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.