Kelsey Grills in rehearsal for ABT Incubator. Photo by JJ Geiger, courtesy ABT Incubator.
"Is everyone okay?" was my most used sentence during my time with American Ballet Theatre. There I was, leading world-class ABT dancers through my own choreographic process. I knew that it was unlike anything they'd ever experienced, but I think half of the time I was asking that question, it was really directed to myself.
ABT Incubator is a two-week choreographic program created by principal dancer David Hallberg. Supported by The Howard Hughes Corporation, this process-oriented lab gave me and four other choreographers the opportunity to generate ideas for the work we have been inspired to create.
Choreography & Creative Direction by Zoe Rappaport Dancers: Zen Waterford & Micah Moch Director of Photography: Sam Gostnell Music: "Unspoken Words" by The Soil Filmed at LA Center Studios The Studio School Los Angeles, CA
In its 70-year history, NYCB has only commissioned four black choreographers—all men: John Alleyne and Ulysses Dove in 1994, Dance Theatre of Harlem's Robert Garland in collaboration with Robert LaFosse in 2000, and Albert Evans in 2002 and 2005. It's been 11 years since Evans, an NYCB alum, made work for the company and 18 years since a black choreographer outside of NYCB has been invited to choreograph.
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.
Conscientious theatergoers may be familiar with The School for Scandal, TheSchool for Wives and School of Rock. But how many are also aware of the school of Fosse?
The 1999 musical, a posthumous exploration of the choreographic career of Bob Fosse, ran for 1,093 performances, winning four Tonys and 10 nominations; employing 32 dancers; and, completely unintentionally, nurturing a generation of Broadway choreographers. You may have heard of them: Andy Blankenbuehler and Sergio Trujillo danced in the original cast, Josh Rhodes was a swing, and Christopher Gattelli replaced Trujillo when he landed choreography jobsin Massachusetts and Canada. Blankenbuehler remembers that when Trujillo left, "It was as if he was graduating."
"I don't wanna go to dance!" As a kid, these were my famous words.
When packing into the car for the interminable ride to the studio, I would kick and scream so much that I earned the nickname "The Hornet." I am so glad my parents put up with my sting, because looking back, it was just the going part that I didn't like. The dance part, I loved. I always have.
Christopher Gattelli describes his latest cast as "unicorns," because he can't believe they exist. "It blows my mind, what they can do," he says. "They can do everything." They have to. Their characters belong to no species generally known to dance on Broadway—a crab, a squirrel, a starfish, a snail and, you guessed it, a sponge.
To me, dancing is an opportunity to exist in an alternate reality. With my imagination moving galaxies per minute, there's no telling what I will do, when or how—and that's my escape from this world.
It's common for my mind to drift off and borrow ideas from a character in a Disney movie while performing with Wynton Marsalis, or to be thinking about how algorithms work while performing with Mariah Carey on "Good Morning America."
Apart from having won the Tony Award for best choreography, the dances in Damn Yankees, West Side Story and the 1994 revival of Show Boat have little in common.
Not the choreographers—Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins and Susan Stroman—or the composers—Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, Leonard Bernstein, and Jerome Kern. Not the dancers, either—the standouts were Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera and Dorothy Stanley.
The name that repeats in all three Playbills belongs to Harold Prince—a producer of the first two and director of the third.
Working in a smaller city as a choreographer and worried you're not getting the same opportunities you would in the Big Apple? We've been there and we hear you. But what if your little city can contain your choreographic dreams—and make them come true?
Winston-Salem, North Carolina–based Helen Simoneau, who has gained national and international recognition for her choreography, credits much of her success to being based in a smaller city: "You can shape your environment," she says, pointing out that there isn't as much competition for audiences and funding.
I have always felt a need to communicate and, even more importantly, to be understood. But as a child, I always hit an emotional wall when trying to speak.
Although my great-aunt Rose had no connection to dance, she intuitively saw that I needed an outlet, and recommended that I take a movement class. It was literally life-changing. I realized I could make myself understood without my needing to be verbal.
It doesn't look like your great-grandfather's jitterbug. Yes, the year is 1945, and yes, the setting is a jazz club. But these swing dancers are in the new musical Bandstand, directed and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler. The number, "Nobody," is a paean to determination—"You know who tells me, 'Stop'? Nobody."
The choreography begins as metaphor and then becomes literal as the band members, revved up by the song, perform it for the dancers at the club. It's complicated and entirely fresh, avoiding familiar jitterbug tropes without ever abandoning the period feel.
Little wonder: Blankenbuehler, whose first director/choreographer outing was Bring It On: The Musical, says his influences included Judy Garland's "Get Happy" and Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal." ("I'm imitating Michael Jackson imitating Fred Astaire.")
As more and more stars from movies and television get their kicks doing Broadway musicals, more and more choreographers have to find steps for them to dance.
Sometimes it's not hard: Denis Jones discovered that Tony Danza had trained in tap when they worked on Honeymoon in Vegas; Spencer Liff had spent years choreographing for Neil Patrick Harris on TV when they both landed in the Broadway production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Sometimes, it's not easy: Sam Pinkleton worked privately with Josh Groban, the self-proclaimed "world's worst dancer," before starting rehearsals for the wonderfully dance-heavy Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.
PC Richard Hubert Smith
But talk to Stephen Mear about choreographing for Glenn Close in the revival of Sunset Boulevard, running through May 28 at the Palace Theatre, and you get descriptions that are simply starstruck. She's "amazing," "wonderful," "sensational," "brilliant."