On the Rise

During a sticky afternoon last summer, fledgling choreographer Grady McLeod Bowman took a break from a New York International Fringe Festival rehearsal to run through the steps he’d just learned as a dancer in the Broadway musical Billy Elliot. Practicing in the narrow hallway, his wide shoulders set firmly above his sturdy 5' 4" frame, his face remained calm. He glided into a soft-shoe sequence with swift footwork reminiscent of his idol Gene Kelly, only to switch to slamming taps filled with stomps and jumps. Back in the studio, he patiently began teaching an eight-count of hip hop isolations to two dancers in the festival’s experimental musical The Johnny.

At first glance, it might have seemed that three different performers tricked the eye, but it was only one exceptionally versatile one. At 26, Bowman has performed in a striking range of projects, from Broadway’s Pirate Queen, South Pacific and Billy Elliot, to Pilobolus commercials and concerts. The breadth reflects Bowman’s credentials as a true triple threat: a dancer, singer, and actor who can excel in each. Lately, he’s been hired as an audition assistant, assistant dance captain, and fight captain—signs of growing success in the musical-theater world.

Versatility has been Bowman’s secret weapon. “I can tap, do ballet, and jump off walls,” he says. “In the Billy Elliot audition we had to be gritty and pretty much run an obstacle course. For South Pacific, the movement was very loose. The more you know how to do, the more marketable you are.”

And while “marketable” wasn’t always in his lexicon, Bowman has had to be realistic about the business of show business. “I’m a very specific type: short, stocky, and bald,” he says. “You’ll never see me audition for The Producers or Grease. But while I’m not right for many parts, I’m extremely right for others.”

Bowman didn’t start out this focused. At first, he was just a boy looking to move. He got the urge to tap when he was 10, after he started to act in local productions. He began studying with Eddie George, a hoofer-turned-boxer who worked as a mechanic at a local garage and gave private tap lessons using scratchy jazz records.

George taught Bowman not just dance but history. “Eddie would bring in books and show me tons of video,” says Bowman. “The first half of the lesson was done sitting in chairs, tapping our feet to the beat and catching up.”

For five years Bowman took lessons with George and participated in competitions using his tap skills. When Bowman turned 15, George urged him to study dance more seriously. At fellow competition-kid Jared Grimes’ suggestion, Bowman joined Gene Medler and the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble in Chapel Hill. But it wasn’t until a chance audition for a local Nutcracker that Bowman decided it was time to master other techniques.

“I hadn’t been trained at all, but they needed guys who were strong enough to lift girls,” explains Bowman. “There were a couple of male ballet dancers who could leap and turn. I wanted to do that too.” The more dance Bowman saw, the more he wanted to learn. When a local competition dancer needed a partner, Bowman decided to take ballet and jazz lessons at the Linda Kinlaw School of Dance in Fayetteville. Later, at the urging of another teacher, Kirstie Tice, Bowman applied—and was accepted—to the North Carolina School of the Arts.

“While I don’t remember a point where I thought ‘This is what I will do,’ I never had an itch to do anything else—at all,” says Bowman.

At NCSA, Bowman took classes in Limón, Cunningham, and release techniques. But in 2003, after attending a Broadway Theatre Project summer intensive in Tampa, Florida, Bowman took a detour. During the summer program, which had teachers like Ben Vereen, Bowman was offered his first professional job dancing in the tour of Fosse.

After finishing the tour, Bowman returned to school, graduated in 2005, and moved to New York. Within just two months, he landed three regional productions and his first Broadway gig—The Pirate Queen. The call took a while to come, however: Bowman had auditioned for the musical almost six months before.

Though Pirate Queen’s run was short, from then on the jobs kept coming. When Bowman became assistant dance captain for South Pacific, he knew he had gained a solid foothold.

“As a dancer, Grady gets the whole picture: He can combine style and telling the story,” says Wendi Bergamini, South Pacific’s dance captain. “It’s unusual to find a dancer whose ability is equally high in each area, but Grady’s skill level is extraordinary.”

With some stage credentials under his belt, Bowman is now focusing on another dream: choreographing full-time. After making the dances for a friend’s musical when he was 16, Bowman says he fell in love with creating movement, as well as performing it. A long run in Billy Elliot could yield the time and regular income Bowman has been longing for to develop his choreography skills. “I love the whole creative process: painting a picture onstage, looking at the work, dissecting it, and changing it,” he says. His work on the Fringe Festival show, The Johnny, was a small but significant step in that direction. “My big dream in the sky is to have a steady gig now so that eventually I can just choreograph.”

Lauren Kay is assistant editor at Dance Spirit.

Show Comments ()
Irina Dvorovenko's latest role: Playing Elizaveta Grushinskaya in Grand Hotel at New York City Center. Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy New York City Center.

Whether playing a saucy soubrette or an imperious swan, Irina Dvorovenko was always a formidable presence on the American Ballet Theatre stage. Since her 2013 retirement at 39, after 16 seasons, she's been bringing that intensity to an acting career in roles ranging from, well, Russian ballerinas to the Soviet-era newcomer she plays in the FX spy series "The Americans."

We caught up with her after tech rehearsal for the Encores! presentation of the musical Grand Hotel, directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes and running March 21–25 at New York City Center. It's another tempestuous ballerina role for Dvorovenko—Elizaveta Grushinskaya, on her seventh farewell tour, resentfully checks into the Berlin hostelry of the title with her entourage, only to fall for a handsome young baron and sing "Bonjour, Amour."

Keep reading... Show less
Breaking Stereotypes
Photos via Instagram

When Andrew Montgomery first saw the Las Vegas hit Le Rêve - The Dream 10 years ago, he knew he had to be a part of the show one day. Eight years later, he auditioned, and made it to the last round of cuts. On his way home, still waiting to hear whether he'd been cast, he was in a motorcycle accident that ended up costing him half his leg.

But Montgomery's story doesn't end the way you might think. Today, he's a cast member of Le Rêve, where he does acrobatics and aerial work, swims (yes, the show takes places in and around a large pool) and dances, all with his prosthetic leg.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Via Instagram

When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.

"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."

Keep reading... Show less
Rant & Rave
Is this the turning point when we'll finally see an end to dancer mistreatment? Photo by Gez Xavier Mansfield/Unsplash

Last week in a piece I wrote about the drama at English National Ballet, I pointed out that many of the accusations against artistic director Tamara Rojo—screaming at dancers, giving them the silent treatment, taking away roles without explanation—were, unfortunately, pretty standard practice in the ballet world:

If it's a conversation we're going to have, we can't only point the finger at ENB.

The line provoked a pretty strong response. Professional dancers, students and administrators reached out to me, making it clear that it's a conversation they want to have. Several shared their personal stories of experiencing abusive behavior.

Christopher Hampson, artistic director of the Scottish Ballet, wrote his thoughts about the issue on his company's website on Monday:

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story
Jayme Thornton

Camille A. Brown is on an impressive streak: In October, the Ford Foundation named her an Art of Change fellow. In November, she won an AUDELCO ("Viv") Award for her choreography in the musical Bella: An American Tall Tale. On December 1, her Camille A. Brown & Dancers made its debut at the Kennedy Center, and two days later she was back in New York City to see her choreography in the opening of Broadway's Once on This Island. Weeks later, it was announced that she was choreographing NBC's live television musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, to air on April 1.

An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.

"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."

Keep reading... Show less
Breaking Stereotypes
Ballez class staples include no mirrors and barres arranged in a circle. Photo by Elyssa Goodman, Courtesy Pyle

A flock of polyamorous princes, a chorus of queer dying swans, a dominatrix witch: These are a few of the characters that populate the works of Katy Pyle, who, with her Brooklyn-based company Ballez, has been uprooting ballet's gender conventions since 2011.

Historically, ballet has not allowed for the expression of lesbian, transgender or gender-nonconforming identities. With Ballez, Pyle is reinventing the classical canon on more inclusive terms. Her work stems from a deep love of ballet and, at the same time, a frustration with its limits on acceptable body types and on the stories it traditionally tells.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Take your self-massage to the next level. Photo of TheraGun G2PRO via Amazon

The latest fitness fad has us literally buzzing. Vibrating tools—and exercise classes—promise added benefits to your typical workout and recovery routine, and they're only growing more popular.

Warning: These good vibrations don't come cheap.

Keep reading... Show less
Advice for Dancers
Losing a dance company can be like losing part of your family. Photo by Thinkstock.

My life is in complete chaos since my dance company disbanded. I have a day job, so money isn't the issue. It's the loss of my world that stings the most. What can I do?

—Lost Career, Washington, DC

Keep reading... Show less
In The Studio
Dance Theatre of Harlem performing Dougla. Photo by Matha Swope, courtesy DTH.

Dance Theatre of Harlem is busy preparing for the company's Vision Gala on April 4. The works on the program, which takes place on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., reflect on the legacy of Dr. King and his impact on company founder Arthur Mitchell. Among them is the much-anticipated revival of legendary choreographer Geoffrey Holder's Dougla, which will include live music and dancers from Collage Dance Collective.

We stepped into the studio with Holder's wife Carmen de Lavallade and son Leo Holder to hear what it feels like to keep Holder's legacy alive and what de Lavallade thinks of the recent rise in kids standing up against the government—as she did not too long ago.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance As Activism
Nathalia Arja as the Novice in Jerome Robbins' The Cage. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy Miami City Ballet

The encounter with man-eating female creatures in Jerome Robbins' The Cage never fails to shock audiences. As this tribe of insects initiates the newly-born Novice into their community and prepares her for the attack of the male Intruders, the ballet draws us into a world of survival and instinct.

This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Jerome Robbins' birth, and a number of Robbins programs are celebrating his timeless repertoire. But it especially feels like a prime moment to experience The Cage again. Several companies are performing it: San Francisco Ballet begins performances on March 20, followed by the English National Ballet in April and New York City Ballet in May.

Why it matters: In this time of female empowerment—as women are supporting one another in vocalizing injustices, demanding fair treatment and pay, and advocating for future generations—The Cage's nest of dominant women have new significance.

Keep reading... Show less


Viral Videos



Get Dance Magazine in your inbox