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Dec
10

Q&A with choreographer ABDUL LATIF

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.

 


Dec
06

Dancers’ Perspective with AMY YAKIMA

Amy Yakima grew up dancing at Noretta Dunworth School Of Dance in Dearborn, Michigan. As a child, she played Clara in The Radio City Christmas Spectacular (national tour and NYC). She is most notably known for winning Season 10 of Fox’s hit TV show So You Think You Can Dance and continuing to tour nationwide that fall with the top 10 contestants from that season. She toured with Travis Wall’s Shaping Sound, and was a performer in Lindsey Stirling’s national/international tour of Shatter Me. Amy appeared in Carrie Underwood’s music video, Something in the Water, and returned to SYTYCD as an all-star performer. She trained on scholarship for one year at Marymount Manhattan college, and was on faculty at Velocity Dance Convention, West Coast Dance Convention, and Radix Dance Convention. Most recently, Amy made her Broadway debut as Peter Pan in Finding Neverland.

BDL: Tell us a bit about your background. Where did you train and how did you begin working professionally?

AY: I started taking dance lessons at Noretta Dunworth School of Dance in Dearborn, Michigan when I was about 3 years old. I was also enrolled into a lot of other activities as a kid such as gymnastics and soccer, but over time as lessons started to conflict with one another, I would always end up picking dance over everything else. I started working professional as an assistant for the West Coast Dance Explosion convention.

BDL: You were the winner of Season 10 of SYTYCD. Much like BDL, that program requires dancers to work with multiple choreographers, specializing in various genres, in a very short amount of time. What’s that like for you as a dancer? 

AY: The process of SYTYCD was crazy but working with many choreographers was actually the dream. I grew up dancing in the convention circuit, where you would have 6 classes a day back to back and they would all be a different style. I was trained from a very young age to switch from style to style, which helped during that process. The difficult part of SYTYCD was how emotionally and physically draining each week became, but pushing through those boundaries every week showed me that I can do anything I set my mind to.

BDL: What interested you in working with BDL?

AY: As an artist, I’m constantly changing, and recently I have just been performing, and felt I was lacking some creativity in my career. I wanted to put myself in a room with choreographers that I admired and wanted to work with, and there are very few opportunities like that, and BDL is one of them.

BDL: How has the experience been for you? Have you discovered anything new about yourself or your dancing during your time with us?

AY: I know technically how I dance and how I like to grow, and no matter what job or process I am doing, I am always finding new things. It’s not really about my dancing with these processes, it’s more about working with each choreographer, listening to them and what they want to create, and working with them to make their ideas real. I am always working to discover myself more as an artist.

BDL: Where do you see yourself professionally in five years? What are your goals? 

AY: Honestly, I have no idea! I always like to keep my opportunities open. I don’t like to set a plan because life is always changing, and most things in my life happen because I was in the right place at the right time. I would love doing another tour, or more commercial work or another Broadway show.

BDL: Lastly, why do you dance?

AY: Simple, I love to dance. It truly makes me happy and I could never see myself doing another job!

 


Nov
20

Q&A with choreographer KATIE ROSE MCLAUGHLIN

Katie Rose McLaughlin grew up in Minneapolis, MN and studied ballet under the direction of Bonnie Mathis. She then attended the Joffrey/New School BFA program on full scholarship before falling in love with contemporary dance, theater and going to clown school in Switzerland. As a performer she starred as Esmeralda in Redmoon Theater’s HUNCHBACK (New Victory Theater), with Tony-awarding winning Theatre de la Jeune Lune, as well as in Anna Marie Shogren’s post-post-modern exploration of death (Walker Arts Center/Southern Theater). In addition to her extensive work in both theater and musical theater, her own choreography has been presented by the Chocolate Factory, Catch, the Invisible Dog, Dixon Place, Little Theater, AUNTS, HERE Arts Center, Movement Research at Judson Church, Center for Performance Research, Dance New Amsterdam, Triskelion, 9×22 DanceLab, Links Hall, Red Eye Theater, newMoves Contemporary Dance Festival, Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the International Festival of Art & Ideas. She was an artist-in-residence as part of LMCC’s Process Space (2017), Kaatsbaan International Dance Center’s UpStream (2017), Barn Arts Collective (2015 & 2016), a 2013 LMCC’s SPARC program (2013), and a Chashama artist-in-residence (2012). She was recently associate choreographer to David Neumann on HADESTOWN at New York Theater Workshop & Citadel Theater directed by Rachel Chavkin. Katie Rose is the Artistic Director of Designated Movement Company. designatedmovement.org

We recently sat down with Katie Rose, to discuss her process and the ideas she brought with her to BDL. Read a transcript of that conversation below.

BDL: Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you became interested in choreography?

KRM: Looking back on it, I think my interest in choreography came from my ballet teacher Bonnie Mathis. She was a principal dancer with ABT, but also danced with Paul Taylor, Netherlands Dance Theater,  The Lar Lubovich Company, as well as performing with the Met Opera Ballet and in Hello Dolly on Broadway.  She was always hiring interesting choreographers to come in and work with us – trying to get us all out of our bunhead mentalities. I was always the dancer who knew all the counts and picked up the steps quickly, and would always be looking at the whole picture that was being created, not just the steps.

I decided to move out of ballet and into modern dance because I wanted to have real relationships with audiences. Not many people have the ability to see ballet and when they do it doesn’t always make sense. I wanted to do something a little more pedestrian and “of the people.” That’s when I discovered Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer and Pina Bausch, and their work made me feel less alone in the universe. For the first time I was like, “someone else sees movement and bodies like I do!”

Around this time, I was also performing as an actor with Tony-award winning Theatre de la Jeune Lune, and studying Lecoq-style physical theater. It was from them that I learned how to truly tell a story with the body. After going to clown-school in Switzerland, I started to get asked to choreograph more and more (being the only actor in many productions who also knew how to dance). The rest is history!

BDL: What three words would you use to describe your choreographic style?

KRM: “Common-place virtuosity,” “inquisitive,” and “layered.”

BDL: You’ve described yourself as working in the world of “physical theatre” – how do you define that and what does it mean to you?

KRM: I come from the world of physical theater, though I don’t work in it as often now. Physical theater requires the body to become another tool in telling a story, so it’s not just the words or the songs that allow a character to tell their story but also the way they move across the stage, the way they sit, the way they fold their arms. I use these tools in all the movement work I do, from concert dance to musical theater to straight plays. I’ve always been fascinated by other people’s unconscious idiosyncrasies of movement – how they navigate through life. Using the tools I’ve collected from all the various training I’ve had allows me to help shape the physical world of the shows I work on. I feel like movement opens people’s hearts, whether they like it or not. I try to use movement as a way to connect with audiences – to draw them in.

BDL: What is your favorite part of the artistic process?

KRM: I could create movement all day every day and be a very happy lady. Being in a studio with a group of openminded dancers, taking risks, doing experiments – that’s pretty wonderful. I also love the editing process, when you have many pieces of material and start trying to fit them together, allowing the piece to dictate the order of everything, and the movement qualities that need to be tweaked to get a cohesive idea across. Also coaching – I love that step – once everything is together and you just talk to the dancers, getting them all to live in the same world and to try and tell the same story, That is always thrilling.

BDL: What have you been working on in the Lab? Did you bring any specific goals with you?

KRM: For BDL, I brought in my frequent collaborator Dan O’Neil, and we’ve been working on ideas for this new dance-musical called Oblivion Falls. It centers around the idea that Oblivion is a place – a physical landscape – that you can go to where you will forget everything. It is not a happy place. You forget all your sorrows, but you also forget all your joys. So people can choose to go, but they can rarely return. Our show centers around a woman who needs to go to Oblivion Falls to try to bring her mother back – something that’s never been done before.

My goal for the Lab was to do something I would never dream of doing on the job: walk into the studio without a single step written down on a piece of paper. It was completely terrifying, but also surprisingly liberating. Josh hired such incredible dancers who were open-minded and open-hearted. It was so fun to just be in the moment and explore.

We also brought in text, although we’re not going to use it in performance as of yet. There is a mother and a daughter, but everyone else in the text could be played by a person of any gender. This aligns with our recent company work within Designated Movement, in which we are exploring what it means to use the words “radical inclusivity,” both with regard to our collaborators background, age, identity, and race, but also looking forward to what that means for an audience. It’s a new way of saying what I used to say in a lot of grant applications – that I make work capable of being watched with “no dance vocabulary required.”

So in line with all of this, another major goal of mine was to attempt to break down some of the most prevalent gender stereotypes in dance – that men lift women and that is the way it is. The dancers worked so hard to master some pretty intense partnering and everyone got a chance to lift someone, and also to be lifted themselves. The dancers dedication to breaking down these barriers made my heart sing – watching a 6’4” man being pressed over the head of a 5’4” woman was pretty thrilling!

BDL: What has this week taught you?

KRM: Oh my goodness, I learned so much. First, I feel like I learned more about creating a safe space for dancers to fail, which was huge. I expected them to really push themselves and in turn I had to create a space where they could talk to each other, to be encouraged to learn from each other, while always knowing that I had their backs. I also learned to trust myself a little more. I loved the movement that came out of my experiments with not preparing any choreography beforehand.  

Lastly, I feel like I learned that everyone is stronger than they give themselves credit for. It’s our job, as choreographers, to nurture our dancers to push themselves father than they think they can go without worrying about repercussions about being perfect every time. I can’t tell you how many mistakes in the studio this week led to major break-throughs. Without that space to fail we could have never learned to succeed. 

 


Nov
14

Q&A with choreographer BROOKE WENDLE

BROOKE WENDLE  is currently directing and choreographing a new show for Holland America Cruise Line entitled Love Opera. She returned to her home state of Texas this summer to choreograph Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at Casa Mañana Theater. Brooke directed and choreographed Adam Lambert’s Original High World Tour, which kicked off New Years Eve 2016. She worked as the associate director and specialty act designer for Franco Dragone’s Taboo at the Hard Rock Hotel in Macau, China and was the supervising choreographer for America’s Got Talent for four seasons.

Brooke’s choreography has appeared on Orange Is the New Black, VH1’s Best in Music 2015, American Idol, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade 2015, I Am Cait, Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris, East Bound and Down on HBO, Dancing with the Stars, and The Carrie Diaries. Other credits include RENT in Shanghai, China, Rebel Bingo (NY and London), NBA Brooklynettes, Adam Lambert’s Glamnation World Tour, Flashdance the Musical (Dance Associate and Coach). Her associate choreography credits include Cirque Du Soleil’s first Broadway venture Paramour, The Donna Summer Project 2016 (Signature Theater NYC),The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty starring Kristen Wiig and directed by Ben Stiller, Gossip Girl on the CW, Rescue Me on FX and Cirque Du Soleil’s Delirium (dance supervisor).

We recently sat down with Brooke, to discuss her process and the ideas she brought with her to BDL. Read a transcript of that conversation below.

BDL: Can you tell us a bit about your performing career and how you found your way into becoming a choreographer? 

BW: I knew as young as 7 years old that I wanted to choreograph. My parents made my room into a dance studio with a huge mirror, life size posters of Baryshnikov and Micheal Jackson plus a collection of 45’s. I can remember the first dance I ever made was to Jeffery Osbourne’s “On the Wings of Love”.  I was 8. It was emotional.

BDL: What are three words you would use to describe your choreographic style?

BW: Athletic. Stylized. Musical.

BDL: What is your favorite part of the artistic process? 

BW: For this process, it was getting to know the dancers and watching how they digested what I was asking them to do.

BDL: Did you bring any specific goals with you for your time with BDL? Any definite projects you wanted to work on or are you just experimenting?

BW: I chronicled the 4 years of fertility treatments that my husband and I are still currently experiencing.

BDL: What has this week taught you?

BW: I was honestly very scared to be so vulnerable and raw with the subject matter. I learned that when you lean into your fear it truly can heal and BDL was the perfect open, supportive environment to do it in. I am forever grateful.

 


Nov
13

Dancer’s Perspective with FRANCISCO GRACIANO


Francisco is a native of San Antonio, TX, and received a B.F.A. in dance from Stephens College for Women (male scholarship), and scholarships from the Alvin Ailey School and The Taylor School. He has been a member of TAKE Dance Company, Ben Munisteri Dance Company, Cortez & Co. Contemporary/Ballet, Pascal Rioult Dance Theater, and Dusan Tynek Dance Theater, among others. In 2009 he was featured in Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch”. From 2004 – 2017 he danced in the Paul Taylor Dance Company and is now on faculty at the Taylor School. He also continues to photograph dancers and his work can be seen at www.franciscograciano.com

BDL: Tell us a bit about how you got started dancing. What was your journey to Paul Taylor?

FG: I started dancing when I was nine. My family and I were watching a PBS special during Hispanic heritage month. Evelyn Cisneros was being partnered by someone and I was so impressed with the deft partnering skills of the man that I spontaneously blurted, “I wanna do that!”  My father who was Mexican said, You need ballet for that. Days later my mother had found a local ballet company with a school attached to it and enrolled me in classes. I studied there (in San Antonio) all the way through high school. I accepted a full scholarship to Stephens College for women and received a BFA in three years. I discovered Taylor there but never thought I’d have the chops for it. However, when I moved to NYC I worked hard to achieve something close to it. They say if you shoot for the moon you could land among the stars so I just followed my heart. I danced with several different dance companies and choreographers and studied on scholarships at the Ailey school and the Taylor School. While I was dancing for one of those companies Paul asked me to dance for his second company after observing me take class at the school. I enthusiastically accepted and two years later he moved me into the main company. His work always made sense on my body and my sensitivities as an artist. It offered extreme physicality and athleticism but also required a strong base of technique. Two things I’d worked hard for throughout my life. But it also gave me the chance to play with character work and acting. I’d wanted to pursue an acting conservatory after high school but couldn’t pass on that full scholarship for a BFA in Dance. I was given the greatest of opportunities working for Paul for so many years. We established a great working and personal relationship and I’ll be grateful forever for the gifts he gave me as an artist.

BDL: What interested you about working with Broadway Dance Lab?

FG: I love Josh Prince. There, it’s out. I said it. The real story is that Josh and I met several years ago when Taylor was still performing at City Center. He later married one of my closest friends in the company and we inevitably got closer on more on a personal level. We both respected each other tremendously and expressed working together some day on several occasions. When I left Taylor in July I called him and gave him my availability for the next few months and crossed my fingers that he was serious about working with me in a creative setting. Fortunately he was and believed I could do the job for the other choreographers so here I am. I have a profound respect for what he’s doing here for creatives and I really wanted to be a part of it.

BDL: How are you finding the worlds of modern dance and theatre different?

FG: Well as dancers we’re all pretty similar. There’s a similar trait in all great dancers that I’ve yet to be able to articulate but I think it would be something related to vulnerability. The dancers Josh selects all have at least that in common. I think you get to a certain level in your professional career when you realize that in order to grow and experience those penultimate moments in the craft you have to be willing to bare your soul in the creative/learning process. We’re not perfect and accepting that can have reaping benefits when you’re approaching something new. But I digress. The biggest difference that stands out to me now is the creative process. I’ve only worked a little in theatre but as a Broadway choreographer it seems apparent that the job is to tell a preconceived story through dancing (and often singing) with characters who have a clear motivation. You can certainly start the same way as a modern dance choreographer. Paul did it all the time. However, you don’t need to start creating with the scaffolding of a story. The dance could grow out of an idea, a piece of music, a gesture, or literally anything else that inspires the creator. Also, there’s a lot more room to play with the story if you’re a modern dance choreographer. If the dance maker wanted to make a change, something as simple as a look in another direction could significantly alter the story’s message. I don’t think that autonomy is as likely in theatre because there are so many creative minds working towards the same goal. I don’t think one is better than the other. In fact I think placing limitations on your creative project can be very productive. Even the best modern dance choreographers practice this. All that said, BDL is unique in that it offers an alternative by giving a little more control to the dancemakers.

BDL: The Taylor repertory includes a lot of narrative and strongly thematic works, how do you approach portraying a character in dance when you don’t have text to tell the story?

FG: I think there are several different personality archetypes that most people would recognize. For example, one who is calm will project peace, one who is angry will project confrontation. Paul is a master of giving directions to his dancers on how to approach movement that is character/story driven. Usually the direction is vague enough to allow the dancer to interpret the role for themselves. I’ve always thought though that Paul’s work is good at conveying an idea or message. What comes out of the dancers’ faces is secondary. A shape can be repeated in several different dances but have just as many interpretations. It’s the intent that the dancer projects through that shape that assists in the telling of the story or the concept of the piece.

BDL: What’s next for you after BDL?

FG: I’m taking a break from NYC for a couple of months to be with my family in Texas. We’ve been through a lot of stuff in the last eighteen years since I moved here and I have never had the chance to land there and just BE with them. Also I’m the middle of a major transition so I’m looking forward to resetting and returning with new intentions and goals. I plan on continuing to photograph dancers and performing artists of all kinds. I love teaching so I’ll remain on the faculty of the Taylor school as well. I’m still very curious about choreographing so I’m definitely going to invest more time and energy in that pursuit. My friend and current Taylor dancer, Laura Halzack, and I started a creative outlet for ourselves called Studio Three and I expect that to grow also. I’m not completely done dancing yet so I’d like to keep reaching out to people for more projects. Aside from that my modus operandi consists of digging into my creative side consistently, without judgement, and continue to learn, learn, and learn.


Nov
09

Q&A with choreographer CALEB TEICHER

We recently sat down with Fall 2017 Cycle choreographer Caleb Teicher, to discuss his process and the ideas he’s bringing with him to BDL. Read a transcript of that conversation below.

BDL: Can you tell us a little bit about your performing career and how you began choreographing?

CT: I’ve hopped around quite a bit as a performer, but the majority of my work has been in rhythm and music-based dance companies. I was a founding member of DorranceDance in 2011 and danced with the company throughout the beginning of 2017. I’ve also danced with The Chase Brock Experience, The Bang Group, Syncopated City Dance Company, Sally Silvers & Dancers, and numerous other choreographers in a concert dance setting. I’ve performed in a few musicals, most notably the International Tour of West Side Story and the Encores! production of Irma La Douce.

I started as a tap dancer at the age of 10, and within the first six months of taking class, I had already choreographed my first a cappella solo. I think I’ve always had an interest and compulsion towards composition. I’ve been very fortunate over the past few years to have more opportunity to exercise this creative habit.

BDL: What are three words you would use to describe your choreographic style?

CT: Musical, quick, and social.

BDL: What is your favorite part of the artistic process?

CT: Every process is so different! Sometimes, it’s becoming deeply familiar with a musical composition or recording (the joy of dancing and choreographing to good music is like nothing else). Often, it’s my collaborators — I really love working with intelligent and creative dancers who, beyond executing with precision and grace, bring their own personality and perspective to the work. For me, the moments where I’m in a studio, problem-solving with dancers about the greater intent of a piece, is where the beauty can be found. I don’t like cleaning dances — I’m grateful to often have someone else who will help me do that.

BDL: Did you bring any specific goals with you for your time with BDL? Are there any definite projects you wanted to work on or are you just experimenting?

CT: I had a number of goals for my time with BDL. I had some questions I wanted to ask myself about working with this particular group of dancers. I’m often working with my own dance company, so my dancers are hand-picked by me for the particular work being created. At BDL, I was gifted with remarkable dancers, but they’re almost all new faces to me. I wanted to see where my technique, aesthetic, and dance traditions would meet halfway with their perspective and experience. I also wanted to return to physical narrative and pattern-making as a storytelling device. There’s quite a bit of abstraction in my company’s work, but I went much more literal with my BDL work.

The biggest takeaway from the week was probably re-imagining “The Portland Fancy” from Gene Kelly and Judy Garland’s Summer Stock. That’s been a pipe dream of mine for a long time, and I’m hoping someone will let me choreograph the first stage production of this beautiful musical. Anyone listening?

BDL: What has this week taught you?

CT: This week confirmed a lot of things I already know; I love creating dance work, I’d like to do it more, and doing so with the intent to build character, develop storylines, and contribute to a greater narrative vision are all things that suit my creative style. I’ve learned (as I do almost every time I make a piece) to enjoy the slow crawl of creation, skip things that aren’t working and return to them later, and to make sure the room is always filled with warm and generous individuals. It makes the work better.


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.


Apr
29

Choreographer Spotlight with RON TODOROWSKI

RonSquareWe sat down with BDL Spring 2017 Cycle choreographer RON TODOROWSKI 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. Where are you from originally? How did you start dancing and how did your transition into choreography occur?

RT: I’m from McDonald, PA, a suburb of Pittsburgh. I took a summer program of gymnastics when I was eight years old and my teacher’s mother had a dance school. He suggested I take dance and acrobatics there because of my flexibility. My desire to choreograph didn’t come until much later in my career.

BDL: Tell us a bit about your first choreographic job. Is there any advice you would give that young, budding choreographer now? 

RT: My first professional choreographic job was assisting Mia Michaels on Celine Dion’s Las Vegas show. We had about 50 dancers and could pretty much do anything we wanted. It was overwhelming and tough, but life changing as well.  It was the first time I felt that perhaps I wanted to do choreograph. Mia really encouraged me. The first choreographic job I had was for Wayne State University. I created an eight minute piece without much rehearsal time. My advice now would be to focus on editing. Most of the time, less is more.

BDL: Name one choreographer you admire and tell us why.

RT: Twyla Tharp! Her overall artistry, experience, knowledge, intellect, versatility, work ethic…I could go on forever.

BDL: And you’ve spent quite a bit of time working with her. Tell us more about that experience.

RT: It’s been incredible. She allows an artist the space to find character using dance as the dialogue. Her process has absolutely influenced mine, but my vocabulary I would say is all over the map. I’ve been inspired by so many choreographers I’ve worked with.

BDL: Tell us more about your process now. How do you usually begin? 

RT: It really depends on the project, but I’d say most of the time, the music is where it begins. The ideas and other elements manifest from there.

BDL: What made you interested in working with Broadway Dance Lab?

RT: The opportunity to work with a company of versatile dancers with the space and time to work out ideas is extraordinary and any choreographer’s dream!

BDL: Do you have any specific goals for your BDL residency? Are there any ideas you know you want to explore or techniques you’d like to test?

RT: Yes! I’d like to work on an idea I’ve had for several years. My goal is to work on four songs by the same artist, introducing characters and exploring what the full show could be. I really want to stay in the present moment during rehearsal and create from there without hesitation.

BDL: What is it like working with a company of dancers you’ve never met before?

RT: I’ve actually danced with three of the company members before, so that’s exciting! As for the rest, I’m sure I will get to know them very quickly. Sometimes I start rehearsal with yoga and breathing to get connected, but most likely we’ll just dive right in!