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Meet 2010's showstoppers
William Wingfield and Whitney Jensen, two of our 2010 "25 to Watch." Photo by Matthew Karas.
If there was ever a crush-worthy ballet boy, it’s 22-year-old Robert Fairchild. A new principal with New York City Ballet, Fairchild beckons the viewer with innocent, pool-like dark eyes and limbs that reach for days. It’s hard to resist his effortless charm and open, eager dancing—though one senses that there might be a tinge of angst beneath it.
Fairchild’s brisk climb up the NYCB ranks began in 2005, when he was named apprentice and won the Mae L. Wien Award. A year later he was in the corps, followed by a promotion to soloist in 2007. Watching him in Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15, you’d never guess that his early training in Salt Lake City was mostly jazz and tap (he followed sister Megan, also an NYCB principal, to SAB in 2002). He brings an explosive energy to the neoclassical roles, and while he’s at ease with contemporary movement, he’s eager to bump up his classical side, a task he calls “a struggle.” He’s equally at home in emotional, character-driven roles like Romeo in Peter Martins’ Romeo + Juliet (which he originated in 2007) and in more abstract works like Douglas Lee’s Lifecasting (2009) and Jiˇrí Bubenícˇek’s Toccata. As for his future plans, Fairchild has an “anything goes” philosophy. He plans to come into rehearsal every day without expectation and tackle anything thrown at him. —Khara Hanlon
Chicago dancer/choreographer Julia Rhoads isn’t exactly a newcomer—her Lucky Plush Productions recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. But in the last two years she has emerged as a witty, media-savvy choreographer of substantial, often satirical dance theater. Her Punk Yankees (presented last October) is about sampling her own work and about appropriation on the Internet, especially of YouTube-posted dance. “Everyone’s worried their stuff is going to get ripped,” she says. Her tongue-in-cheek StealThisDance website, where you can buy, steal, or share work, aims to stimulate discussion of intellectual property. William Forsythe was so impresssed with the site that he described her as part of a “brilliant new generation.” Her next project, a collaboration with theater director Leslie Buxbaum Danzig, will premiere in June.
A native of Western Springs, IL, and once a dancer with San Francisco Ballet, Rhoads’ taste for the experimental has recently shifted toward inclusiveness: She cultivates input from performers. “I love setting up structures of risk, allowing for vulnerability,” she says. “I want audiences to feel they know the people onstage.” —Laura Molzahn
Combining superior athleticism with supple grace and elegance, the 5' 2" mighty-mite Adrienne Benz is a picture of stylistic versatility. Whether being battered about like lions’ prey as The Chosen One in Doug Varone’s Rite of Spring, or lofting over her partner’s head in James Kudelka’s tender There, below, the 24-year-old BalletMet Columbus dancer embodies each role fully.
Benz can’t get enough of performing. “The best feeling is when the curtain goes down,” says the New Jersey native, “leaving me physically exhausted and still riding an emotional high.”
In her seventh season with BalletMet, Benz can be seen in several featured roles, including Titania in David Nixon’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Feb. 5–14 at the Capitol Theatre in Columbus, OH. —Steve Sucato
Faster than the speed of light, a tiny powerhouse blazes a fiery trail of chaîné turns across the stage. “I am a bun-head at heart,” admits Maeghan McHale of Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, but this dynamo’s dramatic range spans the humor of Sherry Zunker’s The Man That Got Away to the intensity of Jon Lehrer’s A Ritual Dynamic. In high school she was told she’d never make it as a dancer, but that didn’t stop the 28-year-old McHale: “I’m Irish, so I’m stubborn!” She went on to scholarships at the Dance Theatre of Harlem School and Steps on Broadway and a place with DTH’s second company. The epiphany came at the 2003 Jazz Dance World Congress, where she first saw GJDC and thought, “This is it.” It took four auditions and a stint in Giordano II before her dream came true. In a recent rehearsal her spine rippled through a relevé extension in a quicksilver shift of total body focus. For McHale, dance is like an addiction. “It’s what I love most!” See her perform during GJDC’s spring engagement at Chicago’s Harris Theater for Music and Dance in March. —Lynn Colburn Shapiro
Lloyd Knight is everything a Martha Graham dancer should be: incredibly strong and able to project drama to the back of the theater. Last May when the company performed Clytemnestra, Knight, in various roles including the Night Watchman, seemed to float when he leapt and his contractions sent silent quakes across the stage.
During his freshman year at the New World School of the Arts, the British-born and Miami-raised dancer was turned on to Graham technique by former Graham lead Peter London. After graduation, Knight moved to New York to join the company in 2005. His favorite role is the Stranger in Embattled Garden.
At the end of last season, Knight, 27, was promoted to soloist, and he’s happy to stay with MGDC for the foreseeable future. “As much as I enjoy other techniques, with Graham my body always feels so comfortable. It’s a part of me and I felt that way from the moment I started learning it.” His goal is “to say more to the audience and really take them on a journey.” See him this year on the company’s ongoing national tour, from Sarasota, FL, to San Francisco, CA. —Emily Macel
Isaac Hernández became the toast of San Francisco Ballet’s 2009 gala when he stepped in for an injured principal in Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux last January. The then 18-year-old corps member’s soaring jumps, clean lines, pliant feet, and soft tight landings were a revelation to West Coast ballet lovers—but not to the many citizens of Mexico to whom the Guadalajara-born Hernández is already a hero. Trained by his father and at Pennsylvania’s Rock School, Hernández has been festooned with honors, from Mexico’s National Youth Prize to a junior gold medal at the 2006 USA International Ballet Competition (see “Wunder Kids,” Feb. 2008). But what makes him singular is the combination of sparkling technique and a strong, never preening, stage presence. This deepened over his first season, so that Hernández seemed to draw your eye without ever trying in Alexei Ratmansky’s Russian Seasons. His casual strength is sure to steal scenes in 2010. —Rachel Howard
With the right combination of athleticism and feminine sexuality, Sheryl Murakami showcases her one-of-a-kind style in each piece she choreographs. Using every genre in the book—jazz, funk, rock, musical theater, Latin, and pop—her choreography has gotten this L.A. native noticed.
Most notable perhaps is her work on Beyoncé’s latest tour, I Am…Sasha Fierce, including the music video “Ego.” And most recently, she choreographed young singer Kaci Battaglia’s music video “Crazy Possessive.” Her love for Latin culture led her to work with Latin pop sensation Thalia. Murakami has also worked with Lady Gaga, Avril Lavigne, Nelly Furtado, and Diddy and appeared on MTV’s Video Music Awards and Saturday Night Live. She also performs with her own company, T(H)RASH, in NYC.
When she’s not out of town working her choreographic magic, catch her packed-to-the-mirror classes at Broadway Dance Center. —Brianne Carlon
Company C Contemporary Ballet
Company C Contemporary Ballet’s mission is audacious. “We are not looking to be a ‘good regional company,’ ” says artistic director Charles Anderson. “What we want to become is a great hub of dance.” He strives to bring versatility and style to his modest but far-reaching Bay Area dance company. Heading into its eighth season, Company C has acquired works by Tharp, David Parsons, and Tudor. “We’re looking to have the greatest choreographers, musicians, set designers, and guest artists from all over the world wanting to come here,” says Anderson. In April at Rohnert Park, CA, Company C presents its fifth Tharp work, the dark and driven Surfer at the River Styx—the first outside company to perform this challenging piece. —Brynn Wein Shiovitz
Petite and powerful, onstage Irina Tsikurishvili is a siren. Intense, sensuous, and sultry, as a dancer and choreographer she eschews conventional modern and ballet for her wholly dramatic, frequently explosive brand of dance theater. “I didn’t want to stay my whole career in the second line of swans,” she declares. “I wanted to tell stories.” Instead she has astonished the Washington, DC, region with her silent heroines—a fragile Ophelia, a cunning Lady Macbeth, a sizzling Carmen, and an ethereal Titania.
With her husband and creative partner, director/actor/writer Paata, Tsikurishvili formed Synetic Theater in 2001, bringing her Vaganova training, along with mime and gymnastics, to American audiences. The Arlington, VA, company of mostly young actors is known for theatrically daring, kinetic works that seamlessly integrate Tsikurishvili’s choreography into classics from Aristophanes to Dante to Shakespeare. Baryshnikov and Ananiashvili both sit on the company’s honorary board.
Beginning later this month, Tsikurishvili, who trained at the Chabukiani State Choreographic Institute in Tbilisi, Georgia, portrays the powerful Egyptian queen in Synetic’s Antony and Cleopatra before choreographing the Franz Kafka classic Metamorphosis in April. She then returns to her specialty, wordless Shakespeare, with Othello at the Kennedy Center Family Theater in June. —Lisa Traiger
A Chinese-Indonesian tapper born and raised in Berlin, Claudia Rahardjanoto is in demand by many of the crème de la crème choreographers, including Roxane Butterfly, Jared Grimes, Michael Minery, and Andrew Nemr. The chameleon-like Rahardjanoto transforms from a femme fatale in veteran Mable Lee’s work, to wise Latina hoofer in Max Pollak’s troupe, or to an obedient soldier in Barbara Duffy’s antiwar piece. When she’s in her element, she is laid-back, with hard- and soft-hitting feet, the essence of a rhythm dancer/singer with both tradition and newness behind her. Now she is adding her own voice to the mix, coming out not only swinging but singing at Joe’s Pub last year. With fellow hoofer DeWitt Fleming, Jr., on bongos, she choreographed to and sang India.Arie’s “Wonderful” with a backup “girl group.” In addition to numerous teaching gigs in NYC, she can be heard on Max Pollak’s new Rumba Tap CD, and be seen performing in Thank You, Gregory!, a touring show based in Philadelphia, and at Tap City. —Jane Goldberg
Ekaterina Krysanova is one of the fresh young jewels in the Bolshoi’s crown today. The first soloist may look like a fragile will-o’-the-wisp, but she possesses a feisty dramatic flare. The exciting Russian dancer joined the Bolshoi Ballet six years ago, and her sparkle and technically secure dancing have her spiraling up the company’s hierarchy.
The red-headed, Bolshoi-trained Krysanova, with her shining eyes and a ready smile, brings gusto to her performances, impressing with her daredevilry in triple fouettés, speedy piqué turns, and effortless leaps. She shows childlike wonderment as Cinderella, sauciness yet delicacy as a Sylph, and lyrical serenity as Aurora and Odette. She intensifies the cunning wiles of Gamzatti and expresses nonstop effervescent fun when hurtling through Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room. This season, she is preparing for her lead debut in Grigorovich’s Romeo and Juliet as well as reprising her Odette/Odile. Look for her when the Bolshoi brings Spartacus to The Kennedy Center Feb. 16–21. —Margaret Willis
Nelly van Bommel
Nelly van Bommel’s choreography magically teeters between tragedy and comedy, classical and folk, serenity and wildness. “I always felt,” says the French artist of Dutch parentage, “that being one thing was limiting. When I was young, I liked to say I was from somewhere else.” In Gelem, Gelem, created for Milwaukee Ballet after accepting their 2008 “Genesis” award, she channeled the earthy wanderlust of a nomadic gypsy.
Van Bommel’s career is expansive. She has gone from France to the U.S.; from student (she has three masters’ degrees) to artist; from improvisation performer to Purchase College’s improvisation teacher; and from founder of NYC-based NØA DANCE and co-founder of Reverb Dance Festival to award-winning choreographer. Like her company’s namesake, which signifies both “movement” in Hebrew and “people” in Swedish, she creates dances in collaboration with her performers, embracing multiple dance languages. Catch her quirkily humanistic work on NØA DANCE in NYC in February and on Ballet Austin in March. —Rachel Straus
If you combined the gutsiness of Martha Graham, the voluptuousness of a movie star like Scarlett Johansson, and the odd stance of a stubborn child, you might begin to approximate Iyar Elezra, the strangely compelling 22-year-old Israeli dancer with Batsheva Dance Company. Her tremendously physical—and tremendously female—dancing in Ohad Naharin’s B/olero knocked the socks off the Fall for Dance audience at City Center last September. Whether she is swinging her hands from side to side like a metronome or thrusting her whole body into an extreme hinge, you cannot take your eyes off her.
Elezra studied dance in her native Tel Aviv but came to the U.S. for a summer at Belvoir Terrace in Massachusetts as a teenager. There, she improved her technique in ballet and modern but found that ballet wasn’t for her. After returning home, she joined the Batsheva Ensemble, the junior company, and entered the main company in 2007. She embodies the mantra of artistic director Ohad Naharin to “connect pleasure to effort.” Batsheva is tentatively scheduled to appear at the Joyce in NYC in September. —Wendy Perron
Propelled by jet-fueled jumps, Alex Wong always flies first-class. And, from the height of his moves, he lands in the best choreographic places. Balanchine is prime territory for this Canadian-born dancer—recently promoted to principal soloist—who’s been with Miami City Ballet since 2005. But he’s no mere tourist in Tharp at her hyperkinetic finest (In the Upper Room) or in Taylor, whether light-spirited (Funny Papers) or heart-pounding (Mercuric Tidings). Compact and flexible, Wong, 23, must be a natural in tights, right? Well, as he tells it, “I hated ballet at first and only did it to help with my jazz.” By his teens, however, he came to relish the challenge of what he calls “ballet’s constant quest for perfection.” Not that he’s brushed aside other styles, often digging into hip hop. That spicy mix found favor during his unforgettable stint on last year’s So You Think You Can Dance and might add swing to choreography new to him this season, including roles in Who Cares?, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, and Company B. —Guillermo Perez
With quiet ease Jessika Muns glides across the stage, then drops her head to her knees just as two fellow dancers lift a third to scamper across her back. Muns then pops up to give chase to the trio. The scene from Sara Whale’s Common Cause, performed last August in Cleveland, OH, illustrates Muns’ poise and pluckiness as a dancer. It also overshadows the fact that Muns, unlike her fellow performers, dances the work from a wheelchair.
Left paraplegic following a 2005 motorcycle accident, the 24-year-old former dressage competition rider brings a stateliness and eagerness to her performance that has made her a rising star in Dancing Wheels.
“Her artistry is at a point where she is making great movement choices,” says artistic director Mary Verdi-Fletcher.
This year Muns can be seen in a number of Dancing Wheels offerings, including a featured role in a new work by Donald McKayle, May 1 at Cleveland’s Playhouse Square Center. —Steve Sucato
Pearlann Porter transforms dreams into artistry via The Pillow Project, her Pittsburgh-based multimedia hothouse launched in 2004. The focused, articulate choreographer versed in jazz and rhythm tap brainstorms with in-house video and sound designers while working with her improv-savvy dancers. Porter’s daring generates hip, installation-style happenings and socially conscious dance-theater staged in her loft studio. “Every time I think of Pillow Project as a ‘dance company,’ I try to break that mold,” says Porter, who was born in Hollywood and raised in New Jersey.
Porter’s interest in classic rock ’n’ roll inspired the energetic Concept Album Tour (2005), while an obsession with The White Stripes opened doors for the relentless, sexy, and humorous Striped (2006). Last season’s Orwellian Twenty Eighty-Four, a dark, pseudo-mystical journey, combined earthbound movement with ethereal video design. In 2010, Porter delves into perceptions of time in a comic book–style layout in her cerebral, abstract new work Paper Memory. —Karen Dacko
At once iconic and explosive, Aparna Ramaswamy infuses the formal rigor of Bharata Natyam with fluid spontaneity and rock star allure. Her quicksilver dexterity allows her to alter states from ferocious to fragile, earthy to transcendent. One minute she’s an implacable deity, the next a besotted lover. Ramaswamy’s dancing scintillates with clarity, fire, and multifaceted mystery.
Along with her performing, Ramaswamy’s vibrant choreography expands and illuminates this classical Indian art. “My work pushes the boundaries of Bharata Natyam and allows me to discover the creative flexibility of an ancient form,” she says. As co-director of Ragamala Dance Theater in Minneapolis, she creates dances that reconfigure the ancient Indian dance form by layering it with modern dance, American Sign Language, taiko drumming, and medieval poetry. Recognized internationally for her artistry, Ramaswamy has received numerous awards and accolades. In 2010, she performs with Ragamala in Minnesota, Idaho, Oregon, Michigan, and Tennessee. —Linda Shapiro
Watching this seemingly effortless, finely chiseled dancer captivate audiences, it’s hard to fathom that Will Wingfield could once barely keep a beat. “I couldn’t even do step-touch; I had no rhythm when I started dancing,” remembers Wingfield, best known for his turn as a contestant on So You Think You Can Dance. Enter Debbie Allen, who played a big part in molding Wingfield’s raw talent. Allen took the Nashville native under her wing when he moved to L.A. at age 16, after the two met at a West Coast Dance Explosion summer intensive. Today, Allen’s protégé is doing her proud; since his top eight SYTYCD finish in 2008, Wingfield has taken up residence on Broadway where he has joined the cast of In the Heights. And as for his old, rhythmically challenged ways? They’re long gone, having been replaced by fantastically fluid movement and a striking sense of musicality. Looking to the future, Wingfield sees only possibility, from acting to dancing to directing—much like his mentor: “Miss Allen made me understand that there are no limitations to what you are capable of doing; it’s just how hard you want to work for it.” —Jen Jones
Stephan Laks and Rachel Tess like to make site-specific art from personal experience and “stuff.” The Rumpus Room directors, joined by fellow Juilliard alums Banning Roberts, Luis Rodriguez, Isaac Spencer, and Jermain Spivey, performed RESA (“Journey” in Swedish) in Portland last July during a heat wave. The company deployed broken lampshades and old clothes to a score that included spoken text and Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line.” With lighting by Michael Mazzola, the piece led the audience on an alternately elegant and funky trip through the dancers’ lives.
Rumpus Room is based both in Portland and in Sweden, where Tess performs with Cullberg Ballet. She and Laks, who co-founded RR along with colleague Fernando Melo in 2006, have a decade of experience with classical and modern companies internationally, which shows in their vocabulary: a smart, idiosyncratic blend of balletic and pedestrian movement. Audiences can see RR at sites in Portland in January and July this year. —Martha Ullman West
A petite dancer with formidable strength and beautiful line, Emily Proctor radiates confidence in each new role she takes on for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. It’s no wonder she was chosen by Twyla Tharp to dance a quirky lead in a recent revival of Sue’s Leg. Proctor, 24, is no stranger to Tharp’s style, having already performed in Deuce Coupe during her final year at Juilliard.
A native of Raleigh, NC, Proctor’’s formative years were spent close to home at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. In addition to Tharp, Proctor’s growing repertory with ASFB includes choreographers Kylián, Helen Pickett, and Cayetano Soto. With a 30-city tour this season, from Portland, OR, to the Kennedy Center, there are many opportunities to see her. —Rosalie O’Connor
When Caine Keenan isn’t rehearsing for a premiere of Karole Armitage’s work or the latest Alwin Nikolais reconstruction, he’s funneling his boundless energy into a successful audition for a Cirque du Soleil show, or teaching Utah’s teens in a Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company outreach program. Onstage he brings fury to Nikolais’ Tent, which a lesser dancer might interpret mechanically, and lends clarity to works as diverse as Wayne McGregor’s explosive Series 1 and David Roussève’s brooding Bittersweet Chocolate. “It is Caine’s kinetic approach to dance,” says Alberto del Saz, artistic director of the Nikolais/Louis Foundation for Dance, “that makes him a sublime creature in motion.”
The 27-year-old Keenan graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2003, toured with RW for a year as an extra dancer, then moved to Salt Lake City to join the company full-time. Since then, his keen artistic curiosity has accelerated his growth as a performer. He informs choreography with uncommon insight: In rehearsal he is known for his scrutiny of choreographic intention. Beyond the company, Keenan hones his technique with classes at Ballet West and broadens his horizons with jazz training.
Catch Keenan in Pennyslvania and Colorado as Ririe-Woodbury continues its international tour of the Nikolais Centennial, culminating in NYC in May. —Kathy Adams
Eric Tamm’s breakout moment came sooner than anyone expected. It was the 2008 City Center season, and with one day’s notice and one hour’s rehearsal, the ABT corps member stepped in for an injured Herman Cornejo to partner Yuriko Kajiya as the leads in Balanchine’s Ballo della Regina. “Trust yourself and have fun, and don’t let your partner down,” he told himself. He went on to give a warm, lyrical, and vibrant performance. Quite an accomplishment for the 23-year-old, who, at 14, began an hour of ballet a week at the Irine Fokine School of Ballet in New Jersey to help with his jazz and tap. He then just “fell in love with ballet.”
Tamm joined ABT’s Studio Company in 2005 before being named apprentice in 2007, when he was asked to sit in on Ballo rehearsals. He was promoted to the corps later that year, where, even among a lineup of stellar up-and-coming men, his talent was noticed. Tamm effortlessly brightens the stage, displaying a good-natured sense of freedom in his upper body with grounded, solid technique underneath. As Olga’s fiancé in Alexei Ratmansky’s On the Dnieper last June, Tamm’s energized dancing and easy ballon stole the show. See him when ABT comes to the Kennedy Center in January and returns to the Met in May. —Mary Cargill
Rarely are artists equally gifted verbally and physically, but San Francisco’s Sean Dorsey is one of them. His writing is imagistic, wistful, and tender; his choreography fluid, lean, and relaxed. It’s the chemistry between the two that ignites the Vancouver native’s finely crafted dance/theater works, such as The Outsider Chronicles, in which he examines vulnerability: the loneliness of being different, the insecurity of adolescence, the challenge of affirming oneself. Dorsey creates from the perspective of a transgender artist who reaches beyond his own community. An equally committed activist, Dorsey founded the Fresh Meat Festival in 2001, dedicated to transgender and queer dance and performance.
For his fifth home season, Feb. 4–7 at Dance Mission Theater, Dorsey will present a preview of a work in progress and reprise his widely acclaimed Uncovered: The Diary Project. This year’s Fresh Meat Festival will take place June 17–20, at Project Artaud Theater, San Francisco. —Rita Felciano
Judith Sanchez Ruiz
A haiku in motion, Judith Sanchez Ruiz uses cupped hands and hinged elbows to seemingly mold air into viscous matter. Intense and delicate, her peaceful gaze and calm energy rest atop a fervor that escapes through her long limbs. Whether she’s performing to the rhythms of Cuban drummer Dafnis Prieto, to the synthesizer-heavy score in Jonah Bokaer’s Replica, or in silence in Trisha Brown’s Glacial Decoy, her dancing creates a visual echo.
The Cuban-born dancer studied ballet, modern, and Afro-Cuban dance at the Escuela Nacional de Arte. She first came to NYC in 1997 and took classes at Movement Research with Stephen Petronio, Yvonne Meier, Ori Flomin, and Jeremy Nelson, and jammed with Jennifer Monson and DD Dorvillier. After dancing with the experimental group Mal Pelo in Spain, she returned to NYC in December 1999.
In 2006 she joined the Trisha Brown Dance Company. “The experience taught me a whole new way of viewing dance and exploring movement.” Sanchez’ own Naked by the Window, inspired by the life and tragic death of Cuban-American performance artist Ana Mendieta, premieres this December. “My art comes from a busy mind,” she says, “full of subtext and images, poems that deliver themselves through my body.”
See her perform And They Forgot to Love in a program curated by Ralph Lemon at NYC’s Danspace Project in February. —Emily Macel
Whitney Jensen’s delicate upper body carriage, fluid strength, and awe-inspiring turns had ballet audiences talking even when she was still a student—especially once she became the youngest dancer and the first American to win the Varna International Ballet Competition’s Special Distinction award.
But she doesn’t move like your average 17-year-old competition kid. Her effortless, old-fashioned elegance projects the confidence of a mature artist, infused with her youthful charm. “I love to express my soul through dancing,” says the first-year corps member at Boston Ballet. “I may not have the perfect body, but people tell me I can touch their hearts.”
Yet those who have seen her perform classical variations would never guess that her precise technique also translates to edgy, lightning-quick contemporary movement. She hopes to showcase that more often now that she’s with BB: Watch for yourself in the company’s “Black and White” Jirí Kylián program, back by popular demand this May. —Jennifer Stahl