Dancers & Companies

The Stars and Stories Hitting Broadway Stages This Year

The Spongebob Musical, PC Joan Marcus

The closing months of the 2016–17 season brought a glut of extraordinary music and dance to Broadway's stages, and the superabundance has left 2017–18 looking a bit anemic.


Partly it's real estate—there are only so many Broadway theaters; in June, nearly three dozen were occupied. The only musical scheduled to open this summer was Prince of Broadway. A retrospective look at the life and legacy of one of the American musical's most influential luminaries, producer/director Harold Prince, it is co-directed by Prince and Susan Stroman, and features numbers from his iconic shows—they include West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof and Sweeney Todd.

The Band's Visit, PC Ahron R. Foster

The rest of this new season may not provide musicals with that kind of success and staying power, but the hopefuls are listed here in order of appearance. The usual warnings apply—things could change between press time and opening night—names, dates and entire shows can disappear before the first rehearsal. And it's worth noting that the last three Tony Awards for Best Musical went to shows that began off-Broadway.

The Band's Visit

Based on a 2007 movie about a group of Egyptian musicians who take the wrong bus and land in a remote desert backwater instead of the Israeli city where they were supposed to perform, this was an off-Broadway hit last season at the Atlantic Theater Company. It arrives on Broadway with laurels from the New York Drama Critics' Circle, who named it best musical, and again stars Tony Shalhoub as the bandleader. David Yazbek is the composer, Itamar Moses wrote the book, David Cromer directs and Patrick McCollum does the choreography. Starts Oct. 7 at the Ethel Barrymore.

The Band's Visit, PC Ahron R. Foster

M. Butterfly

The 1988 Tony winner for best play, David Henry Hwang's drama about a French diplomat who falls for a Chinese opera star is not, strictly speaking, a musical. But this revival starring Clive Owen earns a place here by dint of its director, the extraordinary Julie Taymor, who won a Tony for The Lion King; its composer, Elliot Goldenthal, who wrote the score for American Ballet Theatre's Othello; and its choreographer, China-trained, Tulsa-based Ma Cong, who was one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch" in 2006. Starts Oct. 7.

SpongeBob SquarePants

The Spongebob Musical, PC Joan Marcus

The eponymous hero and the other underwater creatures of Bikini Bottom swim from Nickelodeon's animated television series to the Broadway stage in this pop-music anthology co-conceived and directed by Tina Landau. Steven Tyler, John Legend, Cyndi Lauper and David Bowie are just a few of the stars contributing to the score and giving choreographer Christopher Gattelli a multitude of styles to play with. Starts Nov. 6 at the Palace.

The Spongebob Musical, PC Joan Marcus

Once on This Island

When a show begins with a song called "We Dance," you know the choreography will be important. For this revival of the 1990 Caribbean-flavored musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, the assignment falls to Camille A. Brown, whose Black Girl: Linguistic Play was nominated for a 2016 Bessie Award. Michael Arden, who did the 2015 sign-language revival of Spring Awakening, is the director. Starts Nov. 9 at Circle in the Square.

Escape to Margaritaville

Inspired by Jimmy Buffett's 1977 hit song about a beach bum "wasting away again in Margaritaville," the show relocates the Come From Away team—Tony-winning director Christopher Ashley and Tony-nominated choreographer Kelly Devine—to a different kind of island. This one's a tropical resort, and Buffett's patented flip-flop songs are both old and new. Starts Feb. 16 at the Marquis.

Escape to Margaritaville, PC Matthew Murphy

Carousel

Christopher Wheeldon created a beautiful evocation of this classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical when he was resident choreographer at New York City Ballet. Now his successor in that job, Justin Peck, is choreographing the whole clambake, in which raffish barker Billy Bigelow falls fatally in love with prim New Englander Julie Jordan. Jigger, the show's villain, is not usually a dance role, but that's sure to change with NYCB principal Amar Ramasar in it. His colleague in the company, Brittany Pollack, will dance the famous dream ballet. Tony-winning Jack O'Brien, who did Hairspray and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is the director. Starts Feb. 27.

My Fair Lady

They could have danced all night when this glorious musical, by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, arrived on Broadway in 1956. It hasn't been back since 1993, and Lincoln Center Theater is correcting that oversight with a new production directed by Bartlett Sher. The choreographer will be Sher's partner on South Pacific and The King and I, Christopher Gattelli. Starts March 15 at the Vivian Beaumont.

Escape to Margaritaville, PC Matthew Murphy

Frozen

Based on the Oscar-winning Disney animation about princesses Elsa and Anna of Arrendelle, the show includes new songs by the film's composers, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. Anderson-Lopez created the a cappella score and the concept for last season's In Transit, and Lopez won Tonys for The Book of Mormon and Avenue Q. They are joined by Tony winners Michael Grandage and Rob Ashford, doing the direction and choreography. Starts in spring.

Tero Saarinen's Morphed. Photo by Darya Popova, Courtesy Helene Davis Public Relations

Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.


PC Break the Floor

Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?

If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.

"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."

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Breaking Stereotypes
Ash in Rochester, NY. PC Thaler Photography by Arleen and Daryl Thaler for the Swan Dreams Project

Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.

"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.

After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.

Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org

In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."

She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."

Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.

Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.

Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."

If you're interested in supporting the project, check out the online shop, or donate directly at swandreamsproject.org.

Training
Sylvie Guillem, via 1843magazine.com

Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.

But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.

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Roberto Bolle and Kenall Jenner on set. Photo via tods.com

I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."

It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.

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Anne Arundel Community College students, PC Kenneth Harriford

Everyone knows that community college is an affordable option if a four-year school isn't in the cards. But it can also be a solid foundation for a career in the dance field. Whether students want an associate in arts degree as a precursor to obtaining a bachelor's, or to go straight into the performing world, the right two-year dance program can be a uniquely supportive place to train. Don't let negative stereotypes prevent you from attending a program that could be right for you:

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Dancers & Companies
Joan Marcus

Conscientious theatergoers may be familiar with The School for Scandal, The School for Wives and School of Rock. But how many are also aware of the school of Fosse?

The 1999 musical, a posthumous exploration of the choreographic career of Bob Fosse, ran for 1,093 performances, winning four Tonys and 10 nominations; employing 32 dancers; and, completely unintentionally, nurturing a generation of Broadway choreographers. You may have heard of them: Andy Blankenbuehler and Sergio Trujillo danced in the original cast, Josh Rhodes was a swing, and Christopher Gattelli replaced Trujillo when he landed choreography jobs in Massachusetts and Canada. Blankenbuehler remembers that when Trujillo left, "It was as if he was graduating."

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Dancers & Companies
From left, Ethel Merman, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Debbie Allen. All Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

January 16 might as well be a Broadway holiday. Three gigantic names were born on this day, in 1908, 1950 and 1980, and they represent three distinct eras of powerhouse musicals. Without them, there'd be no belting Reno Sweeney, no "Fame"-ous Lydia Grant and no rapping Alexander Hamilton. Happy birthday to these indelible superstars.

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News
When it comes to BodyVox, it's best to expect the unexpected. Photo by Lois Greenfield, Courtesy BodyVox

In the midst of its 20th-anniversary season, BodyVox is taking a moment to look back. The Portland, Oregon–based company presents Urban Meadow, an amalgamation of some of its most popular works, at Philadelphia's Prince Theater, Jan. 18–21. Expect whimsy, and the unexpected. bodyvox.com.

Advice for Dancers
A dance career can send you on a roller coaster of emotions, but evaluating reality can help give you perspective. Thinkstock.

I never believe that I deserve to be happy. This reaction kicked in big time since I got a steady job. My emotions are a roller coaster: joy at the chance to perform, terror that the people in charge don't like me and resentment at not getting solo roles. I'm driving myself crazy.

—Terry, Philadelphia, PA

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