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.
Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets (AKA "the mattress dance") hasn't been revived since it premiered in 1965. Nor has Rainer had any wish to do it again, to ask performers to heave 10 mattresses around while carrying out 31 tasks that changed every 30 seconds. It was an unwieldy, difficult dance. (Even the title is unwieldy.) But Emily Coates, who has danced in Rainer's work for 20 years, became curious about this piece and was determined to see it again—and to dance in it. She will get her wish November 15–17, when the mattress dance will be performed as part of the Performa 19 Biennial.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.