Hidden Talents at Ballet Theater, and a Way to Keep Moving

Hidden Talents at Ballet Theater, and a Way to Keep Moving


Fans of American Ballet Theater are well aware of Herman Cornejo’s prowess and flare as a dancer, but did anyone know he has skills as a video and sound editor? Such hidden abilities are the revelation of “Moving Stories,” Ballet Theater’s first film festival.

Back in May and June, the company encouraged its dancers to make short films, and on Wednesday and Thursday nights, the results premiere on YouTube in two hourlong installments, hosted by Misty Copeland and available indefinitely. While the films showcase some predictably fine dancing from stars — Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside doing a pas de deux from “Swan Lake” outdoors next to a lake — the surprises come from sensibility and largely from further down in the ranks.

In his contribution, Eric Tamm makes a dance out of backyard gardening — partnering a rake and using editing tricks to spin out endless pirouettes. He exhibits a wit and silliness not often evident in what’s usually asked of him as a member of the corps. Similarly, Claire Davison, another corps member, exposes underused reserves of charm and imagination in her short movie. Borrowing the aesthetic of silent film, she helps the artists in her apartment building get back in touch with their dreams.

The physical stage of the Joyce Theater is still empty, but its digital stage isn’t. And the offerings now available online (through Oct. 19) are full of life, a continuation of the fresh, intelligent choices that Aaron Mattocks, the theater’s new director of programming, showed in his first season last fall.

Some of the picks wouldn’t have fit into the Joyce’s usual live-performance format. The four selections by Far From the Norm, a British company that stretches street dance in experimental and inventive directions, are films. The most recent, “Can’t Kill Us All,” captures the trauma of being a Black man and father in lockdown. The way that Botis Seva, the company’s artistic director, smothers his natural charisma makes his performance all the more harrowing.

Mr. Seva has received attention in Britain lately but isn’t well known here yet. Bravo to the Joyce for bringing the news. In the case of Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, the news isn’t exactly new. The troupe was founded in Chicago 25 years ago, and it brought its production of “Indumba” to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2018. Still, in streaming “Indumba,” the Joyce shines a light on something special.

The work, by the South African choreographer Fana Tshabalala, was originally created as a response to apartheid, but the Chicago dancers make it their own. It’s almost an exorcism, and they are magnificent.

In one episode of “Keep Moving,” a series of video shorts that the producer-performer Robert Saenz de Viteri made with the choreographer Monica Bill Barnes, he sheepishly notes that by the time he and his collaborators started rehearsing in July, they were already late to the new game of creating a dance film over Zoom.

But what they came up with — available on a pay-what-you-can basis through the website of the American Dance Festival through Oct. 4 — makes the most of such candor.

In a sense, it’s a rescue job, salvaging canceled performances of a production called “The Running Show.” We see students from Hunter College rehearsing before the pandemic and also during, trying to keep together in their separate apartments and digital boxes — as in so many other recent dance films.

What makes this project different is what we hear: scruffy “This American Life”-style voice-overs and interviews that Mr. de Viteri has conducted with the dancers. These offer glimpses into their lives: the day job, the family just outside the frame. Witnessing the performers in these surroundings, he says, makes them less superhuman and more relatable.

“Dancing feels a bit more like running to me now,” Ms. Bill Barnes says in a different chapter. “It feels important to keep doing it” — just keep doing it.

Contrary to what most dance videos suggest, dancing isn’t only for the young. Since 2005, Dances for a Variable Population has specialized in classes for people of all abilities, and especially for those of a more advanced age. During the pandemic, with so many older people (and others too) staying inside for safety, the classes have grown in importance.

The company website offers live and prerecorded options, both tuition-based and free. The guiding idea is an alternation between a gentle strengthening of muscles and a gentle encouragement of creativity; maintaining the hookup between the mind and the body increases freedom.

You can get started right now but also look forward to “Revival 4: Fortitude,” a daylong virtual festival of classes and performances on Oct. 24. As in the company’s similar festival in June (watchable online), the teachers are all inspirations, a diverse group of women who danced decades ago with major companies and don’t let age get in the way of moving freely now.



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