Celebrating Dance Magazine Award Honoree Andy Blankenbuehler
Andy Blankenbuehler got into dance as a 3-year-old tapper in Cincinnati, but theatergoers don’t associate him with showstopping tap routines. Nor do they identify him with cheerleader formations, swing-dance extravaganzas or hip-hop blowouts, even though his shows have had them all. It’s because Blankenbuehler numbers don’t actually stop shows—they push them forward, vibrantly, relentlessly, ingeniously. They exist in a specific moment of a specific musical.
He came to New York City in 1990 to make a career as a Broadway dancer, absorbing choreography from contemporary masters Susan Stroman and Christopher Chadman, and studying the work of two of his idols, Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse. Their influence pervades his work in visible and invisible ways—Fosse’s tensed line, Robbins’ perpetual-motion machine—and he readily admits to leaning on the work of Gene Kelly and Michael Jackson. But, to borrow a word from one of his assistants, he Blankenbuehlerizes familiar dance vocabulary and makes it feel contemporary.
An obsessive researcher, Blankenbuehler immerses himself in the period and music and lyrics of each show he does. He collects all the information he can from the relevant idiom—it could be salsa, it could be ballet, it could be stepping—until he’s absorbed and understood it. Despite all the prep, the exacting, meticulous results are never derivative, because he thinks so rigorously about every word in every song. He likes to say that he’s not interested in dance steps on their own, that he cares only about how they reveal the character or the story. And he’s never afraid to stop the dancing cold if that will heighten the drama or bring home a moment. When the orphans of Annie or the soldiers of Hamilton freeze in the middle of a phrase, it’s not because he’s run out of ideas. It’s because he’s had one that he wants us to notice.
And notice we do. The Tony, Drama Desk, Olivier, Chita Rivera and Lortel nominations and awards he’s collected for In the Heights, Bring It On, Bandstand and, of course, Hamilton, attest to the way his work speaks to today’s audiences. The restless energy that drives his choreography also drives him to explore: choreographing for film (Cats), directing (Bring It On: The Musical and Bandstand) and dreaming up new shows (Only Gold). With his enormous store of both brains and heart, he’s showing Broadway how to make musicals that move with a 21st-century beat—pulling this 20th-century form into the current moment and beyond.
Join Dance Magazine in celebrating Andy Blankebuehler at the December 6 Dance Magazine Awards ceremony. Tickets are now available here.