Dynamic Duo

When the curtain comes down on a Broadway musical, what happens to its choreography? That's the question Broadway dancer and choreographer Lee Theodore sought to address when she launched American Dance Machine in 1978. Her goal was to create a “living archive" of musical theater choreography, so that great works—and the techniques behind them—would be preserved. The original organization folded after Theodore's death in 1987, but in 2012, Nikki Feirt Atkins revived it as American Dance Machine for the 21st Century. The current incarnation seeks to continue Theodore's vision and educate younger generations on musical theater history. In the years since, ADM21 has staged several well-received shows at New York's Joyce Theater, and gained increasing recognition.

When Diane Grumet, co-artistic/managing director of Steps on Broadway, approached Atkins about teaming up, she jumped at the opportunity. Through the new partnership, which began in September, ADM21 is in residency at Steps, offering repertory classes and a Ballet for Broadway class for intermediate and advanced dancers. “If we're going to reconstruct work and preserve it, we need to teach it to today's dancers and choreographers so they can experience it," Atkins says. “It's so important for dancers to have that history, even if they're doing new work."

A rotating faculty of dancers, choreographers and directors—many of whom have staged work for ADM21's performances—teach the repertory class, which begins with the original ADM warm-up created by Theodore. The program launched with Donna McKechnie teaching “Tick-Tock" from Company, originally choreographed on her by Michael Bennett. Others, like choreographer Warren Carlyle, have taught historic works by luminaries such as Carol Haney, Agnes de Mille and Jerome Robbins. Ballet for Broadway is taught by former American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet principal Robert La Fosse, who was Tony-nominated for his role in Jerome Robbins' Broadway and has staged Robbins works for ADM21.

The courses are generally geared towards pre-professional dancers, and the repertory classes are required for Steps' conservatory program students. “I think it's creating a great sense of community," Grumet says. “It's important to have working artists working with students, developing them, mentoring them." She hopes it will also lead to networking and hiring opportunities.

Talks of expanding the offerings are already in the works, and Atkins has a long list of artists she'd like to bring in, including choreographers from some of Broadway's more recent productions, like Andy Blankenbuehler, Joshua Bergasse and Josh Prince. Lorin Latarro is already on board. ADM21 is expanding in other ways, too—a possible Broadway production of their Joyce show is in the early stages of development, targeting a fall 2017 opening.

In the meantime, the partnership with Steps is opening new doors for both organizations—but it's also, in some ways, a reunion. When Steps opened its studios at 74th Street 32 years ago, founder and artistic director Carol Paumgarten still remembers who taught the very first class: Lee Theodore. “I feel as if it's gone full circle," she says.

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Jason Samuels Smith, photographed by Jayme Thornton

Moving Forward by Looking Back: A Week at the L.A. Tap Festival Online

I turned to tap at the outset of the European lockdown as a meaningful escape from the anxiety of the pandemic. As a dance historian specialized in dance film, I've seen my fair share of tap on screen, but my own training remains elementary. While sheltering in place, my old hardwood floors beckoned. I wanted to dig deeper in order to better understand tap's origins and how the art form has evolved today. Not so easy to accomplish in France, especially from home.

Enter the L.A. Tap Fest's first online edition.

Alongside 100 other viewers peering out from our respective Zoom windows, I watch a performer tap out rhythms on a board in their living room. Advanced audio settings allow us to hear their feet. In the chat box, valuable resources are being shared and it's common to see questions like, "Can you post the link to that vaudeville book you mentioned?" Greetings and words of gratitude are also exchanged as participants trickle in and out from various times zones across the US and around the world.

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