Inside DM

A Place to Play

Broadway Dance Lab gives choreographers freedom to experiment.

Dancers perform at a Broadway Dance Lab fundraising gala. PC Daniel Robinson, Courtesy BDL

He calls it the Broadway Dance Lab, but Josh Prince doesn’t think parochially. The not-for-profit “dance incubator” he founded in the fall of 2012 has welcomed choreographers from the ballet world (American Ballet Theatre star Marcelo Gomes) and from contemporary concert dance (Bessie winner Larry Keigwin) as well as, of course, the working theater folk you might expect, like two-time Tony winner Andy Blankenbuehler. To Prince, they’re all “theater-dance makers,” and enabling them to do their best work is his mission, and that of BDL.

A performer whose choreography sideline turned into a full-fledged Broadway career with Shrek and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Prince learned firsthand that dance can sometimes be a last-minute, seat-of-the-pants addition to Broadway musicals. And the fact that theater choreographers and would-be choreographers must sometimes beg, borrow or steal to line up the dancers, rehearsal space and time required to practice their craft struck him as not just unfair, but detrimental to the art of musical theater itself. Prince thinks of choreographers as writers, “authors of dance,” despite the fact that unlike the authors of poems and books, they can’t just hole up somewhere with a laptop to do their work. He started Broadway Dance Lab to give others what he craved: “The artistic freedom to create from the ground up.” Choreographers get 20 hours, a company of 12 professional dancers, one of several large borrowed studios and no boundaries or performance deadlines.

Prince likes to say that BDL is the only nonprofit that exists solely to support theater choreographers, but in pursuing that goal, it has ended up supporting dancers, as well. Because BDL pays competitive salaries, provides workers’ comp and enables dancers to work in multiple styles with many different choreographers, it’s become a highly desirable gig. Over 100 dancers tried out for the 12 nine-week contracts in the 2015–16 season, and Prince expects equally large numbers at BDL’s next audition this spring.

When we spoke, Prince was off to Spain to start work on the Disney Cruise Line’s shipboard version of the animated film Frozen. He acknowledges that being both the artistic director of BDL and a working choreographer can be “daunting.” But he feels lucky that he started BDL after getting some Broadway experience. “Working in the commercial world prepared me to start a nonprofit that can run like a business,” he says. There’s an “invaluable staff” of 10, plus interns, to handle day-to-day managerial chores. “If I was doing it all by myself,” he adds, “it would be impossible.It takes so much structural support.” But, he says, it all feels worthwhile when choreographers reach out to tell him how invaluable their BDL residencies have been.

Blankenbuehler is one of those, singing the praises of the “great tool Josh created” and singling out “the safety of the room, the quality of the dancers, and the concentration and passion from all present.” Prince invited him to BDL when he was between projects, “in that tricky phase of being creatively tired and not quite ready to fully focus on the next assignment,” Blankenbuehler recalls. “I went into the room of wonderful dancers with really no idea of what I wanted to accomplish. I decided to throw myself off the cliff and just experiment. And they followed!” 


A Ballet Is Born

For Josh Prince, inviting Marcelo Gomes to Broadway Dance Lab was something of a no-brainer—“Ballet has always had a large influence on musical theater,” Prince says. “It’s important to foster connections with our current ballet choreographers, and give them a safe space to explore ideas that could transfer to Broadway stages.” For Gomes, accepting was a no-brainer as well—“I had written a children’s story,” he says, “but I just didn’t know where to begin with it.” He’d just created AfterEffect for ABT, and, he recalls, it had been really stressful. “There’s never enough rehearsal time, there’s never enough tech time, and you’re juggling all the dancers when people get injured.” Prince’s offer “was a calm thing to jump on.” He knew that the dancers Prince hires have ballet training, but that “ballet is not the primary thing they do.” Gomes wasn’t worried: “It’s your job as the choreographer to work with the dancers that are in front of you,” he says. Working on his story, centered on “a young girl named Sofie who has this little adventure” and set to Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Gomes found that the dancers’ theater orientation put extra tools in his choreographic arsenal: “They really want to collaborate. They like to act, they’re not afraid of getting it wrong. It’s very beneficial to have dancers who can fill up the music with just their acting.” Another difference: “They like to talk,” he notes. “We did character studies—who was Sofie, who were the other kids? Such a different kind of work than at a professional ballet company.” In the end, Gomes was pleased enough with the results to have a small showing of Sofie MayBelle at Judson Memorial Church. But that was never the point. “The thing that attracted me the most,” he says, “was that I didn’t have the pressure of showing anything—no final performance.”

The Conversation
Dance Training
Courtesy CalArts

Four years of lectures, exams and classes can feel like a lifetime for college dancers who have their sights set on performing. So when a professional opportunity comes knocking, it can be tempting to step away from your academics. But there are a few things to consider before putting your education on hold.

Keep reading... Show less
Hive by Boston Conservatory student Alyssa Markowitz. Photo by Jim Coleman

The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.

Keep reading... Show less
Career Advice
LA Dance Project. Photo by Jonathan Potter, courtesy LADP

We've all been there: You see the craziest/most beautiful/oddest/wildest clip of a dance on Facebook and you simply have to see more.

But do you actually get yourself to the theater and sit through a 90-minute performance? The consensus, at this point, typically seems to be: No.

There is no clear correlation between a company's social media campaigns and how many seats they fill in the theater. That doesn't mean social media isn't, of course, vital. It simply means that "social media campaigns operating without other marketing campaigns don't cut it," says Rob Bailis, associate director of Cal Performances at UC Berkeley. "But campaigns without social media are far worse off."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance in Pop Culture
Carlos Acosta in a still from Yuli. Photo by Denise Guerra, Courtesy Janet Stapleton

Since the project was first announced toward the end of 2017, we've been extremely curious about Yuli. The film, based on Carlos Acosta's memoir No Way Home, promised as much dancing as biography, with Acosta appearing as himself and dance sequences featuring his eponymous Cuba-based company Acosta Danza. Add in filmmaking power couple Icíar Bollaín (director) and Paul Laverty (screenwriter), and you have a recipe for a dance film unlike anything else we've seen recently.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by McCallum Theatre
Last year's winner: Manuel Vignoulle's EARTH. Jack Hartin Photography, Courtesy McCallum Theatre

It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.

Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Ramasar and Catazaro, photos via Instagram

One of the country's top arbitrators has decided to reinstate Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro to New York City Ballet. The former principals were fired last fall for "inappropriate communications," namely graphic text messages.

The dancers' union, American Guild of Musical Artists, fought the termination, arguing that the firings were unjust since they related entirely to non-work activity. After a careful review of the facts, an independent arbitrator determined that while the company was justified in disciplining the two men, suspension was the appropriate action and termination took it too far.

Keep reading... Show less
Rant & Rave
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in Fancy Free. Photo via pbt.org

A woman passes three men in the street. The men pursue her. They thrust their pelvises at her. They continue to pursue her after she slaps one's hand and walks away. They surround her. She glances around at them in alarm. One snatches her purse (to review the Freudian significance of purses, click here) and saunters off with it, mocking her. She tries to take the purse back, and the three men toss it over her head among each other. They make her dance with them. Each time she indicates "No," the men try harder to force her submission to their advances.

This is all within the first 10 minutes of Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free, a 1944 ballet about three sailors frolicking on shore leave during World War II, beloved by many and still regularly performed (especially during the last year, since 2018 was the centennial celebration of Robbins's birth). Critic Edwin Denby, after the premiere with Ballet Theatre, called it "a remarkable comedy piece" and "a direct, manly piece."

Keep reading... Show less
What Dancers Eat
Courtesy Bloc Talent Agency

When you're bouncing between hotel rooms without access to a kitchen, eating a pescatarian diet can be challenging. Stephanie Mincone, who most recently traveled the globe with Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour, told Dance Magazine how she does it—while fueling herself with enough energy to perform for thousands of Taylor fans.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers Trending
Hamrick rehearsing Port Rouge in St. Petersburg. Photo courtesy Hamrick

Choosing music for your first-ever choreography commission can feel daunting enough. But when you're asked to create a ballet using the vast discography of the Rolling Stones—and you happen to be dating Stones frontman Mick Jagger—the stakes are even higher.

So it's understandable that as of Monday, American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Melanie Hamrick, whose Port Rouge will have its U.S. premiere tonight at the Youth America Grand Prix gala, was still torn about which songs to include.

Keep reading... Show less
Advice for Dancers
Photo by freestocks.org/Unsplash

What is an acceptable request from a choreographer in terms of nudity? On the first day of shooting All That Jazz in the 1970s, Bob Fosse asked us men to remove everything but our jock straps and the women to remove their tops. His rationale was to shock us in order to build character, and it felt disloyal to refuse. Would this behavior be considered okay today?

—Anonymous

Keep reading... Show less
Career Advice
Stephen Mills' Grimm Tales, which premiered last month, is the first ballet funded by the Butler New Choreography Endowment. Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood, Courtesy Ballet Austin

As much as audiences might flock to Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, ballet can't only rely on old war horses if it wants to remain relevant. But building new full-lengths from scratch isn't exactly cheap.

So where can companies find the money?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance History
Merce Cunningham in his Changeling (1957). Photo courtesy DM Archives

Today—April 16, 2019—marks what would have been Merce Cunningham's 100th birthday. As dancers from Los Angeles to New York City to London gear up for Night of 100 Solos (the marathon performance event being livestreamed today), and as companies and presenters worldwide continue to celebrate the Cunningham Centennial through their programming, we searched through the Dance Magazine Archives to unearth our favorite images of the groundbreaking dancemaker.

Courtesy DM Archives

Dance in Pop Culture
Courtesy MPRM Communications

A bright disposition with a dab of astringent charm is how I remember Brock Hayhoe, a National Ballet School of Canada schoolmate. Because we were a couple years apart, we barely brushed shoulders, except at the odd Toronto dance party where we could dance all night with mutual friends letting our inhibitions subside through the music. Dancing always allows a deeper look.

But, as my late great ballet teacher Pyotr Pestov told me when I interviewed him for Dance Magazine in 2009, "You never know what a flower is going to look like until it opens up."

Keep reading... Show less
Rant & Rave
Social media validates extremes over clean, solid technique. Photo by David Hofmann/Unsplash

The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."

My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.

This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story
Courtesy Khoreva

The pleasure of watching prodigies perform technical feats on Instagram can be tinged with a sense of trepidation. Impressive tricks, you think, but do they have what it takes for an actual career?

Just look at 18-year-old Maria Khoreva, who has more followers than most seasoned principals; in videos, her lines and attention to detail suggested a precocious talent, and led to a Nike ambassador contract before she even graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Still, when she joined the Mariinsky Ballet last summer, there was no guarantee any of it would translate to stage prowess.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Getty Images

As more states legalize cannabis, it seems the sales pitch for cannabidiol—or CBD—gets broader and broader. A quick internet search turns up claims that CBD helps with pain, depression, acne, arthritis, anxiety, insomnia, heart disease, post-traumatic stress, epilepsy and cancer. But the marketplace is unregulated, which makes it tricky to find out what CBD actually does.

Keep reading... Show less
News
A 1952 photograph of Merce Cunningham in Sixteen Dances for Soloist and Company of Three. Photo by Gerda Peterich, Courtesy Blake Zidell & Associates

One night. Three cities. Seventy-five dancers. And three unique sets of 100 solos, all choreographed by Merce Cunningham.

This incredible evening of dance will honor Cunningham's 100th birthday on April 16. The Merce Cunningham Trust has teamed up with The Barbican in London, the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City and the Center for the Art of Performance in Los Angeles for a tri-city celebration.

The best part? You don't have to be in those cities to watch—Night of 100 Solos is being live-streamed in its entirety for free.

Keep reading... Show less
The Creative Process
George Balanchine's Don Quixote. Photo by Martha Swope ©The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

When George Balanchine's full-length Don Quixote premiered in 1965, critics and audiences alike viewed the ballet as a failure. Elaborate scenery and costumes framed mawkish mime passages, like one in which the ballerina washed the Don's feet and dried them with her hair. Its revival in 2005 by Suzanne Farrell, the ballerina on whom it was made and to whom Balanchine left the work, did little to alter its reputation.

Yet at New York City Center's Balanchine festival last fall, some regretted its absence.

"I'd want to see Balanchine's Don Quixote," says Apollinaire Scherr, dance critic for the Financial Times. "It was a labor of love on his part, and a love letter as well. And you want to know what that looks like in his work."

Even great choreographers make mistakes. Sometimes they fail on a grand scale, like Don Quixote; other times it may be a minor misstep. Experiment and risk help choreographers grow, but what happens when a choreographer of stature misfires? Should the work remain in the repertory? And what about a work that fails on some levels but not others?

Keep reading... Show less
News
Sarah Lane will perform in one of the "You Are Us" benefit concerts. Photo by Erin Baiano, Courtesy ABT

After the horrific March 15 terrorist attacks at two New Zealand mosques, the music and arts community sprang into action to plan a way to help victims and their families. A series of resulting concerts, titled "You Are Us/Aroha Nui," will take place in New Zealand (April 13 and 17), Jersey City, New Jersey (April 17) and Los Angeles (April 18). Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Our People, Our City Fund, which was established by the Christchurch Foundation to aid those affected by the attacks.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Malpaso Dance Company in Cunningham's Fielding Sixes. Photo by Nir Ariel, Courtesy Richard Kornberg & Associates

Throughout 2019, the Merce Cunningham Trust continues a global celebration that will be one of the largest tributes to a dance artist ever. Under the umbrella of the Merce Cunningham Centennial are classes and workshops, film screenings and festivals, art exhibitions and symposia, and revivals and premieres of original works inspired by the dancemaker's ideas. The fever peaks on April 16, which would have been the pioneering choreographer's 100th birthday, with Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event, featuring a total of 75 dancers in three performances live-streamed from London, Los Angeles and New York City.

Keep reading... Show less
Career Advice
Tan Li Min working with Queensland Ballet dancer Lou Spichtig. Photo by Jovian Lim, Courtesy Cloud & Victory

Cloud & Victory gets dancers. The dancewear brand's social media drools over Roberto Bolle's abs, sets classical variations to Beyoncé and moans over Mondays and long adagios. And it all comes from the mind of founder Tan Li Min, the boss lady who takes on everything from designs to inventory to shipping orders.

Known simply (and affectionately) to the brand's 41K Instagram followers as Min, she's used her wry, winking sense of humor to give the Singapore-based C&V international cachet.

She recently spoke with Dance Magazine about building the brand, overcoming insecurity and using pizza as inspiration.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Alia Kache in rehearsal with Ballet Memphis. Photo by Louis Tucker, Courtesy Ballet Memphis

The Ballet Memphis New American Dance Residency, which welcomes selected choreographers for its inaugural iteration next week, goes a step beyond granting space, time and dancers for the development of new work.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox