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On Broadway: Slippers and Twirls
Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana. Photo by Jerry Anderson, Broadway.com.
It happens all the time at the ballet and in the movies: Boy and girl meet, boy and girl dance, boy and girl fall madly in love. On Broadway, however, it’s been a while since audiences watched romance blossom on a dance floor. But the long drought is over at last. This season, at the Broadway Theatre, Cinderella (in the person of Laura Osnes) and her Prince (Santino Fontana) fall hopelessly, helplessly in love as they whirl through a crowded ballroom singing “We are dancing, we are flying.”
It’s the freshly branded Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, the 1957 made-for-television musical that has finally been brought to the stage, with a new book that has some new twists by Douglas Carter Beane and direction by Mark Brokaw. And the lucky choreographer assigned to design that number for Cinderella (or Ella, as she prefers to be called) and Prince Topher (short for Christopher) is Josh Rhodes, who calls the opportunity to choreograph a ball “a dream come true.”
His first instinct was to base the dance moves on competition waltzing. But he quickly came to the conclusion that something softer and more romantic was needed. “So I went back and watched a lot of classical corps de ballet,” he says. “To me this is the most romantic thing. Watch two people in ballet, when they’re just ravishing, and they grab each other in lifts, and the arms are willowy and wispy—that is love. I’m a sucker for stunning ballet lines. It’s fun to make the girls look like they’re just floating across the room while the man is lifting them.”
The ball is the show’s pivotal scene. But Rhodes, making his Broadway debut as a choreographer, has other opportunities to show what he can do—including several that didn’t exist in the original television version. In the course of amplifying and updating the book, Beane has added characters and interpolated several discarded Rodgers and Hammerstein songs. One of the new characters, a political-minded villager named Jean Michel, provides a love interest for the more sympathetic of Cinderella’s stepsisters, and the couple does a comic duet that has their attempts at flirtation sabotaged by their physical awkwardness.
Once he figured out the dramatic content of the number, the actual choreography, with its loopy collisions and missed connections, was easy. “I’m a vaudevillian at heart,” Rhodes says. “It’s all about figuring out the comedic beats. They’re trying so hard to be this gorgeous, romantic couple, and there’s just nothing about them that’s going to make it happen. Not everybody is a natural Cinderella.”
And not everybody is a natural dancer. Unlike so many kids who land in dance class because their moms pick up on their kinetic ability, Rhodes started his training as a 10-year-old, in Decatur, Illinois, when his mother noticed how much trouble he was having with the dance steps he was trying to learn for a show. He blossomed, and by the time he was a teenager, his teacher, Gary Shull, was not just encouraging him as a dancer but pushing him to choreograph. He studied musical theater at the University of Michigan and came straight to New York after graduating in 1993, winning gigs in Fosse and Chicago as well as other shows.
Rhodes worked frequently as a swing, which, he notes, helped him think like a choreographer: “You’re not looking at the dance selfishly, from your one track,” he explains. “You’re looking at the entire picture.” He also credits the “meticulous composition” and musicality of the Fosse dances he performed, the ballet-based approach Christopher Wheeldon took in choreographing The Sweet Smell of Success, and the insights, both practical and artistic, gleaned when he assisted Casey Nicholaw on The Drowsy Chaperone. By the time he went into Chicago, he was getting his own choreography jobs. He refers to Chicago as an “adult” show, “because they treat you like an adult there.” Rhodes, 41, was able to take time off for his own projects and then return to the ensemble, affording him “the stability of a Broadway contract and the chance to be creative on the side.”
Ultimately there were more side projects than he could comfortably juggle, and he reluctantly hung up his dancing shoes. “I had a wonderful career,” he says. “I didn’t leave it because I was bored with performing. It’s just that opportunities came as a choreographer that were too good to pass up.”
The Cinderella job didn’t just fall in his lap. He got it the old-fashioned way—auditioning for it. On a $2,000 budget provided by the producers, he staged two of the show’s numbers, renting a studio, hiring an arranger for the music, and enlisting his friends to dance for free. He’s already repaid one of them, with a spot in the Cinderella ensemble, and he’ll undoubtedly get to the others. Rhodes is on Broadway to stay.
Sylviane Gold writes on theater for The New York Times.
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).