The Dance Family Tree
September 1, 2015

As we were putting this issue to bed, I caught a piece in The New York Times about Sonya Tayeh. After launching a successful commercial career seven years ago, the choreographer (DT, December 2010) is now dipping her toes in the waters of NYC concert dance. But what really got my attention was the parallel the writer draws between Tayeh’s work and Martha Graham. “She’s kind of like a great granddaughter of the Graham style, because the physicality defines the emotions,” says MGDC artistic director Janet Eilber. “Sonya’s part of our family tree.”

It’s a great example of this month’s cover story topic on why modern dance still matters. Writer Lea Marshall interviewed 10 people who carry the philosophy and technique of the modern masters to a new generation of dancers. In “Brushes with Greatness,” they reveal how they stay true to the master and how they adapt and evolve the information.

For the cover, we selected Elena Demyanenko because the master she speaks of, Trisha Brown, herself is a bridge—from modern to postmodern. Demyanenko credits a wide variety of influences, including traditional ballet training in her native Russia. But when teaching, she relies heavily on what she absorbed from Brown. “I think what I’m carrying on from her is that openness to invent,” says Demyanenko. “It was all about what are the principles that can serve you as an inventor, which can keep opening up perspectives.”

Another striking example from the feature is Sandra Neels, a former Cunningham dancer and longtime faculty member at Winthrop University in South Carolina. She has adapted some of the Cunningham canon to address the needs of today’s dancers. Specifically she cautions them to protect their bodies when performing contemporary. “I would never do the kinds of movements that have come up, such as, from a grand jeté or a saut de chat you suddenly fall on your hip,” she told us. She used Maddie Ziegler to illustrate her point: “She has such hips, but she’s breaking down that hip joint when she falls on it.”

Indeed, as health editor Andrea Marks points out, dancers’ hips take a great deal of abuse. In “Healthy Hips, Happy Hips,” she shares the latest information on building strength to protect and sustain a dancer’s career. Because we know your dancers aren’t ready to quit emulating Maddie, right?

And as your high school dancers begin to prepare for their careers beyond your studio, you can help them by sharing the 2015 DT Higher Ed Guide. We’ve included more than 150 schools where they can continue dancing while pursuing a degree, whether in dance or business or technology or science. Dance training prepares a person for whatever they decide to devote themselves.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

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