As the entire world takes to livestream, one of Los Angeles’ ballet companies has launched two new projects that it hopes will connect with audiences everywhere. On May 7, 2020 American Contemporary Ballet will premiere Outsiders, a new podcast hosted by Artistic Director and choreographer Lincoln Jones, and ACB TV Dancing School, an interactive video channel on IGTV. IGTV was launched by the owners of Instagram in 2010.
Founded in 2004 in New York City, Jones and Executive Director Theresa Farrell relocated the company to Los Angeles in 2011. The company’s repertoire includes works by George Balanchine, Fred Astaire, Lincoln Jones, and other reconstructed original ballet works, and, as ACB points out, it is the only LA based ballet company that performs solely to live music. The podcast feature feels like a natural progression for ACB considering that following each ACB performance the audience is invited to stay for a reception with the dancers and musicians to mingle and have an open discussion about the performance and ballet as an art form.
Many dance artists have begun offering online classes via Zoom and Instagram Livestream, and I was curious about the timing of ACB’s offering these two new online features.
“Coincidentally, I had begun working on Outsiders and ACBTV right before the pandemic hit.” Jones wrote in response to my query. “Our off season is mid-February to May, so I was using that time to launch them. The idea was to share some of the unique aspects of the company through an online platform, but of course it is even more relevant now.”
He explained that prior to ACB performances or other company related programs, “we often talk about big, fundamental topics related to ballet—how ballet functions as an art, how it compares with other artistic mediums, and why it looks the way it does. These are questions I never really heard addressed in the way I’d have liked when I was training as a dancer and going to performances.”
The company added questions like Jones raised to their post-performance discussions. While audiences and company members are sheltered-in-place, Jones decided to use technology to help reconnect those interested in sharing cultural experiences. “I think it provides a valuable connection to cultural conversation, both for professionals and the audience.” He said.
ACBTV Dancing School is designed to offer video-based programs that will provide audiences with a deeper understanding of the art form than they might get from observing a live performance. “The Dancing School program is designed to have relevance for dancers, fans, and students, but it is especially applicable for dancers right now. There are a lot of online classes dancers can do while they can’t go to work, but this aims to analyze choreographic combinations on a deeper level than is possible in class.” Jones stated.
Jones added that included in Episode 2 of the podcast, he and Elise Filo discuss the importance of solo practice for artistic development in ballet, a practice that they believe is much more widely taught in music. Jones believes that due to the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine, that by participating in ACBTV/Dancing School dancers will be given the opportunity to delve more deeply into solo practice and to “compare their work with other dancers around the world”.
The ACB press release states that Outsiders “offers podcast listeners everywhere a look at ballet with new eyes by breaking down the most sophisticated concepts to essentials in a vital, entertaining, and approachable way”. Hosted by Jones, the podcast is available on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify and most major platforms. There will be five episodes on the first day of launching with new episodes every Tuesday. Jones promises to investigate serious questions such as “Why does ballet look the way it does?”, and “What makes a great ballet?”, while also taking on less serious topics such as why the placement of toilets are critical to ballet training.
Why did Jones choose to call the podcast Outsiders? Here he is explaining it during one of ACB’s podcasts:
The first 5 episodes of Outsiders include:
Episode 1: I don’t think I’m that far outside the rest of humanity… Apparently, it’s not that difficult to start a ballet company. Also: Doing college in a really low-impact way and the importance of occasionally taking a header onto the dance floor. And, it’s clear our hosts don’t know how to end a podcast.
Episode 2: Lock up your ballerinas. Experiencing both sides of the audition table, training in quarantine, why not to be a robot, and the problem of toilet proximity.
Episode 3: Ten not-so-basic basic questions. What is ballet? Why do people still do it? Lincoln (Jones) and Elise (Filo) attempt to answer ten fundamental questions about ballet and barely make it past one. Also, dancer Michelle DeAngelis’ attempt to get her ex-boyfriend’s mother arrested and the recipe for Blueberry Toast.
Episode 4: Yeah, but it’s not the same. Lincoln and Elise attempt to finish question number…2? Who can tell anymore? Lincoln elevates tangents to an annoying art form and speculates on the value of depth in arts fandom. Also, Elise’s boyfriend’s folk-dancing man-crush, making art your best friend, and one of our hosts can’t tell time, so this episode is short.
Episode 5: Always, always check your zipper. Question Number 3, Lincoln’s time working in a gentleman’s club, why Elise dislikes likes, and the importance of hating art. (And they never finish Question Number 3.)
ACBTV (@americancontemporaryballet), which airs on IGTV the week of May 10th, promises to offer “a unique window on the world of ballet for dancers, fans, and anyone who wants an inside look at a rarefied and deceptively effortless art form”. It’s first program is for dancers and is called Dancing School, a new online version of ACB’s popular live program that allows dancers and non-dancers alike the option of watching and participating. It will offer short choreographic combinations, with Jones giving instruction on the sections’ technique, musicality, and phrasing. Dancers participating in the program will then be able to post videos of themselves performing the combination and receive critical feedback. Dancing School is designed to help dancers develop their dance technique and musicality, as well as to grow artistically. Ballet students will be able to interact virtually with ACB company dancers to receive assistance on their performance and comments on how they are progressing.
For dance enthusiasts, Dancing School can be a way to learn not only the process dancers go through to learn choreography, but an instructive way to look at dance while experiencing it live. Jones explains it as “Having a play-by-play voiceover guides your eye and develops your knowledge even faster, allowing you to name and understand the things you might be seeing or feeling.”
And what does it cost to participate in the Outsiders podcasts and ACBTV Dancing School? The only fee-based feature is for ballet students on ACBTV. Dancers may apply for online coaching on the ACBTV Dancing School combinations. Everything else is free. Dancers and students will find participation details by clicking HERE.
To learn more about ACB, click here.
To visit the ACB Instagram page, click here.
Written and compiled by Jeff Slayton for LADC.
Featured image: American Contemporary Ballet – Photo by Anastasia Petukhova