On the Rise: Ariana DeBose

Not many dancers have a stage presence strong enough to earn its own Twitter hashtag. But Ariana DeBose has reached that level. In the ensemble of Broadway's Hamilton, she embodies the bullet in the show's climactic duel scene—a moment she's become so well-known for that it's simply called #thebullet. Even when she's playing more human characters, DeBose's personality is so electric and her technique so precise that her every movement crackles with infectious energy.

Broadway shows: Currently in Hamilton. Past include Pippin, Motown: The Musical, Bring It On: The Musical

Age: 25

Hometown: Raleigh, NC

Training: Dance Theatre, Pierrette Sadler Danceurs and CC & Co. Dance Complex (all in North Carolina)

Accolades: Top 20, “So You Think You Can Dance" Season 6

Breakout moment: DeBose originated the role of dance crew diva Nautica in Broadway's Bring It On in 2012. It was her first time working with choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler. “He helped me find my comedy and what my strengths are," she says.

Quick change: In Hamilton, DeBose plays everything from a lady in a corseted ball gown to a soldier fighting in the Revolution to, yes, a bullet. “It's always a challenge to know who you are in every moment," she says. “In the Battle of Yorktown, I could choose to be a man that evening, or a woman who has disguised herself as a man fighting for our country. There's a little leeway."

Technical chameleon: Having taken class with choreographers like Sonya Tayeh, Jason Parsons and Tabitha and Napoleon D'umo during her time on the convention circuit, DeBose is at home in a variety of styles and able to excel in wildly different shows. “Bring It On was a cheerleading hip-hop musical, and I was learning how to stunt," she says, “and then I went right into Motown and was step-touching."

What Andy Blankenbuehler says: “She fills each style with a sense of life, honesty and charisma that instantly catapults her into her characters."

Finding herself: DeBose has also given several solo concerts in New York City, which showcase both her dance and singing skills. “It's important as an artist to find the confidence to do that," she says. “I would rather people know me for who I am, as opposed to them labeling what it is that I have to offer."

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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