Each year my favorite Dance Magazine gives awards to leading members of the dance field. Each awardee chooses the person from whom they would like to receive the award. Last year, on December 8 at New York’s Florence Gould Hall, Harvey Lichtenstein will present the award to Pina Bausch; Damian Woetzel will introduce Ethan Stiefel; Judith Jamison will honor Sylvia Waters; and Deborah Jowitt will speak about Lawrence Rhodes. In addition, each awardee will be feted with a brief performance or film. For ticket information, turn to page 43. And if you want to see video clips from last year’s event, see www.dancemagazine.com.
Pina Bausch is a diminutive, soft-spoken woman, as if to balance the monumental landscapes she creates onstage. Trained in German Expressionist Ausdruckstanz, she pioneered the form of Tanztheater in the 1970s and went on to create more than 40 utterly amazing evening-length pieces for Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch. She juxtaposes visceral dancing with witty vignettes, human suffering with giddy playfulness. Her work has had profound reverberations throughout the art world.
Born in Germany in 1940, Bausch studied under Kurt Jooss at Essen’s Folkwang School, a rare post–World War II link to Ausdruckstanz. At 19, she received a scholarship to the Juilliard School, where her teachers included José Limón, Antony Tudor, Alfredo Corvino, and Louis Horst. She briefly performed with Paul Taylor (at New American Ballet) and with Paul Sanasardo. Returning to Germany in 1962, she danced with and then directed Jooss’ Folkwang-Ballett, and in 1973 she became director of the Wuppertal company.
It’s a mark of Bausch’s imaginative power that her performances initially generated shock waves. True to her multidisciplinary Folkwang roots, she combines dance with spoken text, song, and massive, stunning sets—a stage blanketed in peat (The Rite of Spring, 1975) or featuring life-sized redwood trunks (Nur Du, 1996). (The distinctive look of a Bausch production was originally forged with her partner, stage designer Rolf Borzik, who died in 1980; since then, she’s worked with Peter Pabst.) Her dance-as-spectacle aesthetic sparked controversy, as did the sexual violence of her early pieces, in which alienated men seemed able to connect to women (wearing signature evening gowns and stiletto heels) only through acts of cruelty.
Yet her passionate fans applauded the work’s courage, visual genius, and life force. For choreographer Yolande Snaith, who caught the first London appearance by Bausch’s company as a student, “What I saw happening onstage—the whole creative process that was displayed—gave me a new sense of purpose.” Other dance artists influenced by Bausch include Belgium’s Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Britain’s Lloyd Newson, and she’s attracted devotees such as theater-opera director Robert Wilson and filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, who featured segments of her dances in Talk to Her.
Beginning in the 1990s, a gentler Bausch has focused on “travelogues,” beguiling sagas inspired by countries in which her company has done long residencies. Often playful, the travelogues—including the India-based Bamboo Blues (2007), coming to Brooklyn Academy of Music in December—feature her very individual dancers in solos they’ve developed in response to prompts like “Don’t let yourself be stopped.”
It’s a far stretch from the bleak brutality of Café Müller (1978) to the whimsical camera-pointing Japanese tourist in Ten Chi (2004). Bausch discussed the shift in a rare interview, given last March in San Diego, where she participated in the Kyoto Laureate Symposium. “Now, since the world has so much violence in everything, I feel shy to do something like that on the stage,” she said. “So many people are full of fear, I feel like we need more strength and to believe that maybe it can be better . . . to not give up.”
Kickboxing his way across the stage in Rabbit and Rogue, Twyla Tharp’s latest piece for American Ballet Theatre, Ethan Stiefel gives each move a cocky charm. His casual intensity—as though he’d walked onstage to find himself in a ballet and decided to dive in—lets him take an everyday gesture like shaking a fist and make it leap out of the darkness.
Nearly 20 years of performing—he joined the corps of New York City Ballet in 1989 at 16—have not leeched away Stiefel’s enthusiasm, energy, or the limber grace with which he tackles a role. For a generation of American male dancers, he has been an icon, not only as a principal at ABT but as the star of the cult ballet movie Center Stage, and then as the glamorous lynchpin of Kings of the Dance, an international touring company of some of ballet’s biggest male names. With his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, his pride in his Wisconsin roots, and his ballerina girlfriend Gillian Murphy, Stiefel at 35 seems the epitome of American cool, a regular guy who strolled into the spotlight and just started turning.
Yet that air of offhanded accomplishment belies years of training, from early days at Milwaukee Ballet School with Ted Kivitt and Paul Sutherland to further study at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, ABT’s short-lived School of Classical Ballet, and the School of American Ballet. It also glosses over the four knee surgeries that sidelined him for nearly two years. “That was a time of reflection for me,” he says, “of coming to terms with what it would mean if I didn’t get back onstage. While I haven’t had to water down any steps, I feel I have a new freedom now when I dance.”
As someone who venerates the classical tradition, Stiefel has placed dance education ever higher on his list of priorities. First he directed a popular summer intensive, Stiefel & Students on Martha’s Vineyard, then sponsored a full scholarship at ABT’s JKO School for an American boy. Most recently he was named the incoming dean of the North Carolina School of the Arts dance department. He believes passionately in training American dancers in a solid foundation free of mannerisms. “We need to be progressive and relevant to the times we live in,” he says. “At the same time, we need to maintain the tradition, the etiquette, of the classical.”
That could just as easily sum up the range of Stiefel’s own technique. While he cites his debut as Albrecht in Giselle in 1998 as one of the performances that meant most to him, Stiefel has been indelibly associated with works by choreographers like Lar Lubovitch and Twyla Tharp. Both have made roles on him at ABT. “Ethan is a dancer extraordinaire,” says Tharp. “He is a real artist who hits his groove and is unbeatable.”
Nowhere does this seem more evident than in the final moments of Tharp’s In the Upper Room as Philip Glass’ score hammers to its climax and the dancers fling themselves over and over across the stage. When Stiefel performs it, a wild energy seems to possess him.
“To translate it into Wisconsin terms, at the end it’s all Vince Lombardi,” says Stiefel, referring to the legendary Green Bay Packers football coach. “It’s about leaving the field knowing, whatever’s happened, that you’ve put it all out there 100 percent. That piece is one of the hardest physically to get through and by the finale, it’s simply about willpower. I owe that to the audience, I owe that to my colleagues, I owe that to myself, and I owe that to the art form.”
Once, while on tour, Alvin Ailey noticed a young company member gazing wistfully out of the bus window. “She must be thinking about her son,” he said to himself. And Sylvia Waters was. It was 1974, and preparations were underway for Ailey Celebrates Ellington. While the company and its artistic director were on the road, someone was needed to rehearse the young dancers back in New York. Ailey tapped Waters for the job. Necessity and motherhood began the fruitful partnership, as that young group became Ailey II with Waters as their director. So the story goes.
Sylvia Waters grew up in Harlem. At 13, she followed her best friend to the New Dance Group on a whim to take class with Carmen deLavallade and Alvin Ailey. She later attended Juilliard, studying with Martha Graham and Antony Tudor. After a stint in Europe, where she danced with Donald McKayle and Maurice Béjart, she returned to NYC in 1968 and joined Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
“When I first saw her onstage I thought she was oddly gorgeous and had so much integrity,” says Judith Jamison, artistic director of AAADT. Integrity is just one of the qualities that describe her; honesty (in word and action) and passion (for life, knowledge, and dance) are others. It’s no wonder Ailey entrusted the chrysalis of young dancers to her. For years this woman, whose youthfulness matches her wisdom, kept his intimate council; she now acts as the bridge between school and company.
Since 1974 Waters has been preserving Ailey’s legacy by instilling his spirit in the youth of Ailey II. Currently the company often stages 12 works up to 42 weeks a year and has performed throughout the United States and internationally in Havana, Berlin, and the Caribbean Islands.
“Sylvia had the ability to listen to Alvin and just take it all in,” says Jamison. “When you see a dancer who was coached by her, you can see Sylvia coming through. She has retained the essence of it. Embedded in her is the sense of Alvin.”
Rachael McLaren is one of the most recent progeny to be accepted into the first company. While in Ailey II she did many of Waters’ roles. “When she shows you, there is a clear intention in the movement. But she wants you to find it on your own. She taught me that I’m never done, that there is always something to explore.” Overwhelmed upon receiving her contract with AAADT, McLaren realized, “I have been prepared.” And not merely as a dancer but as a person. “Sylvia makes life lessons out of rehearsals,” says McLaren. “It’s not just about being a dancer, but who you are, who you want to be.”
Waters chooses repertory with an eye to the growth of each group. Ulysses Dove and Donald Byrd have set work on the company as have up-and-comers Shen Wei, Christopher Huggins, and Camille A. Brown. The cultivation of choreographers was a central part of Ailey’s vision. This spring Waters gave apprentice Chang Yong Sung the opportunity to choreograph a duet for their 2008 Joyce season. Sung, now a full member of Ailey II, says, “Her mind is a museum, a repository for information, a steel trap lined in velvet.”
Currently 85 percent of the present Ailey company has come through Ailey II. Others have gone on to work with the likes of Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, David Parsons, Elisa Monte, and Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Some have segued into Broadway shows like The Lion King and The Little Mermaid.
And just what does this elegant, energetic woman say of propagating some of the world’s finest dancers? Her dimples emerge, and as she modestly grins, you can almost see the 13-year old girl Alvin Ailey taught years ago. “Well you know,” she replies, “dance has kept me in good company.” Indeed it has.
—Theresa Ruth Howard
There are celebrities in the dance world. And then there are those who peacefully go about their careers, spreading their inspiration and influence in profound and pervasive ways. Such is the case with Lawrence Rhodes, who moved audiences deeply as a dancer and who now, as artistic director of the Juilliard Dance Division, shepherds dance students to their peak potential.
Rhodes’ singular qualities as a dancer are vividly recalled by anyone who saw him perform: his ease of movement that was both masculine and sensitive; a dramatic expressiveness that came from a search for the truth behind the movement; and a bold charisma that pierced the theater’s fourth wall. His career peaked at a time when male dancing in America was entering a golden age, and his unsplashy, sophisticated virtuosity provided a model for many young dancers.
As a teacher, he has taken all the elements above into the studio. In doing so, he guides his students to become fully rounded dancers capable of mastering a wide range of choreography, from the most classical to the most contemporary.
Lawrence Rhodes began his training with Violette Armand in Detroit and took his first job with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. In 1960, he joined the Joffrey Ballet, creating lead roles in ballets by Gerald Arpino and Brian Macdonald, while mastering the Bournonville style so impeccably that he almost seemed to speak Danish.
In 1964, he joined the Harkness Ballet and made his mark as a true American star dancing works like After Eden by John Butler, Grand Pas Espagnol by Benjamin Harkarvy, and Monument for a Dead Boy by Rudi van Dantzig. From 1968 to 1970 Rhodes directed the Harkness Ballet. After the disbanding of the Harkness troupe, he became a principal dancer with the Dutch National Ballet. In his six years as a principal dancer with the Pennsylvania Ballet, he danced memorable roles in the classics and in ballets by Tudor, Limón, and Balanchine. He also performed as a principal dancer with the Eliot Feld Ballet and was a favorite partner of the legendary Carla Fracci. In 1981, Rhodes took over the chair of NYU’s dance department, where he restructured the program into a more cohesive curriculum. In 1989, he accepted the directorship of Les Grand Ballets Canadiens in Montreal. During his decade-long tenure in Canada, he brought in innovative repertoire by choreographers like William Forsythe, Jirí Kylián, Ohad Naharin, Nacho Duato, and Mark Morris.
After the untimely death of Benjamin Harkarvy, the artistic director of the Juilliard Dance Division, Rhodes was offered the position in 2002. In building on the foundation that Harkarvy established, Rhodes has created a gold standard for university level dance departments. The Juilliard Dance Ensemble rivals many of the top professional dance troupes in its excellence.
As a dancer in the 20th century, Rhodes was ahead of his time, intelligently combining ballet and contemporary movement in a 21st-century manner. Today, he embodies that wisdom as he teaches and guides Juilliard’s students in their technique and artistry. —Joseph Carman