Broadway Choreographers Bring New Shows to the Stage
It's mad-dash time on Broadway, as shows scramble to qualify for the June 11 Tony Awards. "It is a crazy season," says Andy Blankenbuehler, who won last year for choreographing Hamilton. And the 10 musicals arriving in the two months preceding the deadline, April 27, "are all over the map," he says. "So many different audiences will find a show to really be in love with."
One of them is his own, Bandstand, set in 1945 as GIs resume their lives after World War II. Working with composer Richard Oberacker and writer Robert Taylor, "Andy the Director" focused initially on "music, text, characters—establishing the world," he says, to tell the story of veterans forming a big band.
BandstandPhoto by Jerry Dalia
With a well-received production in 2015 in New Jersey, "we found our way," he says. "Since then, Andy the Choreographer has taken over." He estimates that there's now twice as much movement, split between the jitterbugging spirit of the era's music and "the whole other physicality" of soldiers at war.
A later generation of GIs drill in Miss Saigon, the revival of the 1991 hit that transposed the story of Madama Butterfly to the Vietnam War era. There was so little dance in the original that Bob Avian was credited with musical staging rather than choreography. "But," Avian says, "I've been doing it for 27 years, and I've kept introducing more choreography."
Miss SaigonPhoto by Michael Le Poer Trench and Matthew Murphy
There are now four full-out dance sequences for the 30-member ensemble, which this time was cast with "people who could dance as well as sing." There are other changes too, he says: "A darker, grittier feel," appropriate for a musical about "the only war America ever lost."
In War Paint, which Christopher Gattelli is choreographing, the generals are the 20th-century cosmetics tycoons Helena Rubinstein (Patti LuPone) and Elizabeth Arden (Christine Ebersole). Tracking their cutthroat rivalry from the '30s to the '60s, War Paint allows Gattelli to play with multiple dance genres.
War PaintPhoto by Joan Marcus
It also gives him a chance, after the testosterone-happy South Pacific and Newsies, to choreograph for all-female ensembles. His "Arden girls" are tall and fresh-faced, the Rubinstein women older and earthier. With its barrier-busting heroines—both, as it happens, immigrants—the show "couldn't come at a better time," Gattelli notes. And he loves that "you can't believe it really happened."
Another incredible-but-true story informs Indecent, the off-Broadway hit with choreography by David Dorfman. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel and director Rebecca Taichman based it on the scandal that erupted when a play with a lesbian love scene opened on Broadway in 1923 and landed the cast in jail.
IndecentPhoto by Carol Rosegg
Studded with vibrant, klezmer-style songs that gave the postmodernist an opportunity he welcomed to "move out of the completely abstract realm," Indecent mixes theater history, sex and politics with a ghostly ambiance that prefigures the Holocaust. "It's not a traditional musical," Dorfman says, "where the songs are designed to tell a particular story. But the songs and movement are crucial to keeping the feeling."
Another historical tragedy looms over Come From Away, choreographed by Kelly Devine. In Newfoundland, a come-from-away is a stranger, and on September 11, 2001, the town of Gander, population 11,000, was inundated with 6,700 come-from-aways as its airport became the unintended destination for 38 planes grounded by the terrorist attacks.
Devine says it took "trial and error and a lot of investigating to find the right tone and the right amount of movement." And she found it a bit unnerving to design choreography based on people she'd actually met. Apart from some Celtic folk dancing in a bar, there are no actual dance steps.
Come From AwayPhoto by Matthew Murphy
Two other musicals are similarly constrained. To be true to the story of Groundhog Day, Peter Darling and co-choreographer Ellen Kane had to design movement for ordinary people in an ordinary place (if you call Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, ordinary); in Amélie, but people have told him, "Omigod, the entire show was choreographed!" while others says, "There was no choreography!"
From Kane's description, Groundhog Day could provoke much the same reaction. "The show is fully staged, with a huge amount of movement," she says, "but it's based a lot on naturalism." Its single "dance dance," a tap number, "isn't about fancy steps," but about the time warps created by overlapping rhythms.
Groundhog DayPhoto by Manuel Harlan
Time warps are the heart of Groundhog Day, based on the 1993 movie that starred Bill Murray as a TV weatherman reliving a single day, and Kane, who's previously worked with Darling as an associate, says her "mathematical mind" is particularly suited to the demands of the show's repeating choreography on five stage revolves.
By contrast, two other musicals rooted in movies, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, choreographed by Joshua Bergasse and Anastasia, choreographed by Peggy Hickey, are all-out dance shows. Based on the 1997 animation, Anastasia boasts eight dancers, "six singers who move well," and production numbers that include "a grand Russian ball" and a ballet, "a full-on Swan Lake thing," Hickey says.
AnastasiaPhoto by Joan Marcus
Hello Dolly! lacks both a ballet and an Imperial ball, but the 1964 classic has plenty of dancing, as noted by Amélie's Pinkleton. "We're not doing Hello, Dolly!" he says. Then he adds, "God bless those that are"—Warren Carlyle got the job—"'cause I can't wait to see it."
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
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.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
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.
Get Dance Magazine in your inbox
Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
It can be hard to imagine life without—or just after—dance. Perhaps that's why we find it so fascinating to hear what our favorite dancers think they'd be doing if they weren't performing for a living.
We've been asking stars about the alternate career they'd like to try in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and their answers—from the unexpected to the predictable—do not disappoint:
"New York City Ballet star appears in a Keanu Reeves action movie" is not a sentence we ever thought we'd write. But moviegoers seeing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be treated to two scenes featuring soloist Unity Phelan dancing choreography by colleague Tiler Peck. The guns-blazing popcorn flick cast Phelan as a ballerina who also happens to be training to become an elite assassin. Opens in theaters May 17.
The Brooklyn-based choreographer Gillian Walsh is both obsessed with and deeply conflicted about dance. With her latest work, Fame Notions, May 17–19 at Performance Space New York, she seeks to understand what she calls the "fundamentally pessimistic or alienating pursuit" of being a dancer. Noting that the piece is "quiet and introverted," like much of her other work, she sees Fame Notions as one step in a larger project examining why dancers dance.
What does Mikhail Baryshnikov have to say to dancers starting their careers today? On Friday, he gave the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
The heart of his message: Be generous.
Launching a dancewear line seems like a great way for professional dancers to flex new artistic muscles and make side money. Several direct-to-consumer brands founded by current or former professional dancers, like Elevé and Luckleo, currently compete with bigger retailers, like Capezio.
But turning your brand into the next Yumiko is more challenging than some budding designers may realize.
When I first came to dance criticism in the 1970s, the professional critics were predominantly much older than me. I didn't know them personally and, as the wide-eyed new kid on the block, I assumed most had little or no physical training in the art.
As slightly intimidated as I felt at the time—you try sitting around a conference room table with Dance Magazine heavy hitters like Tobi Tobias and David Vaughan—I smugly gave myself props for at least having had recent brushes with ballet, Graham, Duncan and Ailey and more substantial engagement with jazz and belly dance. Watching dancers onstage, I enjoyed memories of steps and moves I knew in my own bones. If the music was right, my shoulders would wriggle. I wasn't just coolly judging things from my neck up.