Contemporary ballet

How Contemporary Ballet Summer Programs Can Empower the Individual Dancer

Before participating in the Alonzo King LINES Ballet summer program at age 18, Maya Harr did not have much experience in improvisation. In fact, she was so introverted that even the word sounded scary. “The teacher came into the studio, turned off the lights, put on some music and told us to dance,” says Harr, now a member of the LINES company. “We kept moving for 45 minutes, and I was grateful for the freedom I found.”

You might feel compelled to spend your summer perfecting your technique in a classical ballet program. Yet as ballet companies open their repertoires to more contemporary works by choreographers like Aszure Barton, Kyle Abraham, Crystal Pite and Nicolo Fonte, you may want to consider opening up to the contemporary styles and original thinking that drives them. underlies. “This work is necessary for the future of ballet,” says Dwight Rhoden, artistic director of Complexions Contemporary Ballet and its affiliated summer intensive.

A contemporary ballet summer program can do more than improve your versatility. Along with learning new skills like improvisation or Gaga, you’ll likely be immersed in a more collaborative environment that mimics what it’s like to be in a ballet company. Gaining experience with the creative process, as well as thinking and moving in new and unexpected ways, can also help you learn more about yourself.

Defy categorization

“Contemporary doesn’t mean less clear, or just ‘letting go’. Yes, there is more freedom, but there are also principles of movement,” says Dwight Rhoden, pictured here correcting a student in the program Complexions Summer Festival Photo courtesy of Complexions Contemporary Ballet.

Artemis Gordon, artistic director of the dance program and summer intensive at Arts Umbrella in Vancouver, thinks students should avoid categorizing themselves as a ballet dancer or a modern dancer. “A great ballet dancer is a great dancer,” she says, adding that summer is the perfect time to learn new styles and approaches.

Christine Welker, director of education for Terminus Modern Ballet Theater’s new summer program in Atlanta, agrees, adding that a well-rounded approach to your training is key to seamlessly navigating different styles. At TMBT, students spend the first part of the day “pulled up,” taking ballet and pointe lessons. The second part of the day is more grounded, with new warm-up exercises to prepare the body for the different dynamics neoclassical and contemporary repertoire and partnerships demand.

Most contemporary summer programs are based on classical music, with half a day devoted to ballet technique, pointes, variations and partnerships. What sets them apart is the integrated emphasis on contemporary methods and practices often used in dance companies today.

Compared to the uprightness of classical ballet, contemporary movement demands a new kind of coordination as the body moves both in and out of balance and in all possible relationships to the ground. “Contemporary doesn’t mean less clear, or just ‘letting go’,” says Rhoden. “Yes, there is more freedom, but there are also principles of movement.”

For the Complexions intensive, Rhoden developed a course with co-artistic director Desmond Richardson to introduce students to contemporary work. “, the plies and the big allegro, with an emphasis on weight transfer and a more exploratory torso”, “says Rhoden. “While we empower dancers to think outside the box, we focus on full-body technique.”

Beyond ballet and contemporary, you may also be exposed to workshops in modern dance techniques, hip hop, improvisation, and cross-training. The variety of classes can help start an important dialogue with yourself and your body: Who am I? What is my body? How do I like to move? “All the information has to be processed in order to make the connections,” says Gordon. “In the diversity of each class, they all say the same thing.”

Find your own agenda

“Being able to move in different ways adds longevity to your career,” says Maya Harr of Alonzo King LINES Ballet, pictured here. Photo courtesy LINES Ballet.

At Arts Umbrella, students must make choices about their own learning styles and their responses to movement and process. Journaling, setting an internal motivation or goal for the class, and asking questions when something is unclear are encouraged and can hold dancers accountable to themselves, their peers, and the ideas presented by the person in front of the class. room. For young morons used to being told what to do and what to think in class, this can be a big game changer. “You’ve been programmed all your life to try to be ‘good’,” Gordon says. “But here, nobody tells you what to do or what will make you successful.”

Rhoden takes a similar approach. “I’m asking all dancers to leave here with something they didn’t come in with,” he says. “It could be more stability, a hat-trick, an idea, a discovery, an awareness. You can decide what you want to get out of this class. You can come to the bar with an idea of ​​the day you want to talk about, even if I don’t see it.

“In the super-classical programs, everything is really planned for the student,” explains Rees Launer, a dancer from the Joffrey Studio Company who spent a summer at Arts Umbrella. “Here, the teachers push you to take what they teach to learn more about yourself: what you love and where you need to grow the most.”

The contemporary summer intensives also allow dancers to explore the contemporary repertoire and participate in the creation of new works. At TMBT, students worked with company choreographers Heath Gill and Tara Lee on an original piece, which they performed at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. And at Complexions, repertoire and new works are taught to students through responsive dialogue: Rhoden encourages students to take a given movement or taught phrase and “capture” it – in other words, to layer it with individual meaning and draw the audience into a narrative.

A revealing summer

Summer students in the advanced intensive at the Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre. Photo by Daley Kappenman, courtesy of TMBT.

Whether it’s learning to define your own goals and successes, actively participating in the choreographic process for the first time, or discovering how to perform outside of a traditional theater space, contemporary summer programs aim to open your eyes. experiences that help you gain confidence.

While Harr’s contemporary summer was a surprise gateway to her career with LINES, it was also a journey of self-discovery that helped her find her own voice. “It opened doors for me on how to dance,” says Harr, “and I learned that there’s not just one way. Everyone’s body and way of thinking are different.

Lauren agrees. Learning Crystal Pite’s choreography in a repertoire class and Arts Umbrella’s emphasis on self-creation were two highlights of his summer there that will stay with him. “I hadn’t realized until now how much you can diversify your technique, how much ballet can come to life when you learn to put yourself in it.”