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Meet the Next Generation of Broadway Choreographers
DanceBreak came roaring back to life on Monday after seven years on hiatus, and six choreographers now have the opportunity to be the next Andy Blankenbuehler. Or Joshua Bergasse, Kelly Devine, Casey Nicholaw, Josh Prince or Josh Rhodes. These stellar Broadway choreographers all got their first big shows after Melinda Atwood's musical-theater launching pad let them show the industry what they could do.
Since 2002, DanceBreak has been a sort of "So You Think You Can Choreograph" for Broadway. Although not everyone goes straight there—Mandy Moore and Mia Michaels are alumni, too—the program is meant to funnel talented choreographers to the Broadway stage by providing a platform for their work. Prince, who introduced Atwood to the cheering crowd, has paid DanceBreak the ultimate compliment, creating his own non-profit incubator for theater choreographers, Broadway Dance Lab. On Monday, he recalled the story of how he was offered the role of choreographer on Broadway's Shrek just days after its director saw the 2007 edition.
What About the Choreographers?
Wannabe playwrights, songwriters and directors can get career support—and sometimes their big break—from a variety of non-profit organizations. Atwood wondered why fledgling musical-theater choreographers had no such options. So now they do, and dozens submit reels and resumés for consideration by Atwood and the DanceBreak selection committee (which includes Tony winners Rob Ashford and Jerry Mitchell). Six are chosen every year—the current crop is Grady McLeod Bowman, Ryan Domres, Karla Puno Garcia, Ryan Kasprzak, Jenn Rose and Charlie Sutton—for two workshop-style performances before an invited audience of theater professionals. The choreographers can use up to 10 dancers, and they get $1,000, musicians and 12 hours of rehearsal time to create two numbers, one rooted in the story of a traditional book musical, the other anything they care to dream up, for a total length of no more than eight minutes.
Along with watching DanceBreak participants go on to choreograph 41 Broadway shows and win slews of awards and nominations, Atwood has also witnessed plenty of change. Since the last DanceBreak (in 2011, when the program went on hiatus), she's noted a tremendous surge in technique, an abundance of amazing men and huge strides in the videography of submissions. But there won't be any changes to the DanceBreak basics, she says. "We had a winning recipe, and we're gonna stick with it."
At Monday's coming-out party, the next generation of Broadway choreographers and their 60 dancers transported us from New York City's Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater to a boxing ring, an Iowa library, a pinball arcade, two unorthodox parties, a newspaper office and more. With the variety of material and the high spirits of both performers and onlookers, it was a little like being at a succession of Broadway opening nights in a single sitting.
Ready for Their Close-Ups
Karla Puno Garcia's "My Turn." Photo by Steven Rosen, Courtesy DanceBreak.
Grady McLeod Bowman, whose off-Broadway and regional work scored him a Dance Magazine "On the Rise" selection earlier in his career, choreographed a sexy and, yes, wild "Juggernaut" from Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party. His second piece, "Silent Movies," was an ode to classic slapstick, in which he had to take the pratfalls (the original dancer couldn't make the performance).
Ryan Domres, whose credits include shows on and off-Broadway and on cruise ships, went with The Music Man's "Marian the Librarian," turning it into a courtship dance punctuated by stacks of books. In "Wonderland," his freestyle dance, he turned Alice into a high-flying gymnast playing with the Hatter and Wonderland's other madcap residents.
Broadway gypsy and recent Hamilton swing Karla Puno Garcia cast Donald Jones as the cigar-chomping columnist in "Dirt," from 2002's The Sweet Smell of Success, and Roddy Kennedy embodied the loser who turns the tables on the in-crowd only to have them turn on him in "My Turn."
Two more parties were thrown by Jenn Rose, who has 20 regional choreography credits. The first gathering was the downtowners of Rent doing "La Vie Bohème"; the second was a more sardonic group lending a very adult twist to the Hokey Pokey under the title "That's What It's All About."
Jenn Rose's "La Vie Bohème." Photo by Steven Rosen, Courtesy DanceBreak.
Ryan Kasprzak, a Chita Rivera Award nominee for his performance in Bandstand, gave the "Pinball Wizard" hero of The Who's Tommy a mean pair of tap shoes. And he turned the Jackson 5 song "I Want You Back" into a number for mismatched lovers.
Ryan Kasprzak's "I Want You Back." Photo by Steven Rosen, Courtesy DanceBreak.
The show's boxers arrived at the behest of Charlie Sutton, who nabbed an Astaire Award nomination for his performance in Kinky Boots. First, he choreographed "Baby, You Knock Me Out," from the film It's Always Fair Weather, then switched to the 19th century for "The Deduction Ballet: Sherlock Holmes," an elaborately plotted tale of murder with Melanie Moore as the master detective.
"There's an ancient energy in Fana's movement, a deep and trusted knowing," says Jeff, director of the Chicago-based Deeply Rooted Dance Theater. "Because I witnessed the raw humanity of his dancer's souls, I wanted my dancers to have that experience."
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.' "
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.
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.
Have a scroll through Agnes Muljadi's Instagram feed (@artsyagnes), and you'll notice that in between her ballet shots is a curated mix of lifestyle pics. So what exactly sets her apart from the other influencers you follow? Muljadi has made a conscious effort to only feature natural beauty products, sustainable fashion and vegan foods. With over 500k followers, her social strategy (and commitment to making ethical choices) is clearly a hit. Ahead, learn why Muljadi switched to a vegan lifestyle, and the surprising way it's helped her dance career.
He may not be a household name, but you probably know Brandon Stirling Baker's work. The 30-year-old has designed the lighting for most of Justin Peck's ballets—including Heatscape for Miami City Ballet, and the edgy The Times Are Racing for New York City Ballet—but also Jamar Roberts' new Members Don't Get Weary at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a trio of Martha Graham duets for L.A. Dance Project.
He's been fascinated by lighting ever since he attended a public performing arts middle school in Sherman Oaks, California, where he had his first experiences lighting shows. He also has a background in music (he plays guitar and bass) and in drawing. Both, he says, are central to the way he approaches lighting dance.
Update: Due to an overwhelming response, the in-person audition has been moved to a larger location to accommodate more dancers. See details below.
For the first time in more than 10 years, Janet Jackson is holding an open audition for dancers.
Even better? You could land a spot in her #JTribe simply by posting a video on social media.
What does it take to become an international superstar? Carlos Acosta might have a few ideas.
At the Oxford Literary Festival earlier this month, the BBC sat down with Acosta to ask for his life lessons. His answers—which he says he will pass on to his kids one day—give incredible insight into how he's become such a beloved worldwide success.
The ballet world will converge on San Francisco this month for San Francisco Ballet's Unbound: A Festival of New Works, a 17-day event featuring 12 world premieres, a symposium, original dance films and pop-up events.
"Ballet is going through changes," says artistic director Helgi Tomasson. "I thought, What would it be like to bring all these choreographers together in one place? Would I discover some trends in movement, or in how they are thinking?"