Balanchine, Broadway and Beyond

On the evening of October 8th Dancers over 40, a non-profit organization that honors the lives and legacies of the dance community, hosted “Balanchine, Broadway and Beyond” at St. Luke’s Theatre on 46th Street.  The underground theater was filled with dance legends in their own rites, including Donna McKechnie and Arthur Mitchell.  The evening was comprised of rare film clips of Balanchine and his work as well as panel discussions with some of Balanchine’s featured dancers:

  • Merrill Ashley
  • Vida Brown
  • John Clifford
  • Gene Gavin
  • Allegra Kent
  • Frank Ohman
  • Barbara Milberg-Fisher
  • Bettijane Sills
  • Carol Summer
  • Barbara Walczak
  • Patricia Wilde
  • Marge Champion

The panel of esteemed dancers all referred to Balanchine as “Mr. B.” and talked of many occasions where he would come up with choreography on the spot – a true mark of his artistic brilliance.  In the composition process, choreography changed quite a bit.  Balanchine would make up the movement, but it was your (the dancer’s job) to remember all of it!

Everyone on the panel spoke so highly of Mr. B. while reminiscing their dance performances of yore.  When constructing a new solo piece, Balanchine would highlight a dancer’s technical strengths and affinities but add some challenging steps as well.  Merrill Ashley described how this “was meant to ‘show us off’ while giving us all a little prod to work harder.”

George Balanchine was a Russian-born choreographer who is regarded as the most influential contemporary ballet choreographers of all time.  Balanchine’s father was a Georgian composer, and young Balanchine studied music and composition during his early years.  This passion for music clearly translated to his ballet career for which he brilliantly united the dance and the music as “one.”

[Balanchine] emphasized balance, control, precision, and ease of movement. He rejected the traditional sweet style of romantic ballet, as well as the more acrobatic style of theatrical ballet, in favor of a neoclassic style stripped to its essentials – motion, movement, and music. His dancers became precision instruments of the choreographer, whose ideas and designs came from the music itself. – Gale Encyclopedia

Balanchine choreographed nearly 400 ballets, 20 Broadway shows, and 5 Hollywood films.   Balanchine notably founded the New York City Ballet in 1948.

Some of Balanchine’s most memorable works include:

“We must first realize that dancing is an absolutely independent art, not merely a secondary accompanying one. I believe that it is one of the great arts. . . . The important thing in ballet is the movement itself. A ballet may contain a story, but the visual spectacle . . . is the essential element. The choreographer and the dancer must remember that they reach the audience through the eye. It’s the illusion created which convinces the audience, much as it is with the work of a magician.” – George Balanchine

BDC Faculty Featured in Dance Publications

Be sure to check out BDC contemporary jazz teacher, Mishay Petronelli, in the October 2012 issue of Dance Spirit Magazine.  In the magazine’s “Style Lab: The Look” section, Mishay is featured for her eye-catching personal style.

In the article, Mishay advises, “Couple unique items with something classic.  Always remember the importance of creating clean, strong lines.  Make choices that will flatter you in the particular style you’re dancing.  And, of course, always be yourself.”

Mishay teaches Contemporary Jazz classes at Broadway Dance Center but has trained in nearly every dance style from commercial to ballet to tap!  She performed in Whitney Houston’s “Million Dollar Bill” music video, Madonna’s “Gimme All Your Luvin” music video, on “Saturday Night Live” with Kanye West, and in commercials for Converse and Verizon.  Mishay is currently a member of Dana Foglia’s dance company.

“Mishay Petronelli is probably the most inspirational person I have ever met. The way she dances and choreographs is out of this world! She truly cares about each student equally and strives to make every dancer improve. After taking Mishay’s class I feel as though I grow as a dancer. She always pushes me to be my best! Mishay Petronelli’s class is incredible and I highly recommend it!” – Makenzie Dascenzo (PS F’12)

“What I loved about Mishay her classes is her eye for detail. Although it was really hard for me to do exactly the thing she wanted she made me want to get her way of moving. She also made me watch better when a teacher was showing something so I could figure out the details myself. Mishay was my mentor, a great teacher and a very inspiring dancer, and I just really like her as a person and dancer!” – Nathalie Bilderbeek (ISVP ’11)

Here is Mishay’s choreography from the 2012 NYC Gala Opening Number of The Pulse: On Tour:

And wait, there’s more! Did you see BDC’s own Matthew Powell featured in Dance Informa?  The extensive article recounts Matthew’s journey from aspiring young dancer, to American Ballet Theater company member, to “A-Rab” in the International Tour of “West Side Story,” to a successful graduate of LEAP, and finally, to acclaimed NYC ballet teacher.

Matthew admits that a strong sense of balance (no ballet pun intended) is much to that for his successful career.  “You have to have a good network of support around you…if you don’t, people will see that and it’ll show in your work too.”

The article explains, “Despite his undeniable success as a performer, it is evident that Powell thrives most with being a teacher. He has a boyish charm and calm demeanor that provides a very welcoming feeling for anyone who takes his class. “

Matthew teaches six ballet classes per week at Broadway Dance Center – Advanced Beginning, Intermediate, and Intermediate/Advanced.  Matthew also has taught/currently teaches at Marymount Manhattan College, the International Tour of “West Side Story,” Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, The Rock School, Brooklyn Ballet, “Billy Elliot” on Broadway, and Ballet Academy East.

“Matthew Powell is a teacher for all students. He has the ability to light a fire underneath you and give you a class full of vitality, substance and liveliness. He offers classes that literally replenish you and leave you with the confidence that you worked hard. It’s very rare to come across a teacher who not only pushes you to perform to the best of your abilities but inspires you to succeed, as well. I would encourage everyone to take his class.” – Alexa Erbach (PS F’11)

Here is a short clip of Matthew’s teaching shot for Dance Teacher Web:

Dance for a Cure!

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and here at BDC, we’re dancing for a cure! Join us for our 7th annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk Sunday, October 21 at 9 a.m. in Central Park.

Last October I participated in this event as a student of BDC’s Professional Semester. As part of the BDC Team, we organized a delicious bake sale, made fun posters, and choreographed a short routine to Katy Perry’s “Firework.”

On the morning of the Walk, I and nearly 40 BDC students clad in our light pink T-shirts claimed our space on the grass in Central Park, about midway through the Walk. We would cheer as walkers strode by – many of them even started dancing and singing along with us! When we got to our kick-line in the routine, walkers stopped to cheer us on, took photos with their cameras, and applauded. It was such a spectacular morning of support, love, and hope.

Last year alone, nearly $60 million dollars was raised by Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walks across the United States.

Funds raised through Making Strides Against Breast Cancer support the American Cancer Society’s fight to end breast cancer. Specifically, these dollars are used to make a difference in the following ways:

  • Helping people take steps to reduce their risk of breast cancer or find it early when it is most treatable
  • Investing in research to find, prevent, treat, and cure the disease
  • Providing free information and services to help people facing breast cancer today – when and where they need it – including transportation, lodging, wigs, support programs, financial assistance, and more
  • Ensuring access to mammograms for women who need them, and encouraging lawmakers to pass laws to defeat breast cancer

You can participate this year by joining our team as a walker or a dancer or by donating to our team if you don’t live in New York City. All BDC Team walkers and dancers will receive a free Making Strides Against Breast Cancer T-shirt. You can also purchase these shirts in the BDC retail store (50% of the proceeds will go to our team!).

Theater Review: Fall for Dance

The Fall for Dance Festival is an annual series of dance concerts sponsored by Mayor Bloomberg and the MetLife Foundation(tickets are only $15!). The festival consists of five different programs held at the spectacular New York City Center. Each program showcases four performing companies of contrasting styles (tap, ballet, cultural dance, etc.). This year I was lucky enough to get a ticket to Program 3 (last year the tickets sold out within an hour!).

I arrived at the City Center, which is pretty unassuming from the outside on 55th Street. But once I entered the theater I was blown away by the huge space and beautiful ornate blue and gold proscenium arch. The nearly 2,750 seat house was packed with people of all ages – dancers, cultured New Yorkers, dance teachers (I ran into BDC ballet teacher, Beth Goheen), dance writers (I recognized Dance Magazine editor, Wendy Perron) and critiques.

Program 3 included works by:

  • Ballet West – Grand Pas from Paquita – ballet
  • Tu Dance – High Heel Blues – jazz/modern duet
  • Nan Jombang – Tarian Malam (Night Dances) – Indonesian dance/martial arts
  • Moiseyev Dance Company – Moiseyev’s Classics – traditional Russian dance

Other performances in this year’s Fall for Dance Festival (9th season) included:

  • American Ballet Theatre
  • BalletBoyz
  • Circa
  • Fang-Yi Sheu & Artists
  • The Hong Kong Ballet
  • Jared Grimes (tap & hip hop teacher at BDC!)
  • Jodi Melnick
  • Juilliard Dance
  • Ka Leo O Laka I Ka Hikina O Ka La
  • LDP – Laboratory Dance Project
  • Maria Pages Compania
  • Martha Graham Dance Company
  • Nederlands Dans Theater
  • Pacific Northwest Ballet
  • Shantala Shivaalingappa
  • Shen Wei Dance Arts

This season of incredible performances (at amazingly low prices!) continues from September 27 – October 13. If you missed out on this year’s Fall for Dance, be sure to mark your calendars for next year – tickets go on sale online the first week of September.

“So bring your family, grab your friends, join us and fall in love… Fall for Dance!”

Student Profile: Kayla Janssen – Adidas Dancers Wanted Challenge

My name is Kayla Janssen and I am the Global Winner of the Adidas Dancers Wanted Challenge 2012. I studied at the Broadway Dance Center Professional Semester back in Fall 2011 and since then decided to move back home to Antwerp, Belgium.

Through a nudge from my boyfriend and not having much on my plate, I decided to enter the competition. I had to create a video (small music video) to a song create by Adidas and show off my moves. So I did. I went crazy asking all my friends, family and people with computers to vote for my video.

And it worked! On one cold summers evening in July, I received the email from the Adidas headquarters in Germany that I had won the whole competition – the Global Winner! I screamed, jumped around, then had to read the email again just to make sure what I read was true. *

I won a free trip to LA with a friend and was able to have a dance session with Nick Florez and R.J. Durell, Katy Perry’s California Dreams Tour Choreographers. I brought my boyfriend as a thank you to him for that initial nudge. I was in LA in the first week of September and it was magical. We received the full “Adidas Experience,” as they called it. Day 1 consisted of a full shopping spree in the Adidas store in Santa Monica, Day 2 was our amazing dance session with Nick and R.J. Day 3 was a full day at Universal Studios and Day 4 was a helicopter ride over Los Angeles and an evening at the Scratch Academy LA, learning how to scratch a record the right way.

My highlight of the week was definitely the session with Nick and R.J. They were so warm and welcoming and made us all feel like one big family. Their choreography was fun and funky and by the end of the session we were able to create a small little music video. Katy Perry Tour Dance Leah Adler and Adidas Dancer Tyne Stecklein were there to dance and play with us. Nick and R.J. then surprised us with a Q&A session with ALL of Katy Perry’s Tour dancers, who were rehearsing in the studio next door. We asked them everything, it was like we were speaking to rock stars. Watching them rehearse and being a fly on the wall for that 1 hour was insightful.

Back in Belgium, I am inspired and pumped. The “Adidas Experience” was everything I imagined and more. Take risks, try everything, and don’t be afraid of the word “no”. Work creates work so if you find yourself twiddling your thumbs watching TV, get that friend and that camera and start dancing in your favourite parts of town. Who knows, it might win you a trip to LA.

*There were 4 winners from Argentina who came along as well since Adidas Argentina decided to create a separate competition.

Good Afternoon America!

On Monday, July 9th 36 BDC dancers arrived at the ABC Studios Stage Door in Times Square, headed to their dressing room, and began warming up for their performance on the premiere of “Good Afternoon America,” a mid-day spin-off of “Good Morning America.”  Clad in our black leotards, fishnet tights, character heels, feather headbands, and pearl necklaces (the boys were in dapper white button-down shirts, black pants, suspenders, and bowlers), we headed down to the ground floor studio which was surrounded by windows looking out into the chaos of Times Square.  Tourists of all ages whipped out their camera phones to snap photos and children pressed their noses up to the window to watch us rehearse.  We danced to “New York, New York,” choreographed by BDC Theater teacher and the associate director of Broadway’s “Newsies,” Ricky Hinds.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that we were dancing for Liza Minnelli?!

Standing Out to Stand-In

So here is an account of my series of rather crazy-amazing events:

I submitted to a post on Casting Networks calling for background extras for a new MTV commercial for the European Music Awards.  Later that evening I received a phone call from the casting agency…

“Are you really 5’10” and blonde?” asked the woman on the phone.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Would you be interested in doing stand-in for the lead?”

“Of course!”

I showed up at the Broadway Stages in Brooklyn at my 9:30am call-time the next morning.  I had no idea what the project was, what exactly a stand-in does, or who I would be working with.  Turns out, I was the only stand-in, not to mention the only actor there for the day because it was more of a set-up/rehearsal for the production crew.  We were in a big gray warehouse where nearly forty crew members were building the actual set which resembled a “backstage” (ie. dressing rooms, lighting fixtures, musical instruments, etc.).

I was introduced to the director, producers, and camera crew who immediately put me to work.  I would stand in a “scene” (ie. dressing room, by piano, etc.) and walk a designated path (straight, curved, diagonal, etc.) towards the camera.  They would shoot these scenes with a small camera in order to set the camera angle(s), walking speed, frame of the picture, and where the background actors would be.  The “plot” is pretty simple – the “crew” (actually background actors) on camera start to mess up (spill coffee, drop a grand piano, etc.) because they are distracted by the star walking past them.

This took much longer than I had expected – we were pre-shooting these scenes “on set” until nearly 6pm (where I was free to leave but the crew had to continue setting up).

I overheard the director say, “We’ve got to keep working.  Heidi’s only here for five hours tomorrow and we can’t waste time working through the shots.”

Heidi.

Heidi…

Heidi Blickenstaff? No, this is MTV, not Broadway.

Heidi Montag? Blonde, yes. But not 5’10”.

….

HEIDI KLUM.

The day of the shoot my call time was 7:00am.  As I walked through the Broadway Stages I passed a dressing room marked “HK.”  Yep, it was true – I would be standing-in for Heidi Klum.

At 7:30 sharp we began walking through the scenes again, now with full lighting and background extras serving as makeup artists, backup dancers, welders, and electricians.  We would shoot a scene 8-10 times, with the director, camera man, and producers each giving me feedback (sometimes conflicting feedback, even) between shots – “Walk a half-a-second slower,” “Speed up along the curve,” “Keep your eyes to camera right.”

When all was “good” the director would call in Heidi from her dressing room and I would sit off to the side of the set while Heidi ran the take once or twice, with thunderous applause thereafter.

“Mary, back in!” the director would call.  Then Heidi would head back to her dressing room and I’d start walking through the next scene.

This went on for a good four and a half hours before we broke for lunch.  As I was gobbling down my chocolate cake for dessert, a production assistant came up to me.

“We want to fit you into Heidi’s dress.”

I literally froze for a second, with a bite of cake in my mouth.  I had forgotten that Heidi Klum had to leave early – it was Fashion Night Out after all.  But I look nothing like Heidi, despite the fact that I’m tall and blonde.  Nonetheless, I threw away my last bit of lunch and headed to the dressing room.

There was the dress – a peachy gold sequined custom-made Vivienne Westwood mini dress.  I was in seventh heaven.  I reached for the hanger and turned to walk to the bathroom.  “No, no,” said the dresser.  “We need you to try it on in here.”

It was literally out of a book: I had to strip down to my skivvies and slowly pull on the teeny-tiny gown all while four “Heidi-people” were watching me, poking me, and prodding me.  I “sucked in” as much as I could while they zipped the dress from behind.  I could feel my face turn pink. It didn’t fit.  No matter how hard I tried, my ribs were too big for the bodice.  I could tell the dressers were frustrated, which only made me feel worse.  They ended up having to pin the dress with giant black paper clips…classy.

Next, a woman helped me try on Heidi’s bronze Jimmy Choo heels because I couldn’t sit down in the dress.  They fit like Cinderella’s glass slipper!

“No, no,” said the same woman as before. “You’re not going to wear the shoes.”

Darn. Instead, though, I ended up wearing my own gold, glittery pumps that I had brought just in case – 10 points for Mary! (But I must admit that I did feel pretty rebellious pairing a couture Vivienne Westwood dress with Payless Shoe Source heels!)

Next stop was hair and makeup.  Hair was surprisingly easy since my hair is the same length and color as Heidi’s- just a quick curl here and there.  Makeup was quite another story.  I must confess that I am not a glamorously tan German supermodel.  I am a pale, freckled little Irish girl.  There was no time for a spray tan, so that meant: foundation.  Foundation and bronzer all over my body – face, neck, arms, legs, you name it! And to make you laugh even harder, the woman reminded me, “This is a couture gown.  Do not get any makeup on it!”  Stress much?  The makeup “gods” completed my look with some dark red stick-on nails and voila! J’étais Heidi Klum!

For the next three hours we did much of the similar thing: walk through shots for timing and camera angles before shooting some final takes.  But these were shots that were not focused on Heidi herself (ie. camera on face of electrician, etc.).  All you really see of me is the side of my leg and hand as I brush past the camera.

Here’s the final clip (that’s ME at :13 and :14!):

I don’t know if there’s a real moral to my story, but maybe there is a little message hiding in there.  See, the week before this gig I’d been pretty down on myself; I would go to audition after audition and felt like I was often cut because of my height.  But when you just stay open and say “yes” to new experiences and opportunities, fate has a way of working out.  Heck, if I didn’t “stand out” at 5’10” I would never have been able to “stand in” as Heidi Klum!  C’est la vie!

Stand-in work is a great way to get your foot in the door if you want to pursue TV/Film work.  Plus, as dancers we’re used to taking lots of direction, which is an important skill for stand-ins.  For “stand-in” casting notices, check out www.castingnetworks.com.  Just think, nearly every TV celebrity and movie star uses a stand-in, why can’t it be you?

Bright Lights, Shining Stars! NYCDA Gala

On Thursday, September 5th I made my way down to New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts for NYCDA’s “Bright Lights, Shining Stars” Gala.  In conjunction with the New York City Dance Alliance convention and competition, the NYCDA Foundation was founded by Joe Lanteri to provide college scholarships to young aspiring dancers.

The NYC Dance Alliance Foundation, Inc. is an IRS approved 501(c)(3) public charity, committed to broadening performing arts awareness while advocating education and high standards of excellence in dance.  NYCDAF is dedicated to investing in the next generation of professional performers by offering scholarships for secondary and college education.

The evening of breathtaking dance including performances by NYCDA scholarship winners (accompanied by singer, Kelly King, who has taught vocal master classes to BDC’s Professional Semester students), Complexions Dance Company, New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater, Ballet Next, and Ballet Hispanico.

Though the stage was graced with some notable professional dancers, I think the night was stolen by the NYCDA scholarship winners.  The nineteen dancers performed a contemporary piece to Kelly King’s rendition of RENT’s “No Day But Today.”  It was clear why each dancer was awarded a scholarship from NYCDA – their joy and talent filled the entire theater.  Because of the NYCDA Foundation, those nineteen dancers were awarded college scholarships to extraordinary schools such as New York University, Marymount Manhattan College, Dean College, University of the Arts, and Point Park University.

The night concluded with the one-and-only Liza Minnelli who presented the prestigious “Ambassador of the Arts Award” to one of the greatest dancers of all time, Mikhail Baryshnikov. Liza was, well, Liza!  Her speech about “Misha” was passionate and funny.  When she performed in “Baryshnikov on Broadway” back in 1980, she recounted that she was so intimidated to dance with such an acclaimed professional!  Turns out, however, she had to teach Misha how to do a simple Charleston!

Here’s their show-stopping performance:

Baryshnikov’s acceptance speech was just as genuine and humorous.  “I didn’t prepare a speech,” he admitted.  “I was thinking I might bring out a chair and talk to it, but that’s been done.  Maybe I will do that – but bring a throne – when I am awarded ‘Tsar of the Arts.'”

Here is one of Baryshnikov’s most memorable performances in “Giselle:”

Check out NYCDA’s homepage to learn more about their competitions, scholarship awrads, and annual gala.

Dancers over 40

I met Jonathan Cerullo, membership director of Dancers over 40, at the Business Group Meeting hosted by Career Transition for Dancers.

“Well, I’m not quite ‘over 40,'” I smiled.

As I turned to walk away, Jonathan grabbed my arm, sat me down, and starting talking to me about the organization. He threw out the names of some of my dance idols: Chita Rivera, Jerry Mitchell, Bob Avian…I was hooked.

Dancers Over 40, Inc. was created as a not-for-profit organization to provide a community of support in response to the fiscal — as well as physical – needs of mature dancers, choreographers and related artists. Our goals are to seek educational opportunities, present seminars, socials and panel discussions on topics important to mature dancers concerned about their ability to continue to live and work in a creative environment and continue the legacy to those dancers about to begin their journey.

Don’t let the “age” of the organization’s title deter you – while “Members” indeed must meet the age requirement, “Friends of Dancers over 40” include all ages, dancers and non-dancers. And what better way to celebrate the legacies of older dancers than to share their stories and talents with the younger generation of up-and-coming dancers!

Jonathan and I immediately hit it off, and he invited me to the Dancers over 40 Membership Meeting in September at Characters Restaurant on 54th street. I was honored to attend the meeting, but felt like a high school freshman on my first day of school! My anxiety was quickly relieved (well, sort of!) after I met the John Sefakis, the President of DO40, and he sat me at a table between….Marge Champion and Larry Fuller. I was chatting it up with dance royalty!

The meeting marked the first of the fall season, and laid out a general framework of events and topics for the rest of the year. The evening started with a short introduction from John Sefakis, followed by a few stunning performances by Mary Lou Barber, Joyce Nolen, Patti Mariano, and Tony Sheldon. A couple DO40 members spoke about their newly published books (Christine Fournier’s Gypsy Nights and Harvey Hohnecker Evans’ Our Story – book reviews to come!!). Lastly, board members announced some of the exciting events and performances coming up for the 2012/2012 season – hopefully we’ll see you there!

Upcoming events with Dancers over 40: (All of the events are open to the public).

  • Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids Flea Market
    Sunday, Sept. 23, 10am-7pm
    Shubert Alley
  • Balanchine, Broadway and Beyond (film/panel)
    Monday, Oct. 8, 8pm
    St. Luke’s Theater
  • 4th Annual DO40 Legacy Awards and Holiday Party
    Monday, Dec. 10, 6-9pm
    Lips Restaurant
  • **honorees: Carol Lawrence, Lee Roy Reams, Larry Fuller, Norma Doggett-Bezwick, and George Marcy
  • Tap! Part II: The Tapping Continues!
    February, 2013
    St. Luke’s Theater
  • DO40 Cares: The Stories of our Lives…A Song and Dance Concert
    Monday, Apr. 22, 8pm
    The Ailey CitiGroup Theater/Joan Weill Center for Dance

Dancers over 40 is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that celebrates the lives and legacies of dancers and choreographers. To learn more or to get involved with Dancers over 40, visit their website: www.dancersover40.org.