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Category: Blog

Jul
09

Q&A with choreographer JOHN CARRAFA

John Carrafa is the two-time Tony nominated choreographer of URINETOWN and INTO THE WOODS. He’s also received an Obie, Lortel and Dora Awards for URINETOWN as well as Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Nominations. He currently choreographs and directs both in Los Angeles and New York, developing original work for both theater and film. Recent TV work includes MANIACS, SUCCESSION, THE WEEK OF, FREAKY FRIDAY and NASHVILLE.

We sat down with John to discuss his inspiration, process, and goals for working with Broadway Dance Lab.

BDL: How did you first begin choreographing?

JC: I’d say it was playing with those little green plastic toy soldiers when as a kid. Elaborate scenarios and playing with patterns and structure. In college I was Pre-Med, but was exposed by blind luck to this great teacher a lot of folks know named Marcy Plavin, and she gave me the history of 20th Century American dance. I read that Doris Humphrey once said, “all dances are too long,” so my first stage work was 2 minutes and 17 seconds. I choreographed Where’s Charley? in summer theater that year, and then focused mostly on dances with text that told a story. I never became a doctor.

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

JC: I…tell…stories.

BDL: How do you approach TV and film differently than you approach stage work?

JC: The answer to that is very long, but i’ll give you a short example of one the inherent differences. Namely this: When you choreograph for the stage you have to direct the viewer where to look. In film, you do that with the camera.

BDL: What goal(s) did you bring for your time working with BDL?

JC: I’m working on an ambitious new evening-length work that will tell a controversial story from American history, using a combination of dance and dialogue. With this particular story, I wanted to test to see if the dance and text would go together, and how?

BDL: Can you tell us about one artist who has been an inspiration to you, and why?

JC: If you mean choreographers, this is the toughest question because they all do in different ways. Michael Kidd because of his character based movement, Hermes Pan because he was so brilliant with structure, Peter Gennaro for the unsung work in West Side Story. Also Josh Prince because of his storytelling ability, and Susan Stroman and what she did with Oklahoma. I’d also say I’m inspired as much by other artists as choreographers. Mamet comes to mind because of his economy.  The thing that inspires me about ANY of these artists is that they are singularly themselves. Unique. Original. That’s what inspires me in any of them.

BDL: What’s one thing you discovered at BDL that you’ll take with you as you continue to work?

JC: I realized the ease with which, in the new work i’m creating, the text and the dance fit together like a puzzle to take us on a journey. As it always happens, the solutions that came in the workshop ultimately raised a question: Are there points at which the movement alone can independently tell the story,  without the aid of narration? What are those points? How do I do that? I’m going into the studio in September to take the next step and figure that out.


Jun
25

Q&A with choreographer KRISTEN CARCONE

 

Kristen Carcone is a Toronto-born, internationally acclaimed dancer, choreographer, teacher, and reiki healer. She is a company member of Third Rail Projects (New York, NY), currently performing in their Bessie award winning production Then She Fell . Kristen is a guest artist with cross-disciplinary performance company, FROG IN HAND, and has also performed the original works of Jason Parsons, Nicole Von Arx, Kate Wallich, Gabriel Forestieri, and the Kuperman Brothers. She has performed internationally in a variety of shows and festivals including: The Phish Concert at Madison Square Garden (New York, NY), Tangente’s Danses Buissonnieres (Montreal, Quebec), The New Prague Dance Festival (Prague, Czech Republic) and Art Gallery of Ontario’s MASSIVE PARTY (Toronto, Ontario).

In 2016, Kristen was named one of the 25 Most Influential Young Choreographers to watch by Narcity Toronto. Her choreography can be seen in Joseph Gordon Levitt’s My Favourite Things video, Cardinal’s Pride music video Masterpiece, and in Supa’Nova, a new play by Maria Corina Ramirez. Kristen’s work has been described as “energetic, highly entertaining and refreshingly playful” – Sarah Lochhead/The Dance Current. As a creator of experiential theatre, Kristen has great interest in mindful performance and healing through the arts. She encourages cross-disciplinary collaboration between artists of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds, aiming to share stories that are inclusive, honest, and, of course, entertaining. Thanks to funding from the Toronto Arts Council, and support from lululemon NY, Kristen’s latest work 4-7-8 will premiere Fall 2018 in Toronto.

Kristen is Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of TOES FOR DANCE, an internationally recognized non-profit organization that has been featured in the Globe and Mail, Mississauga News, and The Dance Current Magazine. She graduated from the dance division of New World School of the Arts in 2011 earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree with Highest Honors. www.kristencarcone.com

BDL: Tell us a bit about your background. How did you get started in the world of dance and choreography?

KC: I have been telling stories and making shows since I was three years old. Growing up I had the privledge to try many extra curricular activities. Piano, swimming, gymnastics, karate, soccer…but dance is was what I chose to commit to at quite a young age. I attended a public arts high school program during the day and trained at a competitive dance studio in the evenings. Gaining concert dance and commercial dance knowledge simultaneously was truly a gift as it allowed my toolbox as performer, storyteller, and dance maker to become incredibly versatile. For my post secondary education I chose to dive deeper into the concert dance world, earning my BFA in Dance at New World School of the Arts in Miami, Florida. My interest in character and narrative really surfaced in these four years and is the direction I have taken both my choreographic and performance career ever since.

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

KC: The Dance Current Magazine describes my work as “energetic, highly entertaining, and refreshingly playful.” I’m totally into that!

BDL: During your week at BDL, you chose to revise and expand upon an existing piece of yours called, “Dinner is Served.” Can you tell us a bit about that piece and what you’ve been working on this week?

KC: Dinner is Served started out as a piece that was about social programming and social anxiety. What is our inner dialogue vs our outer dialogue? How do we want to behave vs how were we taught to behave? Dinner is Served originally started as a 3.5 minute work created on a group of youth in Ottawa, ON. As we were making the piece I quickly realized the work was destined for film. Thanks to Roger Galvez, Jesse Hunt and a cast of amazing NYC professional dance artists, a film version was made in 2017. After remounting it for stage at the Y-Cabaret in 2018, I started to wonder what it would be like to turn Dinner is Served into a full evening length show. This “expanded-world” is what I worked on at BDL. Being gifted time, dancers, and studio space allowed me to dive deeper into the back stories of the Dinner is Served characters. The BDL company and I were able to develop and experiment with new storylines and potential scenes. This process allowed some darker, more socially relevant themes to surface. It suddenly made the humour in the original work gain new importance. I can’t wait to continue exploring this full length version of Dinnner is Served.

BDL: What is your biggest takeaway from this week with Broadway Dance Lab?

KC: Gratitude. This week reminded me how important discussion, experimentation, and physicalization is to the creative process. Due to lack of funds and lack of time, I often have to create choreography alone and in my head. Getting to collaborate and play with possibilities, with no pressure of outcome, is a gift! Thank you BDL!


Jun
22

Q&A with choreographer HELEN SIMONEAU

HELEN SIMONEAU, a native of Rimouski, Québec. Described as “a Choreographer-on-the-rise” with a style that is both “athletic and smooth”—Dance Magazine, Simoneau has been commissioned by The Juilliard School, Oregon Ballet Theatre, the American Dance Festival, UNC School of the Arts, UArts (PA), The Yard, Springboard Danse Montréal, and the Swiss International Coaching Project (SiWiC) in Zurich. She was a resident artist at Baryshnikov Arts Center, Bates Dance Festival and has received fellowships from The NYU Center for Ballet and the Arts, the Bogliasco Foundation, and twice from the North Carolina Arts Council. Her company Helen Simoneau Danse has been presented in Austria, Brazil, Canada, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and has toured throughout Germany, Asia, and the United States. Notable venues that have presented her work include The Guggenheim Museum (NYC), Dance Place (DC), Joyce SoHo (NYC), Tangente (Montréal), The Aoyama Round Theatre (Tokyo), the L.I.G. Art Hall Busan (South Korea), Jacob’s Pillow Inside/Out (MA), PACT-Zollverein in Essen (Germany), and Athens International Dance Festival (Greece). Her work was also presented at the 13th Internationales Solo-Tanz-Theatre Festival in Stuttgart, Germany, where she was awarded 1st place for Choreography. 

We sat down with Helen to discuss her background, process, and goals for her time with BDL. A transcript of that conversation is below.

BDL: What made you want to become a choreographer?

HS: I began dancing late and was fortunate to be accepted into a rigorous conservatory program, NCSA, which meant that I was surrounded by classmates with a lot of previous training. Composition and improvisation classes allowed me one time a day where I wasn’t behind, and even I think that not having much dance experience was good for me in my creative work. I didn’t have an idea of what dance was supposed to look like and so I was free in my choices. After I graduated, I danced for other choreographers, but always found myself most fulfilled when I was creating my own work.

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

HS: Dance Magazine called it “athletic and smooth,” which fits perfectly. I would also throw in “intricate.”

BDL: What goals did you have for your time with BDL?

HS: I knew I wanted to create with the entire ensemble. My goal was to develop choreography that is rooted in patterns, intersecting bodies, and play with partnering.

BDL: When you find yourself stuck during a rehearsal, how do you get out of it?

HS: With the dancers – always the dancers. They can offer up solutions to any problem, so I rely on them. Either I express what I am trying to do, the overall idea, or I break it down into smaller tasks that they can work on to get us closer to my vision. Even though I’m in charge, I definitely don’t feel like I have to have all the answers. I have to trust the talent in the room.

BDL: What is your biggest takeaway from your time in the Lab?

HS: I was reminded that establishing the ideal conditions for dance making is as important as the making itself. Having positive ready-for-anything dancers, a beautiful large studio with plenty of natural light, and having all of of this offered every day consistently (same time, same place) was a huge gift and created an ease to the week allowing me to focus just on the choreography.


May
07

In Process with Maija Garcia

Broadway Dance Lab recently partnered with the Guthrie Theatre in preparation for their upcoming summer 2018 production of West Side Story. Choreographer Maija Garcia will create new choreography, aiming to put her own stamp on a work that has become synonymous with the legendary staging of Jerome Robbins. We spoke with Maija about her process and her method of approaching this iconic classic. 

BDL: How did choreography first enter your life? 

MG: Looking back, I started writing plays, and making dances when I was very young.  We used an old camcorder to create television episodes and music videos. It was the way I had fun with my friends. My first love was gymnastics, then ballet and jazz. I started teaching dance classes at the age of 14, in exchange for my own training at Studio 1 in Ann Arbor MI. Teaching became my bread and butter for the next ten years. It’s how I paid for college, and began to develop my own style. Choreography grew out of making phrases for class. Over time, I became a choreographer, but it wasn’t on purpose. Actually, it was spiritual. Movement always called me to task, disciplined my body and mind, and fine tuned my purpose. I studied everything. Dances of the African and Latin diaspora, martial arts, contact improv, and physical theater. My vision was to be an international diplomat, or an ambassador of culture. I chose a special major in sustainability while dancing professionally through college. By the time I was 24, I finally gave in to the muse, moved to New York City from San Francisco and decided to go for it. I toured with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company for five years, produced my own work on weeks off, and had the opportunity to choreograph a Broadway show with Bill T. Jones about afrobeat legend Fela Kuti. The more I think about it, I wouldn’t be where I am today without my students. They sculpted me like clay, and forced me to express my beliefs through my technique and my visions through choreography. Teaching gave me a playground in which to build obstacle courses to climb, and puzzles to put together. That’s what choreography is: a combination of passion, play and problem solving. We don’t always know how it will turn out, but we bring all that we are to the work, and let spirit move through the channel.

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

MG: Rhythmic. Poetic. Effusive (Poured out when molten and later solidified.)

BDL: What is your process like? Do you generally do a lot of pre-production work or do you prefer to work in the moment? 

MG: My creative process is highly collaborative. Before any production I study the script, and engage in copious amounts of research. I read, listen, and draw the world of the play, meditate on the story and search for the symbols or shadow language that might be conveyed through movement. I like to imagine the choreographic canvas as the space between all the words on the page. I believe our work as choreographers is to enliven the universe of feelings, thoughts, and expressions that motivate the action. So I come in to the studio with an idea and a phrase. I lead dancers and/or actors through a warm up that conjures up certain sensibilities, or opens the body in a specific way. I get people to interact, connect, and awaken every cell in their body. I like to pull movement from dancers, and to string their movement together to form a sequence. Once we get going, something will bubble up and I’ll start generating material like lightning bolts and hope somebody captures the genius of the moment! Then, music is king. Music is the ultimate dance partner – guiding every choice, inspiring rhythmic patterns and providing a structure to work within or push against. I like to play with time and space, to stretch both, and experiment with the edges. My work is challenging. It’s full and complex, not neat and clean. I expect dancers to speak volumes; to be real. I summon the whole human being to come with their ancestors and angels, their fears, dreams and flaws, to enliven the visceral experience. I believe when we infuse the imagined with the real, our stories gain the escape velocity to take flight.

BDL: Jerome Robbins’ choreography for the original production of West Side Story has become so iconic. Can you explain your approach to the project? How are you ensuring that your choreography feels fresh and new?

MG: The other day George Faison called me to say, “we must make dances for social change,” among other insightful remarks. When I told him I was working on original choreography for West Side Story, he reminded me that Robbins was a rebel. He strayed from the ballet of Balanchine and developed a movement style defined by the jazz era. His work was explosive, spontaneous, virtuosic, and yes – iconic.  I have no intention to “out-do” Robbins. But I will carry the rebel torch with pride. Together with the illustrious Joe Haj (Artistic Director, The Guthrie Theater), we will create a grounded, diversified spin on an ever-relevant classic, bringing out the individual charms of each player as well as the collective danger of US vs.THEM.

BDL: How has partnering with BDL been beneficial to you? 

MG: Invited to stage original choreography for West Side Story at The Guthrie Theater, I said “yes, of course!” What an extraordinary honor and opportunity, and (cue music) what a daunting, and overwhelming challenge. Charged with staging the work in five weeks – I needed a miracle. I needed time to generate material, to try out all of the bad ideas and make room for the right stuff to emerge. I needed to work with technicians who could eat my phrases for breakfast, and be ready for more by lunch. I needed the resources and support to be creative, for a few days at least – without the pressure of extreme deadlines; to sketch, to devise and revise at my own pace, in a supportive environment. I remembered having lunch at a New York diner with Josh Prince.  I remembered how Josh described the Lab and thought- this is it!  BDL could be my miracle! And it was. Last week I walked into a gorgeous studio full of vibrant artists and was able to sketch, draw and paint my way into the work. We created a foundation for the movement vocabulary that I will rely on over the next five weeks in Minneapolis. Each dancer who contributed to the process will be alive inside the work, informing and inspiring the right stuff, and high-kicking everything else to the curb. BDL took care of the dancers, the contracts, the space, logistics, and communication, so that I could focus solely on the work. They supported my choreographic process on so many levels. I am eternally grateful.


Mar
12

Q&A with Spring 2018 choreographer Loni Landon

Landon in rehearsal with BDL. Photo by Whitney Browne.

LONI LANDON was born and raised in New York City, and received her BFA in Dance from The Juilliard School. Her work has been commissioned by The Joyce Theater, Keigwin + Company, Whim Whim, BODYTRAFFIC, and more. She is the co-founder of THE PLAYGROUND, an initiative designed to give emerging choreographers a place to experiment, while allowing professional dancers to participate affordably. 

We asked Loni to tell us a bit more about her process, influences, and goals for her time with BDL.

BDL: Tell us a bit about your training and performance career.

LL: I grew up in New York City, and attended the High School of Performing Arts and then Juilliard. After Juilliard, I danced with the State Theater of Munich and had the opportunity to work with so many amazing European contemporary choreographers. I started to choreograph in Munich and then entered a few choreography competitions in Germany. I enjoyed creating so much that I decided to move back home to begin my own choreographic career here in NY. I started to dance with the Met Opera simultaneously, as I worked on my choreography.

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

Landon in rehearsal with BDL. Photo by Whitney Browne.

LL: Human, physical, and fluid.

BDL: What drives you to create?

LL: I am a creative being. I do not feel alive if I am not creating something. It can be anything, in any medium. I love working with people to create something beautiful out of nothing. Its a powerful thing to be in a room with people all working on something at the same time.  It gives me a purpose, and I am eternally grateful for that.

BDL: What interested you in working with BDL?

LL: I’ve heard about BDL over the years and it shares similar values as the The Playground. The Playground launches an innovative network of exchanges through merging professional dancers, choreographers, and presenters; provides a movement lab that is financially accommodating, easily accessible, and artistically rewarding for all of its participants; and establishes a place for the dance community to grow, unite, and share ideas prosperously. Both BDL and The Playground offer space where artists can connect and experiment. I also knew that BDL employs a different set of dancers, which really intrigued me. I wanted to practice teaching and exploring my aesthetic on Broadway dancers. As I move forward with my career as a choreographer, I do not want to put myself in a box. I want to be able to work on everything that I feel interested in and not just in the contemporary dance realm. Too often choreographers and dancers are placed in a box, and I think that is limiting to the artist.

BDL: How would you describe your process in the studio?

LL: I work in a very collaborative way. I will have an idea and then break it down for the dancers and split them into groups. I like to see what they come up with, even with just a visual idea. Then we will workshop until we find something interesting. I like when dancers take risks and just go for it, even if it’s not a fully realized idea. The studio is like a laboratory and choreographers need time to flush out and exhaust an idea. Then I will usually use choreographic tools to compose and rearrange the ideas the dancers created.

BDL: At BDL, you’re free to work on whatever you want, with no pressure for a finished product or performance. How has this approach affected your overall experience working with us?

LL: I have loved it! To be able to have studio space without pressure to create anything is wonderful. We created some beautiful images and ideas and I will use them in the future. Some of it didn’t work, and that is ok too. We need time to fail, just as we need time to create. It took me a long time to realize that not everything is going to be a masterpiece and having time to flush ideas out is invaluable. The dancers at BDL were so invested in the process and that was really inspiring.


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

Dancer’s 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.