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What Can You Expect from Disney's "Frozen" on Broadway? We Sat Down with the Choreographic Team.
They speak a language of their own. You could call it Arendelle-ish, except that they were using it long before they started working on Frozen. So maybe the dialect filling a Times Square rehearsal hall last month should be dubbed Robsarahcharlie-ish, after choreographer and Tony winner Rob Ashford and his associate choreographers, Sarah O'Gleby and Charlie Williams. Based on Disney's smash animated film about the royal sisters of magical Arendelle, the musical is heading into rehearsals before previews on February 22 and a March 22 opening night at the St. James Theatre. But for now, it's in pre-production, and Ashford, O'Gleby and Williams are deep into their private shorthand, both verbal and physical, as they dissect a step.
They're revisiting "Fixer Upper," a number that Ashford says "never was what we wanted it to be" when the show tried out in Denver last year. "We felt we needed to move the storytelling along." It's in Act Two, after Anna has hired Kristoff, a commoner, to help her find her sister Elsa, who's hiding in the mountains with a secret. They stop to visit his family, who sense what Anna and Kristoff don't yet know—that they could be a pair even if they're not perfectly matched, that "everyone's a bit of a fixer-upper, that's what it's all about."
Frozen's choreographic team. From left, Rob Ashford and associate choreographers Sarah O'Gleby and Charlie Williams. Photos Courtesy Disney Theatrical Group.
The dance, Ashford says, is about "learning how to work together as a couple." But the choreographer and his two associates are demonstrating how to work together as a trio, looking and sounding like a unit—sometimes a body with three heads, sometimes a head with three bodies. They hone each detail of the step until it sends the right message about the evolving relationship between Anna and Kristoff, and until the mechanics look smooth.
O'Gleby is pushing for Anna to be less dependent on Kristoff as he turns her; Williams points out that he's supposed to be guiding her. They settle on a crossed-wrist hold "that feels more equal" to her. Another move is rejected when Williams notes that "it's gonna look like a dance." Their work is regularly punctuated by bursts of laughter at jokes that a visitor in the room can only guess at. After years of working together, they've forged a bond that's personal as well as professional. "Rob creates such a warm environment," Williams says. "We kind of laugh our way through the entire day."
The choreographic team recently finessed Kristoff and Anna's moves for the number "Fixer Upper." Photo by Deen van Meer, Courtesy Disney Theatrical Group.
Sharing the jokes and closely following along as the choreography develops are swings Ashley Elizabeth Hale and Jeff Pew, who are also dance captain and assistant dance captain, respectively. They're on hand because Michael Grandage, the director, had dropped in earlier to check things out, and two extra bodies make it easier to suggest a full number. Later, Ashford explains further: "It's helpful for them to understand where the moves come from—what we're trying to tell with each moment. Because once the show opens, we're not there eight times a week. They are, so they can help remind everybody what the intention behind this move or this lift is."
After about an hour fiddling, Ashford is satisfied: "It's much better—better storytelling, better musicality," he tells them. I ask how much stage time has been filled; "Eight 8s," he replies. But he's not fretting. This time between Frozen's Denver run and its still-incomplete Broadway incarnation is "a very exciting place to be," he says. "You don't have all of it ahead of you; you're not thinking, 'Oh my god. it could be anything.' You've narrowed it down, but there's still enough room inside of it to be creative, to let your mind go, 'Wait a minute—what if...?' "
Building the Team
O'Gleby and Williams have performed Ashford's choreography on the West End and on Broadway, but their dance chops aren't the reason they're his associates for Frozen. "They're there to help create it," he says. "An assistant performs the steps for you. With associates, it's not about steps—Charlie and Sarah are true creative partners. They're in it with the storytelling, with how it fits in the whole show…And they work really well together. It's great to have a guy and a gal who can figure out all of the mechanics, everything, before you teach the rest of the company. It just comes second nature to them."
The company of Frozen at its pre-Broadway run in Denver. Photo by Deen van Meer, Courtesy Disney Theatrical Group.
Learning on the Job
Ashford recalls that being Kathleen Marshall's associate earlier in his career taught him "how to be in the room with writers, creators, directors, actors, a dance arranger, an orchestrator—you can't learn that unless you witness it firsthand, but without the responsibility to make the decisions." Marshall, he says "was a great teacher, and she learned from her brother Rob [Marshall], and he learned from Graciela Daniele, and she learned from Fosse. It's something that is passed down." And he's passing it on to his own associates, who have choreographic aspirations of their own. "Every time I'm in the studio with Rob Ashford," Williams says, "I am learning something—I am always taking notes. Being a choreographer isn't just about making up cool dance moves. There's a whole other side—the business side of the business. Being an associate, you get a whole bunch of hands-on experience without a whole lot of the risk."
But being an associate does have its downside, he says. "We are the only people in the theater who aren't covered by a union. So here we are, creating a show—but we don't get health care, we don't get a 401(k), we don't get access, like the actors do, to a percentage of this show." That's been a double dilemma for O'Gleby, whose husband, Christopher Bailey, is on the same career track—since they moved here from England, he's been Ashford's associate on three other Broadway shows. "Years ago," she says, "people used assistant choreographer or associate choreographer as a stepping-stone—they didn't live there for very long. But now there are shows that have full-time associates traveling the world to put on Les Mis or whatever, having a gorgeous career." But it's a career without guarantees.
A few weeks ago, American Ballet Theatre announced the A.B.T. Women's Movement, a new program that will support three women choreographers per season, one of whom will make work on the main company.
"The ABT Women's Movement takes inspiration from the groundbreaking female choreographers who have left a lasting impact on ABT's legacy, including Agnes de Mille and Twyla Tharp," said artistic director Kevin McKenzie in a press release.
Hypothetically, this is a great idea. We're all for more ballet commissions for women. But the way ABT has promoted the initiative is problematic.
Some dancers move to New York City with their sights set on a dream job: that one choreographer or company they have to dance for. But when Maggie Cloud graduated from Florida State University in 2010, she envisioned herself on a less straightforward path.
"I always had in mind that I would be dancing for different people," she says. "I knew I had some kind of range that I wanted to tap into."
On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba tours the U.S. this spring with the resolute Cuban prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso a the helm. Named a National Hero of Labor in Cuba, Alonso, 97, has weathered strained international relations and devastating fiscal challenges to have BNC emerge as a world-class dance company. Her dancers are some of ballet's best. On offer this time are Alonso's Giselle and Don Quixote. The profoundly Cuban company performs in Chicago May 18–20, Tampa May 23, Washington, D.C., May 29–June 3 and Saratoga, New York June 6–8.
We all know that the general population's knowledge of ballet is sometimes...a bit skewed. (See: people touching their fingertips to the top of their head, and Kendall Jenner hopping around at the barre.)
Would your average Joe know how to do ballet's most basic step: a plié? Or, more to the point, even know what it is?
SELF decided to find out.
New York City Ballet is celebrating the Jerome Robbins Centennial with twenty (20!) ballets. The great American choreographer died in 1998, so very few of today's dancers have actually worked with him. There are plenty of stories about how demanding (at times brutally so) he could be in rehearsal. But Peter Boal has written about Robbins in a more balanced, loving way. In this post he writes about how Robbins' crystal clear imagery helped him approach a role with clarity and purpose.
Who says you need fancy equipment to make a festival-worthy dance film? Right now, two New York City–based dance film festivals are calling for aspiring filmmakers to show their stuff—and you don't need anything more cumbersome than a smartphone to get in on the action.
Here's everything you need to know about how to submit:
When Lisset Santander bourréed onstage as Myrtha in BalletMet's Giselle this past February, her consummate portrayal of the Queen of the Wilis was marked by steely grace and litheness. The former Cuban National Ballet dancer had defected to the U.S. at 21, and after two years with the Ohio company, she's now closer to the dance career she says she always wanted: one of limitless possibilities.
For 17 years, James Samson has been the model Paul Taylor dancer. There is something fundamentally decent about his stage persona. He's a tall dancer—six feet—but never imposes himself. He's muscular, but gentle. And when he moves, it is his humanity that shines through, even more than his technique.
But all dancing careers come to an end, and James Samson's is no exception; now 43, he'll be retiring in August, after a final performance at the Teatro Romano in Verona, where he'll be dancing in Cloven Kingdom, Piazzolla Caldera and Promethean Fire.
The wait for Alexei Ratmansky's restaging of Petipa's Harlequinade is almost over! But if you can't wait until American Ballet Theatre officially debuts the ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House on June 6, we've got you covered. ABT brought the Harlequinade characters to life (and to the Alder Mansion in Yonkers, NY) in a short film by Ezra Hurwitz, and it's a guaranteed to make you laugh.
When an anonymous letter accused former New York City Ballet leader Peter Martins of sexual harassment last year, it felt like what had long been an open secret—the prevalence of harassment in the dance world—was finally coming to the surface. But the momentum of the #MeToo movement, at least in dance, has since died down.
Martins has retired, though an investigation did not corroborate any of the claims against him. He and former American Ballet Theatre star Marcelo Gomes, who suddenly resigned in December, were the only cases to make national headlines in the U.S. We've barely scratched the surface of the dance world's harassment problem.