August 20, 2013

REVERENCE: From a Very High Place with David Howard


As so many in the dance community know, beloved Ballet Master David Howard passed away on August 11th.

David was internationally renowned ballet master, and quite the character,  teaching class at Steps on Broadway some 6 days a week. He also taught at Broadway Dance Center and Manhattan Movement Arts Center.  In addition to his busy teaching schedule, he coached many illustrious performers, created dance instructional videos and music CD's, as well as leading Teacher's Training Courses and Summer Intensive Programs.  He was his own brand;  an impresario of the knowledge of the theatre. 

His "official bio" reads:

David Howard’s career began as a child performer in radio shows and commercials. Working as a principal dancer at London’s Palladium Theatre he was honored by appearing in a Royal Command Performance before Queen Elizabeth II. He later joined Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet, now The Royal Ballet and was promoted to soloist status. Mr. Howard danced with the National Ballet of Canada, appeared in London’s West End musicals, among them Bob Fosse’s Little Me, performed in cabaret throughout Europe and was featured in many television productions.

After a successful performing career and at the invitation of Rebekah Harkness, Mr. Howard came to New York in 1966 to teach and later direct the Harkness Ballet School. In 1977 he opened his own school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, adjacent to Lincoln Center. On any given day, scattered among the serious ballet students who found their way to David’s barrĂ©, one could plie, tendu and pirouette next to the most elite in the field. Makarova, Baryshnikov, Gelsey Kirkland, Cynthia Harvey, members of England’s Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet and numerous other companies throughout the world have made David the most sought after teacher. Since closing his school in 1995, he has traveled the world giving master classes to ballet companies, their affiliated schools, independent schools universities and regional festivals. He has coached many successful competition winners and given private lessons to television and motion picture stars.

Mr. Howard’s kinesthetic approach eliminates much of the tension, and resulting injury associated with technique as traditionally taught. He has consulted with physical therapists, chiropractors, and nutritionists in an aim to promote total care of the dancer. His teacher’s training seminars have attracted high attendance worldwide. 


It is impressive to read of all that he has done and certainly many of us would die for even a day of his career, but I think beyond his resume we have the fact that he so personally and deeply touched so many dancers.  You can rest assured that nearly every dancer in New York City can remember his gentle clapping to the music, and have been touched either directly through his class, or through another teacher who came under his tutelage. 

I remember taking his class and being so nervous back in 2007. I had come form professional work as a modern dancer, with little serious ballet training.  Nevertheless, I had changed course, and was preparing to go to my first ever Ballet Summer Intensive. I was so nervous -- and had made a venture over to Steps which was known for challenging classes and did I ever feel out of place. I introduced myself and his reply was, "well go on then, throw yourself to the barre." His British accent and casual air threw me off and I laughed out loud. He came right to the barre in his gym shoes and started off in his lilting, sing song voice.

Shortly after my return from my Summer Intensive, David fell ill and his protege, Gelsey Kirkland, came to Steps to teach in his absence.  It was through Gelsey that I learned more intimately of David's influence on her virtuosic dancing. She spoke of his ideas almost constantly and particularly to the use of circular patterns and of the dynamics in the music inherent to the art of dance. 

Since that time, David has been a permanent fixture in my life. Every day he would be there sitting on his spot on the bench there in the studio -- and even though my schedule took me into different classes,  I will always fondly remember his clapping and his imperative to "go to a very high place".  Every now and then he would sit you down and tell you some fantastic theater tale about Gelsey or Misha or Sadler's Wells or even, the Queen of England! In another mood, he'd give you a piece of his mind!  LOL!

Even outside of a dance studio David was supportive and caring of dancers.  David and his companion visited a restaurant where I was working a few blocks from Steps one evening for dinner. He remembered me immediately and when I approached his table to take his order, he lit up and said "how is the new ballerina"?  He then proceeded to have a lovely Italian meal, leaving an over-generous tip.

This illustrates what so many of us know to be true of David: He was a giver.  His generosity, his sense of humor, and his ability to show up, rain or shine, to lead us to a higher understanding of the world of the theatre will live with us all forever. For those who were lucky to work intimately with his teaching, the fruits of his labor are ever clear. And for those who were only visitors to his classes, or to Steps, his presence will be ever felt.

It is with great respect and care that we can offer David a deep bow of reverance, as he ascends to his own very high place.








March 31, 2013

Monday's Advice for World Happiness: IMPROVE YOUR ATTITUDE AND ALL THAT JAZZ!


Dancers of today need to be more versatile than ever and yet, in the ballet world, we tend to hyper-focus on Ballet! Ballet! Ballet!  But I ask: where would American Ballet be without Jazz?  Balanchine was obsessed and many of the ballet greats were avid Jazz dancers as well!  
So don't miss out on a perfect chance to dip your toes into some fresh water with this incredible opportunity with dancer and teacher, Bill Waldinger!  Bill  has over 20 years of experience in Luigi Jazz Technique and his passion is contagious! Offering a 2 week, 6 class workshop in Luigi Technique and Philosophy, Bill is gonna light up your attitude with this incredible class series geared to introduce to you to this great American form! And be honest? Couldn't your ballet technique use a little more HEAT?
B. says YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!
SEE YOU TOMORROW 10am, at DANY! ($95/all 6 classes; $17/class drop in)
ALSO: APRIL 3,5,8,10,12!!!

March 14, 2013

B. INSPIRED The Sacred Feminine & The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo



It should serve as common knowledge that any woman who goes by ‘Madame B.’ loves all things feminine mystique, and thus, should come as no further surprise that my all-time favorite ballets come from the land of Massine with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo!

In a world overwrought with chisled abstractions of the feminine form dancing about rather vigorously, one can’t help but swoon amidst the lush landscape of the ballet under those dancers whose rounded arms and softened legs create movement described by Danilova as, “with perfume”. 

While this documentary states that it was Balanchine who declared that “ballet is woman” and Massine who was creating masterful roles for the men, a closer look tells an altogether different story……one that seems not only utilitarian of the feminine, but one that acknowledges the role of The Sacred Feminine to the inspiration of Man...and the role of Beauty, to the inspiration of Art.

Do tell, kind readers:  Have you ever seen a vision so absolutely lovely as this?

I imagine not.  

B.


January 25, 2013

WORKING DANCERS

As a self-supporting dancer in NYC the notion of being a "working dancer" takes on an entirely unintended meaning...usually one that announces that while you may indeed be working, you may of course NOT BE DANCING.  

I can't tell you my own struggle to try to dance even part-time!  In fact, I concluded by looking at my bank statements and calculating the number of classes I purchase, that I work so hard to try to find the time and money to dance, that I STILL, after many years in NYC, have not taken the number of hours of classes that equate to even two entire years of conservatory training.  And yet, I am competing with those conservatory kids all the same.  Yay.

Depressingly, asi speak to others, I am finding that is a conundrum all too many of us face -- both dancers and choreographers tend to arrive at the same question:

HOW DOES A SELF-SUPPORTING DANCER AFFORD TO DANCE? 
HOW DOES A CHOREOGRAPHER AFFORD TO
MAKE DANCES AND PAY DANCERS?

So if you are an actual self-supporting dancer, and by this I mean that you are past the age of receiving family support (or you never had it to begin with);  you have no trust fund; you have no prestigious conservatory affiliation that helps you "get an in"; if you are self-supporting in this regard -- as many of us are -- then this means that you need to get a "money job" to support yourself and to support your dancing. 

Now that seems easy enough in a big city -- especially in the beginning when you are driven on pure excitement -- but that excitement wanes once you realize that employers don't like the idea of artist-employees, and even if you are the most productive member of the staff (which lets face it, mostly artists usually are!), they offer little to no true flexibility.  Actually mostly it is the "semi-self supporting" who get those jobs.. those who can afford to take an enormously low-wage because they can essentially depend on support even as they seem slef-supporting.

Then you realize that all auditions are in the morning/afternoon (???!!!!!) and all classes/networking workshops are at times such as 2:30p-4:30p (an IMPOSSIBLE TIME for any self-supporting dancer!).

This all makes you realize that you are relegated to late evening work in order to just have the opportunity to get a paying job.

Then you realize all the evening jobs are too unstable to pay well, and often require working overtime into the wee morning hours, or they are for restaurants who are largely looking for "professionals" -- meaning career waiters. If you are not a career waiter you need to work the shifts the career waiters don't want: THAT MEANS OU ARE BACK TO SQUARE ONE: THE DAY SHIFTS! YAY!

This all on top of the fact that the expenses are enormous: Rent in NYC is easily at the very, very least $600 per month (for a room share! your own studio apartment will run you $1,400 and up), and dance classes, which are mandatory each day in order to keep one's skills at a competitive audition-ready level, are $18 a class (adding up to $200 per week) and then you have cross-training costs (the gym, Pilates, massage, physical therapy), shoe costs (for ballet girls, $80-$320/WEEK!) and food, the cost of dancing alone comes to a number close to a yearly wage. 
So you then set yourself to the task of juggling 3 or 4 jobs to try to finagle a workable situation for an opportunity to dance for what amounts to only a handful of companies that actually pay a living-wage large enough for you to quit all your other jobs.

HOLD ON, YOU SAY!!! A HANDFUL OF COMPANIES THAT PAY A LIVING WAGE? IN NYC!!!? 
YOU CAN'T BE SERIOUS!
Well dearies, YES! I am dead serious.

Even more! You often have to answer to your probing family and friends who are asking, so "where are you dancing"..."when are you going to get a real job?" "you chose this career!".. and on and on. (Why don't they ever say that to Doctors, Lawyers or Bankers who are out of work? Huh?)

The reality is that there are only perhaps 15 companies in NYC where a dancer can work and earn a living. There is Broadway, Paul Taylor, David Parsons, Mark Morris, NYCB, ABT, Bill T. Jones, NY Theater Ballet, Alvin Ailey, Galim (???)....and I am racking my brain to find more. 

Mostly, Choreographers -- even renowned ones! pay terribly little and use "pick up dancers" for each project. Even my own former employer, The Metropolitan Opera AT LINCOLN CENTER, hires dancers per each show. They offer no benefits, no health insurance -- nothing but that amazing opportunity to dance on one of the World's great stages.  This does satisfy the doubters for some time -- but how does one explain, simply, it's not so easy.  

So most dancers receive not only very little in terms of money -- but there is not even the guarantee that you will get more work after the show you are hired for is over. You may indeed, 90 percent of the time, have to go right back to square one -- you may have to take a ton of time off to secure a position somewhere that you hope one day will  reward you with honest to god flexibility! 

Add to this that for each job --  dance or "real world" -- there are literally 1000's of applicants! My first dance job there were over 400 girls auditioning and only 5 of us were chosen -- 2 of whom were our understudies!

The numbers are dire, folks! But before we go into full on Mad Dancer mode, let's look at it from the Choreographer's perspective:

If a Choreographer works with a mere 5 dancers and were to pay those dancers only $10/hour and rehearse a minimal of 2, 3-hour rehearsals a week that cost alone would be: $60/dancer per week, for a total of $300/week salary for the dancers. This of course does not take into account how difficult it would be for a Choreographer to get strong dancers who are willing to arrange their schedules (see above for the difficulty with that!) for only $60/week (this could only cover the cost of the subway for 2 weeks). Add into that the fee for studio space: $25/hour x 6 hours / week = $150/week. Already, we have a total of $450/week  just to get 5 dancers and space for 6 hours a week. Now we have to consider the need for space for the choreographer to work alone -- in order to come up with ideas and movement etc. So lets say another 4 hours a week at the very minimum: that's $100 more. 

Now we are up to a Choreographer needing at the very base minimum $550/week additional monies above his/her normal living expenses. That means at MINIMUM $2200 / month in additional monies.

That totals $26,400 of additional income per year! 
This includes NO extra rehearsals;
NO performance space rentals;
NO costume costs, etc. 

Maybe this means if you want to be a dancer or a choreographer you should either come from a wealthy, fully-arts loving, fully supportive background, OR be an investment banker? 
Unh-huh. That's the reality folks.
Clearly, we are in a place where it is nearly impossible for anyone who is not very-well-heeled and very lucky to even begin!

Yet still, the dance community complains about a lack of new choreographers, a lack of vision, a lack of new and exciting work to see, a lack of jobs, but nothing is said of the fact that dancers can't get ahead and new choreographers are having to compete with large companies with MASSIVE GRANTS and Patrons!

Each week we all spend the greens on Starbucks, on movies and magazines and such, yet when we have the opportunity to go and show support for those who, above all these obstacles are TRYING to create new dances and give work to dancers just like us, we all bail. Myself included. 

And this is exactly why I am trying to bolster us out of complacency and give some honest to god working dancers and choreographers a chance. 

ON FRIDAY, JANUARY 25th (LATER TODAY!) you (yes you!) will have the opportunity to go see working choreographer Chris Master's exciting NY premiere of "ghost of my legs" as a part of FLICfest'13 in Brooklyn. 

"ghost of my legs" is a work that explores a re-construction of an installation created while in residence at an art gallery in Iowa City in 2010.  It is an examination of remnant energies left from relationships past. As a means to anchor the narrative, "ghost" draws metaphoric parallels between these common human experiences and the phenomenology of phantom limb syndrome, a disorder experienced in amputees where the amputated limb continues to feel pain. Amputation and its connection to the existentialism of war, both public and private, are used here to give a precipice to the dance. People come and go, and we are investigating how these relationships, whether familial or intimate or professional, leave a lasting impression on the historical body and the sensorium.  Building something great, and taking it away, is at the crux of the work. With the recent disaster from Hurricane Sandy, battling in Israel, and the tragedy in Newtown, this piece is proving to be incredibly timely, and artistically all of the collaborators in this project aim to build a conduit to empathetic dialogues or exchanges between witness and performer.

So besides seeing new work on a riveting topic, you can actually support CHRIS MASTERS, WHO IS AN HONEST TO GOD WORKING CHOREOGRAPHER: That is: one who carries a full-time "desk job" so he can afford to create new dances on fantastic dancers. It is exactly his spirit of 'do what it takes' that offers freelance dancers opportunities to grow and to work = and offers audiences a wider venue to see work. Can't we all show some support? For $25 (4.5 Starbuck's Beverages) you can actually show crucial support for the Arts!
Chris is doing his part -- and so can't we all do out part too? 

Further it is not only Chris you are supporting -- but also  FLICfest, a dance festival developed in Brooklyn, that is dedicated to supporting  complete, evening-length work from established Modern choreographers. Over six nights, an array of choreographers will be presented in Ft. Greene, Brooklyn.   FLICfest (feature-length independent choreography) is the first Brooklyn-based dance festival dedicated solely to feature-length dances. Each night of the festival will feature complete works by two choreographers, as well as informal cabaret performances encompassing a wide range of styles. The festival's producers believe that a feature-length dance (50 – 65 minutes) is important for both the artist and audience who is committed to works that present an aesthetic, narrative or a situation that requires time to develop. FLICfest provides these visionary artists a platform to explore the depth of their vision and audiences more time to linger.

As more choreographers create work that integrates movement, visual and musical elements into a new form of dance theatre, the support system for such work is deteriorating. Now more than ever, self-producing artists cannot take on the costs of presenting wholly completed work of 50-60 minutes and instead focus on creating short works that fit into showcases. By providing a venue and support to choreographers who are willing to take the risk and follow the vision necessary to create feature-length work, FLICfest is positioned to take a leading role in the revitalization and sustainability of modern dance. 

All this goes to say that by reaching out and supporting these intimate, lesser-publicized events of those who don't have deep pockets, we are, as dancers and a community, taking back our right to work and utilizing our own power to expand our audience and our working opportunities.

ANYWAY! DON"T DELAY! GET TICKETS AT http://www.flicfest.org/tickets/
Show is at 7:30 PM. Doors open at 7 PM
TOI! TOI! TOI! 
B.  

December 14, 2012

IS IT ME ....?

OR IS IT ME!?

I am not one to brag but I just wanted to point out that TWO (not 1 but 2!) of my former interviewees have been promoted to PRINCIPAL DANCER this year!

Both Daniil Simkin of American Ballet Theatre and Remi Wortmeyer of The Dutch National Ballet have been promoted to the highest respective ranking   -- right up there next to Lagerfeld, Nijinsky and G-d.

As I understand it, I've got not one thing to do with the actual promotions -- but I do have the taste and foresight to see it all in advance.  In fact, as far as I was concerned they were already principal dancers in my mind..... so, never underestimate a woman with a vision!

Anyhoo, I wonder Who's Next? (SEE HINT HERE)

I just want to say that one glance at Simone's Port De Bras literally had me all out staring while she was taking some random class over at Steps the other day.

JesusChristSuperStar! SHE! IS! DUMBFOUNDINGLYGORGEOUS!

Anyhoo - Congratulations to the boys!  You've both had it coming for far too long!

B.

December 4, 2012

RUSSELL MALIPHANT IS IN NYC!

Russell Maliphant is playing at THE JOYCE THEATRE Dec 5-9th. 

I don't know what you have planned but whatever it is,  I assure you, it can wait!

You mustmustmustmustmustmust MUST! DROP IT ALL AND GO!  

Trust Me. You'll Thank Me.

That's all.

B.

GO HERE FOR TICKETS!

October 8, 2012

B. BOYS: Michael Mengden is headed to Moscow!

Every now and then someone young and fun comes across my radar as newsworthy... and well since I myself am about to begin a fundraising campaign for my own ballet study in Russia and Cuba for next year, I was more than delighted to help out with Michael Mengden's quest to train at the fabulous Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, Russia for the next academic year.

As many of you are aware, The Bolshoi Ballet Academy is one of the world's most prestigious training centers in the world, having trained so many of the world's finest dancers.  In fact, if you were to name any one dancer whom the general public might know, you could probably guess that they graduated from the Bolshoi.  Just to give you an idea, here is a list of only a handful of graduates, any of whom you can google and see the fantastic achievements they have been able to make due to their training:

Boris Akimov / Nina Ananiashvili / Natalia Bessmertnova
Sergei Filin / Yekaterina Geltzer / Sofia Golovkina
Vyacheslav Gordeyev / Maria Kochetkova / Ilya Kuznetsov
Mikhail Lavrovsky / Olga Lepeshinskaya / Andris Liepa
Maris Liepa / Vladimir Malakhov / Ekaterina Maximova
Asaf Messerer / Igor Moiseyev / Mikhail Mordkin
Irek Mukhamedov / Anastasia Nabokina / Natalia Osipova
Maya Plisetskaya / Alexander Plisetski / Polina Semionova
Vasily Tikhomirov / Nikolai Tsiskaridze /
Vladimir Vasiliev / Yuri Vladimirov

It has been only recently that the academy has opened itself up to accept foreign students, and as such the competition for entrance is fierce -- with dancers from around the world vying for terribly few placements. 

Nevertheless, Michael Mengden, a  junior in high school at the American School in Houston, Texas just completed AND PASSED A SIX WEEK AUDITION (can you imagine a 42 day audition?!!!). One of five children with a passion for classical ballet, his dream is to of course become a professional dancer.  That said, a huge step for Michael to achieve this dream would be the ability to attend the academy -- an opportunity which now depends solely depends upon his ability to raise the monies to go. With the yearly tuition, room and board being $13,500, and round-trip airfare being $2,500.00, Michael has begun an online campaign to raise $16,500 which will fully pay for his training, as well as a few incidentals which can quickly add up.

As Michael points out in his plea online for funding, his journey to Russia serves a great purpose, not only for himself but to others he may help.   "In the future through my experiences and knowledge, I will be able to impart on to the next generation the traditions in the art of classical ballet." Even our very own Ambassador to Russia points out the importance of such cultural exchange saying that "I can’t stress enough how important these exchanges are in building a strong relationship between our countries... Indirectly, they...help to undermine stereotypes.”

As Michael has said online, "I thank God for all I have been given (and) any donation to help offset these costs would be a true blessing of your generosity". And then goes on to say that "If you're unable to donate, however,  I would truly appreciate a message on facebook, an email or a prayer. Any kind of help is greatly appreciated more than you will ever know".

This said, I am reaching out to you, my readers, to begin the holiday spirit of giving early.  Even just $5 can go along way -- and well, if your very own dream was only a matter of money, wouldn't you hope that someone -- anyone -- would help you out?

You can make a donation on Michael's GO FUND ME Page here
You may also contact Michael directly: jtmengden@yahoo.com
And finally, become a Facebook Friend and follow his journey here

Remember: Giving Is Always In!

B.