2023–24 Season Preview: The Shows at the Top of Our Must-See Lists
Unexpected collaborations, women-led ballets, superstar choreographers turning their talents to opera and musical theater, singular dancemakers wrestling with issues of labor, environmental justice, and more—here’s what Dance Magazine‘s contributors are looking forward to most as the 2023–24 season gets underway.
The Storm of the Century
“We see all of our work as creating worlds,” say Taylor Knight and Anna Thompson, co-directors of slowdanger. The multidisciplinary entity is known for drawing audiences into atmospheric experiences through surreal landscapes enriched with evocative vocals, ambient sound scores, and moody lighting effects. SUPERCELL, their largest-scale production to date, unfolds amid deconstructed environs where five individuals face the fury of a burgeoning thunderstorm that forebodes massive devastation and annihilation. Each has a story, told through postmodern dance, improvisation, dialogue, and live camera feeds.
The storm serves as a “representation of society’s hypnotic connection to media sensationalism, desensitization, and climate disasters,” state the co-directors, who consulted with an advisory team of scientists and educators in developing the work that “responds to but does not solve the issue of climate change.” College Park, MD, Sept. 21–22; Pittsburgh, Dec. 8–9. slowdangerslowdanger.com. —Karen Dacko
Birmingham’s Heavy Metal Ballet
Concert dance and pop culture have been close bedfellows in the U.K. recently: Over the past 12 months, we’ve seen everything from a Rambert reimagining of “Peaky Blinders” to former Spice Girl Mel C taking to the Sadler’s Wells stage in a Merce Cunningham–style unitard. Now, Birmingham Royal Ballet is getting in on the action with Black Sabbath: The Ballet. With choreography by Raúl Reinoso and Cassi Abranches, led by Pontus Lidberg, the three-act work will be set to orchestrations of the titular band’s legendary tracks, as well as new compositions performed live by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia.
The second in a trilogy of Birmingham-focused works programmed by artistic director Carlos Acosta to pay homage to the city’s cultural heritage—Birmingham is Black Sabbath’s hometown, and they performed their first gig in a pub a stone’s throw from BRB’s headquarters—it claims to be the world’s first true heavy metal ballet experience. While maybe not an experience we knew we needed, there’s appetite for it: The premiere run sold out shortly after it was announced, with extra shows being added in response to the demand. Premieres at the Birmingham Hippodrome Sept. 23–30 before touring to Theatre Royal Plymouth (Oct. 12–14) and London’s Sadler’s Wells (Oct. 18–21). brb.org.uk. —Emily May
Ease on Down to Broadway
If you’ve seen Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” video, you’ve seen choreographer JaQuel Knight’s ebullient, sexy, defiantly strutting hip-hop style. It’s not exactly what comes to mind when you picture “Ease on Down the Road,” but that will be changing when Knight makes his Broadway debut choreographing a new production of The Wiz, the groundbreaking 1975 musical that gave Dorothy and her misfit pals from The Wizard of Oz a soul transfusion and a message of Black affirmation. Joining Knight and director Schele Williams are Black artists from the music industry, film, and television, all taking a fresh look at Charlie Smalls’ Tony-winning score and William F. Brown’s book. The original, which ran for four years, took seven Tony Awards in all, including Best Musical and Best Choreography (for George Faison). The team for this version arrives toting a slew of Oscars, Emmys, and Grammys, so look out. Tour begins Sept. 23–30 at the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore, and continues to additional cities before opening on Broadway next spring. wizmusical.com. —Sylviane Gold
Mthuthuzeli On the Move
South African choreographer Mthuthuzeli November was already in demand when he was included in Dance Magazine’s 2022 “25 to Watch.” Now, fresh from his latest creation for Ballet Black—the narrative, Nina Simone–inspired Nina: By Whatever Means, which continues to tour the U.K. through Nov. 2—his choreographic commissions are off the charts in both Europe and the U.S. Over the next year he’s set to make works for Charlotte Ballet (Oct. 5–28), Ballett Zürich (January), and Staatsballett Karlsruhe (premiering April 27). Even further ahead, in fall 2024 he’ll create a contemporary retelling of Romeo and Juliet for the U.K.’s Northern Ballet, and Ballet Black will be reviving his lockdown-inspired The Waiting Game next year.
But first, November will take to the stage in his own choreography in a live version of his film My Mother’s Son, a dynamic, fluid, and emotive duet with his brother and National Ballet of Canada principal Siphesihle November. The performance at Toronto’s Fall for Dance North (Oct. 6–7) will mark the first time the pair have shared the stage as professionals. mthuthuzelinovember.co.uk. —Emily May
Spies of the Civil War
For her first venture into opera, artist-activist Jawole Willa Jo Zollar directs and choreographs Intelligence, an epic Civil War story co-created with composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer. The opera revolves around the remarkable true story of two women in Richmond, VA, involved in pro-Union espionage: Elizabeth Van Lew, a member of a prominent Confederate family, established a spy ring, while Mary Jane Bowser, born into slavery in the Van Lew household, collected vital information on the war effort while pretending to be gathering laundry. Eight dancers from the Zollar-founded Urban Bush Women will weave movement into the opera’s tapestry of music and storytelling. Commissioned by Houston Grand Opera, Intelligence premieres Oct. 20–Nov. 3 at the Wortham Theater Center. houstongrandopera.org. —Caitlin Sims
Camille A. Brown and Alicia Keys Join Forces
Apartment ads now call it Clinton, but back in the ’90s, the then-sketchy, west-of-Times-Square neighborhood where Alicia Keys grew up was still known as Hell’s Kitchen. And that’s the setting, and the title, of her new off-Broadway musical, to be choreographed by another New Yorker, Queens native Camille A. Brown. The 17-year-old heroine (played by Maleah Joi Moon, and whose mother is played by Shoshana Bean) shares Keys’ nickname, Ali, and some elements of her history, in a book written by playwright Kristoffer Diaz. Brown will be setting songs from Keys’ 15-Grammy career as well as new ones composed specifically for the show. Keys and Brown are both exceptional women who carved spaces for themselves as artists rather than commodities, and Hell’s Kitchen is bound to share their grit and their grace. Oct. 24–Dec. 10 at New York City’s Public Theater. publictheater.org. —Sylviane Gold
Theme and Three Variations
Postmodern choreographer Annie-B Parson has long been skeptical of the way unison is often used to glorify a phrase in modern dance and give it an easy intentionality. But after reading W.H. McNeill’s Keeping Together in Time, in which the author writes of his ecstatic experience in military marching drills, she traded that skepticism of the choreographic trope of unison for full-blown obsession. For March, a forthcoming piece for her Big Dance Theater, she invited fellow choreographers Tendayi Kuumba and Donna Uchizono to join her in creating a three-part, intergenerational, intersectional evening-length dance based on forms of unison “from the monstrous to the utopian,” she describes, for a cast of 17 female-identified dancers.
March will premiere Dec. 10–16, in the round on the square stage at New York City’s newly opened Perelman Performing Arts Center, and is a co-commission with PAC NYC, American Dance Festival, Spoleto Festival USA, and The National Center for Choreography at The University of Akron. pacnyc.org. —Meredith Fages
All Aboard the “A” Train
Sugar Hill: The Ellington/Strayhorn Nutcracker rolls into theaters this season. The two-hour dance story discards The Nutcracker’s 1892 libretto as it sends Lena Stall on a journey of self-discovery in glamorous 1930s Harlem. Fueled by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s The Nutcracker Suite, a spunky take on Tchaikovsky’s score, it’s augmented with other songs from their 28-year collaboration. While not the first Nutcracker spun from the 1960 album, this one boasts a dazzling team of multi-genre choreographers: Joshua Bergasse directs and co-choreographs with Jade Hale-Christofi, Caleb Teicher and Jon Boogz contribute additional choreography, and theater legends Graciela Daniele and Carmen de Lavallade serve as consultants. As of press time, dates have been confirmed at New York City Center (Nov. 14–26) and Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre (Dec. 19–30) with other cities expected to follow. sugarhillnutcracker.com. —Karen Dacko
The Metaverse of Mere Mortals
San Francisco Ballet’s 2024 season is its second under Tamara Rojo’s artistic leadership, but it’s the first to bear her creative stamp. She’s making a milestone statement on opening night with the premiere of Aszure Barton’s Mere Mortals—the first woman-choreographed full-length in the company’s 90-year history. Inspired by the myth of Pandora’s box, the ballet grapples with philosophical issues around artificial intelligence and the evils it could unleash. “What questions should humanity be asking itself about AI?” Rojo wonders. “What risks should we take in order to gain knowledge?” An original score by British electronic composer Sam Shepherd, aka Floating Points, and avant-garde production design and visuals by the Barcelona-based Hamill Industries will create an immersive experience for artists and audience alike. “The goal,” Barton says, “is to create a moving, visceral experience by recontextualizing the classic parable for our modern world.” Jan. 26–Feb. 1. sfballet.org. —Claudia Bauer
Unpacking a Controversial Icon
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel: alluring fashion icon and notorious antisemite. What is it about Chanel that continues to capture public fascination, and what can we learn from her complex and controversial life? In Coco Chanel: The Life of a Fashion Icon, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa explores Chanel’s mythic status without glorifying the woman in total—a nuanced and analytical approach that ballet often shies away from.
A co-production between Hong Kong Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, and Queensland Ballet, the full-length premiered in Hong Kong in March. Atlanta Ballet will bring Chanel stateside this season before its Queensland premiere next fall. In conjunction with the production, Atlanta Ballet has partnered with the local William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum and SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film to develop educational programming unpacking Chanel’s fashion legacy, as well as the damaging impact of her antisemitism and collaboration with the Nazi Party; Atlanta Ballet will provide additional instructional resources and host discussions on combating antisemitism. Feb. 9–11, 16–17. atlantaballet.com. —Kyra Laubacher
Birds of a Feather
In the allegorical 12th-century poem “The Conference of the Birds,” birds from all over the world come together and find unity despite their differences on a journey toward spiritual enlightenment. It’s only fitting, then, that a confluence of dance styles converge for Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre’s adaptation of the ancient Sufi text. Choreographer and dancer Darrius Strong, whose work is heavily influenced by hip hop, brings his penchant for narrative to this collaboration with artistic director Susana di Palma. Though he didn’t have prior training in flamenco, Strong says he found the form’s rhythmic nature and musicality relatable. International flamenco guitarist and composer Juanito Pascual leads the live music for the adaptation, premiering Feb. 10–11 at the Cowles Center in Minneapolis. thecowlescenter.org. —Sheila Regan
Making Work on Work
Laura Gutierrez grew up amidst paint cans and brushes, enormous tarps, ladders, and ratchet straps—the materials her father used as a billboard painter. “The way I know dance, my dad knows billboards,” she says. Gutierrez honors her father’s 48 years of labor with the premiere of her new solo, In Tarps I Trust. The Houston native, now based in New Jersey, plans to lean into the unruliness and extreme physicality of her father’s profession. “I really need to shed a lot of angst and take hold, and what better way to do so than wrestling with a 14×48-foot tarp,” says Gutierrez, who has made a career creating and performing site-specific work in museum and gallery settings. Gutierrez last addressed issues surrounding labor in Center Aisle Blues, set in a Fiesta Mart, a Texas grocery-store chain serving the Latino community. She continues this thread with In Tarps I Trust, premiering in Houston this spring at the MATCH as part of DiverseWorks’ series on labor, Work of Art/Art is Work. lauraegutierrez.com. —Nancy Wozny
Return of the Roaring ’20s
The Great Gatsby has inspired manyfold adaptations since its 1925 publication, but the disillusionment—with love, marriage, the American Dream—that courses through F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel has often proved trickier to capture than the stylish decadence of its Roaring ‘20s setting. An upcoming new musical, however, shows promise. Gatsby boasts director Rachel Chavkin, whose knack for balancing spectacle with emotional impact was showcased in Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812 and Hadestown; a score by Florence Welch and frequent Florence + The Machine collaborator Thomas Bartlett; a book from Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Martyna Majok; and choreography by Sonya Tayeh—who better to capture the wild opulence of Jay Gatsby’s parties than the dancemaker whose over-the-top dance sequences for Moulin Rouge! nabbed her a Tony Award? The premiere of Gatsby will close the season at American Repertory Theater, a noted incubator for Broadway-bound new works, with previews beginning May 25 and opening night slated for June 5. americanrepertorytheater.org. —Courtney Escoyne
Breaking Onto the International Stage
Breaking will make history as the first dance form to reach the Olympic stage next summer. Staying true to its hip-hop roots, the breaking program will revolve around the battle. In two events, one for 16 b-boys and one for 16 b-girls, competitors will face off in a single-elimination–style tournament. As they go head to head to perform improvised sets of their most impressive top rocks (standing movements), down rocks (floor work), and freezes (inverted poses), they will be judged on their athleticism and artistry.
Breaking for Gold USA has developed a competition circuit to determine the country’s best breakers. To become Olympians, these breakers will need to earn spots at Olympic qualifying events, where they will compete for the opportunity to represent breaking’s birthplace on the largest international stage at the 2024 Summer Games in Paris. Aug. 9–10. paris2024.org. —Kristi Yeung
Mean Girls, Take Three
Get in, losers, we’re going back to high school, again. Mean Girls, the 2004 movie that inspired the Tony-nominated 2018 Broadway musical, will soon see its third incarnation as a movie musical. While musical comedy veteran Casey Nicholaw originated the musical’s moves, à la lunch-tray choreography and spontaneous tap dance breaks, this film adaptation will have a fresh take courtesy of choreographer Kyle Hanagami. With a signature style that’s intricate, musically expressive, and invitingly fun, Hanagami has emerged as a go-to collaborator in both the K-pop and commercial-dance scenes. His viral touch may be exactly what this adaptation needs to bring the musical’s whip-smart lyrics—by Nell Benjamin, who, along with original screenplay and Broadway book writer Tina Fey, has hinted at some surprises and potentially a new song or two—to life on screen. The new film will stream on Paramount+, date to be announced. paramountplus.com. —Amanda Sherwin