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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Dance in Pop Culture
Hugh Jackman (center) busts more than a few moves in The Greatest Showman. Photo by Niko Tavernise, Courtesy 20th Century Fox.

A schoolgirl's ballet recital, prancing circus horses, a Fred-and-Ginger ballroom homage, an aerial duet, even sheets flapping on laundry lines—in the new movie musical The Greatest Showman, Ashley Wallen choreographs them all, in service to a big, fanciful story based on the ups and downs of legendary 19th-century impresario P.T. Barnum. With Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron and Zendaya starring and dancing, songs by the Oscar- and Tony-winning composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and a huge ensemble that includes "18 amazing dancers," conjoined twins, a man with three legs, and Barnum's other assorted sideshow attractions, Wallen calls it "a dream come true."

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News
Robert Fairchild in Justin Peck's In Creases. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB

At 30, he's too young to be having a midlife crisis. But between June and October, former New York City Ballet principal Robert Fairchild bid farewell to the home he'd made with Tiler Peck since their 2014 marriage and to their joint artistic home as well, embarking on his next chapter as a solo act. The week before his final performances at NYCB, he was contemplating his next moves: another outing with Christopher Wheeldon in the November New York City Center production of Brigadoon; and an off-Broadway debut, choreographing on himself and starring in an Ensemble for the Romantic Century production, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The show, which opens this month at the Pershing Square Signature Center, is a typical Ensemble amalgam—excerpts from the novel and Shelley's other writings merged with music and art.

So what did you know about Frankenstein and Mary Shelley?

I've seen Young Frankenstein—the movie and Susan Stroman's show. But I don't think that's anything to do with what we are trying to accomplish. The theme is that everybody has bits of Frankenstein in them—the fear that if people saw all of you, they wouldn't accept certain aspects. The monster has a really beautiful heart and just wants to be accepted and loved, but his outward appearance is what people see. It's a really touching, thought-provoking story. I'm excited to show how his experiences being rejected make him bitter, so the inside of him gets as ugly as the outside, through choreography.

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Choreography in Focus
Photo by Joan Marcus

Christopher Gattelli describes his latest cast as "unicorns," because he can't believe they exist. "It blows my mind, what they can do," he says. "They can do everything." They have to. Their characters belong to no species generally known to dance on Broadway—a crab, a squirrel, a starfish, a snail and, you guessed it, a sponge.

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Dancers & Companies
Jin Ha and company of M. Butterfly. Photo by Matthew Murphy, Courtesy Polk & Co.

Every Broadway debut is the culmination of a journey. But for Ma Cong, who makes his this week as choreographer of the revival of David Henry Hwang's Tony-winning play M. Butterfly, the trip has had as many improbable twists as the plot of a Peking Opera.

It's the tale of a provincial boy whose dance talent takes him from Yunnan to study in China's capital city, where he catches the eye of a powerful leader. She nudges him out of classical Chinese dance and into an alien form called ballet, then sends him to a faraway country to compete with other outsiders. There, he's invited to dance in another place, Tulsa, and the young man leaves behind the world he knows to discover not only a new land, but who he really is. And, 18 years later, at 40, he's a U.S. citizen with a blooming choreography career, a husband, twin boys on the way and a Broadway show that partners him with director Julie Taymor, one of his idols.

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Dancers & Companies
Katrina Lenk and Tony Shalhoub in The Band's Visit. Photo by Ahron R. Foster

When Katrina Lenk says her feet never touched the ground in her Broadway debut, as a replacement in Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, she's not telling you how deliriously happy she was—though she was.

Lenk is being literal: Playing Arachne, the show's magical spider-woman, she was suspended in a gigantic web throughout. Her ability to fly and enjoy it—crucial to landing the role—was honed with a summer job "swimming" over the heads of the audience at Universal Studios. "You just never know where random experiences are gonna take you," she says.

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Dancers & Companies
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.

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Dancers & Companies
Niels Schneider and Anastasia Shevtsova in a still from Polina. Photo courtesy Oscilloscope Laboratories.

In the new ballet film Polina, opening Friday in New York, the camera keeps closing in on people intently watching dance: teachers appraising pupils; a mother focused on her child's recital; rapt spectators at a performance; dancers in the studio concentrating on a choreographer's moves.

It's no accident, say the movie's co-directors, famed French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj and his filmmaker wife, Valérie Müller, speaking in French during a joint phone conversation. Citing Marcel Duchamp's assertion that it is the observer who completes a work of art, Preljocaj contends, "A statue in a museum at night does not exist. It exists only when the first visitor arrives and enters into a relationship with it. We wanted to honor that gaze." Müller quickly suggests another reason: "There's a lot of looking in a dancer's life. I'm not a dancer, but I've filmed them. And I've always noticed that part of the job is looking at the other dancers—'Is she doing this better than I am?' "

The title character, an aspiring Moscow ballerina played for most of the movie by wide-eyed Vaganova Ballet Academy graduate Anastasia Shevtsova, isn't one of those competitive, sharp-elbowed types familiar in movies like Black Swan and The Turning Point. Polina has plenty of doubts and anxieties, but Müller, who wrote the script, notes that the filmmakers were consciously discarding clichés: "We wanted to show a present-day young woman who lives normally, going to clubs with friends who aren't dancers." Another point of pride is that Polina, which opens nationwide after its Los Angeles premiere September 1, uses no body doubles—the actors all do their own dancing, and lots of it.

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