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On the Rise
During a sticky afternoon last summer, fledgling choreographer Grady McLeod Bowman took a break from a New York International Fringe Festival rehearsal to run through the steps he’d just learned as a dancer in the Broadway musical Billy Elliot. Practicing in the narrow hallway, his wide shoulders set firmly above his sturdy 5' 4" frame, his face remained calm. He glided into a soft-shoe sequence with swift footwork reminiscent of his idol Gene Kelly, only to switch to slamming taps filled with stomps and jumps. Back in the studio, he patiently began teaching an eight-count of hip hop isolations to two dancers in the festival’s experimental musical The Johnny.
At first glance, it might have seemed that three different performers tricked the eye, but it was only one exceptionally versatile one. At 26, Bowman has performed in a striking range of projects, from Broadway’s Pirate Queen, South Pacific and Billy Elliot, to Pilobolus commercials and concerts. The breadth reflects Bowman’s credentials as a true triple threat: a dancer, singer, and actor who can excel in each. Lately, he’s been hired as an audition assistant, assistant dance captain, and fight captain—signs of growing success in the musical-theater world.
Versatility has been Bowman’s secret weapon. “I can tap, do ballet, and jump off walls,” he says. “In the Billy Elliot audition we had to be gritty and pretty much run an obstacle course. For South Pacific, the movement was very loose. The more you know how to do, the more marketable you are.”
And while “marketable” wasn’t always in his lexicon, Bowman has had to be realistic about the business of show business. “I’m a very specific type: short, stocky, and bald,” he says. “You’ll never see me audition for The Producers or Grease. But while I’m not right for many parts, I’m extremely right for others.”
Bowman didn’t start out this focused. At first, he was just a boy looking to move. He got the urge to tap when he was 10, after he started to act in local productions. He began studying with Eddie George, a hoofer-turned-boxer who worked as a mechanic at a local garage and gave private tap lessons using scratchy jazz records.
George taught Bowman not just dance but history. “Eddie would bring in books and show me tons of video,” says Bowman. “The first half of the lesson was done sitting in chairs, tapping our feet to the beat and catching up.”
For five years Bowman took lessons with George and participated in competitions using his tap skills. When Bowman turned 15, George urged him to study dance more seriously. At fellow competition-kid Jared Grimes’ suggestion, Bowman joined Gene Medler and the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble in Chapel Hill. But it wasn’t until a chance audition for a local Nutcracker that Bowman decided it was time to master other techniques.
“I hadn’t been trained at all, but they needed guys who were strong enough to lift girls,” explains Bowman. “There were a couple of male ballet dancers who could leap and turn. I wanted to do that too.” The more dance Bowman saw, the more he wanted to learn. When a local competition dancer needed a partner, Bowman decided to take ballet and jazz lessons at the Linda Kinlaw School of Dance in Fayetteville. Later, at the urging of another teacher, Kirstie Tice, Bowman applied—and was accepted—to the North Carolina School of the Arts.
“While I don’t remember a point where I thought ‘This is what I will do,’ I never had an itch to do anything else—at all,” says Bowman.
At NCSA, Bowman took classes in Limón, Cunningham, and release techniques. But in 2003, after attending a Broadway Theatre Project summer intensive in Tampa, Florida, Bowman took a detour. During the summer program, which had teachers like Ben Vereen, Bowman was offered his first professional job dancing in the tour of Fosse.
After finishing the tour, Bowman returned to school, graduated in 2005, and moved to New York. Within just two months, he landed three regional productions and his first Broadway gig—The Pirate Queen. The call took a while to come, however: Bowman had auditioned for the musical almost six months before.
Though Pirate Queen’s run was short, from then on the jobs kept coming. When Bowman became assistant dance captain for South Pacific, he knew he had gained a solid foothold.
“As a dancer, Grady gets the whole picture: He can combine style and telling the story,” says Wendi Bergamini, South Pacific’s dance captain. “It’s unusual to find a dancer whose ability is equally high in each area, but Grady’s skill level is extraordinary.”
With some stage credentials under his belt, Bowman is now focusing on another dream: choreographing full-time. After making the dances for a friend’s musical when he was 16, Bowman says he fell in love with creating movement, as well as performing it. A long run in Billy Elliot could yield the time and regular income Bowman has been longing for to develop his choreography skills. “I love the whole creative process: painting a picture onstage, looking at the work, dissecting it, and changing it,” he says. His work on the Fringe Festival show, The Johnny, was a small but significant step in that direction. “My big dream in the sky is to have a steady gig now so that eventually I can just choreograph.”
Lauren Kay is assistant editor at Dance Spirit.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
When most people think of dance students, they imagine lithe children and teenagers waltzing around classrooms with their legs lifted to their ears. It doesn't often cross our minds that dance training can involve an older woman trying to build strength in her body to ward off balance issues, or a middle-aged man who didn't have the confidence to take a dance class as a boy for fear of bullying.
Anybody can begin to learn dance at any age. But it takes a particular type of teacher to share our art form with dancers who have few prospects beyond fun and fitness a few nights a week.
New York City–based dancers know Gibney. It's a performance venue, a dance company, a rehearsal space, an internship possibility—a Rubik's Cube of resources bundled into two sites at 280 and 890 Broadway. And in March of this year, Gibney (having officially dropped "Dance" from its name) announced a major expansion of its space and programming; it now operates a total of 52,000 square feet, 23 studios and five performance spaces across the two locations.
Six of those studios and one performance space are brand-new at the 280 Broadway location, along with several programs. EMERGE will commission new works by emerging choreographic voices for the resident Gibney Dance Company each year; Making Space+ is an extension of Gibney's Making Space commissioning and presenting program, focused on early-career artists. For the next three years, the Joyce Theater Foundation's artist residency programs will be run out of one of the new Gibney studios, helping to fill the gap left by the closing of the Joyce's DANY Studios in 2016.
Dancers crossing over into the fitness realm may be increasingly popular, but it was never part of French-born Julie Granger's plan. Though Granger grew up a serious ballet student, taking yoga classes on the side eventually led to a whole new career. Creating her own rules along the way, Granger shares how combining the skills she learned in ballet with certifications in yoga, barre and personal training allowed her to become her own boss (and a rising fitness influencer).