PC Kevin Berne, courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown

This New Musical Honoring Donna Summer Features An All-Female Ensemble Playing Both Men and Women

Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.

courtesy www.today.com


Women even portray some of the leading male characters, like Summer's first producer and songwriting partner, Giorgio Moroder. Co-writer and director Des McAnuff wanted a musical drenched in glitter and androgyny, like the disco era itself. The show, which opens this month at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, is the third hit-parade musical Trujillo has done. In 2005, he tracked the rise of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons in Jersey Boys, which moved to an off-Broadway theater after 11 years. A decade later came On Your Feet!, the Gloria and Emilio Estefan story that's currently on a nationwide tour.

Summer may resemble those productions, but Trujillo says it's deceptive. He won't call them "jukebox musicals," a term he reserves for songbook shows where "a sort of contrived story is written around the music." He classifies the pop-star musicals he's choreographed as autobiographical, because, he says, [paraphrase "we are actually telling the story of the artist."

For Summer's, the challenge has been "finding a vocabulary that vacillates between the sexes from number to number, and asking the dancers to find within them a specific way of moving—not to be men, but to have a mystery in the way that they move."

Summer also tells the story of a period—"an exuberant era of music and life and fun," Trujillo says. Starting with "Love to Love You Baby," in 1975, Summer churned out hit after hit until 2010, releasing singles and albums that inspired gyrations across the globe. The show includes some two dozen of her songs, but leans heavily on the '70s, those fabled disco years in which Summer's music reigned supreme.

PC Kevin Berne, courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown

It's a period that's especially meaningful to Trujillo, who moved to Canada from Colombia in 1976, at the age of 12. "I had been listening to all-Latin music—Celia Cruz and Tito Puente," he recalls. "But when I arrived in Toronto, it was the height of the disco era, and my cousins, who were already there, were heavily into the scene. One of them was a disco-dance champion."

Now he's setting the dances on his all-female ensemble and the three women playing Summer at various stages of her life. The first thing he did was call dance cobbler Phil LaDuca to ask for a special pair of shoes.

"I said, 'I need to know exactly how it feels when I'm choreographing for these women.' So he built me these fabulous boots with three-inch heels, and the minute I start rehearsal, those shoes are on. I've had instances where somebody says, 'I can't do that.' And I say, 'Okay, let me put my shoes on and I'll show you that it's possible.' "

He's not just rearranging moves remembered from his teenaged disco outings with his cousins. "It's not going to be a disco museum piece," he asserts. In fact, it couldn't be—Trujillo points out that without a codified style, disco allowed dancers many choices, including whether or not to dance with a partner.


The crucial element, he says, is freedom. "Donna had her own way of moving," he notes. "She had rhythm and was very expressive in the way she felt the music." Self-expression and joy, he says, were the point. So for Summer he stayed away from the partnered hustle moves, except for "hints now and then," in favor of solo dancing.

With its ambisexual casting and disco-flash extravagance, he says, "It is not like any of the other shows I've ever done." The aim, Trujillo says, "is to re-create the joyous time of disco, and what it meant, through the lens of 2018."

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021