Amber Gray and the Broadway cast of Hadestown. Photo by Matthew Murphy, Courtesy DKC/O&M
Last night's Tony Awards, (aka James Corden's three-hour attempt to persuade TV-streaming-binge-watchers to put down the remote and see some live theater, for gosh sake) had a bit of everything: wisdom from celebrated actors, cheeky laughs, political quips, historical victories and, our favorite, incredible performances. Unsurprisingly, Tony frontrunner Hadestown took home eight awards, including Best Musical, Best Direction for a Musical and Best Featured Actor in a Musical.
Relive the night with some of our favorite moments from Broadway's big night, in order of appearance.
Amber Gray and the cast of Hadestown. Photo by Helen Maybanks, Courtesy DKC/O&M
The Tony Award nominations were announced yesterday morning, and, as always, they gave us a lot to talk about.
Could Hadestown sweep the awards? Why didn't John Heginbotham's work on Oklahoma! garner him aBest Choreography nomination? What musical numbers will the nominated shows bring to the ceremony on June 9? To discuss, we gathered a group of musical theater–loving editors from Dance Magazine and Dance Spirit for a roundtable conversation about the nominees.
Camille A. Brown (top) in her BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play. Photo by Sharen Bradford, The Dancing Image; Courtesy Brown
Compare the gestation of new works across the performing arts and you'll find an ingredient mostly missing in concert dance that's occasionally used in opera and relatively common with plays and musical theater: the preview period. Ranging from a few days to, in the case of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, a record-breaking 182 performances, previews provide extra time for fine-tuning shows after tech and dress rehearsals but before critics can review. (Previews are open to the general public, often at discounted prices.)
A.I.M in Andrea Miller's state. Photo by Steven Schreiber, Courtesy Google Arts & Culture
Raise your hand if you've ever gotten sucked down an informational rabbit hole on the internet. (Come on, we know it's not just us.) Now, allow us to direct you to this new project from Google Arts & Culture. To celebrate Black History Month, they've put together a newly curated collection of images, videos and stories that spotlights black history and culture in America specifically through the lens of dance—and it's pretty much our new favorite way to pass the time online.
It was one of the most exciting times of my career. I was in the midst of creating the last installment of my trilogy on identity—ink—which would be my company's Kennedy Center debut, and just booked my first Broadway musical, Once On This Island. ink would premiere on December 2, and OOTI would open on December 3.
Personally, I was going through a bit of mourning. I had just turned 37 and was really doubting my abilities as a dancer. The work wasn't getting easier, and I felt like I would have to make a decision soon about whether to retire.
It was a lot to navigate—the highs of success, and the lows of inevitable change. Little did I know, nothing would compare to the life-threatening health issues I was about to battle in the midst of it all.
Jawole Willa Jo Zollar "is an artist who understands how to pull things out to find the essence of a work," says Robert Battle. Here, Zollar in the studio with Ailey dancers. Photo by Erica Hochstedler, Courtesy AAADT
Coming this fall to the ever-expanding Ailey organization is an intriguing new event: the Choreography Unlocked festival. From Oct. 12–14 and 26–28, the Joan Weill Center for Dance will host workshops, performances and panel discussions. It is an extension of Ailey's New Directions Choreography Lab, an annual residency fellowship for four emerging and mid-career choreographers, founded by artistic director Robert Battle in 2011.
Cameron McKinney working with students at The Ailey School through the New Directions Choreography Lab. Photo by Nicole Tintle, Courtesy AAADT
The festival offers a rare experience for choreographers to work collectively on their craft, and for students and public audiences to interact firsthand with the process of creating dance. "Choreographers tend to section off on their own, so I wanted to offer classes for them to come together and vibe off each other," says Battle. He also hopes to demystify the choreographic process for audiences.
The set for last year's ceremony. Photo by Stephanie Berger, Courtesy The Tony Awards
The biggest weekend in Broadway is finally upon us: The Tony Awards are this Sunday (airing at 8 pm EST on CBS). While other media outlets might be busy forecasting winners, we're speculating about the dancing we might get to see during the broadcast.
As one of the most celebrated concert dance choreographers working today, a Broadway musical felt like a natural next step for Camille A. Brown. She'd already dabbled in choreography for musical theater and plays. Plus, she tells rich, vivid stories in her concert work about the struggles and triumphs of being a black woman in America today. So when we found out she would be choreographing the Broadway revival of Once on This Island, we were understandably excited. And she didn't disappoint.
One of the most disturbing parts of This Is America is the juxtaposition of violence and dance
When 59-second clips of "This is America" began to take over my Insta feed last week, I didn't know how to feel. Graphic images from the music video showed the execution of a man with a guitar and the mass shooting of a church choir.
What truly struck me was physical and facial animation of Donald Glover a.k.a. Childish Gambino, as well as the gaggle of children shadowing his movement. Many saw the dance as a distraction from the mayhem in the background.
Dancers in rehearsal for Once On This Island; PC Joan Marcus. Courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown
"Should I watch it to get a sense of what happened, or should I go with my own vision and understanding of the culture?" That's what choreographer Camille A. Brown was wondering in June, when she started work on the Broadway revival of the Antilles-themed musical Once on This Island.
An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.
"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."
Once on This Island, choreographed by Camille A. Brown. PC Joan Marcus
Camille A. Brown is part of an elite coterie: black women who have choreographed for the Broadway stage. Once on This Islandwon't be the first time she's listed as choreographer—she provided the moves for the 2012 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire, following in the footsteps of Dianne McIntyre and Hope Clarke, who've also added dancing to Broadway straight plays.
But she's still making history of a kind: Full-scale commercial Broadway musicals choreographed by female African Americans are rarities. Clarke did Caroline, or Change in 2004 and Jelly's Last Jam in 1992, and in 1988, Debbie Allen took on Carrie.
Points should be given to the dance world for beginning to address the issue of diversity. But have we ever taken into consideration who critiques dance—and the lack of diversity in that area of our community? Or how critics' subconscious biases create barriers to the elevation of non-white artists?
Forces of Nature Dance Theatre, which performed at DanceAfrica. Photo via Facebook.
Reviews are part of the life blood of artistic sustainability—funders, agents, bookers and audience members use them as guides. Dance critics have a responsibility to the community to do, and be better, or at least have the courage to let the reader know what they don't understand.
Ballet Hispanico's Jenna Marie Graves. Photo by Paula Lobo, Courtesy Michelle Tabnick Communications
One choreographer wants to explore ideas through improvisation; another demands quick pickup of specific steps. One might demonstrate ideas physically; another may rely on language and gestures imbued with feeling. Puzzling out how to thrive in ever-changing creative environments is an ongoing practice, but a little preparation and the right mindset can go a long way.
Yusha-Marie Sorzano. Photo by Chris Cameron
Demote Inner Critics
Moving past internal expectations and fantasies of instant perfection expands your ability to participate in generating work. "It's okay if you don't get it at first," says Yusha-Marie Sorzano, who dances with Camille A. Brown. Repeating phrases over time, or even getting some distance from them, can help material start to feel natural, Sorzano says. Letting go of expectations can take some anxiety out of the learning experience.
Choreographer Camille A. Brown’s socially conscious work has resulted in major recognition
Fana Fraser and Beatrice Capote in Brown’s BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play. Photo by Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Camille A. Brown.
Camille A. Brown has always been an artist whose work is based on truth telling—about African-American culture, about racism past and present and how those issues intersect with being a woman. Now, Brown’s Black Girl Spectrum initiative, in which she spearheads workshops talking about these issues, and her newest major work, BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play, have earned Brown critical acclaim and a slew of accolades.
In the spring, Brown was the recipient of three major awards—the Jacob’s Pillow Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Princess Grace Statue Award.
For Brown, these most recent honors, in addition to another set of prestigious awards in 2015, including a Doris Duke Artist Award, are much appreciated icing on the cake. But Brown says she doesn’t necessarily see these awards as validation.
“I’m just doing me. You have to just speak from your heart and do what you’re doing,” Brown says. “There are so many people out there who tell you what you can and cannot do: ‘You have to be just this. You can’t do this. Don’t do it this way.’ So I feel that this is really about people supporting and encouraging me.”
When asked why she believes she is receiving so many accolades in such a short time, Brown points to the relevance and timeliness of the issues she’s been raising in her work. “I think people are maybe hearing me now or maybe listening more,” she says. “Now that I have this acknowledgement behind me, I can say it even louder. I can say it in different arenas.”
Her upcoming projects include a TED-Ed lesson and a new dance work called ink that will be shown as a work in progress this season. She will also be exploring the possibility of turning BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play into a theater piece. “I feel like my work in musical theater has been where I’ve learned about being a choreographer the most,” she says. “I want to figure out what BLACK GIRL would look like outside of the concert dance world.”