Terpsichorean Heroes: FKA Twigs

I’ve been completely obsessed with FKA twigs’ Nike ad campaign since it came out in January (you can read a story I wrote about it for TheCelebrityCafe.com here).  It’s truly one of the most gorgeous commercials, concept videos, visual pieces of art I have seen in a long time and I was so excited that dance and dancers were being placed at the forefront of an advertisement for activewear since, well, we make use of activewear just as frequently as anyone. It also demonstrates the beauty and athleticism of dance and as someone who had to listen to many claims that dance WASN’T athletic, this was a breath of fresh air.

 

But beyond that, the ad also inspired me to learn more about FKA twigs (and in case you’re wondering why I’m not capitalizing twigs…she stylizes it that way). I, to be honest, didn’t know very much about her before the Nike campaign (although I’m pretty sure I danced to one of her songs for a concert in college). But what I’ve found out is that she is a pretty amazing singer and she incorporates dance into quite a bit of her performances. However, the difference between twigs’ dancing and the more choreographed dancing of other pop stars (a la Britney, Janet and Rihanna), is that FKA twigs’ dancing looks like it is more governed by not just classical and contemporary technique as opposed to jazz funk or hip-hop, it also possesses an abandon that most commercial, pop-music driven dance doesn’t have. Don’t get me wrong, I adore synchronicity and musically governed ensemble pieces, but seeing someone let go and dance freely while still in the context of performance, especially pop music performance was eye-opening.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04hwsd3/player

 

The video, “It’s Good to Love,” taken from twigs’ short film Soundtrack 7 shows an artist dancing to express what is inside them, as opposed to showing the audience what they want to see. It is about her, her power, her physicality, her emotion and I feel that if more of this were incorporated into popular music, the world of commercial dance would broaden in a beautiful and fascinating way. Pitchfork described this difference in twigs’ and even other artists like Lorde’s performances  in a far more eloquent way than I ever could.

 

[T]hey don’t do a big show of trying to beguile us, nor do they honor our gaze. How their movement is at once so unpredictable and confident shows how fully they claim themselves and their bodies. It works against the idea that young women are malleable and unrealized. They’re renouncing the paradigm of “performance” that has long been sold to female artists—as well as to their audiences. The powerful assertion of a stark female stage presence like theirs is that women can just be themselves on stage, and that is enough.

I posted the Nike video to my Instagram in honor of International Women’s Day and commented that the dancing in the video shows the sensual, collaborative power of women. Really, what I think I was getting at was that the Nike ad and FKA twigs’ movement demonstrates dancing as a woman, embodying the physicality, movement and emotive-ness of the feminine physique and mentality. Too meta…yeah, maybe.

So yeah, I started out talking about FKA twigs and Nike, and ended with a commentary on commercial dance, femininity and intent. Can you tell why she’s my hero? I feel that dance, above all should make viewers think and FKA twigs has certainly made me do that. I’m so excited to see more.

Terpsichorean Heroes: Isabella Boylston Gives the Gift of Ballet to Her Home State

ABT principal Isabella Boylston is giving the gift of dance back to her hometown of Sun Valley, Idaho.

The 30-year-old ballerina is organizing the inaugural Ballet Sun Valley. The three-day festival will take place at the Sun Valley Pavilion and feature performances from the New York City Ballet, Royal Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and the Mariinsky Ballet.

“This feels like a very personal project,” Boylston told the New York Times.

While Boylston has yet to reveal her full cast-list of dancers, she says they are all dancers with whom she has an existing relationship. Boylston herself will be dancing the solo originally intended for Sara Mearns from “The Bright Motion.” Gemma Bond has also been commissioned to choreograph a piece based around a solar eclipse that is supposed to happen over Sun Valley the weekend of the festival.

“We thought that would be a cool theme to draw inspiration from,” Boylston said.

Boylston is hoping this festival will become a regular event. Congratulations, Isabella. DanceTopia wishes you the best of luck.

 

Save the National Endowment for the Arts!

In lieu of a Terpsichorean Heroes post, I wanted to share how you can be a terpsichorean hero today. All it takes is your signature.

In the wake of the inauguration of President Donald Trump, major changes have taken effect including executive orders that defunded Planned Parenthood, increased deportations, and suspended entry for Syrian refugees, among other radical decisions. Also rumored to be under attack is the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The NEA provides valuable funding for the fine arts (dance, visual arts, music, etc.) as well as literature. This endowment, which has found itself on the chopping block many times in the last three-and-a-half decades, has helped organizations including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, LINES, Chicago Children’s Theatre and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.

Currently, according to The Hill, the new administration is planning budget cuts that would eliminate the NEA and  The National Endowment for the Humanities. The new administration plans to also privatize The Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

You can help preserve this important benefactor to the arts by signing this petition to the White House. The petition needs to reach 100,000 signatures to get a response from the White House, hopefully it will be a good one!

For more information about how the NEA has pushed the dance world forward, click here. To learn how the arts help the world around you, click here.

Terpsichorean Heroes: Phoebe Pearl

It all started with an Instagram post.

rockette-ig

That is (part of) how The Radio City Rockettes performance at Donald Trump’s inauguration became national news a month before the scheduled appearance. In the wake of her moment of outspokenness, Phoebe Pearl, the Rockette who made the post about the performance has become a dance world hero.

“The women I work with are intelligent and full of love,” Pearl said in her original Instagram post. “I am speaking for just myself but please know that after we found out this news we have been performing with tears in our eyes and heavy hearts.”

Since publicly voicing her displeasure at being compelled to perform at the inauguration, Phoebe Pearl has maintained her stance. Most recently, Pearl spoke at an event hosted by the Bessie Awards at the LaMama Theatre, where dance icons like Yvonne Rainer praised her courage and toasted the first amendment. But for Pearl, this was more than just an act of bravery. “This isn’t political, this is about human rights. No matter where you come from, your sexual orientation or race, you deserve respect, you deserve love,” she said.

I’m just standing up for human rights….standing up for what we all deserve, and how we treat each other. As artists we all owe it to ourselves, owe it to the community. It’s our obligation to use our platforms to do what’s right. This isn’t political, this is about human rights. No matter where you come from, your sexual orientation or race, you deserve respect, you deserve love. We live in a country that grants us the right to speak against something that’s against that.”-Phoebe Pearl

“It is this essential American freedom of expression that dancers embody in their physical work onstage. Dance and all artistic expression are by their very nature personal and political, and a critical part of our national cultural dialogue,” said Bessies director Lucy Sexton. To Phoebe Pearl, to her fellow dancers at the Rockettes, know that we support you, that we salute you, that we stand ready to fight for your—and all of our—rights under the Constitution, especially the precious right of Americans to freely express ourselves.”

While Pearl may not think of herself as being overly courageous, the bravery of her act cannot be ignored. Thus far, Pearl is the only Rockette to speak out using her real name. Another Rockette gave an exclusive interview to Marie Claire under the pseudonym “Mary” but many others have remained silent. Pearl has also not backed down from her original statement, instead holding fast to her beliefs and continuing to publicly claim them, even as the Rockettes performed at the White House today.

In a world that is as small as that of professional dance, speaking out publicly against your employer can have severe consequences. While The Rockettes organization has said that the dancers’ fears of retribution are unfounded, Rosemary Novellino-Mearns, the former dance captain of the Radio City Ballet Company, begs to differ. Novellino-Mearns successfully rallied to save the Radio City Music Hall from demolition and have it registered as a city landmark in the 1970s, efforts she discusses in her new book Saving Radio City Music Hall: A Dancer’s True Story. In a recent interview with journalist Sheryl McCarthy, Novellino-Mearns explained  why it has taken more than 40 years for the story to be told.

They were not gracious in their defeat. Rockefeller center…it was truly a David and Goliath story and the little guy won. And I don’t think the Rockefellers liked that–were used to that–and they buried the story completely… I never worked there again.-Rosemary Novellino-Mearns

Whether Pearl’s job is on the line remains to be seen but even if she continues to high kick as a Rockette, her actions will remain a poignant statement that the decisions of dance organizations are not always (if ever) reflective of the dancers who comprise them.

Terpsichorean Heroes: Aesha Ash and Akira Armstrong

 

Dance is a visual medium that is often dominated by one aesthetic: skinny, tall and often Caucasian. These two women have been selected as this week’s Terpsichorean heroes because they have used their unique platforms to encourage the world to think past these stereotypes and to inspire people of all races, ages and body types to dance and be proud of the way they look.

Akira Armstrong Doesn’t take “No” For an Answer

“I want to be the pioneer of plus-sized women…When they see us perform, I want them to feel inspired. I want them to be blown away. I want the little girl who’s watching to be like, ‘Look mom, I can do that too. Look at those big girls up there with afros on,'”-Akira Armstrong, The Scene

After being featured in Beyoncé Knowles’ music videos for her songs “Get Me Bodied” and “Greenlight,” Akira Armstrong found herself unable to find an L.A. agent to represent her because of her size. Having dealt with body shaming throughout her entire dance career, this wasn’t unfamiliar territory for the dancer who has also attended the Ailey School and danced with the Bernice Johnson Dance Company.  “I couldn’t fit [into] costumes, and my costume was always different from everyone else’s…Family members used to make fun of me…It was frustrating,” she said in an interview for The Scene.

 

Undeterred, Armstrong founded Pretty Big Movement, a plus-sized dance company that is based out of New York. The company’s style ranges from hip-hop, to jazz, to ethnic and they have already made quite a bit of noise. The company competed on season 10 of America’s Got Talent, have performed with Salt ‘N Pepa and also paid tribute to Black Lives Matter with their concept video “Personally.” The company also gives classes and workshops all around New York. After years of being told “no,” Armstrong hopes to use her company to affirm women. “It’s about uplifting and empowering women to feel like they can become and do anything, not just dance.”

 

Aesha Ash and the Power of Imagery

” I want to help change the demoralized, objectified and caricatured images of African-American women by showing the world that beauty is not reserved for any particular race or socio-economic background. I wish for this message to infuse the ballet world and project to the entire world.”-Aesha Ash, The Swan Dreams Project

In a recent profile for Dance Magazine, Aesha Ash, a former New York City Ballet Dancer, recounted how she used to be judged for her appearance as a young Black girl growing up in Rochester, NY. “They’d never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she’s going to make it into New York City Ballet,” she says.

Now, the mother of two uses her career as a dancer to change the image of Black women and  motivate others with her campaign called The Swan Dreams Project. The Swan Dreams project seeks to debunk and counter the caricatures and stereotypes that often plague Black women by broadening the definition of beauty. It also seeks to increase awareness and support of the dance world. The original idea was for Ash to post images of herself in a tutu all over her hometown. However after realizing how expensive larger scale ads could be, Ash created an Etsy store and began selling her images there. Ash will also often give away images free of charge to schools and students. Ash also plans to start teaching free after school ballet classes at her daughter’s school in San Jose, Calif. “I want to show it’s okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we’re multidimensional.”

NEW! Terpsichorean Heroes

*TH posts will typically go up on Fridays, this one is coming late, again because cold. This means that there will be two TH posts this week!

And now without further ado, the inaugural edition of DanceTopia’s Terpsichorean Heroes will feature….

Mariah Carey’s back-up dancers. 

Throughout your life as a dancer,  you’ll learn to push through a lot of things that can go wrong during a performance, whether it is through direct experience or by watching others.  Personally, I’ve learned how to keep going when you make an onstage mistake, how to recover from a fall (helpful hint: it often feels worse than it looks), and how to salvage your performance when your music malfunctions or shuts off.  This New Year’s Eve I think we all learned something else–how to persevere when the star of the show has given up.

By now I’m sure everyone has had their fill of Mariah Carey news, but one of the best parts of her NYE performance was the part that got the least coverage. As you watch Mariah Carey meander around the stage and “lip sync” (I use that term VERY loosely),  you’ll also notice that her dancers never stopped giving their all even when it became obvious that Mimi wasn’t even going to try.

I guess the choreo’s not going to do itself, right?

At certain points the dancers even HELPED Mariah get to her marks on stage so that she could do the choreography. For all the things that went haywire during this show, the dancers weren’t it.

Idk about you Mariah but these guys had bills to pay.

Whoever trained these guys trained them well, and I’m sure when it was all said and done they felt that they’d more than earned their checks.  So while 2016 may have claimed one last victim in Mariah Carey’s career, it also gave us one last glimmer of hope in her dancers. These guys were six true models of professionalism and endurance, even as they danced behind someone who would be dragged in the news for weeks to come and became a part of meme/gif history.

 

Don’t believe me, just watch!