Broadway Dance Center has always been Al Blackstone’s home away from home. His teachers, mentors, and experience as a student helped shape him into the educator he is today. Since his first class in 2011 with just a few students, Al now packs the room no matter when he’s teaching. Beyond that, his courage to share his talent, vulnerability, charm, and lovable goofiness has created an undeniable ripple effect throughout the industry, challenging our preconceived notions about what ‘musical theater’ means, and how we can cultivate the energy of a dance class. Being a teacher or performer doesn’t mean masking who you are to portray someone or something else–quite the opposite, actually. It requires tapping even deeper into who you are in order to create a more meaningful connection with others, whether it’s your audience, dance partner, students, or fellow peers in class.
Sure, there can be so much fulfillment and joy in taking dance class. You can develop your technique, learn new skills, get a good workout, condition your body, meet new people. But how can you take your dance training to the next level? By taking your experience to the stage and performing.
And performing doesn’t have to be solely for professionals. Broadway Dance Center celebrates that dancers of all levels and ages should have the opportunity to dance on stage, with lights, makeup, original choreography, the whole deal. Coming up this May 19, at NYC’s Symphony Space, is the BDC Student Showcase, a performance experience that is open to all students of all levels.
On May 21st, BDC hosted the 7th annual Student Showcase at Symphony Space with performances at 4:30 and 8pm. The theater was packed and the audience was roaring with excitement. This performance opportunity is a way for BDC students to perform choreography with choreographers of their choice. From tap to street jazz, this show had it all! All of the performances were incredible, and there were even some standing ovations! In addition to all of the performances by drop-in students, there were guest performances by BDC’s own AIM, AIM Jr., and RAP companies, which were exquisite.
Check out some of the photos from the event….
Former BDC Front Desk Manager, Drew King, made the “leap” (well, really just a 0.3 mile walk) from Broadway Dance Center to Broadway—starring in On the 20th Century at 42nd Street’s American Airlines Theater. While Drew didn’t grow up with extensive dance training, he still had the courage to pursue his dreams in New York City. So how did a self-proclaimed “non-dancer” find himself performing in a tap-dancing musical choreographed by Tony-winner, Warren Carlyle? Take a look at our interview with Drew and see how his time and training at BDC helped him on his journey to the “Great White Way.”
What was your dance/musical theater training like growing up?
I started out as a musician. I played saxophone for a few years, and then in middle school I joined choir. All throughout high school, I trained as a vocalist in a wonderful music program and studied with a voice teacher who was also on faculty at Boston Conservatory. I had a wonderful theater program at my high school. I grew up watching the musicals there and knew I wanted to participate when I got to high school. My freshman year, I auditioned for Grease and was cast as Doody. I was hooked on performing from that day forward.
As a dancer, I never had formal dance training back home in Massachusetts. A friend’s mother owned a dance studio, and she was kind enough to let me take jazz and tap class my senior year of high school…but other than that, I was a very late bloomer. I had always wanted to be a dancer, but I never had the opportunity or financial resources. I knew that when I moved to New York, I would have a lot of catching up to do.
How did you come to dance and eventually work at BDC
I ended up in New York by accident, I suppose. I knew I wanted to be here, but I showed up much earlier than I anticipated. I wanted to be a musical theater major in college, but every program that I auditioned for rejected me. By the end of my senior year, I found myself with only two acceptance letters (not to musical theatre programs) to Fordham University and Marymount Manhattan. With no other options, I moved to New York in the fall of 2005 to attend Fordham University at 18 years old.
My freshman year at Fordham, a classmate who was a dancer dragged me to Broadway Dance Center on 57th Street for a basic ballet class. I was terrified and intimidated, but by the time the class had finished, I was so excited! All of sudden, I realized that all the resources I needed to supplement my training were at my fingertips. New York has some of the greatest training opportunities and classes. After I finished that class, I immediately picked up a work-study application from the front desk. I turned it in the very next day, and by Saturday, I was training for my first work-study shift. I continued training at BDC and working in the work-study program all throughout college, sticking with the program through the move from 57th Street to 45th Street. I remember working with Dawn Rumbaugh at the Actor’s Temple while the new studio was being built. By the time I got to my junior year in college, I managed to get a permanent job at the Front Desk working phones and as an assistant manager. I juggled my last two years of school with my front desk shifts as well as dance training at BDC. I continued working at BDC as a front desk manager on and off until the spring of 2013. I’ve spent roughly about 7 years working and 10 years training at Broadway Dance Center. That studio has been a second home and second family for the majority of my time in New York City.
Were/are there any classes or teachers at BDC to which you can attribute some of your success?
BDC has such an outstanding faculty. Working the front desk, you get to know all the teachers and staff of the studio. I would have to say that almost all of my success comes from the faculty at Broadway Dance Center (as well as those staff members who guided me and gave me the opportunity to train there). So many of my teachers went out of their way to get to know me, make corrections, encourage me and push me. It’s terribly intimidating starting dance training as a 19-year-old adult when you’re walking into a class with dancers who have been training since they were toddlers. It’s terrifying and can be humiliating, but BDC and the faculty there looked beyond that (even when I couldn’t see beyond it myself) and saw potential in me. Every teacher there inspired me to never settle, to always challenge myself, and to accept my own personal journey and path. Aside from dance training, so many of the teachers at BDC have unknowingly been some of my favorite life coaches. I’ve had so many wonderful teachers here, but some specific teachers who have really encouraged me and pushed me to get to where I am today include people like Beth Goheen, Natalya Stavro, Jamie Salmon, Dorit Koppel, Ray Hesselink, Matthew Powell, Germaine Salsberg, Michelle Barber, Sheila Barker, Tracie Stanfield, Brice Mousset, Josh Bergasse, Al Blackstone, Ricky Hinds, David Marquez, Ginger Cox, Slam; it might sound like a long list, but every one of these teachers have left a lasting impression on my personal life as well as my training.
What does it feel like to make your Broadway debut?
Of course it is incredibly exciting…but honestly, a bit surreal. I’ve been dreaming of this opportunity for so long, and now that it is happening, I’m struggling to believe that it is real. Sometimes I truly have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. I also am aware that I am having quite an exceptional experience for a Broadway debut. To be involved in an original Broadway cast of a show is a rare opportunity, and even more rare when the show is a hit and so well received by the New York community. So many exciting opportunities have come from this show, and every time something pops up, I can’t believe it’s happening. I feel that the whole experience has been a fairytale version of a dream come true, all neatly wrapped up with a bow. Many lifelong “bucket list” opportunities have come to fruition, such as having a first Broadway opening night, getting “the call” that you booked the job, singing (and tapping!) on a cast recording, dancing on television, performing on the Tony Awards, etc. Even more exciting, the four tap dancing porters (myself included) were nominated for an Astaire Award alongside such outstanding talents like Tony Yazbeck and Robert Fairchild.
What was your audition process like? (How did you prepare, callbacks, etc.)
The audition process was incredibly fun but also intimidating. Warren Carlyle is so kind and gracious in the audition room, which makes auditioning for him so great, but he also sets the bar very high and demands excellence from everyone. That is one of the many reasons why his choreography sparkles in all the shows he works on.
I had attended an open ECC (Equity Chorus Call) for the show last summer, and received a callback a few weeks later. At the callback, Warren quickly taught a pretty lengthy and tricky tap combination, after which every guy in the room had to do one-at-a-time. In most audition rooms, you will dance with two or three other guys per group, but Warren had us each tap by ourselves—pretty intimidating and exposing with all eyes on you; certainly no room for error. However, it wasn’t as terrifying as it could have been because one my biggest tap mentors, Ray Hesselink, always has his students run exercises one-at-a-time in his class. This is a skill that has come in handy for many auditions these days, including the audition that got me my first Broadway show.
After dancing and singing for the callback, I got a call for a final callback a few weeks after that. For the final callback, there were about 24 guys. We all had to do the tap combination again, as well as learn the vocal harmony to a four-part harmony song from the show. I had to learn the bass line, and the music director played the other three vocal parts on the piano as I sang the bass line against it. That afternoon, only a few hours after the callback, Warren personally called me himself to tell me I had booked the show.
Working on a new musical (of a revival), what was the rehearsal and workshop process like? Did a lot of changes occur during previews?
The rehearsal process was extremely exciting. This show is very rarely done, and this was the first revival since the original production with Madeline Kahn in 1978. Roundabout Theater Company is the master of putting on a revival, so they knew exactly what they were doing. They assembled some of the most incredible designers and creatives in the business. It was so exciting to see the show start as an idea on paper and vision boards, and then come into existence on stage at the American Airlines Theater. The sets, costumes, music, direction, choreography all blossomed and came to life over the short rehearsal period and it was truly magical having the opportunity to watch that happen.
During previews, there were slight changes in some of the music and writing, and even some of the choreography, but for the most part, what was rehearsed in the studio is still represented in the show right now.
Describe what it’s like to work with Tony-winning choreographer, Warren Carlyle.
Working with Warren is a dream. Aside from his undeniable talent, style, professionalism and grace, he is such a wonderful human being. He is incredibly attentive and sensitive to every person he works with, and has an overwhelming sense of gratitude and respect for dancers and performers. He teaches his choreography very quickly, and asks that you are paying attention and giving 110% energy along the way. Many rehearsal processes are short, so he does this for a matter of time, but ultimately, he wants you to be the best that you can be, and the cast has a great admiration for him because of this. It is no surprise to me that he won the Tony Award last year, and I have no doubts there are many more in his future. It is truly an honor and a joy to perform his choreography eight shows a week. The audiences certainly love it, but most importantly, every cast member in our show loves it.
What are some of your favorite past credits?
I would have to say that one of my favorite past credits would be My One and Only at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut. This was one of my first professional gigs working at an Equity house. The theater was built way back in 1877 and produces some of the best regional theater productions you can find in the country. The theater is beautiful—as is the location—and everyone who works at the theater is a lovely human being who absolutely loves and treasures the tradition of American musical theater. They do beautiful work, and it was an honor to perform there.
Another favorite past credit would also have to be working at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine. I’ve done three contracts up there (9 to 5, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Joseph). Each experience has been delightful. The production quality of the shows is wonderful, the staff is amazing to work with, and above all, you get to spend the summer living on the beautiful coast of Maine.
What do you do when you’re not performing?
When I’m not performing, I’m trying to res…But because I’m a busybody, I’m still training, auditioning, going to the gym, and working a part-time job that I’ve had for about three years now. The downside of this business is that there are no guarantees and rarely any security. My show will close in July, and soon enough, I’ll be back to pounding the pavement. I’m working hard now to keep my body and training in shape so that I’m ready to hit auditions again. |BDC|
Interview by Mary Callahan for Broadway Dance Center
I was so excited to see the Broadway revival of “Evita,” not only because of the amazing cast (Elena Rogers as Eva Perone and Ricky Martin as Che) or the renowned score (Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice), but because with Rob Ashford as choreographer, I knew I was in to see some amazing dancing.
Ashford’s choreography has received countless nominations and awards (both as director and/or choreographer) for shows such as “How To Succeed…,” “Cry Baby,” “Promises, Promises,” The Wedding Singer,” “Curtains,” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” His style is very grounded and EXTREMELY athletic. I was curious, therefore, to see how Ashford’s choreography would “fit” on a more traditional and thematic musical.
August 19th marked the final performance of Broadway’s “End of the Rainbow,” an enchanting musical play about the last few months of Judy Garland’s life.
“It’s December 1968 and Judy Garland is poised to make a triumphant comeback… again. The drama unfolds in a London hotel room as she prepares for a series of concerts at the famed Talk of the Town nightclub. Alongside her young fiancé and trusted pianist, Garland—with her signature cocktail of talent, tenacity and razor-sharp wit—takes on her most challenging role ever: herself.” (End of the Rainbow). The role of Miss Garland is played by the flawless Tracie Bennett, who won a Drama Desk award, Outer Critics Circle award, and a Tony nomination (not to mention several Olivier awards in London).
The play, housed at the Belasco Theater, held a relatively short run (March-August, 176 total performances). However, the play began at the Syndey Opera House back in 2005, went on to London’s West End. After Broadway, “End of the Rainbow” will begin performances at the CTG/Ahmanson Theatre March 12 through April 21. A national tour is also in the works. Bennett will also star in the upcoming film adaptation of ‘End of the Rainbow'” (Ticket News).
Since “End of the Rainbow” deals with the end of Judy Garland’s life, there is not a whole lot of dancing involved. Most people know Judy Garland for her tremendous voice and whose volume and vibratto seem much too big for a woman her size. But if you look back to her countless movies with MGM and beyond, you’ll see that Judy was the ultimate triple threat. She began dancing at the Ethel Meglin studio in 1928 (where Mickey Rooney, Ann Miller, and Shirley Temple also trained), and made her film debut with the Meglin Kiddies Dance Company. She went on to dance with legends Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly to name a few.
Here are clips showcasing Garland’s dancing prowess:
The Fall for Dance Festival is an annual series of dance concerts sponsored by Mayor Bloomberg and the MetLife Foundation(tickets are only $15!). The festival consists of five different programs held at the spectacular New York City Center. Each program showcases four performing companies of contrasting styles (tap, ballet, cultural dance, etc.). This year I was lucky enough to get a ticket to Program 3 (last year the tickets sold out within an hour!).
I arrived at the City Center, which is pretty unassuming from the outside on 55th Street. But once I entered the theater I was blown away by the huge space and beautiful ornate blue and gold proscenium arch. The nearly 2,750 seat house was packed with people of all ages – dancers, cultured New Yorkers, dance teachers (I ran into BDC ballet teacher, Beth Goheen), dance writers (I recognized Dance Magazine editor, Wendy Perron) and critiques.
Program 3 included works by:
- Ballet West – Grand Pas from Paquita – ballet
- Tu Dance – High Heel Blues – jazz/modern duet
- Nan Jombang – Tarian Malam (Night Dances) – Indonesian dance/martial arts
- Moiseyev Dance Company – Moiseyev’s Classics – traditional Russian dance
- American Ballet Theatre
- Fang-Yi Sheu & Artists
- The Hong Kong Ballet
- Jared Grimes (tap & hip hop teacher at BDC!)
- Jodi Melnick
- Juilliard Dance
- Ka Leo O Laka I Ka Hikina O Ka La
- LDP – Laboratory Dance Project
- Maria Pages Compania
- Martha Graham Dance Company
- Nederlands Dans Theater
- Pacific Northwest Ballet
- Shantala Shivaalingappa
- Shen Wei Dance Arts
This season of incredible performances (at amazingly low prices!) continues from September 27 – October 13. If you missed out on this year’s Fall for Dance, be sure to mark your calendars for next year – tickets go on sale online the first week of September.
“So bring your family, grab your friends, join us and fall in love… Fall for Dance!”
If you haven’t yet seen the Broadway revival of “Porgy and Bess,” get yourself to the Richard Rogers Theatre (46th @ 8th) before the show closes on September 23rd. Tony Award winners Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis are spectacular of course, but the choreography of the show is not to be overlooked.
Gershwin’s 1935 musical is known as an “American folk opera,” remembered for it’s classic songs like “Summertime” and “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’.” But the revival, choreographed by Ronald K. Brown (founder of Evidence Dance Company and guest choreographer at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater), employs dance not as part of the “Broadway triple-threat” mentality, but to acknowledge dance and movement as parts of human nature.
“Porgy and Bess” may not have the partnering of “Memphis” or the tumbling and triple pirouettes of “Newsies,” but it has two important qualities: 1) sentimentality and 2) authenticity. Brown’s choreography emotes and naturally supports the mood of the scene – whether it’s mourning at a funeral or celebrating at a picnic. In an interview with Dance Magazine, Brown explained,
“I felt kind of liberated. Some people might think I would need dancers who could do toe touches and flips”—here he adds a hearty laugh— “but I’m like, let’s have the community. How would they move at the funeral? At the picnic? Through their lives? I could discover how those people would move.”
Ensemble member, Andrea Jones-Sojola, added,
“These are dances that an ancestor of a person living in 1939 would have taught their children and grandchildren. We’re doing movements onstage from West Africa or the Caribbean that our grandparents probably taught us. They’re authentic dances that would have been passed down from generation to generation. So instead of just busting out in a dance number, they’re very authentic. And the fact that a real dancer doesn’t have to do it makes me all the more comfortable.”
Ebony.com asked Brown, “What’s led you to blend different forms of world dance in your work?”
“In the early ’80s, people were discovering the facility in their body absent of emotion. I don’t get that. For me, dance is about something. It’s a sensibility thing. Is it just about “I can dance,” or demonstrating the technique? In traditional dance, there’s already a purpose in the dance. In Guinea, there’s a dance you do if a woman is having trouble holding onto a child. In Côte d’Ivoire, I learned dances that you do at a funeral. Or in Afro-Cuban dance, there’s a dance for opening the way. There’s a dance for fire, there’s a dance for change. And so I use those rhythms or steps. And because I touch it and I’m from Brooklyn, I can change [the dances], but that could be the vocabulary to influence this contemporary work.”