Summer Study Guide: Next Stop: Broadway
It’s a steamy Friday afternoon in New York and two dozen aspiring triple threats are wandering around a dance studio looking lost, frustrated, and exhausted. No, they didn’t miss the latest audition for Billy Elliot or Wicked—they’re in acting class.
“Think of your favorite musical theater character,” calls out the director and choreographer Stephen Nachamie. “Do they lead from the heart, the head, the fists? Walk like that character. Now, you’re running late in a crowded airport! Who’s around you? Are they helping or getting in your way?”
Meanwhile, across the hall, a series of rise-and-fall “whoa” sounds comes from Marianne Wells’ vocal class. An hour later, both groups come together for tap class with 42nd Street choreographer Randy Skinner, before splitting up again to rehearse song-and-dance numbers for the showcase they’re presenting in three days.
Sound hectic? It is. But for Broadway hopefuls, that’s part of the appeal of the Musical Theater Performance Project (MTPP), a new summer intensive presented by Broadway Dance Center. In the program’s inaugural session last summer, 47 students (ages 15–25) tackled 20 classes and more than 20 hours of rehearsal over six days. And program director Joshua Bergasse—a dancer, choreographer, and BDC faculty member—is aiming even higher for 2010, planning a longer workshop with even more opportunities. His goal: to give participants not only top-notch training but also a glimpse into the life of a working musical theater artist—plus the chance to make some invaluable connections.
Class with the Best
There’s no denying that BDC is an iconic institution. Legions of musical theater performers have passed through its studios in the heart of New York City to learn from renowned faculty. But for MTPP, Bergasse and the BDC team raised the bar even higher, giving students the chance to study, in a small-group setting, with working performers, choreographers, directors, and more. The 2009 roster reads like a Who’s Who of Broadway’s brightest: Andy Blankenbuehler, David Marquez, Paige Davis, James Kinney—the list goes on. Put simply, you’re at MTPP to learn about life as a professional, from professionals.
“The faculty aren’t sugarcoating anything,” says Bergasse. “They demand from our students what they’d demand from a professional cast.” And because the teachers are active in the industry—directing, choreographing, and casting shows—students get to know the people who may be auditioning them down the road, getting more personal attention than they ever would at a cattle call. As Bergasse says, “The students learn about what it’s like to work with these people: How should you behave in rehearsal? How do you eat up information?”
The Complete Package
With its equal focus on dancing, acting, and singing, MTPP is tailored to training well-rounded Broadway performers. “Dancers have to learn how to open their mouths and trust what’s going to come out, to express a feeling in their face without using the rest of their body,” explains Bergasse. “In musical theater, that’s the vocabulary of the storytelling.”
MTPP applicants must submit both a dance video and an audio or video vocal performance, as well as a resumé and letter of recommendation. Those materials function as an audition for the program and for class placement. They also help the faculty design a final performance that allows everyone to shine—an extra perk considering that the showcase is open not just to friends and family but also to agents.
If you’re not the consummate triple threat, MTPP will help you build up your arsenal. “I didn’t grow up singing, and this program has been great for filling that gap,” says Meghan Larabee, a senior at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. “It’s exciting to realize that you can hit the notes—it’s like the first time you do a double pirouette.” Samuel Sacco, a high school senior from Oceanside, NY, adds that in his experience, every skill you develop enhances the other disciplines. For instance, he says, “acting teaches you how to take risks, which helps with all aspects of performing.”
Even if you’re at the top of your performance game, that’s not all it takes to land a job. To that end MTPP offers practical components, such as panel discussions with Broadway agents. Participants in 2009 also saw West Side Story and Altar Boyz and attended post-show talk-backs with the casts.
“Getting one-on-one career advice from people who are actually working in this industry—it’s knowledge without a price,” says Lauren Westcott, who graduated last year from Florida State University with a degree in theater.
The Next Generation
According to Bergasse, most of the faculty members were once in their students’ shoes—dreaming of a professional career, but unsure how to make it happen. “When I got my first show, I had no idea what to expect. I’d only been in class,” he says. “I moved to New York and started rehearsals with no idea how the process worked! So for our students, it’s about learning the process. They’re in the room with people who do this for a living, who want to pass on what they’ve learned. Not to mention that the students take class with someone and then go see their show that night. How cool is that?”
Kathryn Holmes is a dancer and writer in NYC.
Pictured: Dancers at MTPP. Photo by Jessica Saylor, courtesy BDC.
Over the past 15 years, Gesel Mason has asked 11 choreographers—including legends like Donald McKayle, David Roussève, Bebe Miller, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Rennie Harris and Kyle Abraham—to teach her a solo. She's performed up to seven of them in one evening for her project No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers.
Now, Mason is repackaging the essence of this work into a digital archive. This online offering shares the knowledge of a few with many, and considers how dance can live on as those who create it get older.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there's a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can't quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?
Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.
The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.