His newest musical tells the story of the American Revolution.
Photo by Matthew Karas.
Just when you think you know Andy Blankenbuehler, the choreographer takes on a completely unexpected project. After winning a Tony for In the Heights, he brought high-flying cheerleading stunts to Bring It On: The Musical, and worked with children in Annie. Next up is a musical about Alexander Hamilton. But Hamilton, written by In the Heights creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, is not your typical period piece. The story of the American Revolution will be told through rapping founding fathers and a krumping army. Hamilton runs at New York City’s The Public Theater, January 20–March 22.
What did you think when you were first told about the show?
It’s a crazy concept—I didn’t know what Lin was doing. But I went to a concert that he did of songs from the show, and it was thrilling. In school, I never liked history, but here I was leaning forward in my chair and loving it.
How will a story about Alexander Hamilton work in a modern context?
It’s really an immigrant story. I had never really absorbed the fact that America didn’t exist at that point—we were all disparate immigrants who came together and decided to form something. It’s the founding fathers and it’s the American Revolution, but the whole musical is contemporary. During the workshop, it felt like we were doing a new version of something like Les Mis. It’s about people who wanted to make a change.
What will the movement look like?
There are no scenes—it’s 2 hours and 45 minutes of music—and I pretty much choreographed the whole thing. There’s some pretty intense hip-hop—heavy, like krumping, violent hip-hop. There’s a lot of pantomime, really bold and chiseled. We break all kinds of rules: change time signatures, make things go fast, make things go in slow motion. As the show goes on, different styles come in, like hot contemporary jazz.
What’s been most challenging about choreographing Hamilton?
The Battle of Yorktown and the Revolutionary War are huge in scale—tens of thousands of people fighting and dying, extraordinary drama. I can’t capture that onstage with 12 people. So I had to figure out how to be really stylized. The American soldiers will never have guns in the Battle of Yorktown—it’s a pantomime. And there’s one whole battle sequence where you only see the Americans. Then another with only the British.
Any advice for Broadway hopefuls?
A detail that separates people is musicality. I’m a very rhythmic and musical choreographer, so when you can really chisel out detail, that’s exciting to me. Another thing that I need to sense during auditions is that you’re a real person. I want to see that you have opinions, that you have loves, and that you’re gonna bring the story to life.
James Whiteside (Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine)
Say you're perpetually impeccable designer Thom Browne. Say you're planning your Spring 2020 Paris menswear show along a "Versailles country club" theme. Say you want a world-class danseur to open the show with some kind of appropriately fabulous choreography.
Who do you call? James Whiteside, of course. On Saturday, the American Ballet Theatre principal—wearing pointe shoes and a glorious pinstriped tutu—kicked off Browne's presentation at the École des Beaux-Arts with a 15-minute, show-stealing solo. Whiteside choreographed the piece himself, with the help of detailed notes from the designer.
I'd been a professional dancer for five years when I realized the pain I'd been feeling in my hip and down my sciatic nerve was not going away. I had been treating it for two years as we dancers do—with regular visits to my masseuse, physical therapy, baths, ice and lots of Aleve—but I never stopped dancing. It finally dawned on me that if I kept going at the speed I was going (which was, well, speedy), the pain would only get more severe and unrelenting, and I might never dance again.
I told myself I'd take two months off, and all would be better.
That first morning when I woke up at 10 am, I had no idea what to do with myself. My life until that moment had been dictated by class and rehearsal, every hour accounted for. How should I fill the huge swath of time ahead of me?