Imagine if all the themes of an era were compacted in a sensory journey of rhythm, lyrical controversy, props, symbolism, and movement…. well Donald Glover has done it. His latest hit “This is America” is the whole package as it dissects the current state of a mixed nation under the tyrannical boots of discrimination, capitalism, and internalized stratification- and almost all his projects are collaborative, his work reaches volumes as it lets others shine.
One shinning contributor to the projects energy is the video’s choreographer: 23 year-old Sherrie Silver. Having danced for years, the Rwanda-born, England-bred creative initially gained traction for her “Afro-Dance” videos on Youtube, but after Glovers team reached out, her career took on a different weight.
She tells Interview: “The video is full of madness and reflects what’s going on in America and around the world right now. The kids and the choir are supposed to be the happy part of that, so there are two different worlds at the same time. Multiple parts of the video are meant to catch the viewer off-guard, with people smiling and enjoying themselves before it goes dark.”
The themes of this video, are the video- so for Silver it was important to speak to all aspects of Glovers message. By incorporating African dance like the South African ‘Gwara Gwara’, alongside Hip-Hop phenomenons like ‘Shoot’ or ‘Nae Nae’, she succeeds in illuminating the dichotomy of joy and pain- as it related to Pop Culture and its hidden state of affairs.
Sierra Leonean-American ballet dancer Michaela DePrince was orphaned at the age of three. Born Mabinty Bangura to a Muslim family, she was sent to an orphanage where the ‘aunties’ who cared for the children believed that her skin condition, vitiligo, was a curse and called her the ‘devil’s child’. In 1999, DePrince was adopted by a US couple. Inspired by a picture of a ballerina she saw on a magazine in Sierra Leone, DePrince trained as a ballet dancer, winning a scholarship for the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre. In 2013, she joined the Dutch National Ballet. Her story features in a book called The Female Lead.
My uncle took me to the orphanage after my father was shot and my mother starved to death. He knew he’d never be able to get a bride price for me, because of my vitiligo. There were 27 children in the orphanage and we were numbered. Number 1 got the biggest portion of food and the best choice of clothes. Number 27 got the smallest portion of food and the leftover clothes. The aunties thought I was unlucky and evil because of my vitiligo. I was number 27. I was always dirty. They used to braid my hair too tightly because they wanted me to be in pain and they told me I’d never be adopted.
The only moments I was happy were because of my friend, who was also called Mabinty. We slept on the same mat and she used to sing to me and tell me stories when I couldn’t sleep. She was number 26. I thought nothing good would ever happen to me and then, one day, I found a magazine outside the gate of the orphanage. On the cover was a picture of a ballerina in a tutu. I thought she was a fairy on her tippy toes in her beautiful pink costume. But what struck me most was that she looked so happy. I hadn’t been happy in a long time. I ripped off the picture and hid it in my underwear.
We had a teacher who came to give us English lessons and I showed it to her. She explained to me that the girl was a dancer. I was walking with this teacher one day when some rebels came towards us. A boy was following them and another truck full of them around the corner. They had been drinking, I think. They saw Teacher Sarah was pregnant and started betting whether she was having a girl or a boy. So then they thought they’d find out and they got their machetes and cut her open. Her baby was a girl. They killed her and my teacher in front of me. The small boy thought he should imitate the older ones and he cut my stomach.
Later, the rebels occupied the orphanage and threw us out. We walked across the border to Guinea. There were plans for most of us to be adopted, but not me. Finally, there was a plane to Ghana. I was miserable because I thought I would never see my best friend, number 26, again. Then a lady with blonde hair, which seemed amazing to me, and wearing bright red shoes grabbed my hand and my friend’s hand too, and said: ‘I’m your new momma.’ Number 26 became my sister Mia.
My parents made me see that it is OK to be different and to stand out. When we got to the hotel, I started looking through my momma’s luggage for my tutu and pointe shoes. I thought all Americans were doctors, models or ballerinas and she would have brought my clothes with her. I didn’t speak English so the only way I could explain was to take the picture out of my underwear and show her. She understood straight away. She said I could dance if I wanted to.
When we got to America, I started going to ballet class once a week, then twice a week. I found a video of The Nutcracker and I must have watched it 150 times. I begged my mother to take me to a performance and I knew it so well that I could tell when they went wrong. By the time I was ten I was going to ballet classes five times a week.
I worried that my vitiligo would be a problem but my skin turned out to be an issue in a different way. A lot of people are still very traditional in their views and they want to see the same thing in the corps de ballet – white skinny dancers. Early on, my mother was told by one of my ballet teachers, ‘We don’t put a lot of effort into the black girls. They all end up getting fat, with big boobs.’ I have strengths as a dancer. I am muscular and I have strong legs. More importantly, I work very hard.
Raised By Krump, a 22-minute documentary film that explores the Compton/South Central, Los Angeles-born dance movement “Krumping,” and the lives of some of the area’s most influential and prolific dancers, is making its exclusive, worldwide debut as a #staffpickpremiere on Vimeo today, May 24th.
Raised by Krump blends the art of movement, music, and personal interviews together to tell the story of finding solace within an underground movement and the community that it creates. The film, directed by award winning filmmaker Maceo Frost, focuses on how Krumping has helped young people deal with the emotional issues that come with growing up in one of L.A.’s toughest neighborhoods — a place where showing emotion is often considered a sign of weakness.
Perhaps most notably depicted in David LaChappelle’s documentary Rize, Krumping came to be via Tommy the Clown, who invented the dance movement “Clowning” in response to the happy façade he depicted when performing as a clown at childrens’ parties. Clowning, and eventually Krumping, allowed the dancers to express the everyday struggles of living in their neighborhoods.
Raised by Krump shows the next evolution after Rize. In the film, the dancers explain that they are who they are today because of the dance movement. Instead of joining a gang or turning to violence, they turned to movement, dance, and self-expression, and passed this ability on to their children and others’ children, creating a more creatively-stimulated younger generation. Krumping founders Tight-Eyez and Marquisa “Miss Prissy” Gardner – who were also featured in Rize – are in this film as well. They are older, wiser, and have experienced the full impact that Krumping has had on their lives.
As Miss Prissy says in the documentary, “I think Krump symbolizes every piece of what we went through growing up in our neighborhoods, from being chased by gangbangers to being harassed by the police for just being who we are and what we are. It was about us going through the shit that we just couldn’t control anymore, and I feel that’s what birthed Krump.”
Or as Tight Eyez plainly puts it, “We make the ugly part of our lives beautiful. We make it good.”
Frost’s film is also visually arresting, featuring a mesmerizing ebb and flow of movement, almost forming a visual poem about Krumping.
Choreographer Dave Scott is well known for his work on So You Think You Can Dance and in films like High Strung, Step Up 2: The Streets, Stomp The Yard and You Got Served. He’s now tackling a new venture that is sure to bring a fresh spin on a musical theatre classic. Under the direction of Will North, Scott will be reimagining the choreography from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
The family-friendly show will run Oct. 13-22, 2017 at the Cabrillo Music Theatre in Thousand Oaks, California, and focuses on the trials and triumphs of Joseph, Israel’s favorite son and his “coat of many colors” from the Bible’s Book of Genesis. Although Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was first performed in 1968, it didn’t have its Broadway debut until January 1982.
North explained to Dance Network about his initial idea to collaborate with the hip-hop choreographer.
“I wanted to do a contemporary version of the show while bringing in different genres of hip-hop — including krumping. Dave is the perfect person to execute that vision,” he explains.
For Scott, taking on the project was a natural fit as he looks to diversify beyond his work in TV and film. The idea of live theatre not only adds an unexpected element, it’s giving him a new way to communicate through his artistry.
“I’ve always approached television and film with the mentality of the stage. To achieve the ‘wows’ and ‘splendor’ with no edits or cuts,” Scott shares. “I personally and creatively imagine my work in cartoon, like a superhero. I always aspire to go beyond the non-boundaries of dance, and this is a perfect platform.”
In addition to the upcoming production, Scott will also be back this summer choreographing on Season 14 of SYTYCD and he recently completed the film, Manifest Destiny Down: Spacetime, which will be out in 2018 with Broadway star Alexandra Winter.
Some of Under Armour’s biggest celebrity endorsers – ballet dancer Misty Copeland, NBA star Stephen Curry and Hollywood icon Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson—are speaking out against the apparel brand’s CEO for referring to Donald Trump as “a real asset” to American businesses.
In an interview earlier this week with CNBC, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank shared several positive thoughts about Trump as a leader and supporter of corporations: “He’s highly passionate. To have such a pro-business president is something that’s a real asset to this country,” Plank said on Halftime Report. “I think people should really grab that opportunity. … He wants to build things. He wants to make bold decisions, and he wants to be decisive. I’m a big fan of people who operate in the world of ‘publish and iterate’ versus ‘think, think, think, think.’ so there’s a lot that I respect there.”
His comments led to a flurry of criticisms on Twitter and have now percolated to some of the brand’s top star athletes and performers. Copeland, star of the brand’s iconic “I Will What I Want” ad, uploaded a lengthy post to Instagram today. While she praises the brand for supporting her over the years, Copeland did not mince words about Trump. “I strongly disagree with Kevin Plank’s recent comments in support of Trump as recently reported,” she wrote in the Instagram post. “Those of you who have supported and followed my career know that the one topic I’ve never backed away from speaking openly about is the importance of diversity and inclusion. It is imperative to me that my partners and sponsors share this belief.”
She said she has spoken with Plank privately about his opinions in great detail but that, “as someone who takes my responsibility as a role model very seriously, it is important to me that he, and UA, take public action to clearly communicate and reflect our common values in order for us to effectively continue to work towards our shared goal of trying to motivate ALL people to be their best selves.”
With more than 10 million views, Copeland’s Under Armour ad from 2014 was a huge hit for the brand and resonated across the industry as an example of how marketing could celebrate strong women. Since the ad debuted, Copeland developed her own Under Armour clothing line, appeared on the cover of Time magazine and was named by the American Ballet Theater as its first African-American principal dancer. She hasn’t been alone in criticizing the brand’s founder and top executive.
Another major endorser for the brand, Golden State Warriors point guard Curry, also spoke out against Plank, although less directly than Copeland. When asked by The Mercury News about Plank’s description of Trump as “a real asset,” Curry responded by saying, “I agree with that description, if you remove the ‘et’ from asset.”
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson also posted his response to Plank on Instagram. “These are neither my words, nor my beliefs,” Johnson writes. “His words were divisive and lacking in perspective. Inadvertently creating a situation where the personal political opinions of UA’s partners and its employees were overshadowed by the comments of its CEO.”
Misty Copeland is making the leap — or maybe a grand jeté — to the big screen. The prima ballerina has nabbed a role in Disney‘s forthcoming “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” movie. Copeland posted a picture of the script on her Instagram account with the caption: “I’m thrilled to be a part of this amazing project with Disney and the wonderful Lasse Hallstrom. #TheNutcracker #MoreToCome.”
The studio announced the live-action film back in March and Hallstrom is set to direct.
Copeland has been lauded for breaking down barriers as an African-American dancer and is the subject of Nelson George‘s 2015 documentary “A Ballerina’s Tale.” For the upcoming film, she reportedly will appear as the lead ballerina in the “Nutcracker’s” only dance scene.
“I always dreamed of becoming an ABT ballerina, and through Barbie, I was able to play out those dreams early on,” Copeland said in a press release. “It’s an honor to be able to inspire the next generation of kids with my very own Barbie doll.”
In 2013, TaKiyah Wallace started Brown Girls Do Ballet as a photography project aimed at highlighting women of color in the dance world. As a mom of a tiny dancer and a fan of the art form herself, Wallace was aware of the lack of coverage dancers of color received.
Three years later Wallace runs a popular Instagram account with more than 80,000 followers that features brown ballerinas, and her organization supports young dancers by not only giving them a platform to shine, but also providing scholarships to help young girls continue their studies. Now, Brown Girls Do Ballet is releasing a book.
Camille A. Brown, the socially conscious dancer and choreographer, is this year’s winner of the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award, an honor that comes with a $25,000 cash prize and an engagement at the summer festival.
She was chosen by the incoming Jacob’s Pillow Director Pamela Tatge, who takes over on April 18. In an interview, she called Ms. Brown “hugely important,” and lauded her offstage work advocating for black female artists. “Someone who generates dialogue in communities is the kind of artist that really excites me,” Ms. Tatge said. She added that Ms. Brown is a “deep researcher” who tackles social issues through “extremely present, theatrical” choreography.
As part of the award, Ms. Brown will have a creative development residency at Jacob’s Pillow, where she will spend one or two weeks shaping her new work, “ink.” In addition, her dance “Black Girl: Linguistic Play,” which received favorable reviews when it appeared at the Joyce Theater in September, will be staged at Jacob’s Pillow in 2017. “When I started creating this work, I wanted there to be a duality, a culturally specific work with universal themes,” Ms. Brown said in a statement, referring to “Black Girl.” “This work speaks to the human condition, and because of that, I hope people are able to see themselves in the work, regardless of race or gender.”
Ms. Brown, who won a Bessie award for her 2014 work “Mr. TOL E. RAncE,” began dancing with Ronald K. Brown’s company in 2001. She also appeared with other troupes before founding Camille A. Brown & Dancers several years ago.
Ballet dancers, Misty Copeland tells me, like to be in control. It’s something about ballet itself—the painstaking quest to achieve the appearance of a kind of effortless athleticism, fluidity, and grace—that makes it hard to let go. “I think all dancers are control freaks a bit,” she explains. “We just want to be in control of ourselves and our bodies. That’s just what the ballet structure, I think, kind of puts inside of you. If I’m put in a situation where I am not really sure what’s going to happen, it can be overwhelming. I get a bit anxious.”
Copeland says that’s part of the reason she found posing for the images that accompany this story—which were inspired by Edgar Degas‘s paintings and sculptures of dancers at the Paris Opéra Ballet—a challenge. “It was interesting to be on a shoot and to not have the freedom to just create like I normally do with my body,” she says. “Trying to re-create what Degas did was really difficult. It was amazing just to notice all of the small details but also how he still allows you to feel like there’s movement. That’s what I think is so beautiful and difficult about dance too. You’re trying to strive for this perfection, but you still want people to get that illusion that your line never ends and that you never stop moving.”
It should probably come as no surprise that Copeland would have trouble conforming to someone else’s idea of what a ballerina should look like; she gave that up a long time ago. At 33, she’s in the midst of the most illuminating pas de deux with pop culture for a classical dancer since Mikhail Baryshnikov went toe-to-toe with Gregory Hines in White Nights. Last June, she was named a principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre, the first African-American woman to hold that distinction.
She was also the subject of a documentary, Nelson George’sA Ballerina’s Tale, which chronicled her triumph over depression and body-image issues, as well as her comeback from a career-threatening leg injury in 2012. The story of her rise from living in a single room in a welfare motel with her mother and five siblings to the uppermost reaches of the dance world has become a sort of 21st-century parable: the unlikely ballerina, as Copeland referred to herself in the subtitle of her 2014 memoir, Life in Motion, who may be on her way to becoming the quintessential ballerina of her time.
Degas’s ballet works, which the artist began creating in the 1860s and continued making until the years before his death, in 1917, were infused with a very modern sensibility. Instead of idealized vis -ions of delicate creatures pirouetting onstage, he offered images of young girls congregating, practicing, laboring, dancing, training, and hanging around studios and the backstage areas of the theater. Occasionally, portly men or dark figures appear, directing or otherwise coloring the proceedings. “People call me the painter of dancing girls,” Degas is said to have once told his Paris art dealer Ambroise Vollard, the Larry Gagosian of the day. “It has never occurred to them that my chief interest in dancers lies in rendering movement and painting pretty clothes.” It’s an unsentimental place, Degas’s ballet, and his representation of the dancers is far from sympathetic. But it’s a space where he discovered not only a freedom for himself as an artist but also a kind of beauty that existed behind all the beauty of the performance and in the struggle of his subjects to become something.
“Degas’s focus on dance is part of his engagement with depicting the subjects, spaces, rhythms, and sensations of modern life,” says Jodi Hauptman, senior curator in the department of drawings and prints at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, where an exhibition that explores Degas’s extensive work in monotype, “Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty,” opens this month. “His vision wanders and focuses, taking note of what usually is overlooked and homing in on what best reflects the conditions of his time.”
In her own way, Copeland is now forcing people to look at ballet through a more contemporary lens. “I see a great affinity between Degas’s dancers and Misty,” says Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem. “She has knocked aside a long-standing music-box stereotype of the ballerina and replaced it with a thoroughly modern, multicultural image of presence and power,” Golden says. “Misty reminds us that even the greatest artists are humans living real lives.”
“I definitely feel like I can see myself in that sculpture…Ballet was just the one thing that brought me to life.”
The first blush with ballet for Copeland was famously unromantic. Her mother, Sylvia DelaCerna, was a cheerleader for the Kansas City Chiefs, and her older sister had been a member of the drill team at their middle school in Hawthorne, near their home in San Pedro, California. So, at the age of 13, Copeland decided to try out for the drill squad herself, choreographing her own routine—to George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex.” “An odd choice of song,” she says. “I chose ‘I Want Your Sex’ not really knowing anything about what that meant. But that’s how my whole dance career took off.”
Copeland didn’t just make the team; she was named captain. Her drill coach, Elizabeth Cantine, had a background in classical dance and suggested that Copeland try taking a ballet class at the local Boys & Girls Club. “The class was given on a basketball court, and I was wearing my gym clothes and socks—pretty far from a Degas painting,” Copeland recalls. But she was hooked. Within three months, she was dancing en pointe. “Before dance came into my life, I don’t really remember having any major goals or dreams of wanting to be anything. In the environment I grew up in, we were constantly in survival mode,” Copeland says. “I went to school, and I was really just trying to fit in and not be seen. But ballet was this thing that just felt so innate in me, like I was meant to be doing this.”