Inside the Summer Intensive for Broadway Choreographers-To-Be
"Go to your choreographers" is the command, and ten 20-somethings sort themselves into two groups at either side of a studio at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in midtown Manhattan. On one side they become three students gossiping in a schoolroom as another enters alone; on the other, it's a guy sauntering into a club where three women are drinking at a table.
Emma Russo, 25, is in charge there, setting up a romance; across the space, Alexia Acebo, 22, is summoning a popularity contest. Both are working to the same jazzy instrumental version of "Pennies From Heaven."
Bouncing back and forth between the two story lines is Broadway choreographer (and Tony nominee) Josh Prince, asking questions, making suggestions, offering encouragement—half mentor, half mother hen.
Prince is the mastermind behind the Broadway Dance Lab, a nonprofit he started in 2012 to grant working choreographers the three things they need to test ideas: studio space, time and trained dancers. Andy Blankenbuehler, Marcelo Gomes and Larry Keigwin are among those who've spent time at what Prince calls a "dance incubator."
Photo by Whitney Browne
But on this summer afternoon, the choreographers are not famous. They've been chosen for BDL's first-ever Choreography Intensive and the nine women and one man have paid $1,500 each to spend a week not just honing their choreographic skills, but also discovering what life as a Broadway choreographer is all about.
"Learning how to do it, that's one thing," Prince says. "But choreographers also need to hear from dance arrangers, lighting designers, set designers—the people they will liaison with."
Nick Kepley, who was Prince's creative director, notes that the typical choreography curriculum doesn't really prepare you for "the first time you go into a room with a director and designers and producers, and suddenly there are 20 voices coming at you." The intensive, he says, shows students "the full scope of what it's like out there."
Days begin with dancing, as they do at other intensives. But here, the front of the room might be occupied by Broadway veteran Nancy Lemenager, teaching a number from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying; or "So You Think You Can Dance" choreographer Al Blackstone leading a jazz class.
Prince designed the program to cover multiple styles and varied approaches to storytelling. "I wanted the choreographers to physically experience different vernaculars," he says. "I also wanted them to hear from the teachers how the movement was created." So dance is followed by discussion, students sitting on the floor with notebooks in hand.
The notebooks come out again after lunch for a class with a director, casting agent, designer or other professional corralled from Prince's network. But most of the day is spent working on choreography assignments. For Russo and Acebo, the mission is to tell a story in dance about someone who finds a penny that changes their luck. And tomorrow, when Prince says, "Go to your choreographers," they will become the dancers as two of today's performers, Brianna Melroy, 23, and Sadé Murray, 21, stage a theater song ("You're Gonna Love Tomorrow," from Follies) for non-dancers.
Three different challenges await the six other fledgling choreographers: Director-choreographer Jeff Calhoun will give pointers on making a dance that centers on a prop; Blankenbuehler collaborators Jaime Verazin and Mark Stuart will help on choreographing for partners; and BDL grantee Kristen Carcone will work on creating movement-based theater. Although only two students tackle each problem, the other eight perform the results.
So, says Andrea Brodine, 23, "the rest of us are able to learn, observe and participate in the entire process."
Photo by Whitney Browne
Several other theater people will share their expertise during the week. Lighting designer Burke Brown and set designer Donyale Werle will do a joint class. Choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter (School of Rock) and dance arranger David Dabbon will demonstrate the give-and-take between those who make the dances and those who make the music for them. And Beautiful director Marc Bruni will give notes on the "Pennies From Heaven" efforts ("We're sitting in that moment longer than we need to") and insight into the director-choreographer relationship. ("My biggest thing is 'Where am I supposed to be looking?' Am I looking at that place? And then, am I bored?")
There are also field trips. At the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Tony winner Christopher Gattelli discusses the ins and outs of choreographing revivals, with sketches from the original productions of My Fair Lady and South Pacific arrayed on the table. Before seeing Pretty Woman and touring backstage, students meet another Tony winner, director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell.
"We're getting real-time knowledge from these people," says Robert Redick, 24. "Everything they're saying, I'm just soaking it in, because I know on Monday, they're going to work."
Melroy, who graduated last year from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, says that until now, "the Broadway world had seemed like a secret club that I was never going to get the password to." Murray got the password early, touring as Young Nala in The Lion King. But she's making discoveries, too. "Follies is totally out of my style," she says. "But Josh told us just because it's a classic doesn't mean you have to choreograph it that way."
The week ends with a casual showing. Acebo has invited Cornelius Carter, director of dance at her alma mater (University of Alabama), who says later that he was struck by "the in-depth investigation that the students were allowed to do without the expectation of some kind of end result." But he adds that one end result, perhaps unintentional, of the intensive is the way it's "encouraging women to take their place among future choreographers."
Prince says amen to that, and makes a bold prediction: "Some of these students will be our next Tony winners."
Attendance: 10 last summer
Auditions: Students are selected based on choreography reels and written statements.
Timeline: One week last summer, possibly two weeks in 2019
Housing: Not provided
Thirty years ago, U.S. Joint Resolution 131, introduced by congressman John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Alphonse D'Amato (R-NY), and signed into law by President G. W. Bush declared:
"Whereas the multifaceted art form of tap dancing is a manifestation of the cultural heritage of our Nation...
Whereas tap dancing is a joyful and powerful aesthetic force providing a source of enjoyment and an outlet for creativity and self-expression...
Whereas it is in the best interest of the people of our Nation to preserve, promote, and celebrate this uniquely American art form...
Whereas May 25, as the anniversary of the birth of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson is an appropriate day on which to refocus the attention of the Nation on American tap dancing: Now therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress that May 25, 1989, be designated "National Tap Dance Day."
Happy National Tap Dance Day!
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.
Over the past 15 years, Gesel Mason has asked 11 choreographers—including legends like Donald McKayle, David Roussève, Bebe Miller, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Rennie Harris and Kyle Abraham—to teach her a solo. She's performed up to seven of them in one evening for her project No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers.
Now, Mason is repackaging the essence of this work into a digital archive. This online offering shares the knowledge of a few with many, and considers how dance can live on as those who create it get older.
When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there's a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can't quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?
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.
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Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.
The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."
Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.