Why Dancing in "Fosse/Verdon" Was (Thankfully) Nothing Like Dancing for Fosse
It's a bit of an understatement to say that Bob Fosse was challenging to work with. He was irritable, inappropriate and often clashed with his collaborators in front of all his dancers. "Fosse/Verdon," which premieres on FX tonight, doesn't sugarcoat any of this.
But for Sasha Hutchings, who danced in the first episode's rendition of "Big Spender," the mood on set was quite opposite from the one that Fosse created. Hutchings had already worked with choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, who she calls "a dancer's dream," director Tommy Kail and music director Alex Lacamoire as a original cast member in Hamilton, and she says the collaborators' calm energy made the experience a pleasant one for the dancers.
"Television can be really stressful," she says. "There's so many moving parts and everyone has to work in sync. With Tommy, Andy and Lac I never felt the stress of that as a performer."
We talked to Hutchings about the show's audition process, the challenges of dancing for television, and why Gwen Verdon's legacy had to be an integral part of the storytelling:
On the Unusually Enjoyable Audition Process
"Andy kinda put out bat signals to all these dancers. It was a lovely time for us to dance this iconic choreography. He kept whittling it down throughout the day, and we were all celebrating each other by the end. Andy remarked that they had a lot to pick from, and Tommy spoke about how we were all the best of our town, the best of the best. It was really nice to have an audition that was a true celebration of amazing dancers."
On Her Fosse Roots
"I went to Oklahoma City University and one of the things I love about their curriculum is their focus on American dance forms. You can't study American jazz without studying Fosse. It's one of my favorite styles of movement because it's such a storytelling movement. Every finger, every shoulder is about telling a story. It's a style that is rooted in acting and can be really accessible, especially for someone who may not be a dancer at all."
On Recreating the "Big Spender" Scene
"They did an incredible job of recreating this world and these characters. It looks just like the set from the movie. They made a new costume for me a week before shooting because they figured out the specific material she was wearing in the movie. Nothing was close enough. They were debating about the glitter on my eyelid."
On the Challenges of Television
"I've done acting guest star roles on shows which is just saying lines. It's interesting when you start bringing dance in. Continuity can be an issue. I had an earring fly off and break and we had 30 seconds for them to wire or glue or strap it back together.
"On Broadway you have the ability to be different every single night. But in television you need to know what your hand was doing at this moment or what order your bracelets were in.
"And you have the challenge of doing it over and over and over again and starting in different places. Capturing the climax of the number but it's the first thing you're shooting. And then you have to pull it all the way back to restart at another point in the song. As an actor that can be really hard."
On Gwen Verdon's Influence
"Gwen Verdon helped Fosse craft the vocabulary we know today. Fosse would have an idea but it was nothing without Gwen and she helped him maintain the legacy of it. We really needed that framework. It's not just about this man but about the women that inspired him and the right hand woman who was making these things come to life."
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- A Bob Fosse/Gwen Verdon Series From the Creators of Hamilton ... ›
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
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:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"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.