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Inside Katrina Lenk's Latest Broadway Gig: The Band's Visit
When Katrina Lenk says her feet never touched the ground in her Broadway debut, as a replacement in Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, she's not telling you how deliriously happy she was—though she was.
Lenk is being literal: Playing Arachne, the show's magical spider-woman, she was suspended in a gigantic web throughout. Her ability to fly and enjoy it—crucial to landing the role—was honed with a summer job "swimming" over the heads of the audience at Universal Studios. "You just never know where random experiences are gonna take you," she says.
Her resumé provides a good example: her ability to play the violin and dance at the same time was on view in Once; in Indecent, she fiddled (again), performed David Dorfman's vivid choreography and spoke and sang in Yiddish.
She adds Hebrew and a heavy Israeli accent to her lexicon in her latest show, The Band's Visit, which starts previews at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre this month. And, instead of dancing on air, this time she will dance sitting down. "She's a Renaissance woman," says Patrick McCollum, the show's choreographer.
The Band's Visit. Photo by Ahron R. Foster
Lenk is Dina, the seemingly hard-boiled Israeli who welcomes seven stranded Egyptian musicians to her hole-in-the-wall desert cafe. She created the role off-Broadway last December, winning the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical in the process.
The show, which was named Best Musical by the New York Drama Critics' Circle, uses a refreshingly casual style to tell interlocking stories as its mismatched misfits connect. The approach accurately represents the laconic 2007 Israeli movie on which the show was based.
Lenk "loved, loved, loved" the film, she says, but her first thought was "How is this gonna be a musical?" Music, and its power to communicate across cultures, is at its heart, but the movie seemed too full "of silence and awkwardness" to translate well to the stage. "Somehow," she says, "David Yazbek [the composer] and Itamar Moses [the book writer] made that work."
The challenge for McCollum was to make numbers move without resorting to what Lenk calls "the thing that happens in musicals—suddenly we're singing and dancing!" David Cromer, the director, wanted the show firmly grounded in everyday reality.
To that end, the Israelis speak Hebrew amongst themselves, the musicians stick to Arabic, and when the members of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra must communicate with the locals, or vice versa, they use English.
In one of the show's most magical numbers, Dina and the bandleader, played by Tony Shalhoub, sit opposite each other in a restaurant. She tells him how her lonely girlhood was perfumed by two of Egypt's most celebrated cultural exports, the singer Umm Kulthum and the movie star Omar Sharif.
Katrina Lenk and Tony Shalhoub. Photo by Ahron R. Foster
As staged for the Atlantic Theater Company premiere, Lenk sang Yazbek's sinuous, Middle Eastern melody while curving her arms and curling her long fingers, tracing lacy, arabesque patterns in the air. Tossing back her head and shoulders, her torso ecstatically arched, she expressed Dina's complete surrender to an intoxicating memory without ever getting up from her chair.
In the run-up to starting rehearsals for the Broadway production of The Band's Visit, Lenk and McCollum were planning to spend some time together doing Gaga technique. Choreographing on Lenk, McCollum says, "is a dream—she's so cool and relaxed."
And Lenk returns the compliment. She's quick to credit collaboration for the show's success, citing the Israeli Americans and Arab Americans in the cast, and even getting in a plug for the Moroccan-born Egyptian-dialect coach. "There was a lot of sharing," the Midwest native says, "and the movement came out of all of that."
It can be hard to focus when Alice Sheppard dances.
Her recent sold-out run of DESCENT at New York Live Arts, for instance, offered a constellation of stimulation. Onstage was a large architectural ramp with an assortment of peaks and planes. There was an intricate lighting and projection design. There was a musical score that unfolded like an epic poem. There was a live score too: the sounds of Sheppard and fellow dancer Laurel Lawson's bodies interacting with the surfaces beneath them.
And there were wheelchairs. But if you think the wheelchairs are the center of this work, you're missing something vital about what Sheppard creates.
"I'm sorry, but I just can't possibly give you the amount of money you're asking for."
My heart sinks at my director's final response to my salary proposal. She insists it's not me or my work, there is just no money in the budget. My disappointment grows when handed the calendar for Grand Rapids Ballet's next season with five fewer weeks of work.
"It just...always looks better in my head."
While that might not be something any of us would want to hear from a choreographer, it's a brilliant introduction to "Off Kilter" and the odd, insecure character at its center, Milton Frank. The ballet mockumentary (think "The Office" or "Parks and Recreation," but with pointe shoes) follows Frank (dancer-turned-filmmaker Alejandro Alvarez Cadilla) as he comes back to the studio to try his hand at choreographing for the first time since a plagiarism scandal derailed his fledgling career back in the '90s.
We've been pretty excited about the series for a while, and now the wait is finally over. The first episode of the show, "The Denial," went live earlier today, and it's every bit as awkward, hilarious and relatable as we hoped.
A Jellicle Ball is coming to the big screen, with the unlikeliest of dancemakers on tap to choreograph.
We'll give you some hints: His choreography can aptly be described as "animalistic," though Jellicle cats have never come to mind specifically when watching his hyper-physical work. He's worked on movies before—even one about Beasts. And though contemporary ballet is his genre of choice, his choreography is certainly theatrical enough to lend itself to a musical.
What is the right flooring system for us?
So many choices, companies, claims, endorsements, and recommendations to consider. The more you look, the more confusing it gets. Here is what you need to do. Here is what you need to know to get the flooring system suited to your needs.
These days, everyone tells you how important it is to be versatile. But what if you're convinced there's just one style that's right for you? It can be tough to balance a deep interest in a single specialty and still meet many choreographers' expectations. Luckily, you don't have to choose between all in or all over the place, as long as you follow your interests thoughtfully.
So far, the fervor to create diversity in ballet has primarily focused on dancers. Less attention has been paid to the work that they'll encounter once they arrive.
Yet the cultivation of ballet choreographers of color (specifically black choreographers) through traditional pathways of choreographic training grounds remains virtually impossible. No matter how you slice it, we end up at the basic issues that plague the pipeline to the stage: access and privilege.
Christopher Wheeldon is going to be giving Michael Jackson some new moves: The Royal Ballet artistic associate is bringing the King of Pop to Broadway.
The unlikely pairing was announced today by Jackson's estate. Wheeldon will serve as both director and choreographer for the new musical inspired by Michael Jackson's life, which is aiming for a 2020 Broadway opening. This will be Wheeldon's second time directing and choreographing, following 2015's Tony Award-winning An American in Paris.
Wheeldon is a surprising choice, to say the least. There are many top choreographers who worked with Jackson directly, like Wade Robson and Brian Friedman, who could have been tapped for the project. Or the production could have even hired someone who actually choreographed on Jackson when he was alive, like Buddha Stretch.
Broadway musicals have been on my mind for more than half a century. I discovered them in grade school, not in a theater but electronically. On the radio, every weeknight an otherwise boring local station would play a cast album in its entirety; on television, periodically Ed Sullivan's Sunday night variety show would feature an excerpt from the latest hit—numbers from Bye Bye Birdie, West Side Story, Camelot, Flower Drum Song.
But theater lives in the here and now, and I was in middle school when I attended my first Broadway musical, Gypsy—based, of all things, on the early life of the famed burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee. I didn't know who Jerome Robbins was, but I recognized genius when I saw it—kids morphing into adults as a dance number progresses, hilarious stripping routines, a pas de deux giving concrete shape to the romantic yearnings of an ugly duckling. It proved the birth of a lifelong habit, indulged for the last 18 years in the pages of this magazine. But all long runs eventually end, and it's time to say good-bye to the "On Broadway" column. It's not the last of our Broadway coverage—there's too much great work being created and performed, and you can count on hearing from me in print and online.
Let's start with the obvious: Over the weekend, Beyoncé and Jay-Z released a joint album, Everything Is Love. Bey and Jay also dropped a video for the album's lead track, which they filmed inside the actual Louvre museum in Paris (as one does, when one is a member of the Carter family). And the vid features not only thought-provoking commentary on the Western art tradition, but also some really incredible dancing.
So, who choreographed this epic? And who are the dancers bringing it to life in those already-iconic bodystockings?
Travis Wall draws inspiration from dancers Tate McCrae, Timmy Blankenship and more.
One often-overlooked relationship that exists in dance is the relationship between choreographer and muse. Recently two-time Emmy Award Winner Travis Wall opened up about his experience working with dancers he considers to be his muses.
"My muses in choreography have evolved over the years," says Wall. "When I'm creating on Shaping Sound, our company members, my friends, are my muses. But at this current stage of my career, I'm definitely inspired by new, fresh talent."
Wall adds, "I'm so inspired by this new generation of dancers. Their teachers have done such incredible jobs, and I've seen these kids grown up. For many of them, I've had a hand in their exposure to choreography."
This week, New York City's Joyce Theater presents two companies addressing LGBTQ+ issues.