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Summer Study Guide 2011: Bound for Broadway
A star-studded week for future triple threats
The bass thuds in Studio 5, a black-box complete with wings and snazzy new marley, where 10 advanced students learn a hip hop routine to Mary J. Blige’s “The One.” Nick Kenkel (“25 to Watch,” p. 48), assistant choreographer of Legally Blonde on Broadway, leads the triple-threats-in-training through the high-energy combination, breaking down the complicated vocabulary. “You can’t walk up here,” he demonstrates, with mincing steps that make the kids crack up. “Use your plié.” He shows the opening walks again with attitude that would put Beyoncé and Missy Elliott (both of whom he’s danced with) to shame.
In the adjacent studio of Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, artistic director Catherine Cox coaches the younger group on solo songs. “It’s not just about the note,” Cox advises a singer learning to belt. The Tony Award–nominated Broadway veteran grabs her own stomach, uttering a sound from deep in her gut. “That joy’s gotta be internal.”
A Google search for “musical theater summer intensive” yields around 40 million results; choosing a triple threat program is by no means easy. If you’re a Broadway-bound dancer looking to gain confidence in singing and acting, the weeklong Broadway Triple Threat program (BTT) might be a perfect match. Cox loves working with strong dancers who arrive with “a certain raw material in singing and acting. They’ll add to their skill level and become more competitive in the real world.” Cox and her all-star faculty coach students in all three disciplines. They also provide a window into the realities of the industry—all in a friendly environment right in the heart of New York City.
Symbiosis & Support
Students Ashley Crimmins and James Ackermann were drawn to the BTT intensive because of its faculty. “We get to work with people that are in there now doing exactly what we want to do,” says 18-year-old Crimmins, from Colorado Springs, CO. With many years of dance training under their belts, she and Ackermann were the unofficial leaders of the dance portion of the intensive, pushing their more singing-oriented peers to excel in hip hop, jazz, tap, and musical theater movement classes. In singing and acting classes, the roles were reversed. Cox describes the students’ relationships as symbiotic. “They challenge each other.”
Personal attention can be rare in New York intensives. But at BTT, teacher-to-student ratio is important, says Cox. She aims to create a safe environment in which to experiment. “My strength is making the students realize that their strength is who they are. It’s always better to be idiosyncratically you than to be something you’ve seen before and are trying to copy.”
Unlike many programs that focus on ensemble pieces, BTT stresses all aspects of solo work: movement, monologues, and songs. “I’ve done a lot of other programs and this one by far has taught me the most,” says 17-year-old Ackermann, of Albuquerque, NM. “I needed to work on my singing and the theatrical part of dancing, and that’s what I learned here.” Based on their auditions, each of the 20 students (divided into two age groups: 13 to 15, and 16 and up) learns a piece selected for them by Cox. By the end of the week, everyone can add a suitable number to their audition repertoire.
Big City Exposure
In addition to its faculty, BTT also boasts master classes and Q&A sessions with guest artists currently active (and influential) in the industry. Students presented songs for Tom Kitt, Tony Award–winning composer of Next to Normal; performer Mandy Gonzalez of In the Heights and Wicked; and David Evans, associate conductor of Wicked. After strutting their stuff for Nora Brennan, the children’s casting director of Billy Elliot: The Musical, and gaining behind-the-scenes insight into the casting process, the students attended the Broadway show.
BTT’s Manhattan location makes access to such resources possible; it also immerses students in the New York vibe. For those with musical theater aspirations, says Cox, “New York City is it. The city has a particular energy that can be intoxicating or a big turnoff. It’s a good time to learn what that is.”
BTT culminates in a final showcase for family and friends. Throughout the week, students do mock auditions for faculty and guest artists. But come Friday, says Cox, the showcase is about “celebrating process,” not an industry audition.
Cox acknowledges that TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance are raising the bar for aspiring Broadway performers. When parents ask if their kids will become stars by the end of BTT, she tells them, “It’s a week. Be realistic and have respect for the arts.” Still, she manages to accomplish a lot within a short period of time. “You can find a glimmer of a belt, a glimmer of a time-step,” she says. “They’ll go back and study with a whole new awareness of what’s out there. In that week, I can get them inspired.”
Debbie Schneider dances and writes in NYC.
BTT students take class with Catherine Cox. Photo by David Evans, courtesy MMAC
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.
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.
"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.
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).
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."
José Greco popularized Spanish dance in 1950s and '60s America through his work onstage and on screen. Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater's American Spanish Dance & Music Festival is honoring the icon in recognition of what would have been his 100th birthday. As part of the tribute, Greco's three dancing children are reuniting to perform together for the first time since their father's death in 2000. Also on the program is the premiere of contemporary flamenco choreographer Carlos Rodriguez's Mar de Fuego (Sea of Fire). June 15–17, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. ensembleespanol.org.
Dance Theatre of Harlem dancers Christopher McDaniel and Crystal Serrano were working on Nacho Duato's Coming Together in rehearsal when McDaniel's foot hit a slippery spot on the marley. As they attempted a swinging lift, both dancers went tumbling, injuring Serrano as they fell. She ended up being out for a week with a badly bruised knee.
"I immediately felt, This is my fault," says McDaniel. "I broke my friend."
What's on the minds of college students today?
I recently had the honor of adjudicating at the American College Dance Association's National College Dance Festival, along with choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess and former National Endowment for the Arts dance specialist Douglas C. Sonntag. We chose three winners—one for Outstanding Choreography and two for Outstanding Performance—from 30 pieces representing schools throughout the country. It was a great opportunity to see what college dance students are up to—from the issues they care about to the kinds movement they're interested in exploring.
Here were the biggest trends and takeaways:
It's summer festival season! If you're feeling overwhelmed by the dizzying array of offerings, never fear: We've combed through the usual suspects to highlight the shows we most want to catch.
Subscription box services have quickly gained a dedicated following among the fashion and fitness set. And while we'd never say no to a box with new jewelry or workout wear to try, we've been waiting for the subscription model to make its way to the dance world.
Enter barre + bag, a new service that sends a curated set of items to your door each season. Created by Faye Morrow Bell and her daughter Tyler, a student in the pre-professional ballet program at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, this just-launched service offers dance, lifestyle and wellness finds in four themed bags each year: Spring Performance, Summer Study, Back-to-Studio and Nutcracker. Since all the products are specifically made for dancers, everything barre + bag sends you is something you'll actually use, (Plus, it all comes in a bag instead of a box—because what dancer can ever have enough bags?).
barre + bag's Summer Collection
Today, American Ballet Theatre announced a new initiative to foster the development of choreography by company members and freelance dancemakers. Aptly titled ABT Incubator, the program, directed by principal David Hallberg, will give selected choreographers the opportunity to spend two weeks workshopping new dances.
"It has always been my vision to establish a process-oriented hub to explore the directions ballet can forge now and in the future," said Hallberg in a press release from the company. Interested? Here's how you can apply to participate.
Back in January, Chase Johnsey grabbed headlines when he resigned from Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, where his performances had garnered critical acclaim for over a decade, alleging a culture of harassment and discrimination. (An independent investigation launched by the company did not substantiate any legal claims.) Johnsey, who identifies as genderqueer, later told us that he feared his dance career was at an end—where else, as a ballet dancer, would he be allowed to perform traditionally female roles?
But the story didn't end there. After a surprise offer from Tamara Rojo, artistic director of English National Ballet, Johnsey has found a temporary artistic home with the company, joining as a guest at the rank of first artist for its run of The Sleeping Beauty, which continues this week. After weeks of working and rehearsing with the company, last week Johnsey quietly marked a new milestone: He performed with ENB's corps de ballet as one of the ladies in the prince's court.