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What It's Like to Choreograph a Dance-Only Episode on HBO
Ever wondered what happens in those seedy chain motels attached to airports? In the new HBO anthology series Room 104 Room 104 , created by Mark and Jay Duplass, it's everything from the funny and eccentric to the creepy and absurd.
With no connecting story for its characters, each episode takes place in one motel room. Episode 6 titled "Voyeurs" which airs tonight depicts a housekeeper reconnecting with her younger self in a dialogue-free episode of solely dance.
Dendrie Taylor as Housekeeper and Sarah Hay as Girl, PC: Jordin Althaus/HBO
We caught up with Dayna Hanson, who wrote, directed and choreographed the episode, to get the inside scoop.
How did you get involved with Room 104?
In May 2016 I was invited by executive producer Xan Aranda to imagine a dance-driven episode. I pitched several concepts, each taking a different approach to the integration of dance in a story-based television episode, and they liked "Voyeurs."
What attracted you to this project?
It's not every day that you get to conceptualize something that has never been seen on TV before. The challenges of writing a linear story that uses dance as its expressive language were so appealing. Working with Sarah Hay and Dendrie Taylor was also hugely attractive—both are actors and human beings of terrific depth, talent and intelligence.
How much did you know about the other episodes before filming yours?
Not much! I had very little context other than the conceptual framework of the series. That mystery actually added to the excitement.
Sarah Hay as Girl, PC: Jordin Althaus/HBO
Did knowing this was for a TV series push your work in a different direction than if you had just been making this as a dance film?
Many of the short dance films I've directed in the past have taken a looser or more experimental approach to narrative—or they simply haven't been narrative. In this case, I knew that the script wouldn't have been greenlit if it didn't hold up narratively. During the writing process, there was great discussion about how important it was that this episode function as a story first, then as a dance. That wasn't imposed on me—I agreed. I wanted to create an experience in which the characters on the screen draw the viewer in, and we get wrapped up in them and in their story.
What was the most challenging part?
Time was limited: I had under 25 hours of rehearsal with my actors, total. That included around 10 hours on the stage, which was precious. We added a rehearsal in a motel down the street in Glendale, but even that was of limited value because the room layout and dimensions were different. The stage the only place where we had access to the actual props, beds, spacing and geometry of the room. Limited rehearsals meant that shooting required even more from Sarah and Dendrie, who delivered on a heroic level.
Dendrie Taylor and Sarah Hay with Dayna Hanson on set, PC: Jordin Althaus/HBO
Do you have any favorite moments in the episode?
There are a few moments when the characters connect in a way that really gets me. The currency of the story is visual, not text-based; in some ways it's comparable to silent film. But rather than using the histrionics of silent film we went for subtlety, specificity and authenticity in the actors' performances. I've always found emotional truth in physical detail—this was an amazing opportunity to mine that territory.
As well as being an extraordinary actor, Sarah Hay is an amazing dancer with a professional ballet career under her belt already (a second soloist with the Semperoper Ballet). She's also incredibly open, aesthetically and stylistically. Working with her was a dream, and the solo I set on her is one of my favorite moments of the episode.
What does it mean to you to help put dance on HBO?Such a thrill! We see dance in commercials, music videos, competition dance shows. Occasionally characters in a series will break into a dance moment, but that's a rare; even more rare is a dance-centered series like Flesh and Bone, in which Sarah starred. This is a little different, partly because Room 104 is a little different. The show itself, in taking a fresh look at the old anthology format, is rewriting the terms. This episode upends the show's terms by telling a story in another expressive language. I hope it serves to score one for Team Dance. It would be incredible if this episode could help open doors to new ways of imagining dance on television.
I love being transgender. It's an important part of the story of why I choreograph. Although I loved dance from a very young age, I grew up never seeing a single person like me in dance. So how could I imagine a future for myself there?
The enormous barriers I had to overcome weren't internal: I didn't struggle with feelings of dysphoria, and I wasn't locked down by shame.
The dance community is heartbroken to learn that 14-year-olds Jaime Guttenberg and Cara Loughran were among the 17 people killed during the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
Guttenberg was a talented competition dancer at Dance Theatre in Coconut Creek, FL, according to a report from Sun Sentinel. Dance Theatre owner Michelle McGrath Gerlick shared the below message on her Facebook page, encouraging dancers across the country to wear orange ribbons this weekend in honor of Guttenberg, whose favorite color was orange.
In today's dance world, it seems to go without saying: The more varied the training, the better. But is that always the case? Rhonda Malkin, a New York City–based dance coach who performed with the Radio City Rockettes, thinks trendy contemporary techniques that emphasize improvisation and organic movement quality are detrimental to the precision and strength needed to be a Rockette, in a traditional Broadway show or on a professional dance team. Her view is controversial: "If you really want to work, making $40,000 in three months for the Rockettes or $25,000 in one day filming a commercial, you need ballet, Broadway jazz, tap, hip hop—not contemporary," she says.
On the flip side, techniques that allow dancers more freedom may help them connect more deeply with their body and artistry, while providing release for overused muscles. We broke down the argument for both sides:
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
A statement released yesterday by New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet reported that an independent investigation was unable to corroborate allegations of harassment and abuse against former ballet master in chief Peter Martins, according to The New York Times. This marks the end of a two-month inquiry jointly launched by the two organizations in December following an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment and violence.
The statement also included new policies for both the company and school to create safer, more respectful environments for the dancers, including hiring an independent vendor to handle employee complaints anonymously. These changes are being made despite the independent investigation, handled by outside counsel Barbara Hoey, purportedly finding no evidence of abuse.
Not all ballet dancers cling to their youth. At 26, Lauren Lovette, the New York City Ballet principal, has surpassed the quarter-century mark. And she's relieved.
"I've never felt young," she says. "I can't wait until I'm 30. Every woman I've ever talked to says that at 30 you just don't care. You're free. Maybe I'll start early?"
When Beatlemania swept through the U.S. in the 1960s, Mark Morris was one of millions of young Americans who fell head over heels for the revolutionary group. "I was not immune," the choreographer says. "My sisters were mad about The Beatles and so was I. At age 12 I had a crush on Paul, of course."
Flash forward 50 years and he is still rocking to the British band, but this time with a new Beatles-inspired dance work his company is touring across North America, starting this month with scheduled stops in Seattle, Toronto, Portland, Oregon, and another 25 cities before the end of 2019.
You could call it island-hopping, but it's not exactly a vacation. After choreographing last season's Come From Away, and winning a Tony nomination, Kelly Devine zipped from frosty Newfoundland to the Caribbean beach resort that is the setting for Escape to Margaritaville.
In the fall, she was shuttling between them, before they start this month: flying to Toronto to prepare a new Canadian production of Come From Away, then jetting back to Chicago for the final stop of Margaritaville's four-city pre-Broadway tryout.
"These two shows could not be more different from each other," Devine says with a dash of understatement. Come From Away is about the small Newfoundland town where airliners grounded by the 9/11 attacks dumped thousands of unexpected visitors; Escape to Margaritaville, at the Marquis Theatre, is a comic island romance concocted from the beachcomber songbook of Jimmy Buffett.
How does someone go from being a New York City Ballet corps member to training Hollywood A-listers like Natalie Portman, Rooney Mara and Jennifer Lawrence? By getting injured, says Kurt Froman.
When an ankle sprain left him sidelined a few years back, Froman was "sitting at home, depressed" when he sent his friend Benjamin Millepied an email asking what he was up to. It turned out that Millepied had just been hired to choreograph some scenes for a movie, but had to be in Paris during pre-production. "He needed someone to teach two actors choreography and get them in shape," says Froman. With nothing else on his plate, he said yes, and started prepping Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis for Black Swan.