- The Latest
- Breaking Stereotypes
- Rant & Rave
- Dance As Activism
- Dancers Trending
- Viral Videos
- The Dancer's Toolkit
- Health & Body
- Dance Training
- Career Advice
- Style & Beauty
- Dance Auditions
- Guides & Resources
- Performance Calendar
- College Guide
- Dance Magazine Awards
- Meet The Editors
- Contact Us
- Advertise/Media Kit
- Buy A Single Issue
- Give A Gift Subscription
The Case for Choreography You Barely Even Notice
The works of theater that win awards for dance and choreography—and admittedly the ones we usually cover here at Dance Magazine—tend to be ones with lots of dance. Sure, there are exceptions: The play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time got a Best Choreography Tony nod in 2015 for its subtle yet powerful movement direction by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, and we love shows like Hundred Days and Indecent that feature choreography tailor-made for actors. But by and large, the shows that get the most recognition have the biggest, boldest dances.
But what if someone told you that the best choreography is actually the choreography you barely notice? Barry McNabb has built a successful career with that notion, as a frequent choreographer for Irish Repertory Theatre as well as musical theater productions around the world. His most recent work, Irish Rep's The Dead, 1904, features a traditional Irish quadrille.
The cast of The Dead dancing a quadrille. PC Carol Rosegg
"These are dances that the characters would have known by heart," says McNabb. "It should look like something they're creating in the moment." Sometimes, he says, people see dances like this in his work and assume the actors have come up with the movement themselves. Though that can be frustrating, McNabb takes it as a sign that he's doing his job—that the movement is serving the characters and is fully integrated into the story.
Here are his biggest takeaways on making theater choreography that stays true to the show:
1. Question the dance break.
"I don't do big dance breaks for the sake of doing big dance breaks," says McNabb. "I've worked on new musicals where they're like, 'We need a dance break here,' and I'm like, 'Why?' " Dance should always come from an emotional build, he emphasizes, that starts with a scene, transitions into singing and finally breaks into movement.
McNabb's production of New Girl in Town at Irish Rep. PC Carol Rosegg
2. But that doesn't mean you have to go small.
Even though McNabb frequently choreographs plays, he's no stranger to big musical theater shows. Earlier in his career he served as dance captain for Bob Fosse, and he's created movement for shows as iconic as West Side Story. He names Andy Blankenbuehler as someone who creates big, exciting choreography, while always integrating it into the story at hand.
3. Stand up for your work.
"Putting together a musical is the hardest thing in the world," says McNabb. "You have to have either really thick skin, or a really huge ego, or both." Sometimes, he says, when a show isn't working, choreographers get blamed when it's really a larger issue of structure or story. "If the choreographer doesn't have a story to tell, the team is doing them a disservice. The dances are just putting artificial energy into the show."
4. Meet actors where they are.
If you're working on a show with primarily non-dancers, making them feel comfortable with movement is key. "The word 'choreographer' puts the fear of God into some actors," says McNabb. "You have to make them feel like you're not going to have them make fools out of themselves." McNabb makes a point to always wear street clothes rather than dance clothes to the first rehearsal to avoid intimidating performers.
McNabb's choreography in Irish Rep's Meet Me in St. Louis. PC Carol Rosegg
5. And learn from your actors.
McNabb says choreographers could do better at working with actors to integrate their characters in the choreography. "When you're working with good actors who physically manifest the character, they should inspire you," he says. "Ballet and modern choreographers will use the dancers' vocabulary to inform choreography, but theater choreographers tend to think they have to go in with everything made ahead of time. Be open to realizing that this actor moves in a way that you didn't quite see before. Learn how an actor builds the way their character moves."
One of the biggest myths about ballet dancers is that they don't eat. While we all know that, yes, there are those who do struggle with body image issues and eating disorders, most healthy dancers love food—and eat plenty of it to fuel their busy schedules.
Luckily for us, they're not afraid to show it:
Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
What does a superstar like Carlos Acosta do after bidding farewell to his career in classical ballet? In Acosta's case, he returns to his native country, Cuba, to funnel his fame, connections and prodigious energies back into the dance scene that formed him. Because of its top-notch, state-supported training programs and popular embrace of the art of dance, Cuba is brimming with talented dancers. What it has been short on, until recently, are opportunities outside of the mainstream companies, as well as access to a more international repertoire. That is changing now, and, with the creation of Acosta Danza, launched in 2016, Acosta is determined to open the doors even wider to new ideas and audiences.
There's so much more to the dance world than making and performing dances. Arts administrators do everything from raising money to managing companies to building new audiences. With the growing number of arts administration programs in colleges, dancers have an opportunity to position themselves for a multifaceted career on- or offstage—and to bring their unique perspective as artists to administrative work.
While Solange was busy helping big sis Beyoncé give Coachella its best performances of all time, an equally compelling project was quietly circulating on Instagram:
New York City Ballet continues its first year without Peter Martins at the helm as our spring season opens tonight.
When he retired at the start of the new year, we plunged headfirst into unknown, murky waters. Who would the new director be? When would we know? Would we dancers get some say in the decision? Who would oversee the Balanchine ballets? Who would be in charge of casting? Would a new director bring along huge upheaval? Could some of us be out of a job?
In the world of ballet, Arcadian Broad is a one-stop shop: He'll come up with a story, compose its music, choreograph the movement and dance it himself. But then Broad has always been a master of versatility. As a teenager he juggled school, dance and—after the departure of his father—financial responsibility. It was Broad's income from dancing that kept his family afloat. Fast-forward six years and things are far more stable. Broad now lives on his own in an apartment, but you can usually find him in the studio.
Bales of hay, black umbrellas, bicycles—this Midsummer Night's Dream would be unrecognizable to the Bard. Alexander Ekman's full-length, inspired by Scandinavian solstice traditions and set to music by Mikael Karlsson, is a madcap celebration of the longest day of the year, when the veil between our world and that of the supernatural is said to be at its thinnest. The Joffrey Ballet's performances mark the seductively surreal work's North American premiere. April 25–May 6. joffrey.org.