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Jun
13

Q&A with choreographer JEFFRY DENMAN

Jeffry DenmanThis summer, NYC-based choreographer JEFFRY DENMAN is partnering with BDL to workshop material for a new, dance-driven musical based on the harrowing true story of immigrants traveling from Independence, Missouri to California in the winter of 1846. Denman’s choreographic credits include Broadway workshops of YANK! and Spongebob The Musical; and Off-Broadway productions of YANK! (SDC Callaway, Lortel Noms), Naked Boys Singing, and Assistance and Bullet for Adolf. He is the founder and artistic director of The Denman Theatre & Dance Company.

We sat down with Jeffry after a rehearsal and got to know a bit more about his background, his goals for the workshop and what made him want to work with Broadway Dance Lab.

BDL: It’s such a pleasure to be working with you, Jeffry! Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where are you from originally and how did you get started as a dancer?

JD: I was born and raised in Buffalo, NY. I didn’t really start dancing until high school when the Swing Choir choreographer at my school, Lynne Formato (currently a professor of Musical Theatre at Elon University) created a solo for me. Ever since then, I’ve been dancing. So, “thank you, Lynne!”

BDL: How did your transition into choreographic work evolve?

JD: I went to the University of Buffalo and as a musical theatre dancer, I had to take three full years of the other dance disciplines, plus partnering classes, choreography classes, etc. I loved choreographing, and started to choreograph my classmates’ midterms and finals. Then I started creating my own projects – ballets and musicals – that were produced in Buffalo.

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

JD: I actually think other people would answer this better, so I’ll use words that directors and colleagues have used: “classic”, “athletic”, and “moving.” They are certainly qualities I strive to achieve.

BDL: Tell me more about the project you’ll be working on during your time with BDL. You’ve described it as being inspired by the movement rather than the text, can you explain that further?  

JD: The Donner Party Project has to do with the true story of a group of immigrants who traveled from Independence, Missouri to California in 1846. They ended up getting trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains, outside of Lake Tahoe, during one of the worst winters to ever hit the area. 87 people went into the mountains and only 42 came out. Most people had to resort to cannibalizing the dead in order to survive.

When the piece first began materializing, I was working with choreographer Liz Lerman. I told Liz about my ideas and that I wanted to depict potentially disturbing events through dance. She had done the same with a piece I worked on with her at La Jolla Playhouse, called Healing Wars. Within that piece, Liz had managed to depict PTSD, amputation, war and death in artful, haunting and beautiful ways. I loved the way the movement made the topic it was portraying incredibly poetic, without losing any emotional impact. I began to think I might be able to do a similar thing with the events surrounding the Donner Party story.

Liz encouraged me to “get right into the studio” and start to move. “Don’t worry about the text,” she said. “Just move.” And she was right! So now, as we continue to develop this project, my playwright, Joy Tomasko, and I are very conscious of making sure the movement is driving the work’s creation as opposed to the text. It’s also become the motto of the Denman Theatre & Dance Company. “First, we move.” Thank you, Liz!

BDL: That’s so wonderful! What made you want to contact BDL for this project?

JD: I’ve known and admired Josh for a long time, and had been keeping my eye on what he was doing with BDL. It seemed to me that this project would fit well within the company’s mission. It’s not a musical in the strictest definition of the term, but then neither was Susan Stroman’s Contact. So I reached out to Josh and he was very excited about the prospect for that very reason. He didn’t want to categorize the work, and was interested in the fact that it was being born out of movement. I’m so excited to be working with BDL on this!

BDL: What specific goals do you have for this residency period?

JD: We’re really hoping to take the movement we’ve already created and further develop it. We’ll also be introducing the new component of text into the work. I’m very excited to see how it all fits together. We’re also currently looking for a theatre or producing entity that might want to partner with us on the piece.

BDL: What’s next for your after you finish this residency?

JD: I currently have three additional projects that I’m interesting in developing. And I’m hoping the Denman Theatre & Dance Company can work with BDL again very soon!


May
16

ANNOUNCING CYCLE 4 AUDITIONS!

c38d44b2-6847-4d88-9a99-1d229afe822cBDL is seeking highly trained, stylistically versatile male and female dancers for a nine-week contract. Cycle 4 choreographers will include Artistic Director Josh Prince, Larry Keigwin, Lorin Latarro, Rosie Herrera, Al Blackstone, and others to be announced.

Auditions are by appointment only.
For more information, and to register CLICK HERE.


Oct
22

VIEWPOINTS with Melanie J. Comeau

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Our Viewpoints series allows you to hear directly from our dancers as they blog about the process and experience of working with Broadway Dance Lab.

Melanie J. Comeau grew up training at the Albany Berkshire Ballet in Pittsfield, MA and has had the pleasure of performing works by contemporary artists Jill Johnson, Christopher Roman, and Aszure Barton in her training. Since receiving a degree in Human Evolutionary Biology from Harvard University in 2013, she has enjoyed working with the Kuperman Brothers, Sidney Erik Wright, Mary John Frank, Eric Williams, and numerous music artists in NYC. Proud Crimson fan and alum of the Signet Society and Hasty Pudding Theatricals.

BDL Cycle 3 is about to wrap week 5, and what a fantastic five weeks it’s been! Josh has curated a warm, welcoming, and wonderfully talented company of dancers from all over the dance spectrum; it’s been a blast to learn from one another’s experiences and varying skill sets as we delve into new territory with each choreographer. I leave the studio each day wholly inspired—not only by the vibrant new movement we’re collaborating on and the prowess of the Cycle 3 choreographers and my peers, but by the bravery and respect that emanates from each body in the room. (As I tend to shy away from the pressure of it,) I know getting in front of a group of dancers and having to produce something for them to do is *scary! *Most of the choreographers we’ve worked with have said, “I have no idea what I want here” at one point or another. With some sweat, playfulness, and a lot of trust, we’ve figured it out, time and time again.

My colleague Clinton and I, as understudies/apprentices, are able to have the amazing perspective of both jumping into the work yet also stepping back to see each new story as it’s created, edited, and lived in. Some of my favorite moments in rehearsal so far have been of sneakily observing the choreographers as they watch their ideas (maybe even ones they didn’t know they had until that day or hour) come to life. There’s an electricity and appreciation there that is so genuine and so rewarding to be a part of. It’s rare that a choreographer has the freedom to create like this—with the luxury to be carefree about resources and overhead costs—and it feels like a blessing to be able to work with an organization that understands these limitations of the dance and theater world.

In working to solve some of these problems, BDL is able to keep the annoying (yet incredibly necessary) logistics outside of the studio and simply allow us to do the part of the job we love to do, and for this we are all incredibly thankful. I cannot wait to see what the remaining weeks have in store!

-Melanie


Oct
21

VIEWPOINTS with Tré Smith

Tré SmithOur Viewpoints series allows you to hear directly from our dancers as they blog about the process and experience of working with Broadway Dance Lab.

Tré Smith is a native of Charlotte, NC, and a graduate of the University of the Arts. He was a member of Eleone Dance Theatre, Complexions Contemporary Ballet and is currently a member of Camille A. Brown & Dancers. Additionally, Tré has performed with Pennsylvania Ballet, Ballet Noir, Waheed Works, Ballet Folkloric Di’Haiti, Collage Dance Collective and Amerca’s Got Talent. He has also assisted several major choreographers such as Desmond Richardson, Troy Powell, Ray Mercer and Camille A. Brown.

 

Starting week 5 of Cycle 3 is so exciting! Seeing how much we all have learned in the space about one another and ourselves is so special.

Day one with all the other Cycle 3 artists was an interesting experience. Sitting around hearing everyone’s background was truly inspirational.  The amount of exposure we’re gaining working with the choreographers is something we won’t forget.

When would we have this opportunity to work with 6 choreographers within an 8-week time frame? Each week we have to adapt to a new story, character, and still be able to produce great work.

Coming from a strong “concert dance” background, working with choreographers over the years has opened my eyes to many levels of exposure. I tend to consider myself a great listener and fast learner when it comes to adapting to a choreographer’s aesthetic, technique, and process. When I received this opportunity to join this cycle of Broadway Dance Lab, I was filled with so much anxiety. Because yes, I have auditioned for Broadway shows and assisted on some pre-production projects, but I never explored the area where the choreographer had the space and time to play with their ideas. That’s exactly what we are doing. Figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

Being a dancer you have to always keep a broad open mind when it comes to process. The choreographer is depending on you and your choices to influence their visions. So I knew our job weighed heavily when working one on one with choreographers.  As we hit the midway mark of the BDL Cycle 3 experience I am very happy with how far we have come but so anxious to see what the weeks have to offer.

-Tré


Oct
12

JOSH’S JOURNAL

challenge_changeLike many of you, I have a love-hate relationship with going to the gym.  Mostly hate.  But what I love is when I start to see progress, to feel stronger, to look better, to have more stamina, and to realize I can do things that I didn’t think I was capable of doing.  There’s a very common philosophy in personal training that in order to force our muscles to grow we must train them to failure.  I looked around me in my boxing class today and from what I could see through the sweat that had dripped into my eyes, no one there was even capable of completing the outrageous tasks our teacher was ordering us to attempt.  It’s as if the exercises he had chosen were designed to be impossible. And yet there we all were, struggling to do just one more push-up this time.  One more crunch.  One more squat.  The truth is, we all keep coming back to class because we know that today could be that breakthrough day if we just keep showing up and training to failure.  At the gym, the concept of failure takes on a whole new meaning.  At the gym, our failure is proof that we have tested our limits and grown.  But why do we really put ourselves through such agony?  Why bother working so hard to get healthier?  Because deep down we know that when we ourselves are stronger we are the able to offer those around us so much more.

Broadway Dance Lab is a creative gym for choreographers.  It is that place where they can safely push themselves artistically, fatigue and fail – then get back in the game and even surprise themselves with success on their very next try.  Just like we grow our muscles, so too must we grow our creativity.   The gym is just a building with weights but it is an invaluable resource to many looking to stay healthy or even change their lives completely.  BDL is a studio with dancers –  but equally invaluable to choreographers looking for a way to try the impossible, train to failure, and emerge changed, stronger and more confident than ever.  And it is with this newfound strength and confidence that these artists will venture out, ready to give audiences worldwide more than they ever thought they could.


Oct
09

VIEWPOINTS with Nick Palmquist

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Our Viewpoints series allows you to hear directly from our dancers as they blog about the process and experience of working withBroadway Dance Lab.

Nick Palmquist was most recently seen dancing with The Little Orchestra Society (Prince Charming) at Lincoln Center! Other New York Credits: American Dance Machine for the 21st Century at The Joyce Theatre, Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Guggenheim’s 2014 Works & Process series, and The Astaire Awards (dancer).

I became really invested in the power of music theatre storytelling while attending Oklahoma City University, majoring in Dance Performance. I trained in all styles of dance and took several History of Dance/Music Theatre History classes. I remember learning about how stars were discovered in the ensemble or tracks were created for a certain performer because in the audition, the choreographer saw exactly in that person what they didn’t know they were looking for. I wrote several papers about famous choreographers and found one thing across the industry: for each legendary choreographer there was often a muse that personified his or her genre of dance storytelling.

I have absolutely no proof in saying this, but I think it got quite expensive and time consuming in the process of making a Broadway show to allow a choreographer the opportunity to find exactly the right vessel for each project. Instead we’ve asked them to create entire shows, every single step, and hope there is a dancer in the room that can fill the shoes of the dancer in their head. The training and expectations of music theatre dancers has changed and so has the process of creating a *need* for those dancers in storytelling.

Broadway Dance Lab has given me the opportunity to be one of twelve muses for six distinctly different choreographers. My favorite part of this company has been how many conversations it has created between a choreographer and his or her dancers. Because the ideas are mostly forming in the moment, there are also questions that inevitably mirror them. Fortunately for all parties, the point of this company can be to answer those questions!

I am very used to the way my body moves and what I can count on it for, so this has been a really cool opportunity for two things to happen. Either the way my body tells the choreographer’s story is exactly what they wanted or didn’t yet know they wanted and I get to feel like a gratified actor and dancer, or they discover that my body can’t tell the story correctly unless I do something consciously to fix it; and because they have identified, from an idea, what my dancing isn’t yet saying, I have a much more important understanding of why I’m dancing at all! We haven’t even had mirrors in the rooms we’re dancing in, so I am relying almost solely on the way a choreographer is describing what movement he or she wants to use in telling a story. It has forced me to dance in unfamiliar, deliberate ways and I’m learning things I would have no similar opportunity to learn. Likewise, I have also watched the choreographers learn, from one hour of rehearsing in an uninhibited space, what is going to be the most effective and efficient way of using dance to tell a story over word or song.

I have only ever dreamed of dancing in New York City. I never really got more specific than that and I am so grateful I am dancing for this company, with these people, in this city.

-Nick


Oct
03

VIEWPOINTS with Courtney Kristen Liu

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Our Viewpoints series allows you to hear directly from our dancers as they blog about the process and experience of working with Broadway Dance Lab.

Courtney Kristen Liu can currently be seen in the Broadway production of Phantom of the Opera. Additional NYC credits include Radio City Christmas Spectacular (Ensemble, Ballerina Bear) and Queen of the Night. Courtney has danced professionally with Cincinnati Ballet and graduated Summa Cum Laude from Duke University where she earned her BA in Psychology and Business.

Imagine you are in High School and your English teacher gives you an assignment: you must write a 30- page paper about Hamlet. The paper must appeal to a wide range of readers. It must have a sufficient amount of “wow” sentences without seeming too corny or wordy. You will only have access to pens and paper for seven hours a day for two weeks. Your English teacher and their various colleagues will stand over your shoulder and give feedback at various times. The paper will be read aloud to 1,000 people at the end of the two weeks and your talent will be evaluated.

This is essentially the job of the choreographer. And it is terrifying.

The Broadway Dance Lab is an organization that supports choreographers in this journey by providing pens and paper and giving them an “teacher free” library to write their drafts.

As a dancer it has been a completely new experience to work with choreographers in a space free of judgment and deadlines. Normally I walk into rehearsal and the choreographer starts throwing out sequences of steps. We work in a linear fashion because it feels more efficient and the progress is easy to track. If a choreographer is unhappy with a section they may ignore it and move forward for fear of running out of time.

At BDL choreographers are free to work in circular patterns or with no roadmap at all! They allow themselves to be inspired by the artists and energy in their immediate environment rather than creating phrases in their living room and hoping the ideas translate to a group of bodies in a larger space. Sometimes we will work on a single phrase for an hour to really find the perfect way to tell the story.

As one of the living and breathing pens working for BDL this cycle, the process has been a lot of writing and crossing out, of starting at the end and moving to the beginning and then to the “third drum set section”, and of sinking into unknown territory. As dancers we must let go of knowing… knowing where the process will lead, knowing if the steps we love will make it into the final piece, and even knowing what shoes to wear!

The unknowns are countless but I am certain of one thing… by pushing ourselves to work differently, we are slowly emerging as better choreographers and dancers. And after eight weeks we will be in a better place to tackle that 30- page Hamlet paper in the normal time and process constraints of the dance.

-Courtney


Oct
01

STEP BY STEP with Geoffrey Goldberg

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As a performer, Geoffrey has worked on Broadway with Mary Poppins, and on National Tours including Mary Poppins (First National), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (First National), and 42nd Street (Asia). 

As a Director & Choreographer, Geoffrey has worked on Broadway (Associate Kids Director with Mary Poppins), internationally (Assistant Director of the Mexico City Spanish-language production of Mary Poppins), regionally (Mary Poppins, Alluvion Stage, Playhouse on the Square), and at festivals (NYMF, Fringe, TADA!), University productions (At The Chelsea, Footloose, at CAP21 Conservatory), and on readings throughout NYC.

We asked Geoffrey a few questions about his background, his work and the goals he has for his residency with BDL. 

BDL: Tell us a bit about your background and how you started choreographing.

Geoffrey Goldberg: I had taught dance classes and choreographed routines there since I was a teenager, but it wasn’t until I became Dance Captain of Mary Poppins on Broadway that I considered a career as a Director and Choreographer. After that show, I went full steam ahead, choreographing festival and university productions in NYC, to large scale productions regionally around the country. It’s been a lot of fun, and a huge learning curve!

BDL: What was it that made you want to become a choreographer?

GG: I love storytelling. I have always been a writer, in addition to a dancer, and see movement and choreography as another means of telling a story. And the reward of telling that story with no words, with only bodies, emotions, relationships, moments, and movements is so great – and the discovery of how to tell that story is even greater!

BDL: Are you coming to Cycle 3 with any specific goals in mind?

GG: I have done a lot of choreography with tap, and I am looking forward to choreographing more traditional musical theater style, as well as with some more ensemble-based contemporary movement. I have a few new pieces I’d like to explore, as well as some potentially crazy and fun ideas to toss in there, too!

BDL: How does your process in the studio generally unfold? Do you start with the music or an idea or simply let yourself be inspired by the dancers?

GG: I usually start with the music, which leads me to an idea. I’ll listen to the music countless times until I feel like I understand each nook and cranny, and eventually images and moves and stories come out. When I am in the studio, it is simply a matter of relaying those ideas to the dancers, to the team, and that might be done through conversation, movement, or some other sort of exercise. I feel like I develop my way of choreographing each time I choreograph.

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

GG: Classic, quirky and strong.

BDL: What’s next for you after BDL?

GG: I am off to Philadelphia to Direct and Choreograph a production of Billy Elliot at the Media Theater! I absolutely love this show, and cannot wait to work on this production, which will be my second production of Billy Elliot this year!

BDL: Why do you think programs like BDL are important?

GG: I am so looking forward to the workshop – I feel like it is a much-needed space in our industry to explore and discover and try out ideas without the pressure or timeline of production. I am also looking forward to challenging myself to be driven by the process, and not the product, as is many times the case.


Sep
30

VIEWPOINTS with Kory Geller

Kory_Geller_HS_1_thumb-0Our VIEWPOINTS series let’s you hear directly from our dancers as they blog about the process and experience of working with Broadway Dance Lab. First up, KORY GELLER.  Kory earned his B.F.A in Drama from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (CAP21). Theatrical credits include Mary Poppins (Ogunquit Playhouse), A Christmas Carol (McCarter Theatre) and A Chorus Line (Fulton Theatre). 

And we’re off! After a month of excitedly telling people that I would soon be starting “this cool dance company called Broadway Dance Lab” the day has finally arrived! Being a part of BDL is such an honor, and extremely rewarding to my dancer self. To be in a room each day where I get to create and express myself through movement satisfies my artistic appetite like nothing else! And it is so fulfilling to be surrounded by people who feel the same way. Not only are the other dancers incredibly talented, they are equally excited about this process. We are already one big, happy, SWEATY family.

I have been fortunate enough to work with Josh Prince before in BDL Cycle 2, so I feel very lucky to be back in the room with him. It is nice to collaborate with someone whose style and process are familiar. I feel comfortable with and attune to his creative wave lengths.

The most liberating thing about BDL is that there is no right answer, no specific thing that MUST be created. We have the liberty to take an hour to work on one count of eight, which may or may not end up ultimately leading anywhere. For me, this process is never tedious, but rather a chance to explore multiple options and discover what works best.

Even thought it’s only been one week, it feels like all of us have been creating together forever. There were no first day jitters, no shyness, and we certainly didn’t start slow or small. We dove into the work right away. I love this as it doesn’t leave room for any trepidation. We go for it no matter what the task is. In addition to working with Josh, we have worked with the wonderful Geoffrey Goldberg and we have many more exciting residencies still to come. All of us dancers thrive on being the vessels for different choreographers to investigate and express their ideas and we all love diving into different styles. It’s a beautiful, symbiotic relationship that occurs in the room between the dancers and choreographers.

Now that I’ve gushed about how amazing this experience is, let me be clear that it is not all fun and games. It definitely has its challenges. It is physically demanding, there is difficulty in retaining the steps and counts, and sometimes it is hard to fully understand the choreographer’s full vision. But that’s why we’re in the room: to challenge ourselves! Sure, we may not know what the outcome will be, but predictability can be boring. And one thing BDL is NOT is boring. So we jump into the unknown and as long as we plie when we land, we can achieve our goals.

Gotta go dance!

-Kory

 


Sep
22

JOSH’S JOURNAL

Josh and Cycle 3 CompanySometimes all one needs in life is to get to the starting line. And yesterday that’s exactly what I did.  After a year and a half of planning and fundraising and meetings and scheduling and emailing and the like, I finally stood in a big, open room with 12 talented dancers ready to create exciting new dances.   I breathed it in.   It is always a momentous occasion that is in no way lost on me.  Just thinking about all that it takes to get to the point where I can even begin the work reminds me why I work so tirelessly to bring BDL into existence. As I explained to the diverse company of dancers anxious to get their bodies moving in space, I have not created in this way since the last time I did BDL, which was March of 2014.  You would think that the floodgates of creativity would burst open and waves of movement generation would break the dam. Instead, I was met with heaping amounts of internal dialogue:  “How on earth will I begin?  What do I really want to work on?  How do I do this again??  Will this idea I have in my head even work?  Will I like it?  Will anyone else like it?  Does the idea dance??  Why am I not moving faster?  What the hell am I doing??”   The list went on and on and on.  It felt like I was riding a rusty old, vintage bicycle with only 2 working gears.  But at least I was pedaling.  I may not have been “in the zone” but at least I was in the game.  Reminds me of the great saying from Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming!”  It’s times like this when one realizes that creative work takes faith and perseverance and the willingness to just keep at it.  And often the “work” lies in standing before a group of people who are staring at you and saying to them, “I have no earthly idea what I’m doing, what I’m about to do, what I want, or what I don’t want.  I’m stuck and I will likely need your help getting unstuck.”  But that’s collaboration after all, isn’t it?  And I firmly believe that sitting in the muck, the darkness, is just as important as sprinting towards the light.  And that there needs to be a place to go where failure is, in fact, an option.  As Stephen McCranie so eloquently put it: “The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.”   By the end of the day, we had spent a good hour working on one small phrase of movement that never quite landed the way I wanted it to.  It may very well be the wrong idea entirely.  I half-heartedly proclaimed my “epic fail” to the dancers right before we left and without missing a beat one of the dancers, Jenny Holahan, (pronounced Hoo-la-han) said, “That’s what we’re here for!”  It makes me well up just thinking about it because that’s what I have worked so tirelessly these past three years to create and sustain.  A place were we can all fail big, fail often, and fail boldly…as long as we just keep swimming.