Going The Festival Route

May 15, 2011

Summer dance festivals are well known as hot spots for world-class performances. But several also offer one-of-a-kind training opportunities for advanced students—including ballet students. With top companies flying in from around the globe, dancers can experience a diverse array of the most current work being created. Although there isn’t as much time spent on technique as at a traditional intensive, learning directly from world-renowned choreographers, artistic directors and principal dancers can spark new career paths and expand movement possibilities.

Forsythe At ADF
American Dance Festival in North Carolina is historically a modern dance mecca. But classically trained dancers come here to tie on their pointe shoes for The Forsythe Project. Taught by Elizabeth Corbett, founding member of and former soloist with William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt, the project teaches both Forsythe repertoire and his improvisation techniques. “Forsythe’s work exaggerates classical lines and épaulement. Suspensions are way off balance and then you quickly snatch into a pirouette,” describes Corbett. “Dancing his choreography, you gain knowledge about classical technique by opening it up to extremes.”

Each morning Corbett teaches a ballet technique class where pointe shoes are optional. During barre, the focus is on getting connected to the floor, and the center consists of contemporary ballet combinations. After lunch, dancers launch into two to four hours of repertoire and Forsythe-style improv work. Each year Corbett chooses different Forsythe ballets to focus on, such as In the middle, somewhat elevated or Artifact. She recommends that dancers wear pointe shoes in rehearsals, since she knows from experience certain Forsythian movements feel more risky and fulfilling on pointe.

Improvisation rarely comes naturally for ballet dancers, but it is integral to Forsythe’s work. Corbett begins teaching improv technique with the Laban cube—a system of body directions—that dancers trace with various body parts. Then she layers on other goals, like reversing or changing levels, so dancers learn to build complexity and richness in their improvised movement.

By the end of the three- to four-week project, Corbett sees dancers begin to take ownership of their movements. “I see dancers leave with confidence, an ability to take risks and move without being told exactly what to do!”

A Week With Dance Salad
Now in its 16th year, Houston’s Dance Salad Festival offers performances filled with multicultural companies and outstanding choreography. Many international troupes make their U.S. premiere at Dance Salad, like the Estonian National Ballet this year.

The festival takes advantage of its elite roster to offer “Artist to Artist” workshops to local students through the dance departments at University of Houston, Rice University and Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. But these are not your typical technique classes. After a short warm-up, the majority of class time is spent learning choreography that’s presented during the festival. For example, this year Mauro de Candia, founder of Arte&BallettO, taught students his modern adaptation of The Dying Swan.

Participating companies, as well as Houston Ballet company and academy dancers, get to work directly with other festival artists. Vladimir Malakhov from Staatsballett Berlin taught a company class open to all participating companies, and former Nederlands Dans Theater dancers Zoran Markovic and Masa Kolar taught a contemporary ballet class. (Although the classes and “Artist to Artist” workshops aren’t open to the public, director Nancy Henderek says the festival tries to accommodate professional dancers coming in to watch the performances who would like to take a class.)

Go Pro At The Pillow
Massachusetts’ iconic Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival is an international summer home for contemporary and classical dancers. Its two-week ballet program allows 11 men and 11 women each year to work directly with a choreographer setting a new work. Guest choreographers, like this year’s Stanton Welch, have five days to set a 10-minute piece to be performed at the gala that week. The program’s second half focuses on classical variations and technique, working with ballet director Anna-Marie Holmes and guest artists like Ashley Wheater from the Joffrey Ballet.

“Our faculty is made up of artistic directors and choreographers at the core of the field today—people not readily available to students,” says director of education J.R. Glover. The program creates a professional atmosphere while providing outstanding networking opportunities. Artistic directors from other companies sit in on classes. Last year Nina Ananiashvili gave a master class and hired three of the students.

As guest choreographer in 2010, Karole Armitage discovered student Sara Beery and featured her in a new piece. After the first day in rehearsal, she offered Beery a company position. “Sara was fearless and had a raw, contemporary, modern-woman attitude. I knew from the first second I wanted to hire her!” says Armitage.

“In a company, you have to produce results quickly, you can’t be spoon-fed or be a robot,” Armitage continues. “Technique is essential, but it’s only the means to becoming free and exciting.” Through direct exposure to choreography and repertoire in these festival settings, young dancers can fill in artistic gaps and advance their professional goals.

Other Festivals To Check Out

Budapest Dance Festival
Budapest, Hungary

ImPulsTanz—Vienna International Dance Festival
Vienna, Austria

International Ballet Fest of Miami
Miami, Florida

Joinville Dance Festival
Joinville, Brazil

La Biennale di Venezia
Venice, Italy

Nazareth College Arts Center
Dance Festival
Rochester, New York

New Prague Dance Festival
Prague, Czech Republic

Spoleto Festival USA
Charleston, South Carolina

Vail International Dance Festival
Vail, Colorado