I first got hooked on Broadway musicals as a preteen at Gypsy, with its tapping moppets, gyrating burlesque queens and Tulsa, the dancing heartthrob. I've been going ever since, but Dance Magazine has been at it even longer.
The 1926-27 Broadway season was just ending when DM began publication, and of its 200-plus shows, dozens were new musicals. One, a Ziegfeld revue called No Foolin', listed more than 80 performers. Such huge ensembles of dancers and singers were common, whether in revues, operettas or musical comedies.
And why not? The '20s were roaring, and Broadway was flush. But that wasn't the only difference between then and now. Dance in the theater was only tangentially related to a show's content. It was window dressing—however extravagant, it remained mere entertainment.
It's no secret that Broadway dancers need to be incredibly versatile. In addition to having singing and acting chops, they need to be well-versed in a wide range of dance styles.
Knowing all this is one thing. But seeing it in action is another. BroadwayBox.com's Dancing Through My Resume series asks Broadway dancers to give a visual demonstration of their career, performing segments from all the shows they've been in. The result is a fast-paced tour of some of the best dancing on Broadway, past and present. Their newest video features Paloma Garcia-Lee, who's currently dancing Joshua Bergasse's choreography in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:
Alvin Ailey's Revelations is the most widely-seen piece of modern dance ever. And it's about to reach even more people.
Kirven Douthit-Boyd in Robert Battle's Takademe. Photo by Paul Kolnik
As much as we love seeing live performance, the recent trend of showing dance on TV (and at the movies and through livestreams!) is widening accessibility in a big way. Just in the next few days, audiences will have the chance to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's full Lincoln Center at the Movies performance on PBS, and to go behind the scenes of the touring production of Christopher Wheeldon's An American in Paris.
Tonight, in addition to Ailey's joyous, beloved Revelations, PBS will show three other signature works: Wayne McGregor's jarring Chroma, Ronald K. Brown's fervent Grace and artistic director Robert Battle's virtuosic Takademe. It's a dynamic, well-rounded sampler of what this superhuman company can do. You'll also get to go behind the scenes, and hopefully meet some of our favorite dancers.
Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope in the Broadway production of An American in Paris. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
On Monday morning, switch gears and enter the world of Christopher Wheeldon's romantic An American in Paris, now touring throughout the US. Lifetime's "Broadway Balances America" series will talk to Wheeldon, who both directed and choreographed the award-winning musical, and the dancers who've taken over the lead roles for the tour. Former Miami City Ballet dancer Sara Esty is playing Lise, the role originated by Leanne Cope. Her identical twin, Leigh-Ann (also a former MCB dancer) is serving as her alternate. Garen Scribner, who previously danced with San Francisco Ballet and Nederlands Dans Theater, is stepping into Robert Fairchild's shoes to play Jerry. They'll be talking about everything from Wheeldon's creative process to staying in shape for eight shows a week to touring with your twin.
Check your local listings to find out when to tune in.
Who here loves Christopher Wheeldon? I probably don't even need to wait a second for everyone to raise their hands. But let me count just a few of the reasons why he's adored by ballet and Broadway fans alike:
- His choreographic and directorial prowess in the Tony-winning Broadway hit An American in Paris
- His phenomenal ballet chops on display across the pond as The Royal Ballet's artistic associate—imagine what it would be like to be a fly on the wall in the studios where he's created many of his pieces.
- How accessible his work is throughout the U.S. Top companies like New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and Boston Ballet are just a few troupes with his choreography in their repertoire.
- How he uses dancer as muse in minimalist works like the poignant After the Rain pas de deux (Wendy Whelan. Pure perfection.)
- How he weaves dance and narrative to create story ballets like his fantastical Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the dramatic Winter’s Tale
- And perhaps above all, his sweeping sense of musicality that draws you in and keeps you captivated
Photo by Matt Trent, Courtesy An American in Paris.
His contributions to dance are so dizzying that it makes us wonder, how does he do it all? What inspires him? How does he transform an initial idea into a polished production?
Lucky for us, today at 12 pm EST on reddit.com you'll have the chance to ask him those questions. Wheeldon will be featured on the popular website as part of it's "Ask Me Anything" series of threads, which has included celebrities as varied as R.L. Stine, Morgan Freeman and Ron Paul. Starting at noon, Wheeldon will be on hand to answer user-submitted questions, and we're dying to see his responses. The thread will be available for view afterwards, but you may want to start brainstorming your questions now. Ballet fans, you can now commence geeking out about peaking into the mind of one of dance's modern masters.
Lin-Manuel Miranda (as Hamilton) and the ensemble. Photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy Hamilton.
On Broadway, there’s a certain excitement that comes with old shows (or not so old shows) closing. A closed show means a newly empty theater, a space for a newer, fresher, hopefully dancier show. Yesterday, I was reminded of the Broadway circle of life with the official opening of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop musical Hamilton, and the announcement that On the Town will close at the end of Misty Copeland’s run as Ivy Smith on September 6th.
I love what Joshua Bergasse’s interpretation of Jerome Robbins’ classic dance musical has meant for Broadway this year. Along with Christopher Wheeldon’s An American in Paris, On the Town has granted dance immense storytelling power and brought dancers of impeccable technique and artistry to Broadway stages. Both shows have demonstrated that musicals benefit from incorporating dance early on in their processes, and that the very impetus for a musical can be dance. That being said, I’m not surprised by On the Town’s closing. Though I love that Bergasse tells the show’s story through dance, it isn’t a particularly interesting story.
Hamilton, which opened on Broadway last night after a sold-out run at The Public Theater, wasn’t conceived as a “dance musical,” and still probably won’t be categorized as such. Dance had an early presence in its conception, however – choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and writer Miranda are long-time collaborators, and Blankenbuehler is known for for his lengthy, tireless process. It shows. Dance feels essential to the world of Hamilton, and like Miranda’s quick, clever rhymes, it becomes a part of how these characters inhabit their story.
Blankenbuehler’s choreography pushes the genre of the dance musical. Pulling from hip-hop, contemporary and jazz, it is endlessly inventive and musical. The most important moments of the show are conveyed through movement. Dance expresses emotional climaxes and clarifies confusing political plot points. But it is also a constant, subtle presence – the heartbeat of the show.
Dance deserves to be used as a storytelling tool, but it deserves to be used to tell important, engaging and unique stories. I’m ready to say goodbye to On the Town, though of course with the warmest “merde” wishes to Georgina Pazcoguin and Misty Copeland who will finish out its run. I’m more than ready to welcome Hamilton to Broadway. And I’m hoping that whatever’s set to replace On the Town at the Lyric Theater will continue to push for more and better uses of dance.
From Miami City Ballet to Broadway—and the steam room
For most dancers, performing six nightly shows and two matinees a week would be the ultimate test of stamina. But for former Miami City Ballet soloist Sara Esty, she’s actually dancing less now that she’s an ensemble dancer in An American in Paris on Broadway. “I used to spend six to seven hours a day just rehearsing,” Esty says. “I never had to pay much attention to keeping myself in shape because I was dancing so much.” But while the hours may be fewer, the intensity remains. “The show is so physically demanding,” she says. “And it’s not just the dancing—the dancers do all the set moves ourselves, and the sets are heavy!”
Esty, 29, handles one of the show’s most demanding dance tracks and understudies the lead role. Though unlike preparing for a ballet performance, where “you’re jumping, jetéing and bouncing all over the stage,” Esty says she now just has to focus on having a strong core and progressively warming up throughout the day, leading up to the climax of the show: a 17-minute ballet.
On days without a matinee, Esty usually has a four-hour rehearsal before her evening performance, so she doesn’t always make it to a ballet class. Instead, she uses her two-hour break after rehearsal to rest and eat, then arrives at the theater 90 minutes before curtain to give herself a pre-show warm-up, which includes light yoga, stretching and a ballet barre (“it’s like breakfast—I can’t function without it,” she says).
In particular, Esty makes sure her ankles and calves are warm and loose in order to handle the show’s many shoe changes. “My physical therapist suggested a regimen to keep my Achilles tendons elongated so they don’t get tight going from pointe shoes to heels to tap shoes and back again,” she says. It includes pliés and tendus, and stretching her calves on a set of stairs, standing in parallel and letting her heels hang off the edge of a step.
Esty also tries to hit the gym about once a week. She warms up on the elliptical for 20 to 30 minutes, followed by planks, calf stretching and foam rolling. She started focusing on planks the summer before the show opened in Paris to build core strength, and has stuck with them. Her go-to move: holding a plank on her forearms or hands for one minute, then resting for one minute, and repeating three to four times. But Esty’s real motivation for hitting the gym? The steam room. “I’ll even go in between matinee and evening shows just to sit and loosen everything up,” she says. “Because by the end of the show, my body is in total shock.”
Breakfast: Hard-boiled eggs, fruit and toast with peanut butter. “And coffee, of course.”
Pre-Matinee Snack: A green juice from Jamba Juice
Lunch: A healthy sandwich, trail mix and dried fruit or peanut butter on a granola bar. “I love the trail mixes from Trader Joe’s—there’s one with almonds, cashews, cranberries and mini peanut-butter cups.”
Dinner: A salad with romaine, spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, chicken or steak, and feta or cheddar cheese, with crispy onions on top. “I make sure there’s an equal balance of dark-green vegetables and good-tasting stuff.” She’ll also have a cup of soup, usually chicken noodle, kale quinoa lentil or beef stew.
Post-Show: “I give my body something it will love, like a Clif Bar, almonds, flavored ice-cold coconut water, or even leafy green vegetables and some steak, pork or chicken.”
Sweets: “I’m a sucker for a cookie or cake.”
Broadway bound: Barrington Stage Company’s On the Town. Photo by Kevin Sprague, Courtesy Barrington Stage Co.
The new season is already under way: Holler If Ya Hear Me opened in June and there are more shows coming, of course. The musicals listed below were scheduled to open at press time, and if the stars align—but only if the stars align—they will arrive some time between now and the Tony deadline in May.
On the Town This is the 1944 hit that introduced a young ballet choreographer named Jerome Robbins to Broadway. A much-expanded version of Fancy Free, it’s an ode to New York as seen by three sailors en route to World War II. Joshua Bergasse, late of NBC’s Smash, takes his first Broadway bow as a choreographer in this revival, directed by John Rando (Urinetown) and starring Tony Yazbeck, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Clyde Alves and New York City Ballet principal Megan Fairchild. Starts Sept. 20 at the Lyric.
The Last Ship The composer, Sting, is the marquee attraction in this tale of an English shipbuilding town, but director Joe Mantello (Wicked) and choreographer Steven Hoggett (Once) have fans, too. Starts Sept. 29 at the Neil Simon.
Honeymoon in Vegas Andrew Bergman reworks his wacky 1992 film comedy, this time with songs by Jason Robert Brown (Bridges of Madison County). Dances are by Denis Jones, a regular at the Paper Mill Playhouse, where this production originated. Starts Nov. 18 at the Brooks Atkinson.
Left: Complete with Elvis, Paper Mill’s Honeymoon in Vegas. Photo by Jerry Dalia, Courtesy Paper Mill Playhouse
On the Twentieth Century The Roundabout Theatre Company revives this 1978 musical by Cy Coleman, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, addressing one of life’s crucial questions: Will the shenanigans of a megalomaniac Broadway producer, a flamboyant Hollywood diva and a loopy lady evangelist derail a luxury train bound for New York? Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher are on board, along with director Scott Ellis and choreographer Warren Carlyle. Begins Feb. 12 at the American Airlines Theatre.
The King and I Shall they dance? Of course they shall, even though she’s an English schoolmarm and he’s the king of Siam. Bartlett Sher directs Kelli O’Hara, who will polka with Ken Watanabe. The choreography is the Jerome Robbins original, with musical staging by Christopher Gattelli. Starts March 12 at the Vivian Beaumont.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum James Corden, the endearing British comic who won the 2012 Tony for his amped-up turn in One Man, Two Guvnors, is reportedly on his way back to Broadway as yet another servant, the endearing slave Pseudolus. This revival of Stephen Sondheim’s delicious 1962 farce is to be directed by Alex Timbers (Rocky). Starts in March.
All That Glitters The life of Liberace, written, directed and choreographed by Alexander DeJong. Starts in spring.
An American in Paris Christopher Wheeldon used the glorious Gershwin score for a narrative ballet at NYCB in 2005, when a projected Broadway musical based on the classic Gene Kelly movie collapsed. Now it’s on again, and director/choreographer Wheeldon has once more gone to NYCB, this time for a leading man: principal Robert Fairchild. Starts in spring.
Finding Neverland Marc Forster’s 2004 film about how J. M. Barrie came to write Peter Pan gets a song-and-dance makeover from director Diane Paulus and choreographer Mia Michaels. Starts in spring.
Gigi The beloved 1958 movie musical of Belle Époque Paris was first staged on Broadway in 1973. It returns under the direction of Eric Schaeffer, with choreography by Joshua Bergasse. Starts in spring.