attention is by redirecting it to her community. She constantly name-checks
the people who influence her—from her parents to her mentor in North Carolina, Gene Medler, to heroes like Dianne Walker and Brenda Bufalino, collaborators like Derick K. Grant and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, the members
of her company, Dorrance Dance, and contemporaries like Chicago dancer
Jumaane Taylor, who, she gushes, “is at the top of his game.” You can tell
she’s genuine by the way her voice clears and perks up when talking about
her colleagues, as though celebrating others is chasing away the cold.
Collaboration and tradition are the pillars of Dorrance’s art, but it doesn’t
Another acclaimed work, ETM: The Initial Approach and its follow-up,
stop there. “She’s also an innovator,” says Linda Shelton, the executive direc-
tor of New York City’s Joyce Theater, one of several venues that have nurtured
Dorrance. “She’s honoring the traditions of tap, but she’s also making it
relevant to a new generation.”
A prime example of her artistic values can be found in The Blues Project,
which Shelton brought to The Joyce in 2015 for three performances and
again in 2016 for two weeks, a rare feat that also speaks to Dorrance’s
popularity with audiences. Dorrance co-created the work with musician Toshi
Reagon plus Grant and Sumbry-Edwards, weaving together nods to the past
with inventive configurations and invigorating energy.
ETM: Double Down, cleverly merged tap and technology (“ETM” stands for
“electronic tap music”), and was created with longtime company member
Nicholas Van Young, who praises Dorrance for her focus and openness.
“Michelle is very clear with her intentions,” he says, “yet in collaboration she
Starting a company allowed her to experiment and work with dancers she
always makes you feel free to explore, develop, share and express.”
The mutual respect is clear. “We’re loyal to her and she’s loyal to us,” says
rehearsal director Elizabeth Burke, who has known Dorrance since age 6 and
danced with her company since it was founded in 2011. “She has an uncanny
ability to bring different people together with different skill sets and energies
and make it feel like a cohesive art that makes sense.”
Burke recalls the early days of Dorrance Dance, rehearsing at night in
various studios on the Lower East Side and touring in an old minivan with
mismatched doors. By that time, Dorrance was already a familiar face on the
tap scene, having worked with Glover and performed with STOMP for years.
admired, though its speedy path to success has surprised everyone involved.
For all her humility, Dorrance has expanded the possibilities of tap in
significant ways. Moving forward, she’s mindful of keeping tap history at
the center of her work. “I want to further refine my vision so my influence is
rooted in the integrity of our form,” she says. And she’s eager to refocus on
her own dancing, which she feels has been neglected due to the administrative duties of the past few years. But she’s not feeling rushed. “What I love
about tap dancers is that they die in their 90s with their shoes on,” she says.
“We’re a breed of dancers that doesn’t retire with age." —Brian Schaefer
Not many choreographers would consider making a lifestyle brand out of
their dance company. But Benjamin Millepied plans to do just that with L.A.
Dance Project. He’s got both the gumption and pop-culture savvy to envision
a dance troupe that’s as active online as it is in live performances, and sells
$500 LADP designer varsity jackets to help its bottom line. Next up: directing
his first feature film, inspired by Bizet’s Carmen. —Jennifer Stahl
KATHERINE E. BROWN
The first executive director in New York City Ballet’s history is also the execu-
tive director of its home, the David H. Koch Theater. Which means Katherine E.
Brown oversees a 141-person staff and an annual budget of about $90 million.
Under her leadership, NYCB has never been more accessible. It consis-
tently puts out shareable videos and snapshots of the company’s work to an
online audience of more than a million, while partnerships with mainstream
brands like Puma bring its otherworldly artists down to Earth.
“It’s important we communicate
how the company is forward-thinking,
doing interesting things out there in
the world, not just cloistered away
at the theater,” says Brown. “I’d like
to think we’re removing some of the
obstacles people feel in accessing
this art form, without affecting in any
negative way the artistic vision of the
company.” —Zachary Whittenburg
Known as dance’s tech guru, Sydney
Skybetter has changed the way we
think about dance at least three
or four times. “It’s my job to consider how emerging technologies affect
dancerly aesthetics and culture, as well as work extensively with all manner
of bonkers tech to understand its movement,” says the lecturer and public
humanities fellow at Brown University. He also consults for media companies
on new ways of understanding how movement creates meaning, is the mastermind behind the Conference for Research on Choreographic Interfaces—
which gathers choreographers, anthropologists, technologists and musicians
to consider the future of humans in motion—and still choreographs intricate
dances of his own. —Nancy Wozny
The MOST INFLUENTIAL
PEOPLE IN DANCE TODAY