Tag: The New York Times

Craig Hall’s Dance From Maywood To The New York City Ballet

Hall and Whelan.jpg

Craig Hall dances with ballerina Wendy Whelan during a performance in 2014. 

Craig HallWednesday, May 25, 2016 || By Michael Romain 

Craig Hall, 36, is counting the days until he executes his final tour en l’air as a soloist with the venerable New York City Ballet (NYCB). He’ll be ending his nearly 20-year career with the company in July, according to a glowing May 23 New York Times review by dance critic Alastair Macaulay.

Last Sunday, Hall saved his last dance at New York City’s Lincoln Center for the ballerina Tiler Peck, just one of the many world-class talents with whom he’s partnered, and, in the words of Macaulay, shared “the spirit,” over the years.

That Hall is leaving a successful career as a soloist and partner in one of the world’s foremost dance companies is newsworthy; but just as newsworthy is where he began — right here in Maywood.

If, on May 22, Hall had his last dance onstage at Lincoln Center with Peck, he may have had his first with Lois Baumann, his instructor at the Maywood Fine Arts dance program Stairway of the Stars. He was three years old when he started, said his proud mother Dorothy.

“The whole family was in Maywood Fine Arts,” said Dorothy. “That was our activity, but he just took it to higher heights.”

Did she know then that her son would become what he is now?

“Yes, we did,” she said, without hesitation. “He never complained about going. He was always just there. He’d be in four or five skits. Most of the kids would be in one or two of them.”

At a point, however, her son’s talents nearly overwhelmed her family’s finances. Help from the Baumanns kept young Hall pirouetting toward the bright lights.

“Lois would say, ‘He needs a costume for this and for that.’ I had five kids! But she always worked with us and always kept us going.”

Hall maximized the learning he got at Stairway, moving up to train at the Chicago Academy of Arts, where he learned tap and jazz dance and was forced to navigate through a world he told one interviewer was inherently intimidating to a newcomer.

“[T]here was a major intimidation factor going on there,” Hall told Dance Magazine in 2011, adding that he was in a class of 35 guys, all of whom had formidable technique.

From CAA, Hall climbed his way to the Ruth Page Dance Foundation and eventually the School of American Ballet — the NYCB’s official breeding ground for would-be star talent, according to a biography of Hall by the Indianapolis City Ballet.

In 1999, Hall became an apprentice with the world famous dance company before joining as a corps de ballet a year later. In 2007, he was promoted to soloist.

In his Dance Magazine interview, Hall explained that he doesn’t consider himself a classical dancer; rather, “I do more of the roles where you really give your heart or something else — a mysterious side, a sexual side, some kind of intensity. I like looking into a dancer’s eyes and pulling something out of them that’s also pulling something out of me.”

Craig hall bw

Hall became the first African American dancer at NYCB to perform as Apollo during the company’s prestigious season-ending program “Dancer’s Choice.”

When he leaves as a soloist with NYCB in July, Hall will start a new life as a “ballet master supervising the repertory of the choreographer Justin Peck,” according to Macaulay. He’ll also accept some dance engagements elsewhere.

Perhaps the Maywood native will have more time for a few other passions, namely his stunning street photography (see photo right or follow his instagram lsweaters).

And tennis.

“I love tennis,” Hall told Dance Magazine. “If I weren’t a ballet dancer, I would have gone after pro tennis.” VFP

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The New York Times Catches Up With Maywood Native, Former Pirate John Prine


John Prine, a famous Maywood native, inside his Nashville home. | Kyle Dean Reinford/New York Times

Wednesday, April 6, 2016 || By Michael Romain 

The influential singer-songwriter John Prine has penned songs for music royalty like Johnny Cash and Pink Floyd. Bob Dylan has compared his work to the French novelist Marcel Proust. And he recently won a prestigious award that’s also been given to Leonard Cohen and Randy Newman.

But before he was all that, he was a boy from Maywood, where he attended Proviso East High School. Lately, an April 6 article in the New York Times informs us, Prine has been battling with his health.

In 2013, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Six months and a major surgery later, he was back on the road, “singing his distinctive American songbook: ‘Angel From Montgomery,’ ‘Hello in There,’ ‘Lake Marie,’ ‘Souvenirs‘ and so many more.”

“His concerts often have a tent-revival vibe, with people shouting his name and singing along to stories about endangered places and marginalized people, forgotten movie stars and newfound love,” writes Dan Barry.

The article also mentions Maywood by name, describing the village as a “blue-collar Chicago suburb.” It would seem, then, that Maywood at least plays some role in shaping one of the most influential songwriters in American musical history, considering how strongly the blue-collar Midwestern ethos figures in Prine’s body of work.

“He grew up beside a four-lane highway in the blue-collar Chicago suburb of Maywood, a son of Bill and Verna, a tool-and-die maker and a homemaker, both from Muhlenberg County in western Kentucky,” Barry notes.

“He listened to Hank Williams, learned guitar from an older brother and was glad to land a civil-service job soon after high school: mailman. He composed lyrics as he delivered the mail — with little interruption to his train of thought. After working the same route for more than three years, for example, he delivered a package to a longtime customer who asked: “When’s the regular guy coming back?”

To read the full Times article, click here. VFP

Could the Next Uber Come Out of Proviso Township?

Share a Spot(Left to right) James Nortier, Marcel Krawcyzk and Devin Bates. Photo by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press.

Friday, April 3, 2015 || By Michael Romain 

Three local entrepreneurs, embodiments of the ‘sharing economy,’ have created an app that they say will make finding parking in the western suburbs an Uber-like breeze

It’s 2008 in Paris, France and Travis Kalanick is trying to catch a cab. The experience is an ordeal when it should only be as simple as a few touch-screen transactions. More than half-a-decade later and there’s a mobile app for Kalanick’s problem called Uber, which Kalanick and his friend Garrett Camp created after the Paris ordeal. Uber is now reportedly worth more than $41 billion and a common curbside presence as ubiquitous in America’s major urban centers as downtown taxies are yellow.

The business model – regular people using their vehicles to ferry passengers who otherwise may be forced to endure the lengthy wait times of a conventional cab service – is premised on a much larger 21st Century phenomenon that economists and sociologists alternately refer to as “the sharing economy, the peer economy, the collaborative economy [or] the gig economy,” according to a 2014 New York Times report on the social trend.

Basically, entrepreneurs are finding ways to monetize services and functions that used to be taken for granted. For instance, the application TaskRabbit connects people in a particular area who couldn’t hammer a nail if the tool was automated with people who can get the job done by providing a digital place where consumer and producer can meet up and exchange services at a price – say $15 an hour.

What used to be a chore people did because it needed to be done becomes something with concrete monetary value and a pool of workers willing to do it. The same concept applies to an aha moment that happened much closer to home.

“The idea came about when a buddy of ours in Riverside had moved into an apartment and couldn’t park his car overnight,” said Marcel Krawczyk, 31, who created an online parking spot application along with his two friends and roommates after going through an experience similar to Kalanick’s Paris ordeal.

“The apartment he rented from didn’t have a parking spot, so we started knocking on doors and passing our flyers to help him find a parking spot. We were like, ‘Hey, we can turn this into a model online to help people do the same thing.”

That initial revelation turned into shareaspot.com, which Krawczyzk started with James Nortier, 24, and Devin Bates, 27—all roommates who rent in Forest Park. Both their project and their lives are case studies in an economy that’s trending towards work that is based less on cubicles, pensions, 9 to 5 schedules and promotions and more on Starbucks, flextime and ownership.

Share a Spot is completely self-financed from the three friends’ savings. Bates, who, along with Nortier has an extensive background in sales, owns his own fundraising company. Krawczyk, who has an undergraduate degree in computer science and entrepreneurship, owns a marketing company. They all work by satellite in coffee shops in and around Forest Park.

“It’s basically a peer-to-peer parking service so people can rent their parking spaces out to people who need parking,” Bates said.

The application, the result of more than six months of product development and group deliberations, is similar to another sharing economy success story – Airbnb, which makes “it easy for people to rent a spare bedroom or an apartment on a short-term basis [thus generating] income for residents while giving visitors a cheap place to stay,” according to the Times.

The three entrepreneurs believe that their service has the potential to grow to a similar scale as companies such as Airbnb, Sidecar, Uber, Lyft and TaskRabbit once people understand its benefits and experience the ease of using the application. For one, they say, the demand is there.

“Everyone loves the idea,” said Bates. “Everyone sees a need for it. We live in the same apartment building. It’s 23 units and the first thing people say is, ‘What do you guys do for parking?’”

But unlike those other sharing economy phenoms, ShareAspot isn’t located in a hotbed of resources and information like the Loop or Silicon Valley or New York City. And the service it’s trying to monetize – cheap, affordable, accessible parking – isn’t the preciously rare commodity that it is in downtown Chicago. Krawczyk, however, says that’s all to the good — at least for now.

“We find that in Forest Park, Oak Park and areas close to the train, people face the same issues,” said Krawczyk, adding that the decision to target inner-ring suburbs such as Oak Park and Forest Park was based both on business and lifestyle circumstances.

“We live here and know that there’s an immediate need for this,” Krawczyk said. “But we definitely want to go to the city as quickly as possible. In the meantime, though, we want to make sure we have the model down and its working here first.”

“When people go to the website and search for parking, the application pulls up the address for where the spot is,” Bates said, describing the user experience on the site. “People own the spots either in their garages or in their homes. Right now, we have two spots behind a restaurant. We know the owner. So, from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m., he was more than happy to rent out his spot for money. The other two spots we acquired were from various advertising efforts.”

So what makes Share a Spot so much different from someone putting a parking space up for sale, and another person buying the spot, on, say, Craigslist?

“It’s much more efficient,” said Krawczyk. “If you wanted to rent a space from the person, you’d have to find them, post in classifieds or Craigslist. Craigslist is great, it’s just not targeted toward any specific industry.”

Krawczyk added that, unlike Craigslist, ShareASpot handles the payment exchanges between leaser and lessee. The leaser of a space gets to set the rates he wants to charge for the spot and makes all of the asking price, onto which Share a Spot tacks its fees.

“We try to coach the leaser and give them a best estimate,” said Krawczyk. “We’ve had some people who asked for a very high value that was way out of market value, so we notified them directly and let them know what the market rate is.”

Krawczyk said that right now, their startup is under pressure to grow to scale before another group of friends, or some large tech behemoth, gets wind of the idea and sweeps it from under their feet.

“The prepaying of your parking garage spot has been around for about a year now, but the peer-to-peer started popping up as we began developing this site,” he said. “We’re looking at every place around the city where parking is a problem and once we have the process down and have the supply, and we know the reaction to our product, what’s when we want to expand to Chicago.” VFP


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