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.
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.
Pacific Northwest Ballet principals Rachel Foster and Jonathan Porretta took their final curtain call on June 9, 2019. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB
We all know dance careers are temporary. But this season, it feels like we're saying goodbye to more stars than usual.
Many have turned to social media to share their last curtain calls, thoughts on what it feels like to say farewell to performing, and insights into the ways that dancing has made them who they are. After years of dedicating your life to the studio and stage, the decision to stop dancing is always an emotional one. Each dancer handles it in their own way—whether that means cheekily admitting to having an existential crisis, or simply leaving with no regrets about what you did for love.
We will miss these dancers' performances, but can't wait to see what awaits each in their next chapters.
A previous lab cycle. Photo by Evan Zimmerman/MurphyMade, Courtesy RRR Creative
Choreographic incubator Broadway Dance Lab has recently been rechristened Dance Lab New York. "I found the nomenclature of 'Broadway' was actually a type of glass ceiling to the organization," says choreographer Josh Prince, who founded the nonprofit in 2012.