Our Viewpoints series allows you to hear directly from our dancers as they blog about the process and experience of working with Broadway Dance Lab.
Courtney Kristen Liu can currently be seen in the Broadway production of Phantom of the Opera. Additional NYC credits include Radio City Christmas Spectacular (Ensemble, Ballerina Bear) and Queen of the Night. Courtney has danced professionally with Cincinnati Ballet and graduated Summa Cum Laude from Duke University where she earned her BA in Psychology and Business.
Imagine you are in High School and your English teacher gives you an assignment: you must write a 30- page paper about Hamlet. The paper must appeal to a wide range of readers. It must have a sufficient amount of “wow” sentences without seeming too corny or wordy. You will only have access to pens and paper for seven hours a day for two weeks. Your English teacher and their various colleagues will stand over your shoulder and give feedback at various times. The paper will be read aloud to 1,000 people at the end of the two weeks and your talent will be evaluated.
This is essentially the job of the choreographer. And it is terrifying.
The Broadway Dance Lab is an organization that supports choreographers in this journey by providing pens and paper and giving them an “teacher free” library to write their drafts.
As a dancer it has been a completely new experience to work with choreographers in a space free of judgment and deadlines. Normally I walk into rehearsal and the choreographer starts throwing out sequences of steps. We work in a linear fashion because it feels more efficient and the progress is easy to track. If a choreographer is unhappy with a section they may ignore it and move forward for fear of running out of time.
At BDL choreographers are free to work in circular patterns or with no roadmap at all! They allow themselves to be inspired by the artists and energy in their immediate environment rather than creating phrases in their living room and hoping the ideas translate to a group of bodies in a larger space. Sometimes we will work on a single phrase for an hour to really find the perfect way to tell the story.
As one of the living and breathing pens working for BDL this cycle, the process has been a lot of writing and crossing out, of starting at the end and moving to the beginning and then to the “third drum set section”, and of sinking into unknown territory. As dancers we must let go of knowing… knowing where the process will lead, knowing if the steps we love will make it into the final piece, and even knowing what shoes to wear!
The unknowns are countless but I am certain of one thing… by pushing ourselves to work differently, we are slowly emerging as better choreographers and dancers. And after eight weeks we will be in a better place to tackle that 30- page Hamlet paper in the normal time and process constraints of the dance.