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Monthly Archives: May 2017

May
23

Choreographer Spotlight with Artistic Director JOSH PRINCE

We sat down with BDL founder and artistic director JOSH PRINCE to find out more about his background and his reasons for wanting to start the company. A transcript of that conversation is below.

BDL: At a point in your career where you were really taking off as a Broadway choreographer, what made you want to add Broadway Dance Lab to your to-do list?

JP: After I choreographed Shrek, The Musical for Broadway, the 1st National Tour, and London’s West End I wanted to flex my artistic muscles and try new ways of creating dance. All choreographers live with ideas that they wish to explore. We are inspired by music on our iPods, people we meet, books we read, art we see…the list is endless. After Shrek I looked around for a place to practice my craft and test new ideas and saw that there was no supportive environment in which to do that.  I tried making one new dance with friends who donated their time and that cost me $1000 on space rental alone. I remember always having an eye on the clock and battling strong self-judment when the idea didn’t really work that well. The spaces I worked in were small and it was nearly impossible to secure dancers for more that one full day.  This model seemed broken to me and the cost of exploration (and possible failure) seemed like an insurmountable deterrent for most of my colleagues in the field.  After all, would you take the bold risks necessary for growth if every time you went to do it it cost you a minimum of $1000? I wanted to solve this and challenge the unspoken double-standard that theatre dance makers are supposed to just wait for their next jobs that will dictate what they are allowed to explore artistically. Can you imagine if a composer could only touch the keys of a piano when an employer called? Or if an author could only put pen to paper when told what subject matter they were to explore? What would happen to the art form? This just seemed like a recipe for artistic atrophy and I set about changing it.

BDL: Can you talk about a specific project that you’ve developed through Broadway Dance Lab that might not have been possible otherwise? How has that piece gone on to have a life beyond the Lab?

JP: One of my favorite dances I’ve created is to the famous standard “Sing Sing Sing” by Louis Prima.  Bob Fosse famously choreographed this music for his Broadway show Dancin’ and I really wanted to explore it. The sad truth is, without BDL there simply would have been no safe place to test my own interpretation of this music.  Challenging my judgements of what this dance was “supposed” to look like and creating my own vision wholly separate of Bob Fosse’s was a painful and rewarding creative exercise that will serve me in my career forever.  In addition, as a Broadway choreographer people sometimes call me to present dance pieces of mine in festivals. Where, exactly, was I to create a dance festival piece if not for BDL?  Shrek, The Musical and Beautiful, The Carole King Musical are wonderful musicals. But there is no room for a “Sing Sing Sing” within that context.  Nor should there be.  The bottom line is that theatre choreographers should have a supportive place in which to create stand alone works of art. Works of their own imagining.  I am so proud to say this piece was premiered at The Guggenheim “Works And Process”, was recently seen at the Dance Against Cancer benefit for the American Cancer Society, and will likely be performed again at the Actor’s Fund benefit in New York City in November.

BDL: Can you tell us a little about The Trevor Project and its relationship to BDL?

JP: About a year ago, the producers of a wonderful new musical called Trevor approached me about choreographing.  Marc Bruni, the director of Beautiful, was attached and we were excited to collaborate again on this adaptation of the Academy Award Winning short film of the same name – a film that would later serve as inspiration for The Trevor Project.  The producers had only ever seen the show read at music stands in small rooms and asked me if BDL could help them explore what the movement vocabulary could look like. Of course, we did just that and it was an invaluable resource to the authors.  In July, we head to the prestigious Writer’s Theatre in Chicago where we will mount an out of town tryout of this gorgeous new musical.  Because of BDL’s involvement, the writers, director, and producers were all able to come together to gather important information on staging and even casting, dialogue about movement early on, and be inspired by the choreographic ideas that were presented.  It’s exciting to know that Broadway Dance Lab played a vital role in this musical’s early development.

BDL: What has the response to BDL been like from participating choreographers?

JP: Feedback from choreographers about their time in the Lab has been overwhelming.  Every choreographer who has worked in the Lab has validated the need for its existence. And when other established Broadway choreographers make the case for it, like Andy Blankenbuehler does in his video interview, it really emboldens me.  But I have to say one of the best emails I have received is from Lorin Latarro (Waitress).  She wrote: From the bottom of my heart, these hours with dancers have been incredible. I was so nervous because I walked in with little pre pro due to a very full work schedule…but this week gave me the gift of risking being courageous again, asking questions again, practicing process again.  It reminded me how much I love dance and dancers, and how many ways to spend eight counts there are in the universe. It has been a personal rediscovery of myself as a choreographer. Thank you for this incredible gift. I am eternally grateful.   I think this pretty much says it all.

BDL: There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the art of creating new musicals and new works of dance. What don’t people know and how does BDL play into that process?

JP: I think there’s a common misconception that choreographers make up dance in their heads and just walk in a room and teach it.  But the creation of dance requires community.  It’s pretty difficult to find a lot of master choreographers without also discovering their muses.  Great dancers are essential to great choreographers…and vice versa.  BDL offers choreographers a room full of muses who are there to help achieve the their grandest vision. We also offer choreographers large space in which to create. To create big dance, one needs big space. This is hard to come by in New York City.  BDL solves this for choreographers.  Now, the creation of new musicals is a process of constant, often years long writing and rewriting.  Unfortunately, the dance elements of the musical are too often tacked on to the tail end of this process, leaving very little time for true exploration, trial and error, problem solving, collaboration, and discovery of new ideas.  BDL provides a platform for collaborators to come together early in the process to get the conversation going about dance and how it can help story tell most effectively.

BDL: Where do you see BDL headed in the next 5-10 years? What’s your long term vision for the company?

JP: Think of BDL as a Tin Pan Alley for dance – a busy hub in which choreographers incubate their own ideas and nurture new creations with their collaborators. In 5-10 years we will be housed in our very own building that acts as a beehive of dance activity, gestating new ideas every single day.  This building will serve as a crossroads for choreographers of all backgrounds to interface with one another, be inspired by one another, and feel wholly supported by the New York theatre and dance communities. In a city like New York – the capital of the Arts world – Broadway Dance Lab deserves a spot to call home.  Dance makers deserve it and the theatre community deserves it.  And, most importantly, audiences deserve to be treated to fresh, new ideas that emerge only when creativity is properly nurtured.


May
17

Choreographer Spotlight with JEREMY MCQUEEN

JeremyWe sat down with BDL Spring 2017 Cycle choreographer JEREMY MCQUEEN to get to know a bit more about his background, process, and goals for working with us. Below is transcript of that conversation.

BDL: Tell us a bit about your background? How did you find your way into the world of dance?

JM: My mom took me to see the national touring production of The Phantom of the Opera when I was about 8 years old and from that moment I was hooked on all things related to the performing arts. She enrolled me in acting, singing and dance classes at San Diego Junior Theater, a local educational theater organization and from there my love for theater continued to grow.

My first job working professionally in theater was at age 15, at a local regional theater in San Diego. My first season I was cast in one production and my second season I was cast in three! I was so stoked to be onstage doing what I loved with such inspiring professionals, and also to have a little spending money to go shopping! I went on to study ballet in various summer programs with companies such as American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet, and Alonzo King’s LINES ballet before obtaining my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance through a program with The Ailey School and Fordham University in 2008. From there, I threw myself back into the world of theater and have been so blessed to have been able to dance on stages across the country and in New York in a number of Broadway tours and regional theater productions. And over the last few years I’ve been spending a lot more time offstage focusing more on developing and nurturing my choreographic voice. I also established The Black Iris Project which is a ballet collaborative that brings professional, Black ballet dancers together to create to new original ballets that are rooted in Black history and/or the Black experience. We just presented one of our new ballets about Nelson Mandela’s life, entitled MADIBA, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in D.C.

BDL: What led you to start choreographing and what was that transition like?

JM: I have always relished the opportunity to express myself through movement, though there’s always been an extra special interest of mine in creating my own works of art. After seeing Phantom, I distinctly remember going to Sam Goody and buying tons of Broadway soundtracks, including the one I had just seen live, and I would go home and start to create my own routines to my favorite musical numbers in my bedroom. It was what I did for fun. While other kids were out learning how to ride bikes, I was either dancing, singing, acting, researching, or all the above.

To be honest, the transition from performer to choreographer, in the last two years especially, has been challenging. As a choreographer and artistic director of a collaborative, there are so many responsibilities. Making dances is the fun, creative part, but the business aspects of putting yourself out there, fundraising, scheduling, marketing, and budgeting, is all very demanding and time consuming. On top of that I also teach dance. So dancing or performing myself, or even just going to take dance class, was forced to take a backseat for a bit because I have had so many business demands to support my career as a choreographer.

I’ve made a ton of sacrifices, but to be able to see my own voice and vision come to life onstage has been tremendously fulfilling and I have no regrets about the sacrifices. I still can shake a tail feather, though, and am looking forward to making a few cameos onstage soon!

BDL: Can you list three words you think describe your choreographic style?

JM: Versatile, athletic, and musical.

BDL: Can you talk a bit about the difference in choreographing for concert dance versus theatre?

JM: Choreographing a musical is different in that there is a spoken and sung narrative that leads the storytelling, and choreography helps bring the atmosphere or energies of the plotted environment to life. In concert dance it’s different in that we often use only our physicality to convey the emotions, plot, concept or feelings across to audience. So when I’m creating work for a musical I try to really dig deep into the actual words that are being spoken and sung. I think a lot about how the choreography I create can enhance and amplify those words and lyrics and not necessarily pull focus in a way that takes us away from the story. It’s easy to hear a catchy tune and want to just create something flashy to it. But I prefer to dig deeper and really say to myself “ok, how does this particular step or set of movements that I’m creating help carry the musical story forward?”

I work in a similar fashion in concert dance though I have a bit more wiggle room because the ballets I create generally have a plot and are some times based on factual events. I can use a lot more abstraction with how I put together the overall story arc – what the story is and what I want to highlight. In concert dance the dance takes center stage. And it’s not quite that way in theater. There’s a lot more to consider.

BDL: What interested you in working with BDL? Are you coming to the project with any specific goals in mind?

JM: The opportunity to explore with so many wonderfully talented dancers without the pressure to present a completed premiere is what really sparked my interest. As I mentioned before, we grow by really pushing ourselves. These moments that I have had to choreograph with a deadline forces you to learn, but there’s also something really wonderful about just having time to play and explore for fun.

BDL also didn’t tell me I had to do traditional “theater dance,” and I think that’s very progressive of them. Broadway is evolving so much these days and we are seeing a lot more on Broadway stages aside from just jazz and tap. The demands on dancers nowadays to be versatile is extraordinary. It’s exciting to me that we are evolving as a field because it means we are inviting more diverse stories to be told and attracting new audiences.

In terms of my goals, I want to focus on developing one musical number from one classic Broadway show for the whole week. Professionally I have choreographed only one complete musical and that was a regional production of HAIR a few years ago. I want to do more of the older classics on a professional level, so I figured now is a really great time to explore and work on that.

BDL: Tell us a bit about your process. How do you begin?

JM: When making work for concert dance, I’m generally sparked by a story that I’m eager to share or create. My work is very socially conscious, so I often draw from my own personal experiences or something that I have observed or have an interest in. From there I create a general outline for the story of the bullet points. Next I try to find appropriate music that helps me bring that story to life. This is often the challenging part, trying to find the perfect piece of music that inspires me and matches my idea/concept.

When actually creating the ballets structure I think a lot about how I want the audience to feel or what I want them to know at the end of the ballet. And then I try to work my way backwards so that the movement I create builds up to the climax. Then there are other times, especially if I don’t have such a hard deadline for a premiere, when I walk into the studio with dancers, with a few pieces of music I like, and we talk about what’s going on in our lives and in the world at that moment and start play around with movement.

BDL: Can you name three choreographers you admire and tell us why?

JM: That’s a tough question! There are so many choreographers that I admire. I think Christopher Wheeldon is brilliant with telling stories through movement. The way he transitions from one scene to the next and how the bodies move through the space feels so natural and fluid. I’m also always impressed by the versatility of his works. Every Wheeldon ballet I’ve seen feels fresh – like a new experience. You never really know what you’re gonna get with him, but it’s sure to be a great experience.

I like Rob Ashford, because he dances! I’ve never worked with him, but the guy gets his dancers dancing! I love going to see Broadway shows that really utilize dance in an intelligent way, and I am often left leaving his show feeling like, “Wow, I want to dance THAT!”

And then there’s Susan Stroman. The way she uses physicality of movement to paint dynamic moving pictures of time periods and stories is so inspiring. My first job out of college was dancing in a production of her musical Contact. I’ve gone on to dance excerpts from the show for her at various galas, and she is always a joy to work. She’s always so sweet and professional, and has become someone that I really look up to. Dance is hard. It’s really wonderful to work with choreographers that make you feel respected and valued.


May
08

Choreographer Spotlight with WENDY SEYB

WendyHeadshotWe sat down with BDL Spring 2017 Cycle choreographer WENDY SEYB to get to know a bit more about her background, process, and goals for working with us. Below is transcript of that conversation.

BDL: Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did dancing come into your life?

WS: I remember my Mom asking me, “Do you want to try dance?” My memory of my answer was “of course!” I started when I was 4 years old at a strip mall competition school in rural/suburbia Minnesota.  I ate up whatever dance they threw at me. I even made my older sister, who was two levels above me, teach me her dances, much to her annoyance. Luckily, when I was 10, we moved closer to Minneapolis where I was able to switch to a more challenging school, Minnesota Dance Theatre. My love for ballet really began there as I started training and performing in their young company, working my way up to their professional company. In college I studied jazz and hip hop, then in NYC I jumped into the world of modern; then ended up in musical theater. So my training is eclectic, but my love for it began with ballet.

BDL: What led you to start choreographing and how did you make the transition from performer to choreographer?

WS: I started like most kids, creating dances on my friends in their basements. Then, as I got older, I was one of the few trained dancers in my school and the task of choreography fell to me for projects like Swing Choir or the school theater pieces. The idea of it being a job didn’t hit me until college, when the company I joined required all members to choreograph. After college, I moved to NYC to pursue a dance career but quickly realized choreography both satisfied and challenged me much more than performing. Once I made that leap, I never looked back. I began the long and wonderful journey of finding my style and voice as a choreographer.

BDL: What are three words that you feel describe your choreographic style?

WS: Story, comedy, and athletic.

BDL: Your resume is very diverse, including theatre, TV and film work. Can you talk a bit about the difference in choreographing for those different mediums?

WS: They all start the same for me. What story are we telling? Who are the characters, and what style of music are we using? For theater, story is the driving force, but in film and TV, it is mainly about steps and what looks amazing in the frame. Theater is a bit of a longer process spread out over the rehearsals, production, tech, and previews. TV and film, depending on how much movement/dance is needed, can happen in a matter of days.  As I started in film/TV, the fantastic challenge was not being confined to a proscenium.  Yes, you have a frame to build in, but the camera could be anywhere – on the ground just looking at the dancers feet, moving through and past them, even looking down from above. You have more control on what you want the audience to see. Maybe you want them to see a look or the flick of an arm. They might miss that in the back seat of a theater. As I begin to bring my work, Silent Dance Comedies, to film, I am delighted to see how many more choices I have to capture the dance. It is very exciting!

BDL: What interested you in working with BDL? Are you coming to the project with any specific goals in mind?

WS: I have had the pleasure of knowing Josh a long time, and I think it is a fantastic opportunity he has created for both the choreographer and the dancers.  Rarely do we get the chance to just play around and workshop a piece. Usually we are on a deadline and don’t have a lot of chances to try different choices. The project I am bringing in is a piece I workshopped four years ago in a ballet lab in California, which I plan to be the opening scene of my feature film. Having the chance to revisit it through the lens of it being a filmed piece is incredibly valuable for me, and I am so grateful BDL gives me the chance to do so with the amazing company they have picked!

BDL: Tell us a bit about your process. How do you begin?

WS: It starts with music usually. A song grabs me and I can smell a narrative in it. Then I walk around my neighborhood and listen to it endlessly until it finally reveals the story and characters.  Then we are off to the races!

BDL: Are there choreographers you look up to and admire?

WS: Agnes de Mille as she started the dream ballet concept with Oklahoma.  She also brought in company trained dancers instead of chorus girls, to give the dance more strength and character. That choice helped Oklahoma become the game changer is was for musical theater.

I love Gene Kelly for helping move the idea of dance as a narrative forward with the amazing dream ballets he had in his films.  I remember seeing Broadway Melody from Singing In The Rain and thought, “well why isn’t the whole film expressed like this?” He fought each time to have a dream ballet in his films as he knew the moviegoer was interested in it and wouldn’t get bored. Also, he helped bring dance to the people. It was for everyone, not just the elite. He was the everyman dancer, and showed that dance could be athletic.

And then, of course, Jerome Robbins helped to revolutionize dance as a main storytelling element, along with helping to further what Gene started by opening up the dream ballet to a longer form. He also showed men can be tough, sexy, and still be incredible dancers.