Smokey Joe's Cafe cast members Dionne D. Figgins and Jelani Remy rehearse their playful and passionate duet from the song "Spanish Harlem."

Watch Joshua Bergasse Coach a Number From His Latest Dance-Filled Show

As soon as we saw the current off-Broadway revival of Smokey Joe's Cafe, directed and choreographed by Tony nominee Joshua Bergasse, we had to know just how it did it. In 90 minutes, the cast of nine races through 40 songs by prolific pop songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The show includes megahits from the last century—like 1957's "Jailhouse Rock" and 1963's "On Broadway"—and they're all decked out with dancing.

With no dialogue and no narrative, there's plenty of room for Bergasse's choreographic mind to run wild. "Dance plays a huge role in this show," says Bergasse. "Most of these songs were written to get people out on the dance floor, so you kind of can't stop your body from moving." Even though the hits are old, the show definitely isn't stuck in a time warp. "We wanted to make the dancing feel like it isn't of one specific time." You'll see social dances from the '50s and '60s, but Bergasse quickly mentions Michael Jackson as a big influence as well. (Yes, the moonwalk makes an appearance, as do more current crazes like the Nae Nae.)


How did Bergasse tackle such a jam-packed musical? "I thought of each number as its own thing and not the show as a big beast," he says. "But we did things to tie it all together," like setting the show in a bar. "You're really in Smokey Joe's Cafe." And though the cast doesn't play specific characters throughout, there are hints of relationships. "If you watched closely enough, it feels like some of them have a through line. They start out young and they mature throughout the show, and they meet back at Smokey Joe's Cafe a bit older and a bit wiser."

One of these couples is portrayed by Dionne D. Figgins, a stunning Dance Theatre of Harlem alum, and Jelani Remy, who, no big deal, played Simba in The Lion King on Broadway. Dance Magazine recently stepped into the studio as Bergasse coached the pair through the romantically charged number "Spanish Harlem." Flanked by Sherrod Barnes and Matt Oestreicher of the show's live band, Figgins and Remy worked with Bergasse to finesse some of the choreography's trickier moments.

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Clockwise from top left: Photo by Loreto Jamlig, Courtesy Ladies of Hip-Hop; Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Photo by Will Mayer for Better Half Productions, Courtesy ABT

The 10 Biggest Dance Stories of 2019

What were the dance moments that defined 2019? The stories that kept us talking, week after week? According to our top-clicked articles of the year, they ranged from explorations of dance medicine and dance history, takedowns of Lara Spencer and companies who still charge dancers to audition, and, of course, our list of expert tips on how to succeed in dance today.

We compiled our 10 biggest hits of the year, and broke down why we think they struck a chord:

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Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Nichols

I Am a Black Dancer Who Was Dressed Up in Blackface to Perform in La Bayadère

On Instagram this week, Misty Copeland reposted a picture of two Russian ballerinas covered head to toe in black, exposing the Bolshoi's practice of using blackface in the classical ballet La Bayadère. The post has already received over 60,000 likes and 2,000 comments, starting a long overdue conversation.

Comments have been pouring in from every angle imaginable: from history lessons on black face, to people outside of the ballet world expressing disbelief that this happens in 2019, to castigations of Copeland for exposing these young girls to the line of fire for what is ultimately the Bolshoi's costuming choice, to the accusations that the girls—no matter their cultural competence—should have known better.

I am a black dancer, and in 2003, when I was 11 years old, I was dressed up in blackface to perform in the Mariinsky Ballet's production of La Bayadère.

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Here's the First Trailer for the "In the Heights" Movie

Lights up on Washington Heights—because the trailer for the movie adaptation of the hit Broadway musical In the Heights has arrived. It's our first look into Lin-Manuel Miranda's latest venture into film—because LMM isn't stopping at three Tony awards, a Grammy award, and an Emmy.

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