side of the story, but they can’t tell why, not convincingly for readers, because each of their accounts is filtered in personality: Villella’s macho insecurity, Martins’s European-bred expectations (which he slowly un-learned), Farrell’s naïve imperviousness, Tallchief’s brass-tax practicality.
It is not surprising, therefore, that Balanchine’s most important relationship was with someone he could communicate with on another level – through music – Igor Stravinsky. Their dynamic repartee and shared vision overflowed into the composition process. For example, Taper relates, 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 corrected, 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?”
Balanchine’s understanding of music freed him from what Stravinsky called, “the tyranny of the beat.” 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 showed in the studio. He believed that if ballet is any good, it doesn’t need program notes or other explanation. “The curtain should just go up and if the spectators understand what’s going on it’s good, and if not, not.”
So what can Teachout’s and Gottleib’s books add to all this?
Gottleib’s work as part of a series of biographies aims for authority. It winnows out gossip, scandal and drama, presents conflicting accounts evenly, and adds to the story in two previously unexplored dimensions. One, he talks about Balanchine’s relationship with his family and with Russia. Tallchief, Villella and Farrell all remember the 1962 NYCB tour to the Soviet Union with approbation.
They talk about the shabby accommodations, the lousy food, the sense of being trapped. Especially they remember their dismay when Balanchine suddenly abandoned them, took off for New York and was gone for a week, right in the middle of the tour. Gottlieb tells this story from Balanchine’s point of view. We see the pain and discomfort Balanchine felt dealing with family and friends from the past, with loss, with the high-pressure Soviets who seemed to be using the tour to prove something. So he went home and ironed shirts, tended Tanaquil LeClerq, spent an evening telling baudy stories and singing songs, a full one hundred of them that had been listed in the Times as the most popular of popular songs. It was a necessary and healthy break.
ttlieb unlike other biographers, presents Lincoln Kirstein as more than moneybags, more than a tool that moved Balanchine from Europe to the States. He writes compellingly of Kirstein’s frightening mental illness and misguided belief that he was superfluous to Balanchine and to the company. The truth is, Kirstein made tangible differences: in developing the repertory, attracting funding and creating liaisons with artists working outside of NYCB.
Teachout’s new book is important, too. It stands over and above the others, first, for the quality of the writing. We believe what he has to say because he tells us how he knows. His speculation is careful, and he has an instinct for development – he knows what details to leave in, what to throw out. All in the
Dances is the only published biography that separates awed understanding of Balanchine’s artistic achievement from a clear-eyed, sometimes unflattering view of the man. Teachout tells frankly about Balanchine’s womanizing and affairs. He condemns his pursuit of Suzanne Farrell as “inappropriate,” and presents a dismaying account of Balanchine’s treatment of LeClerq. Most shocking for those of us who have been weaned on our perception of Balanchine’s all-embracing multiculturalism, coming as it did before there was a word for it, is the great choreographer’s unworthy stoop to conquer: he calls Jerome Robbins “Jerry the Fairy.”
Both Gottlieb and Teachout explore the question of the future. With Balanchine and someday even his students no longer around to set and exceed the standard, how will his choreography survive? But Balanchine, who lived his life very much in the present moment, may have sniffed, “Who cares?” Certainly he claimed to have little concern for the fate of either his choreography or for NYCB after his demise. “Apres moi, the board,” he said, characteristically.
But anyone who observes the offspring companies – Pacific Northwest Ballet, Miami City Ballet, North Carolina Dance Theatre, among many – sees his influence as so profound that it is difficult to conceive of American dance, indeed the dance world without it. He offered loving tribute to the past (as in the Nutcracker and Swan Lake) while at the same time translating American culture to a performance milieu that shows us a broadened vision of humanity
“Review of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Theatre’s ‘Reading, Mercy and the Artificial Nigger’ at American Dance Festival,” Ballet-Tanz Magazine, September 2004
READING, MERCY and THE ARTIFICIAL NIGGER
Set to live music with the cast costumed in business suits and ties, calling attention to the business of the piece, choreographer Bill T. Jones in the world premiere, July 18, of “Reading, Mercy and the Artificial Nigger,” commissioned for the American Dance Festival in Durham, North Carolina, has once again used the medium of dance to make a social statement. The piece is based upon American writer Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “The Artificial Nigger.” The author’s use of a word that has such a painful resonance in this country is deliberately intended to shock and to sear, for the story demonstrates the subtle psychology if how bigotry is taught. Readers on stage recite aloud sections from the story, beginning with the first paragraph, which connects the universal message concerning the survival of racism with the cyclical rhythms of the moon. What follows is a recitation of the names of products that take their appellations from icons of the American South: Dixie Chemical Company, Aunt Jemima Maple Syrup, and Southern Belle Cotton. In the story, these brand names are the billboards two characters view from a train as they journey toward the city of Atlanta from the Georgia countryside. Like much else of Jones’s work, “The Artificial Nigger” is a multimedia production with a projected set and a text that at times so thoroughly dominates dancing, that to call this piece a dance, only, is to exaggerate the significance of a single medium in a work that is made up of movement, rhythm, poetry, film, mime, music, photography and theatre. Dance is not always the central element.
Jones claims in the program notes that this choreography is not a visualization of the story, but in some senses it is – primarily in rhythmic ways, for literature, the spoken word, contains rhythms as surely as does dance, and the dancers move to them as much as they do to the music. And, as the characters experience, we see elements of their story: the train, a streetcar, pedestrians on the street, spigots and running water, hands, even the heat of the Atlanta summer. When the child stops and stares for sixty seconds, we get a sixty-second pause. Although no one dancer consistently portrays any of the main characters, we see them straggling along, one behind the other, the former the advancing shadow of the latter.
There is also psychological visualization. For example, when expectation is reversed, the dancers stand upon their necks. When the character Mr. Head instructs his grandson in the qualities one can look for in Negroes, the dancers’ movements parody African-American rhythmic dancing, and we see, briefly, the jungle bunnies that populate Mr. Head’s ignorance. When he struggles for anonymity, the dancers cover their heads with their jackets, a visualization which also appears to be a pun upon the character’s name. Near the end of the story, when the characters confront the miserable-looking artificial Negro itself, a decayed lawn ornament, we, in one moment, see the misery in their ignorance, and their likeness, in it, to the image they have both created and despised. Finally, when Mr. Head denies his child – there seems to be some connection here with St. Peter’s denial of Christ – Flannery O’Connor was devoutly Roman Catholic – the dancers slip to the floor in despair. Indeed, both the music and the choreography are heavily text-tured. Above it all are the readers’ tonally faceted and emphatic voices, Southern, patrician, and didactic.
What Jones’ piece does, in addition to reviving an important O’Connor story for a new generation of audiences and readers is to show us how as human beings, guilty of the sins of all humankind, we are quietly accused. Mr. Head, at the last, is revealed to himself as a sinner with no comprehension of his real and terrible sins, against African Americans, against humanity and against his grandson.
Several of the dancers delivered outstanding performances. Shaneeka Harrell distinguished herself early in the evening as first dancer in Jones’s 2002 work, “Power/Full,” which illustrates the isolation of the human spirit from religion and prayer. Again here, we have a text, though in this case it is simple and brief: “When God says something, He can’t take it back.” Another strong performance came from Malcolm Low, who has acquired command since I last had the opportunity to see him dance, two years ago.
Also performed this evening was “Duet X 2” (1982). Together the three pieces, all thematically complex, deeply ironic and emotionally involving works, comprised an important statement about the human condition.