Rockefeller Brothers Fund Fellow and Lincoln Center Institute Artist-in-Residence, Abdul Latif is a Bronx, NY native and graduate of Wesleyan University and an NYU – Tisch School of the Arts MFA graduate. He was a member of Donald Byrd’s Contemporary Ballet Company – The Group and Jennifer Muller’s Contemporary Modern Company – The Works and has two TONY Award-winning Broadway credits: The Lion King; directed by Julie Taymor and choreographed by Garth Fagan and Hairspray – The Musical; directed by Jack O’Brien and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. Abdul’s professional opportunity began with choreographing the hit music video – Off The Books for platinum recording artist, The Beatnuts, with award winning director Chris Robinson. He created work for the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics and choreographed concert tours of Cynthia Torres and Deborah Cox. He was choreographic assistant and soloist for Jennifer Muller’s City Opera production of Esther, and has choreographed and directed works for annual Broadway Cares events.
Abdul conceived and choreographed Kaleidoscope for St. Jude Foundation’s Spring Gala. He participated in The Muller Works Foundation 2011 Choreographic Residency – The Legacy Project, Ballet Hispanico’s Institutito Coreografico 2012, and appeared as the 2013 Special Guest Soloist for the Fortaleza, Brazil — Jose Alencar Theater Festival. Abdul became a 2013 recipient of the Career Transitions Grant, the Grant For Emerging Contemporary Artists and The John Cage Artist Grant. In 2014, he was commissioned to choreograph the Atlantic Arts Foundation – Harlem Opera Theater collaborative production of Benjamin Britten’s opera, Parables for Church Performances. In the fall of that year, he created the Imaginative Learning Program and Arts Education Platform – The NEXT Project: Nurturing Emerging Xcellence Today. Abdul was the 2015 recipient of The Joffrey Ballet Winning Works Award, The Council on The Arts BRIO Award and The National Capezio Finalist ACE Award. He was a 2016 commissioned guest artist of Harvard University, and has created work for Fire Island Dance Festival, and New York City Ballet principal Amar Ramasar’s Joyce Theater collaborative venture, The A+ Project.
We recently sat down with Abdul, to discuss his process and the ideas he brought with him to BDL. Read a transcript of that conversation below.
BDL: Tell us a bit about your path. How did dance find its way into your life?
AL: I began dancing as a youngster after first seeing the musical, Annie. Following that, my second grade teacher took us to see a performance of New York City Ballet, where I first saw Lourdes Lopez perform George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins’, Firebird. This was around the time when Michael Jackson’s music video, Thriller came out, and I knew then, not so much that I wanted to dance, but that I wanted to create work that allowed this feeling generated in me to be experienced by others.
BDL: How did you start choreographing? Did you ever assist or did you go right into making your own work?
AL: During my years of undergrad at Wesleyan, I founded a dance ensemble called Precision, and although dance would be a minor in my educational studies on campus, I ended up concentrating all my time around it. My graduate school time at TISCH was where I really began to hone the craft of choreography and directing. I came to understand the importance of one’s cultivation of their own individual voice. It isn’t a departure from those they’ve studied under or been mentored by, but rather an experiential discovery of converging creative worlds that can produce, with time, one’s own choreographic voice. Jerry Mitchell gave me an opportunity to choreograph for Broadway Bares. After getting that nod from him, in addition to the response from members of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund who attended that performance, things began to find a gradual momentum that’s continued to unfold for me.
BDL: How would you describe your choreographic style?
AL: An urban-contemporary movement aesthetic that fuses neoclassical technique with hip-hop phrasing sensibilities, while merging classical ballet vocabulary with a curbside chic, street sleek style of juxtaposed movement.
BDL: Did you bring any specific projects and/or goals with you for your time with BDL?
AL: Over the last few years I have been developing a dance-musical adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull.”
BDL: What have you learned during your time in the Lab?
AL: I learned it was okay for me to have a moment of feeling lost, only to discover that I was right where I ought to be in the process of developing a section or phrase. Given the degree to which I notate, storyboard, and block movement, I discovered a way to find myself off the page of my notes and yet still in the pocket of what we were creating. This allows for true collaborative moments. And while this moment might at times feel tenuous, it is tantamount that I have such an encounter to bring me closer to the actual dancers in the room.
BDL: Why do you think programs like BDL are important?
AL: It is incredibly valuable to discover that an idea, phrase or dancer you loved one day may need to go in a different direction on the next day – and that’s actually quite alright. Part of the process is taking a new approach, and if one is aiming to be successful in what they’re aspiring to, they must learn to settle into this and find freedom in it. Programs like BDL provide the space to discover and deconstruct prior understandings of your own process.