Inside DM

Few things are more intimidating for a choreographer than redoing a master’s work. Luckily for Joshua Bergasse, when he was first asked to update Jerome Robbins’ choreography for On the Town, he had no idea the production would become a major hit destined for Broadway. It was supposed to be a summer show in Massachusetts. The stakes were low. So he was unafraid to take the risk—and it paid off in a major way: This month On the Town will mark Bergasse’s choreographic Broadway debut. In our cover story, he shares how he’s gone about celebrating Robbins’ movement, while refreshing it with a slightly grittier, more grounded, 21st-century energy.

For this issue’s special focus on Broadway, we also sat down with Steven Hoggett as he choreographed Sting’s new musical, The Last Ship. In many ways, Hoggett’s the furthest thing from your typical Broadway choreographer: He doesn’t do song-and-dance numbers or set routines with kick-ball-changes. But he has an incredible reverence for movement. In his shows, everything—whether a character cracks his knuckles or slides his hands in his pockets—is choreographed with a deliberate intention. “You can’t just make a casual gesture onstage,” he tells writer Zachary Whittenburg. “That’s as mindless as opening your mouth and letting any old words come out.”

 

Right: “When you give dancers that kind of freedom, watch out! They have an innate creativity that is endless.”—Hubbard Street Dance Chicago artistic director Glenn Edgerton on his company’s anything-goes collaboration with sketch-comedy troupe Second City. Photo by Quinn Wharton.

It’s an artistic philosophy that many dancers know well, but maybe none more so than those who perform in immersive theater. We spoke to dancers in shows like Sleep No More to learn how they juggle choreography with carefully calibrated moments between themselves and audience members. As the interactive trend grows in both popular dance theater productions and downtown postmodern dance pieces, more and more dancers are being asked to fine-tune audience interplay as precisely as they would a pirouette. And many find the experience brings out a whole new side of their artistry. Performances become less about trying to show off virtuosity, and more about sharing something personal—and truly making every movement in every moment their own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jennifer Stahl

Editor in Chief

jstahl@dancemedia.com

Broadway
The "Merde" bag. Courtesy Scenery

Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.

But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?

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Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"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.

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News
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

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Health & Body
Sara Mearns in the gym. Photo by Kyle Froman.

New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.

"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "

She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.

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