Slight delay on this post. On top of my part-time job at B&N and my freelance work at A+C, I just accepted a second job with Houston Ballet! I’ll be limiting all my HB posts, out of “conflict of interest,” as I now represent this company. But that’s okay, because there is so much more to dance in Houston besides our fabulous professional ballet company (4th largest in the nation btw). In other personal news, my creative writing has been accepted and published in Thistle Magazine’s HOME issue! Download it for free or buy the print version from here: http://www.thistlemagazine.com/ I also have a piece coming out for Houston readers in the Playbill of HB’s Mixed Rep Bill profiling Garrett Smith, a most humble and creative choreographer who happens to be young.
And that is how this post started…
“Young choreographer.” That is a label that comes attached to almost anyone making dance under the age of 30. But what is wrong with just “choreographer,” giving the audience more time to spend exploring their art more than the person? Much like the “female choreographer” problem, where choreographers of all ages in various dance styles are marketed as FEMALE first and artist second, I’m beginning to catch and correct myself when I use these homogenized phrases when describing dance-makers of the present.
Let me explain myself: It’s more than just being PC or anything of that sort. This is out of respect of the art form to keep moving forwards and not stagnant. No longer can we lump a show with this age range or that gender, and so on. As dance professionals we need to collect dancers and dance makers of all ages and all genders and all sexualities and nationalities, and so on. And then showcase these diverse choreographers together with their work, causing dance to take its rightful focus, not the personal particulars of the choreographers.
Because dance isn’t a fledgling art form anymore and choreographers shouldn’t be tagged to a select few shows that remark their age over their talent. It happens in all the sister arts, true (just look at the mess that is the “27 club”). But wouldn’t it be great if the dance world could maintain a preference of highlighting talent above all else?
You know me; I just turned 27 and I’m proud of my age. I know age, low and high, comes with many uncomfortable attachments, especially for women sadly, but I also know that talent shines brightest when it’s not blanketed, allowing the audience of all levels to follow and pay attention to the art rather than just the person.
Let’s take Misty Copeland, (might as well since I won’t be making a separate post for her any time soon): She’s remarkable and passionate as a dancer, and she is a respectable and kind person, and she is an inspiring and confident woman, and she is a proud and moving African-American, and she is young. That’s a lot of personal particulars attached to the one thing that should matter the most for people looking at her as an artist– her continuous talent.
The media lumped her under so many sections of particulars that she touched a lot of people, yes, but they lost her as a dancer underneath all those other titles. Does the general public even know her many different roles as a soloist with ABT? No.
The general public knows her general background, which is a great starting point, but you can’t go off of just that information on a dancer to transition from trend/dancer follower audience member to dance follower audience member. And we NEED more dance followers of Misty Copeland, not just trend/dancer followers of Misty Copeland.
Isn’t “Odette as portrayed by ABT’s principal ballerina” Misty Copeland more everlasting and reputable than Misty Copeland “young, black, female, dancer?”
Pandering to the general public is tricky. I’m not saying it shouldn’t happen or that it’s a bad thing, but I do think that the dance world should do it’s best to become the front line of focus on the dancer(s)/dance(s) when “marketing” companies or “publicizing” shows.
Here are three examples of choreographers, companies, pieces, and dancers who happen to be young and are focusing on the dance more than the trends, strengthening their talent before their age or image:
1. FrenetiCore‘s “The Rite of Summer”
Their statement, “To empower and transform communities through innovative dance, theater, and visual art,” rests exactly where I think “young” dance companies should stand. The combination of dance, theater, and visual art is not exactly every company’s cup of tea, as dance itself is already a huge venture to complete, but it certainly is one of the vast realms that has always remained for artists of all mediums. From the early 20th century German movements to the French connections that brought together hundreds of artists of all forms together, we can’t stop forming collectives of like-minded curious artists who happen to be young, old, male, female, etc. To utilize all three areas, nurturing the performing arts all together, is ambitious and exciting, especially for the Houston area which sees its fair share of separate, traditional dance and theater every year.
And the main piece of this dance theater’s production was a wonderful addition to exploration of three elements with dance. At the Wortham Theatre for the first time, this company shimmered in a span of styles to represent a Rite for the current generations. Rite of Spring is a sacred piece of music and dance dating back into history and moving along to the present with new variations, reproductions, and representations. And although I hold a certain three Rites above all other Rites (read more about that on my previous post here 20. The Madness of Genius: Three Choreographic Masterpieces of The Rite of Spring ) Rite of Summer was exploration at its core, without the contriteness of being “young.” There were a few complications with technology and some moments of questionable costuming, but in the end nothing about the show felt dictated or stuck in a label-bubble. I can see this piece evolving with time, continuing with the company and into the future with new visuals. After all, isn’t that the spirit of Rite; to continue “forever young” and always wondrous?
2. NobleMotion Dance Company
Here’s the story of a pair of married choreographers from Florida who made the humidity of Texas their own. Andy Noble and Dionne Sparkman Noble are Texas-dance royalty, with a flourishing rep for a stellar company and, basically, a talent scouting headquarters in Sam Houston State University, where Andy teaches as an associate professor. Only, everyone knows this story and we’re all very impressed by their choreographic talent. But from now on, in conversations about NobleMotion with other A+C writers or dance enthusiasts, I want to focus on the company, the dancers, the moving bodies of young ages. There are 10 main company dancers and a handful of guest dancers who are called in for larger pieces. In Storm Front which premiered a piece titled “Tower” this past weekend, there were 33 dancers on stage at one point, along with droplets of water from above. And further, in other pieces, piles of discarded newspapers onstage, three standing fans, and many unique light fixtures. These NobleMotion dancers are trained to work with the latest tech which the Nobles bring in. I’ve never seen a NobleMotion dancer fear their props or their movements. They provide a level of highly skilled and professional dancing that rivals those established companies on the East and West coast.
The dancer of the present, the spirit of exploration, is alive in this company. And it’s not just because of two talented choreographers, both of whom receive the vast majority of recognition in the headlines. To pull from a university is one of the smartest moves the Nobles could have enacted. Most, but not all, of the dancers are some of the strongest talents of the SHSU dance alumna, and I think that’s because they are tucked under the Noble wing at the most productive learning age of a pre-professional dancer, 18-25. Volatile and vulnerable, they give themselves to the creation of new-age dance productions wholeheartedly. Think of the science field; college students are called upon by major companies for new solutions. Where would NASA be without the engineering and aerospace majors trained in universities from around the world? Same thing with dance companies; you can find the healing wealth of young blood by successfully training dancers from universities and recruiting them post-grad. So, I hope NobleMotion never seals its fate by hiring professional dancers outside of the academic realm. Their talent is always laid out on the stage before their distinct and diverse personalities.
3. Liam Scarlett
I agree with all of the major trends in ballet citing Scarlett as the “next big thing in ballet.” However, let’s return to the artist before we go crazy over “the boy.” In his own words he built himself up to a choreographer of contemporary ballet, he wasn’t exactly born a choreographer. The seemingly drastic jumping of ships from professional dancer to professional choreographer is constant in ballet. And also voilà, many of these jumpers just so happen to be young! What a remarkable feat to go from the task of physical mover to mental creator of ballet at such a tremendously dangerous age. But there it is, and we must get over that and return to the talent.
I highlight Scarlett as a personal favorite because he is international, analytical, and risky rather than just being a sensational traditionalist. From the Royal to Miami City Ballet recently, Scarlett’s work is a constant study of in-depth ballet which nearly any professional ballet company can pick up. He deconstructs the parts of the traditional story arc, the traditional pas de deux, and the traditional movement of ballet. And he knows how to choose his dancers from each company. This is something I’m becoming more aware of as I watch more ballets by choreographers of all ages. I see a trend in the “young” choreographers picking the right dancer for the right movement/role, rather than the archaic picking from the hierarchy within a company. We, the newer generations of ballet, are very pleased with this above many “changes” in professional ballet. The prima/principal trickle down to apprentice line of selection is stupid. If they are lucky and allowed to pick from all the outdated ranks, professional choreographers who are alive and creating in the moment aren’t afraid of casting from the “lower” ranks, because they were most likely just in the similar position when they were professional dancers. Taking a chance is a theme of the newer generations since talent has been known to hide everywhere. It takes a truly talented choreographer to realize the potential within the entire company. And I’m very excited to see what Scarlett has in store for all the potential companies of the ballet world.
FRENETICORE DANCE THEATER
NOBLEMOTION DANCE COMPANY