Programs that Could Help Expand Your Modern Training

June 4, 2008

For a modern dancer, developing flexibility can have two meanings: While they need loose limbs, aspiring professionals also strive for proficiency in the divergent styles and techniques that make up the scene. Getting a wide range of experience can be tricky, however, especially as most studios across the country offer just one or two modern dance classes, usually in established techniques such as Horton or Graham. For many preprofessionals, coming to NYC, a wellspring of American contemporary dance and home base for an enormous number of working choreographers, is the best solution. The city is teeming with opportunities to learn in the studios of choreographic legends currently working and those who have left a formidable legacy, such as Alvin Ailey, Trisha Brown, Mark Morris and Martha Graham.


Additionally, several of the city’s mega-studios offer series of one- to three-week workshops led by contemporary dance luminaries from NYC, across the U.S. and abroad who are creating exciting, vibrant work, but don’t have their own formal training programs. These educational series enable dancers to get face time with a talented choreographer, learn his or her style of movement and, in many cases, become familiar with an artist for whom they hope to work professionally. For these school’s ongoing series, auditions aren’t required, although intermediate to advanced-level skills are a must.


Dance New Amsterdam, Peridance Center and Steps on Broadway each have unique workshop series that offer rigorous classes from a constantly updated roster of working choreographers, as well as focused summer intensives. Classes are filled with professionals looking to expand their art, students hoping to become pros and those enhancing their training in preparation for college or conservatory programs in a heady environment of art, movement philosophy and dance.


Dance New Amsterdam

Dance New Amsterdam (formerly Dance Space Center), which recently relocated into a 25,000-square-foot facility with seven studios, has long been an important hub for contemporary dance. “What’s unique about this school is that the training you received in 1984 when we opened is completely different from the training that you receive now,” says Executive Director Charles Wright, explaining that while the foundations of modern dance, such as Graham, Horton and Limón techniques, are essential for students, the field has grown in exciting new directions that should be incorporated into training. “We’ve evolved as dance has evolved, and we’ve also been a major player in that revolution in that we had people who were pushing the edges of choreography in our studio teaching classes and being inspired by each other across the hall.”


The school’s year-round modern guest artist series has featured an impressive roster of choreographers, including Seán Curran, David Dorfman, Mark Morris and Stephen Petronio (for more, see p. 52), teaching technique and repertory in one- to three-week workshops. “These choreographers are showing students exactly what’s happening in the scene,” says Wright.


Studying with a working artist can be a great way to move toward employment. “If you’ve trained with a choreographer, by the time there’s an audition, you’re used to their way of movement and you’re ready,” says Wright. “Or the choreographer might see you in class and say, ‘Come work with us for a while.’” DNA’s guest artist program has become so successful that there are usually two or three choreographers teaching at any given time. Enrollment is open, but the guest artist series is advanced level.


DNA also hosts a four-week New York Summer Dance Intensive that includes technique classes and rehearsal time with contemporary dance choreographers, which culminates in a show, as well as unlimited classes from the school’s regular schedule. Held this year June 26–July 23, the program is primarily attended by those from major university dance programs, but advanced, mature high school students are welcome, with letters of recommendation.


In addition to maintaining a full roster of technique classes in styles from ballet to breaking to Ba Gua, Peridance Center nurtures relationships with some of NYC’s most exciting modern dance artists, providing students access to a rich variety of choreographers in one- or two-week workshops. “The purpose is for students to work with the choreographer and get experience that they would not get in regular classes,” says Igal Perry, founder of Peridance. Workshops include daily classes in technique and repertory, culminating in a studio performance.


This summer, Peridance will host workshops focusing on the works of such companies as Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre, Elisa Monte, Complexions, Battleworks, Nai-Ni Chen, Philadanco and Seán Curran. Auditions are not required, but students need to have an intermediate level of technical proficiency. “The atmosphere isn’t competitive,” says Perry. “It’s very serious, and the level of the teachers is very high.”


Peridance also offers a three-week summer intensive with a modern-focused track for teens ages 14 to 18, held this year from July 3 to July 22. Courses include ballet and modern as well as repertory, composition and jazz, and students are encouraged to supplement by enrolling in classes from the school’s open schedule. “They get a taste of different techniques,” says Perry of the program, “a taste of Limón and a taste of a very contemporary choreographer, like Nina Buisson.” Dancers work with two to three modern choreographers in preparation for a final performance. Auditions for the intensive were held in February and March, but video auditions are accepted through May 31.

Steps on Broadway

At Steps on Broadway, it isn’t uncommon to see stars like Paloma Herrera or Maria Kowroski taking class, but Steps isn’t just about big ballet stars. Its Steps With Contemporary Masters Series was founded more than 10 years ago and has featured such notables as Donald Byrd, Jacqulyn Buglisi, Seán Curran, Mark Dendy, Elisa Monte, Jennifer Muller, Pascal Rioult and Kevin Wynn. “It’s a chance for young people to experience the different approaches that these directors and choreographers are taking,” explains Diane Grumet, co-artistic director and managing director at Steps.


The 12-week summer program (this year June 5–September 2) features a different choreographer devoting a week to teaching one class a day that includes technique, repertory and movement philosophy. Many hold company auditions on the final Saturday of their week’s session. “A lot of these dancers come here, because they get a chance to be seen by these working directors and choreographers,” says Grumet. “It’s a fantastic opportunity.” Students may sign up for just one class or for an entire week, or for multiple sessions.


This year, Steps is launching a three-week summer intensive called Choreography/Performance Program, in which dancers will work closely with two of the choreographers on the roster and will perform their work in Steps’ studio theater. Open by audition to dancers 18 and over, the program (June 11–July 2) will offer repertory, composition and improv classes, a meeting with a talent agent and a choreographers’ roundtable discussion. In addition to being able to attend the Contemporary Masters’ classes, participants have unlimited access to any of Steps’ open classes. “They’re going to have great, full days,” says Grumet. “It’ll be pretty intense.”