Ali Stroker: First Wheelchair Performer on Broadway
Her movements are searingly sharp and her sense of rhythm is unerring. Her face is full of fierce determination, befitting the cast of the feisty, fevered youngsters in this musical. Her singing voice is strong with an edge of sassiness. If you follow only this one ensemble performer throughout the evening, you would know the whole arc of the story, its emotional peaks and valleys.
A scene from "Spring Awakening," Stroker singing down front, all photos © Joan Marcus
She is Ali Stroker, an unforgettable presence in the new production of Spring Awakening on Broadway. And though she says she’s danced all her life, she does that dancing from a wheelchair. Since the age of two, when she was in a car accident, she’s been paralyzed from the chest down. She acted and sang through high school in New Jersey and attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in Drama.
Choreographer Spencer Liff uses Stroker’s talents brilliantly. She and her chair are often the keystone in his stage formations. The timing of when and where she glides adds to the sense of harmony, and when she uses her arms to push her own wheels, powering herself—willing herself—to another part of the stage, she embodies the struggle of the characters confined by society.
Through my brother-in-law, I got to meet Stroker after the show, which is produced by Deaf West Theatre. What she talked about was her admiration for the deaf actors in the show. With pride in her voice, she marveled at how they perform the intricate choreography—a speedy melding of American Sign Language with other gestures— without being able to hear the music. She mentioned that all the hearing cast members had to learn ASL, and that the preparation time took a year because “all the pieces of the puzzle” were so complicated.
She also talked about her time as a drama student at Tisch, where she took dance lessons in several genres like modern and jazz. She’s also appeared on TV in "Glee" and "Sesame Street."
On our way out, I could see her greet other guests with as much gusto as she greeted us. Onstage and off, Ali Stroker is someone who clearly enjoys life to the hilt. Her program bio says, “Ali believes any limitation can be an opportunity.” Amen.
Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.
But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?
"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.
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.