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Hamilton's Morgan Marcell on "Going with Your Gut," Pursuing Film and Sonya Tayeh's New Show
For many performers, dancing in the original cast of the phenomenally popular Hamilton is the epitome of "making it." For film and history buffs, contributing a documentary to the Smithsonian's collection might be a bucket-list item. And for those with a heart for giving back, creating an organization that leads arts workshops for youth is a powerful accomplishment.
Morgan Marcell has done all those things, proving that dancers needn't limit themselves to one passion. We caught up with the former swing and co-dance captain of Hamilton to chat about The Eliza Project, her budding film career and her next Broadway-bound show.
Jon Rua, Morgan Marcell and Austin Smith in costume for Hamilton. Photo by Jayme Thornton.
How did The Eliza Project get started?
When I was in Hamilton with Phillipa Soo, we decided that we should do something to benefit the students at Graham Windham, which is the orphanage that Eliza Hamilton originally started and still exists today. We came up with this workshop concept where we would raise funds through Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and they would give a portion to The Eliza Project every time Hamilton collected for donations. Any participant in Hamilton could take that money and create a project to benefit the students and broaden their horizons through art.
We've done three projects so far, and the last one we decided to film for a documentary—I am an aspiring filmmaker, and the Smithsonian asked for a donation for their Giving in America exhibit on philanthropy. [Editor's note: Later this month, a portrait of Eliza Hamilton and a costume from the musical will be on display as part of the exhibit.] I decided to create something digital, instead of a T-shirt or a photo. They're going to put it in their archives eventually.
Right now, we have the 10-minute documentary, which I'm submitting to film festivals. This is my first go-round at directing. I have a real passion for it. Hamilton gave me a platform, and so did The Eliza Project, to create a piece of film that made a statement and hopefully betters the world a little bit.
How did you become interested in filmmaking?
It was something I was always interested in from a very young age. I wore out the VHS, yes, VHS, of The Wizard of Oz and Brave Little Toaster, some of the classic films. I was so enthralled with how they could possibly make that. As I got older, I was really interested in drama and storytelling. I had a huge connection to Martin Luther King, Jr., and what he did in the civil rights movement. I think I was really interested in people that were creating change, whether that was through art and filmmaking or marching and activism. I always wanted to combine the two but I didn't really know how. So I decided to just start somewhere, and hopefully this is the beginning of a journey.
What are some of The Eliza Project workshops you've done so far?
The last project, we rented out Avatar Studios where they record all the Broadway soundtracks. The idea is as the funds grow, they're available to the artists to change these kids' lives in a very small way. Phillipa and I did the first one together, and that one was a singing, dancing and improv workshop. The second one was the art of storytelling around a campfire. It was designed around this eco workshop. We took these kids into a forest and taught them how to make a fire and shelter and how to be green, more aware. Anything can fall under the umbrella, and we're excited about that.
So as long as there's an arts tie-in it seems pretty open?
An arts tie and letting the kids own their own story. We really love that we're not the doctors and the advisors and the council members that are at Graham Windham because they've read the files and know exactly what these kids have gone through. When the kids come in, they're surprised by the fact that we don't know who they are, and they have to kind of define themselves through art.
What's your involvement with musical theater now?
I just did Chess at the Kennedy Center, and that was part of their new concert series. They're aiming for it to go to Broadway. And then I'm also going back there to do the concert series of In the Heights, which will be fun because I did the tour. And then Moulin Rouge! in Boston and then Broadway in 2019.
Have you started working with Sonya Tayeh on the choreography for Moulin Rouge! yet?
We had a six-week lab at the end of last year, so I spent a long chunk of time with her. And we're doing some pre-production for the show coming up. She's a beast and a force and has a vision.
Do you have any advice for dancers who also have multiple interests on how to juggle them and stay open to possibilities?
So many people told me to go with your heart, but I think it's also about going with your gut and not falling into what you think you should be doing. I did that for a long time: I didn't admit that I loved musical theater. I didn't really admit that film was my number-one priority or my number-one passion. But I think if I had honed in on that and accepted that earlier, it would have been maybe easier—I wanted to go to Stanford and be an academic because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. There's a part of me that had a passion for that, but I leaned in so far to the image that I had created and that my parents had created for me, that I think I lost sight of what I was really passionate about.
The other thing is use any platform and opportunity that you have to link your other passions. Whichever one rises the fastest will help you, and then you've also developed these other skills.
When Rachel Hamrick was in the corps of Universal Ballet in Seoul, her determination to strengthen her flexibility turned into a side hobby that would eventually land her a new career. "I was in La Bayadere for the first time, and I was the first girl out for that arabesque sequence in The Kingdom of the Shades," she says. "I had the flexibility, but I was wobbly because I wasn't stretching in the right way. That's when I first started playing around with the idea of the Flexistretcher. It was tied together then, so it was definitely more makeshift," she says with a laugh, "But I trained with it to help me get the correct alignment so that I would have the strength to sustain the whole act."
Now, Hamrick is running her own business, complete with an ever-growing product line and her FLX training method—all because of her initial need to make it through 38 arabesques.
For the new Broadway season, Ellenore Scott has scored two associate choreographer gigs: For Head Over Heels, which starts previews June 23, Scott is working with choreographer Spencer Liff on an original musical mashing up The Go-Go's punk-rock hits with a narrative based on Sir Philip Sidney's 1590 book, Arcadia. Four days after that show opens, she'll head into rehearsals for this fall's King Kong, collaborating with director/choreographer Drew McOnie and a 20-foot gorilla.
Scott gave us the inside scoop about Head Over Heels, the craziness of her freelance hustle and the most surprising element of working on Broadway.
Dance in movies is a trend as old as time. Movies like The Red Shoes and Singin' in the Rain paved the way for Black Swan and La La Land; dancing stars like Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers led the way for Channing Tatum and Julianne Hough.
Lucky for us, some of Hollywood's most incredible dance scenes have been compiled into this amazing montage, featuring close to 300 films in only seven minutes. So grab the popcorn, cozy on up, and watch the moves that made the movies.
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.
If you want to know how scary the AIDS epidemic was in the 1980s, come see Ishmael Houston-Jones' piece THEM from 1986. This piece reveals the subterranean fears that crept into gay relationships at the time. Houston-Jones is one of downtown's great improvisers, and his six dancers also improvise in response to his suggestions. With Chris Cochrane's edgy guitar riffs and Dennis Cooper's ominous text, there's an unpredictable, near-creepy but epic quality to THEM.
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.
This time last year, Catherine Conley was already living a ballet dancer's dream. After an exchange between her home ballet school in Chicago and the Cuban National Ballet School in Havana, she'd been invited to train in Cuba full-time. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and one that was nearly unheard of for an American dancer. Now, though, Conley has even more exciting news: She's a full-fledged member of the National Ballet of Cuba's corps de ballet.
"In the school there were other foreigners, but in the company I'm the only foreigner—not just the only American, but the only non-Cuban," Conley says. But she doesn't feel like an outsider, or like a dancer embarking on a historic journey. "Nobody makes me feel different. They treat me as one of them," she says. Conley has become fluent in Spanish, and Cuba has come to feel like home. "The other day I was watching a movie that was dubbed in Spanish, and I understand absolutely everything now," she says.
Chantel Aguirre may call sunny Los Angeles home, but the Shaping Sound company member and NUVO faculty member spends more time in the air, on a tour bus or in a convention ballroom than she does in the City of Angels.
Aguirre, who is married to fellow Shaping Sound member Michael Keefe, generally only spends one week per month at home. "When I'm not working, I'm exploring," Aguirre says. "Michael and I are total travel junkies."
Akram Khan and Florence Welch (of Florence + The Machine) is not a pairing we ever would have dreamt up. But now that the music video for "Big God" has dropped, with choreography attributed to Khan and Welch, it seems that we just weren't dreaming big enough.
In the video, Welch leads a group of women standing in an eerily reflective pool of water. They seem untouchable, until they begin shedding their colorful veils, movements morphing to become animalistic and aggressive as the song progresses.
Savannah Lowery is about as well acquainted with the inner workings of a hospital as she is with the intricate footwork of Dewdrop.
As a child, the former New York City Ballet soloist would roam the hospital where her parents worked, pushing buttons and probably getting into too much trouble, she says. While other girls her age were clad in tutus playing ballerina, she was playing doctor.
"It just felt like home. I think it made me not scared of medicine, not scared of a hospital," she says. "I thought it was fascinating what they did."
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.
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.