10 Minutes With Andy Blankenbuehler
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.
Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets (AKA "the mattress dance") hasn't been revived since it premiered in 1965. Nor has Rainer had any wish to do it again, to ask performers to heave 10 mattresses around while carrying out 31 tasks that changed every 30 seconds. It was an unwieldy, difficult dance. (Even the title is unwieldy.) But Emily Coates, who has danced in Rainer's work for 20 years, became curious about this piece and was determined to see it again—and to dance in it. She will get her wish November 15–17, when the mattress dance will be performed as part of the Performa 19 Biennial.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.