Transcript, Episode 123: “CATS” in the Ballroom, and Catharsis on the Dance Floor

Margaret Fuhrer:

Hi, dance friends, and welcome to The Dance Edit Podcast. I’m Margaret Fuhrer.

Lydia Murray:

And I’m Lydia Murray.

Margaret Fuhrer:

We are editors at Dance Media. And in this episode, we will begin as usual with our headline rundown, in which we remember two artists who left us too soon and congratulate the winners of some very prestigious awards and discuss a new CATS production that I know Lydia and I are both eager to talk about. Then in our longer segment, we will unpack this emergence of dance music and the whole idea of dance-floor catharsis as the vibe of our current moment—why that’s happening, what it means and why it matters.

But before diving into all of that, here is a reminder that there are new episodes of The Dance Edit Extra, our premium audio interview series, dropping every other Saturday on Apple Podcasts. Last Saturday, we debuted a conversation with the wonderful Lauren Lovette, former New York City Ballet principal, and now resident choreographer of the Paul Taylor Dance Company. She talked about how she’s discovered that growing as an artist requires a mix of careful planning and then being open to letting that planning go, to welcoming the unexpected. It was a really great talk. And we have an incredibly exciting episode coming out, not this Saturday, but next Saturday, August 20th, which I can’t share details about just yet, but trust me, you do not want to miss it. You can find The Dance Edit Extra by searching on Apple Podcasts or by following the direct link in our show notes.

Okay, now it’s time for our headline rundown starting, with two really heavy losses for the dance and performance community.

Lydia Murray:

The choreographer, dancer, director and community organizer Darius Barnes has passed away at age 34. Barnes was the associate choreographer of the upcoming Broadway production, Kimberly Akimbo, and he had danced with New York City Ballet and the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, in addition to working with Dance Theatre of Harlem. He will be deeply missed.

Margaret Fuhrer:

He knew and inspired so many in and beyond the dance world.

Lydia Murray:

So many, just so heartbreaking.

Margaret Fuhrer:

There was a memorial service for Barnes on Monday, and the dance artist Sydnie Mosley shared the text of her remarks from that event on her Instagram page. We’ve linked to that, because it really honors his legacy beautifully.

And this is news that most of you have probably already heard given the scale of her celebrity, but the actress and singer and dancer Olivia Newton-John passed away this week at the age of 73. She had been battling breast cancer for many years. Unsurprisingly, there have been many tributes to her making the rounds, formal tributes, on social media, all over the place.

Lydia Murray:

What a legacy she leaves behind. Those are such tragic losses.

The leading British dance magazine, Dancing Times, will cease publication in September, ending its 112-year run. The magazine cited the effects of the pandemic for its closure.

Margaret Fuhrer:

That is truly the end of an era. Lots of journalists paying homage to the publication this week. It was hugely influential in a certain part of the dance world.

Now we thankfully have some happier news to share—much happier. The 2022 Princess Grace Award winners have been announced. In the dance category, they are Abdiel Figueroa Reyes, Mira Nadon and Jake Tribus. Dance honoraria are Eleni Loving and Ashley Simpson. And in the choreography category, awardees are Kameron N. Saunders, Omar Roman de Jesus and Maleek Washington. Congrats to all. Lots of familiar names there—several alums of the Dance Magazine “25 to Watch” list, as well.

Lydia Murray:

Yeah, that’s exactly what I was thinking. Abdiel from 2020. And then there was Mira Nadon, who was a Pointe “Star of the Corps” in 2019. Just an absolutely wild amount of talent as always.

The Ford and Mellon Foundations have announced this year’s Disability Futures Fellows. Fellows from the dance world include choreographer Antoine Hunter, who is also known as Purple Fire Crow, and the dancer and actress Alexandria Wales. Each of the 20 honorees will receive an unrestricted $50,000 grant administered by the arts funding group United States Artists.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Big congratulations to them as well.

Here is some dance leadership news that’s sort of flown under the radar: Batsheva Dance Company artistic director Gili Navot, who succeeded Ohad Naharin as the group’s leader four years ago, is stepping down. She will be succeeded by Lior Avizoor, who has been leading Batsheva School up until this point. And Naharin will continue as house choreographer for the company. Some interesting reshuffling happening.

Lydia Murray:

And continuing with new leadership announcements: The José Limón Dance Foundation has appointed Michelle Preston as its incoming executive director. Preston has served as the executive director of SITI Company, and her prior experience in New York City also includes work with Urban Bush Women, Bill T. Jones, Arnie Zane Dance Company, and the School of American Ballet.

Margaret Fuhrer:

And in an era when we’ve become all to accustomed to news about companies shrinking their rosters, getting smaller, here is welcome news of expansion. Philadelphia Ballet is adding 12 dancers next season, five of them newcomers and seven of them former members of PBII, its second company. The company also announced several promotions. We have a link with the full list of changes in the show notes.

Lydia Murray:

New York City Ballet’s 10th annual fall fashion gala will be held on Wednesday, September 28th at 7:00 PM at the Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. This year’s designers are Giles Deacon, collaborating with choreographer Kyle Abraham; Alejandro Gomez Palomo, who will work with choreographer Jonah Rison; and Raf Simons, who will work with Justin Peck.

Margaret Fuhrer:

I love that Giles Deacon and Kyle Abraham have developed this ongoing partnership now, after working together on those incredible costumes for Runaway, for the fashion gala in 2018. And I just learned that Giles did the costumes for Kyle’s new Requiem too.

Lydia Murray:

This has been a really fruitful partnership. I’m really excited to see what they’ll do with this latest collaboration.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah. Okay, here is the item that Lydia and I have been waiting for. There is a reimagining of the musical CATS in development that sets the story in the world of queer ballroom. A casting notice for a workshop for the new show—which is being produced by the Ronald O. Perelman Performing Art Center, the venue near the World Trade Center that has yet to open—it noted that the characters in this production will be human, not literal cats, and that casting will prioritize BIPOC artists. I am all in for this. It sounds fantastic to me. I mean the role descriptions alone in this casting notice get me so excited about this idea. It’s clear that—I mean it’s witty and smart, but also a lot of care has been put into this translation of the original.

Lydia Murray:

Agreed. I think this concept sounds intriguing. I think that this format, or I think this storyline will ground it in reality in a way that would be really, I guess, enthralling or just really interesting to see. I think that’s one of the issues with the original CATS. It’s sometimes…it’s just a little bit hard to suspend your disbelief enough.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Where are we and what are we watching?

Lydia Murray:

Yeah, exactly, exactly. And I think this fits so well with the CATS storyline as well, so this will be interesting to watch.

Margaret Fuhrer:

I mean, just a couple highlights from those role descriptions: Old Deuteronomy is described as “the only Icon on tonight’s panel.” That’s just so perfect.

Lydia Murray:

It is perfect.

Margaret Fuhrer:

That’s just so perfect. Rum Tum Tugger “wins category of Pretty Boy Realness.” Yep. That is so right.

Lydia Murray:

It is. I, for some reason I feel like I, when I heard this news, it made me realize that I had seen CATS and the whole Jellicle Ball aspect of it as supposed to be similar to the ballroom scene in the first place, for whatever reason.

Margaret Fuhrer:

The Jellicle Ballroom.

Lydia Murray:

Jellicle Ballroom! There you go.

H&M has announced that JaQuel Knight and Jane Fonda are the new faces of its Move campaign. The brand recently launched a new product line of move wear, not sportswear, for men, women, and kids designed to accommodate the variety of ways in which people like to move.

Margaret Fuhrer:

I mean, JaQuel Knight and Jane Fonda.

Lydia Murray:

They are the duo that I never knew I needed.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Being in the room with those two energies—I mean, would it result in some kind of spontaneous combustion? What a pairing.

Lydia Murray:

Just seeing the photos of the two of them together has already just made me so happy and given me so much life.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Very cool. And finally, Boston Ballet has launched a new initiative, a multimedia popup installation that is a portable dome allowing for immersive 360 degree viewing of dance films, some of which the company created specifically for the structure. It’s free, it’s open to the public, it plays these videos on a continuous loop so people can wander in and out as they like. It’s a cool way to bring ballet to different sorts of audiences, it sounds like.

That marks the end of the headline rundown. But if you’re looking for even more current news, please be sure to check out our Dance Media Events Calendar, which has fully updated listings for lots of performances and events, including a bunch of stuff we just don’t get to here on the podcast. To make sure you’re not missing out on any upcoming shows or in particular upcoming auditions, or to add your own events to the calendar, please head to dancemediacalendar.com.

Okay. Moving now into our longer discussion segment, which this week focuses on not one article, but rather a vibe shift—if I am using that term correctly, which I am very much not sure that I am. There have been a collection of stories recently about how the whole world seems to want to be on the dance floor right now. We have these huge new dance albums out from Beyoncé and Drake. Rolling Stone just published its list of the 200 greatest dance songs of all time. It’s—in this strange, incredibly stressful moment, we seem to have a common urge to release the stress, as Beyoncé would say, through dance. And Lydia, in our emails before the recording, you mentioned that for members of marginalized communities, dance has filled that role for a long time.

Lydia Murray:

Right, yeah. Dance music is having a mainstream revival this summer and it feels like we’re in this cultural moment of getting back in tune with ourselves and learning how to be fulfilled amidst an ongoing cascade of crises, to put it mildly. In connection with that, it feels like empathy and compassion and connection with other people can be in short supply. Dance music has always been part of communities with a particular need to seek refuge from oppression and adversity. As we were talking about over email, from disco to house it’s been part of spaces where Black, brown and queer communities can thrive and heal together.

And generally, including outside of those communities, there now seems to be a sense of rebirth and recalibration. This year we’ve had to really find our way forward after the past two years of on and off COVID restrictions and cancellations, and dance music really invites community. It’s not about dance—at least this current dance music moment doesn’t seem to be about dance music as pure escapism. It’s about honoring your humanity and that of other people.

It’s still not the safest time to gather, with the spread of seemingly endless COVID variants, Monkeypox, a host of other social and public health issues. Which is why dance music might feel a little bit out of step with the times for some people. But it can also be a tool to get in tune with ourselves and each other again.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah, it is a truly bizarre moment right now, all of these conflicting, opposing forces pulling at all of us. But yeah, it’s… we’re seeing this mainstreaming of the idea that when a series of crises are so overwhelming that our minds can’t really process them, our impulse is to seek out that kind of physical transcendence that you can find—maybe on an actual dance floor, moving in community with others, or maybe dancing at home but knowing that we are all streaming these same massive dance albums at the same time, that’s a different sort of moving in community. And it’s not like this is a new thing. It’s actually a cyclical thing. When the world is going through major periods of upheaval, we see the rise of music that pushes us to dance. We don’t want rationality. We want to turn off the rational brain and seek out experiences that engage the deep brain stem, primal part of us.

Lydia Murray:

I was just going to mention that CNBC article that pointed out recently that dancing to music you like can trigger your brain to release adrenaline, dopamine, endorphins, which can improve your mood. I think all of us dance folks know that kind of thing, but it’s certainly relevant right now. And when you’re moving with a group, it can give you this sense of hope for the future. I think that happened during the disco era as well. It really builds this sense of trust. And it increases oxytocin. But the result of that is feeling this sense of togetherness.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah. Yeah. And loneliness in particular has become such an urgent crisis during the pandemic. That CNBC piece went so far as to actually list movements that typically “express and induce joy and positive emotions.” I mean, they listed bouncing to the beat, clapping your hands, swaying, posing—

Lydia Murray:

Taking up space.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Taking up space with big movements! That one, I was like, literally taking up space makes you feel better. Yeah. Literal and metaphorical taking up of space.

Lydia Murray:

Exactly, so many layers to that one section alone.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah. And we also see that same thing in other creative fields too. In periods of recession, fashion tends to get brighter and more ostentatious. People are hungry for color and fun and playfulness. They want to make a splash in that same kind of way.

Lydia Murray:

That idea of bold fashion in response to adversity in some form also is something that we see in things like disco culture and certain underground dance communities and ballroom culture and that kind of thing too.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah. Yeah. For sure. In the show notes, we have links to a few different articles that explore these kinds of ideas. And we also have Rolling Stone‘s full list of the 200 best dance songs of all time—which is a highly debatable list, by the way, but if you are looking for playlist inspiration, it is a good place to go.

All right, that’s it for us this week. Thanks everyone for joining. We’ll be back in two weeks for more discussion of the news that’s moving the dance world. Keep learning, keep advocating and keep dancing.

Lydia Murray:

See you next time everyone.