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Theater Buff: Pilobolus Dance Theater’s Antoine Banks Sullivan

November 16th, 2016 Comments off

Every month, a fabulous actor/singer/dancer fills out editor Matthew Wexler’s questionnaire and offers a glimpse of what he looks like from a bit closer than the mezzanine. This month, Theater Buff chassés off The Great White Way and chats with Pilobolus Dance Theater’s Antoine Banks Sullivan.

Renowned for its unique, diverse collaborations that ignore preconceived barriers between creative disciplines, Pilobolus reaches more than 300,000 audiences members each year. Pilobolus Dance Theater plays two programs in repertory at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts from November 16 through December 4.

(Photo provided by Antoine Banks Sullivan.)

(Photo provided by Antoine Banks Sullivan.)

Name:
Antoine Banks Sullivan

Hometown:
Chicago, IL – born and raised!

"Shadowland 2" in rehearsal. (Photo provided by Pilobolus via The Broadway Blog.)

“Shadowland 2” in rehearsal. (Photo provided by Pilobolus via The Broadway Blog.)

How would you personally describe Pilobolus Dance Theater?
Four guys at Dartmouth College founded Pilobolus in 1971. They were non-dancers enrolled in a dance composition class taught by Alison Becker Chase. Over the years it’s grown into the company we are today. Pilobolus doesn’t look for one specific type of mover. My background is in contemporary and ballet, but others come from martial arts, gymnastics, and hip-hop. You end up with different opinions in the room. All the dancers get choreographic credit for the pieces we work on.

Of the pieces that you’ll performing this month at NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, which ones resonates with you most and why?
“Rushes” is the closing piece for Program A. It was created in 2007, and when I saw the company perform it some years ago I was blown away. It’s theatrically beautiful—nothing like you’ve ever seen before, balances theater with dance and movement. It’s a peculiar story that I won’t reveal because I want the audience to have an open mind. But I will say that the story was relevant 10 years ago and still relevant today.

“On the Nature of Things” is also a treat to dance. It features three dancers dancing on a two-foot-wide platform above the stage. It’s statuesque, bold and beautiful with heartfelt emotions. It transcends every walk of life. For me as a dancer, it’s also an exercise in living in the moment and staying tuned in—if nothing else than to stay on that platform!

"Day Two," Pilobolus Dance Theater. (Photo: Grant Halverson via The Broadway Blog.)

“Day Two,” Pilobolus Dance Theater. (Photo: Grant Halverson via The Broadway Blog.)

What is the company’s reference point as “theater”?
We want audiences to feel something. A reach in dance—what does it mean? Is it for something or someone? We have to tell stories with our bodies through movement. It’s personal and very special to me. Yet we don’t provide program notes because we want audiences to discover the personal meaning in a piece of work.

(Photo provided by Antoine Banks Sullivan.)

(Photo provided by Antoine Banks Sullivan.)

In addition to being a dancer, you’ve been described as an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights. In what ways have you brought attention to LGBT issues and causes?
So much has happened in the past week and so much has been on my mind. When I came out I was fortunate to have a strong support system. Not every LGBTQ youth has that. I worked with the LGBTQ Task Force in Chicago to get youth off the street, along with HIV awareness and testing, and I had a great mentor there.

As I’ve gotten older, I see how we can reach the masses through social media. This was particularly important to me after the tragedy in Orlando. My first job was at Disney World and we would often go to Pulse Nightclub. I have so many memories and felt the loss quite personally from this senseless act of violence. Through social media, I dedicated each performance to every one of 49 victims of the massacre. Every performance needed to be my best for those who are no longer with us.

I have volunteered with the Human Rights Campaign in my hometown of Las Vegas. It’s important to push through and keep these issues at the forefront. We become so desensitized… one thing happens and it’s in the media for a week then it’s gone. Even the election will be old news in a few months, but its affects on minorities, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community will be felt long after. This is a country for everyone and something that we need to continue to fight for.

Antoine Banks Sullivan (Photo: Pilobolus via the Broadway Blog.)

Antoine Banks Sullivan (Photo: Pilobolus via the Broadway Blog.)

If I wasn’t a performer, I would be:
I’d love to be a travel blogger. Or a stay-at-home dad!

One of my favorite spots in the U.S. is Savannah, Georgia, which is so quaint and full of old-school American culture. Internationally, my husband and I love Thailand—just chilling by the beach and drinking fun cocktails. I also love Hamburg, Germany. I was there on tour this summer and one of those cities that I just immediately fell in love with.

Places, Intermission or Curtain Call? 
Places! I live to be onstage. I live to go in front of the audience. That’s my calling.

Where’s the best place for a cocktail in Vegas?
Being a local, I avoid the Strip. I’d head to Fremont Street, which is going through a great resurgence.

My workout “secret” is:
I lift men for a living! Our work makes us strong, but I also practice Bikram yoga or Pilates.

Ten years from now I’d like to be:
I’d love to have a B&B somewhere near Mt. Charleston, enjoying my family and traveling the world with my children… living the dream!

Pilobolus Dance Theater
NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts
566 LaGuardia Place, NYC
November 16 – December 4

 

Don’t Miss: ‘Destiny Rising’ Benefitting NYC Dance Alliance

April 13th, 2016 Comments off

Destiny Rising 2016

Many of New York City and the country’s most renowned dancers and dance companies are set to perform on Monday, April 18 at 7:30 p.m. at The Joyce Theater (175 8th Avenue), where the NYC Dance Alliance Foundation will present Destiny Rising, an evening of dance artistry to benefit the NYC Dance Alliance Foundation College Scholarship Program. To date, the program has awarded more than $17 million in college scholarships to over 300 dancers all over the country.

Set to perform are renowned dancers Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild of the New York City Ballet and the Broadway production of An American in Paris. The evening will also feature special performances from prominent professional dance companies including The Francesca Harper Project, the Conservatory Dance Company (of Point Park University) and the Inspire School of Dance. Some of the choreographers whose work will be showcased include Alexandra Damiani, Anne Forrest, Ruben Graciani, Francesca Harper, Martha Nichols, and Andy Pellick.

For tickets, visit www.NYCDAFoundation.net.

Categories: The Buzz, VIP Access Tags:

A Bittersweet Bite: Company XIV’s ‘Snow White’

February 5th, 2016 Comments off
 Hilly Bodin as Snow White and Courtney Giannone as The Prince in 'Snow White.' (Photo: Mark Shelby Perry via The Broadway Blog.)

Hilly Bodin as Snow White and Courtney Giannone as The Prince in ‘Snow White.’ (Photo: Mark Shelby Perry via The Broadway Blog.)

Austin McCormick—founder, choreographer, and artistic director of Company XIV—is back with his signature brand of unique storytelling that mashes up Baroque dance, circus, opera, ballet, inventive design, and just about anything else he can toss in his theatrical kitchen sink. But in spite of the vast array of genres converging in his latest endeavor, Snow White (playing through March 12 at the Minetta Lane Theatre), lacks cohesion and emotionally engaging storytelling.

Company XIV's 'Snow White' (Photo: Steven Trumon via The Broadway Blog.)

Company XIV’s ‘Snow White’ (Photo: Steven Trumon via The Broadway Blog.)

Returning, once again, to the Brothers Grimm as source material, McCormick leans heavily on the German influence, incorporating an unintelligible narrator to shuffle along the familiar story. We follow Snow White (Hilly Bodin)’s battle for survival against the evil Queen (Laura Careless), who would like nothing more than to see the girl dead so she can reign as the fairest one of all. Banishing her to the forest, the Queen orders a huntsman to kill the girl, but unable to commit the crime, he kills a forest creature instead. In a bit of ineffective stagecraft, the Queen—keen on eating the girl’s innards—hacks away at a suspended block of ice that glows red from within.

Other theatrical effects, particularly the use of live video feed, deliver much more punch. Snow White—like a cat with nine lives—defends herself against the Queen’s continued vicious attacks. This includes an exquisitely choreographed sequence where the Queen disguises herself as a bodice-selling pauper and literally tries to constrict her to death. But to no avail, for when Snow White later falls under the spell of a poisoned apple and is placed in a glass coffin (imaginatively created through a ritualistic envelopment of plastic wrap), the Prince (Courtney Giannone) enters to deliver a resurrecting kiss followed by a celebratory “Rhoedenrad”-inspired performance, a German circus act where the performer manipulates a hoop or wheel as it rolls about like a coin.

Laura Careless as The Queen in Company XIV's 'Snow White." (Photo: Mark Shelby Perry via The Broadway Blog.)

Laura Careless as The Queen in Company XIV’s ‘Snow White.” (Photo: Mark Shelby Perry via The Broadway Blog.)

In the Company XIV tradition, the multi-talented ensemble dances, sings, and flips their way through the production, outfitted in fantastical (if occasionally clumsy) costumes by Zane Pihlstrom. But McCormick is unable to extract a narrative that engages the audience beyond the wow factor. Bodin and Careless (as Snow White and the Queen respectively) are captivating, setting the bar high in terms of technique and utter abandonment. The others do due diligence with McCormick’s athletic choreography but fail to capture a deeper sense of connection to the source material.

Those who haven’t seen Company XIV before will revel in its imaginative interpretation. If you are familiar with McCormick’s work and a fan, as I am, you might find yourself feeling a bit restless at this production and wondering how the company may next interpret “happily ever after.”

Snow White
Company XIV
Minetta Lane Theatre
18-22 Minetta Lane, NYC
Through March 12

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him online at @roodeloo.

Don’t Miss: ‘Dragon Boat Racing’

January 6th, 2016 Comments off
'Dragon Boat Racing' (Photo provided by Guangdong Song & Dance Ensemble via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Dragon Boat Racing’ (Photo provided by Guangdong Song & Dance Ensemble via The Broadway Blog.)

Following their recent sold-out run featuring the U.S. premiere of the Peking Opera star Zhang Huoding, the China Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG) returns to the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center with Dragon Boat Racing, a production of the Guangdong Song & Dance Ensemble that blends traditional Cantonese music and history with state-of-the-art theatrical artistry, from January 7-10, 2016Dragon Boat Racing is written by Tang Dong with music by Du Ming, and is directed and choreographed by Zhou Liya and Han Zhen.

The production of Dragon Boat Racing is a part of CAEG’s Image China cultural exchange initiative, which aims to introduce traditional and contemporary Chinese performing arts to audiences around the world. Since its inception in 2009, Image China has presented works at venues across the globe, including Lincoln Center in New York, The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and performance venues in Australia and throughout Europe.
'Dragon Boat Racing' (Photo provided by Guangdong Song & Dance Ensemble via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Dragon Boat Racing’ (Photo provided by Guangdong Song & Dance Ensemble via The Broadway Blog.)

 
Dragon Boat Racing, the American debut of the Guangdong Song & Dance Ensemble, tells the story of the creation of one of the most iconic and enduring pieces of Cantonese music. Set in 1930s China against the backdrop of the Japanese occupation, Dragon Boat Racing follows two lovers whose passion for each other is equaled only by their passion for music, and tells the story of how one of the finest and most famous Cantonese compositions comes to be… and how it becomes a musical theme that inspires the entire nation.


The 2014 Chinese premiere of Dragon Boat Racing achieved such vast popularity among audiences that it was considered to be a cultural phenomenon throughout the nation.


“We are thrilled to present this production, which showcases so beautifully the Guangdong Song & Dance Ensemble’s theatrical artistry, as well as a vital facet of Chinese artistic culture,” said Wang Xiuqin, Executive Director of CAEG. “We hope Dragon Boat Racing will both enlighten and enchant American audiences.”
For tickets, click here.

Review: The American Dance Machine for the 21st Century

December 27th, 2015 Comments off
The American Dance Machine for the 21st Century (photo: Christopher Duggan via The Broadway Blog.)

The American Dance Machine for the 21st Century (photo: Christopher Duggan via The Broadway Blog.)

For dance-loving theatergoers, there’s one more gift to unwrap this season: American Dance Machine for the 21st Century — a dynamic collection of original choreography from some of the most celebrated musicals of all time.

Originally conceived by the late Lee Theodore in 1976 to create a “living archive” of musical theater dance, the company’s prolific work continued until shortly after her death in 1987. Nikki Feirt Atkins founded its current incarnation in 2012 and Wayne Cilento (seven-time Tony Award nominee including a win for Best Choreography for The Who’s Tommy) directs the company’s current residence at the Joyce Theater.

The evening consists of 18 excerpts ranging from Oklahoma! (1943) to the FOX television series, So You Think You Can Dance, and relies on a diverse ensemble of performers, most with Broadway credits under their dance belts and leotards. For the most part, it’s a thrilling evening that proves that New York City has always been—and still is—the world’s epicenter for musical theater. But by the nature of its structure, there are occasional moments that fall flat.

David Paul Kidder and company. (Photo: Christopher Duggan via The Broadway Blog.)

David Paul Kidder and company. (Photo: Christopher Duggan via The Broadway Blog.)

For traditional book musicals where the plot is furthered by song and dance, the storytelling through movement is a journey well earned. Agnes de Mille’s Act I finale in Oklahoma!—an epic dream sequence depicting Laurey’s fears and anxiety surrounding the man she loves and the man who stands between them—is the culmination of all that unfolds before. Without context, the vocabulary of movement feels somewhat shallow, and isn’t strengthened by an ensemble required to tap into the emotional journey without the benefit of all the plot points that come before it. “Manson Trio,” Bob Fosse’s eerie commentary on war from Pippin, also loses its luster beyond the construct of the greater story, while “Our Favorite Son” from The Will Rogers Follies looks meek in size and scope compared to its original.

The original “Turkey Lurkey Time” 

It should be noted that these observations inspired this reviewer to go on several late-night YouTube binges to discover archival footage of the original performances. It was a scavenger hunt that yielded some precious gems, and also reinforced the idea that witnessing live choreography—in a theatre with the energy of audience and performer pulsating together—is incomparable, even without the show’s entirety to back it up.

The production value, particularly projection/video design by Batwin + Robin and a seemingly endless parade of costumes designed by David C. Woolard, fill in some of those contextual gaps, along with an eight-piece orchestra deftly led by music director Eugene Gwozdz.

(l to r) Jess LeProtto, Tyler Hanes, and Justin Prescott in ADM21. (photo: Christopher Duggan via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Jess LeProtto, Tyler Hanes, and Justin Prescott in ADM21. (photo: Christopher Duggan via The Broadway Blog.)

It’s also fascinating to witness how various choreographic styles fit on the dancers’ bodies as they chasse, leap, and pirouette their way through iconic works by Jerome Robbins, Michael Bennett, Tommy Tune, Bob Fosse, Wayne Cilento, and others. Standouts include the compact Jess LeProtto. With four Broadway shows already to his credit, LeProtto is a powerhouse performer whose athleticism soars in the fight sequence from Golden Boy (choreographer, Donald McKayle) and “Cool” from West Side Story (choreographer, Jerome Robbins). Lori Ann Ferreri tackles two challenging pieces in Act II: the lead dancer in “Turkey Lurkey Time” from Promises Promises and “The Music and the Mirror” from A Chorus Line (both based on the original choreography by Michael Bennett and staged by Donna McKechnie, who originated the roles).

The American Dance Machine for the 21st Century fulfills a vital role in the preservation and presentation of our most cherished musical theater choreography. It will be interesting to see what direction the company takes as it continues to find its rhythm in the years to come.

The American Dance Machine for the 21st Century
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue, NYC
Through January 3

Want more ADM21? Check out our interview with dancer Tyler Hanes.

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @roodeloo.

Don’t Dodge the Dance Call!

December 4th, 2014 Comments off
Erika Shannon (photo: Dirty Sugar Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

Erika Shannon (photo: Dirty Sugar Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

Are you looking for a unique holiday gift for your favorite toe-tapping wannabe thespian, or do you need some basic moves to help advance your own theatrical ambition? The Broadway Blog got tipped off to a unique video launch by professional dancer and all-round motivational guru Erika Shannon.

Erika’s four-week interactive video training series, “Don’t Dodge the Dance Call,” covers all of the basic fundamentals of dance. Designed for the absolute beginner, it’s the first and only video course on the market that coaches singers and actors in preparation for movement auditions, without ever having to set foot in a public dance class.

“As a choreographer and movement coach, I have worked with genius performers who freeze with fear in the dance audition. I’ve seen the agony on their faces and I know that if I can help them get out of their head and into their body, they will not only perform better, but also with joy. ‘Don’t Dodge the Dance Call’ gives them the chance to learn the basics away from peers, casting directors, and watchful eyes of the industry. No pressure, no panic,” says Shannon, who has performed in Rock of Ages, acted as Dance Coordinator for ABC Family, and guest taught for the University of Michigan Musical Theatre Department and Abby Lee Dance Company (of Dance Moms fame) alike.

Designed around Erika’s Four Fundamentals of Dance, “Don’t Dodge the Dance Call” includes 19 instructional videos that highlight basic technique, confidence building, and even how to “fake it till you make it” on the dance floor. Additionally, Erika will be coaching four live dance classes for participants of the four-week crash course, who says the course is applicable to non-theater professionals, too. “While I created it mainly for singers and actors with limited movement experience, this course is also perfect for anyone who wants to better understand how to move his or her body or learn choreography, whether in an audition or at a dance class at the gym. When you have confidence in how you move your body, it shows in other areas of your life!

Through 19 instructional videos, participants will learn my four basic fundamentals of dance, including how to break down steps into what Erika call “glorified walking,” how to incorporate rhythmic and directional changes, how to use the floor, effectively manage body tension, and how to “fake it ‘til they make it.”

Worried that you don’t have enough space? Forgettaboutit! “For this level of training it’s really important to explore the relationship between your feet and the floor, so shoes are totally optional- I even shot the videos just in socks,” says Erika. “I designed the series so it could be completed in a small NYC apartment, so if you have room to take a few steps side to side and back and forth, you’re good to go!”

Take a sneak peek of what you can expect and start dancing!

 

 

 

Preview: Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

November 29th, 2014 Comments off
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (photo: Sascha Vaughn via The Broadway Blog.)

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (photo: Sascha Vaughn via The Broadway Blog.)

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, "The Dying Swan" (photo: Sascha Vaughn via The Broadway Blog.)

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, “The Dying Swan” (photo: Sascha Vaughn via The Broadway Blog.)

Sure, you could see The Nutcracker or Radio City Christmas Spectacular again. But why not shake up your holiday theater experience with the Trocks? The Joyce Theater Foundation welcomes back Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo for its biennial three-week holiday engagement, this year from December 16, 2014 – January 6, 2015.  The season will feature two different programs including some of the troupe’s most popular works, plus the New York premiere of excerpts from La Naïade et Le Pêcheur, based on the original staging by Pyotr Gusev.

The internationally adored Trocks, the all-male troupe who risk comfort for astonishing pointe work, blend tribute with raucous send-up as they tread lightly through the vast classics of ballet. For its 40th anniversary year, the Company will bring down the house (and, at the same time, likely raise the roof) with two programs including the New York premiere of excerpts from the delightful La Naïade et Le Pêcheur, revived by The Trocks more than 170 years after its 1843 world premiere in London. Also on tap will be some of the Company’s most beloved productions, such as Go For Barocco, ChopEniana, Don Quixote and Swan Lake, as well as Patterns in Space, a wonderful parody featuring choreography inspired by Merce Cunningham. See these works, and more, performed by the primo ballerinas that have made this beloved troupe the foremost all-male comic ballet company in the world.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
Joyce Theater
175 8th Avenue (at 19th Street)
Want to learn more about the Trocks? Take the jump…

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