BDC alum lands role in new WEST SIDE STORY film

Daniel Patrick Russell had the performer’s gene in his blood from the day he was born. His mother was a ballerina and his father a performer as well. “I grew up in Australia surrounded by art. I don’t remember a time where dance wasn’t part of my life.” When he was twelve, he was cast as Billy in the Melbourne production of the Broadway musical, Billy Elliot. He then got the chance to perform the role in the North American national tour. “My dad is from the United States and, years ago, performed West Side Story at the State Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio,” says Russell. “I got to perform on that same stage when I was on tour. That was really special.” Little did Russell know that West Side Story would become a significant part of his performing career, as well. 

BILLY ELLIOT National Tour – Kyle Froman photography

After tour, Russell returned back to Australia and continued his training. Upon graduating high school, he received a prestigious dance scholarship to study anywhere in the world. Russell applied and was accepted to Broadway Dance Center’s Professional Semester in the summer of 2015. “Just prior to coming to NYC, I was working as a contemporary dancer. When I came to BDC, I wanted to eat it all up and take from every teacher I could—in every style of dance. I couldn’t get enough!”

That intense and diverse training has since served him well throughout his career. After Professional Semester, he performed in West Side Story at Asolo Repertory Theatre in Florida. “I had the opportunity to perform the original Jerome Robbins choreography and it was incredible,” he remembers. That was just the start of Russell’s journey with WEST SIDE STORY. He went on to join the world tour as Baby John for 15 months. “Touring was a neat experience to see how the musical connected with different audiences from so many different countries. In Dublin, it felt like we were part of a rock concert! This show resonates with people all over the planet, regardless of language or cultural differences,” he explains.  “It’s an immense piece of art and a huge honor to share that on stage every night.”

WEST SIDE STORY International Tour – Zheng Tianran photography

More recently, Russell wrapped yet another production of West Side Story…this time, the highly anticipated film remake, set to come out in theaters in December 2020. “I can’t give too much away,” admits Russell, who just finished filming in September. “Justin Peck’s choreography is reimagined and genius. The director, Steven Spielberg, is incredibly gifted, generous, and giving. The entire creative team cultivated such an incredible energy on set that allowed the cast and crew to do our best work.” 

“The entire project was a dream,” Russell says smiling. “But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t challenging or exhausting at times.” Hours on a film set can start early in the morning and go long into the night. “When you do a show on stage, everything is chronological,” explains Russell. “But in film, you jump around the story a lot and have to make sure your character is present and truthful in each moment.”

“The cast was incredibly close and inclusive,” adds Russell. “You wouldn’t know that when the cameras came on because we had to be true to the story – the two opposing gangs: the Jets versus the Sharks. But when the crew yelled ‘cut,’ we were like a big family.”

The original production of West Side Story opened on Broadway in 1957. The Oscar-winning movie premiered four years later in 1961. The show had four Broadway revivals (soon to be five) and countless tours and regional productions produced around the world. The new film will be released over sixty years after the show’s original inception. Clearly, West Side Story is a story that continues to resonate with audiences. “The themes are still so relevant,” explains Russell. “It’s a masterpiece. At heart, it’s a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The story of love, conflict, family, betrayal, unity, and hope is universal.

Filming wrapped in September 2019 and now we anxiously await what will no doubt be a spectacular film. So, what’s next for Russell in the meantime? “I’m going on vacation to Italy!” he tells us. “I’d like to take a moment to show my gratitude for BDC. Since I moved to NYC, many opportunities have come my way thanks to BDC, and for that I am very thankful.” 

Marnya Rothe photography

Dancers Without Borders: BDC goes to Australia

Check out this article from “Dance Informa,” written by our own  Bonnie E. Erickson, Director of Educational Programming at Broadway Dance Center:

As Broadway Dance Center master theater teacher Jim Cooney and I looked around the room, we saw lovely young dancers standing in groups with other dancers in the identical leotards of their respective studios, with arms crossed, hips out, and expressions of trepidation – we looked at each other and smiled: a beautiful blank canvas for our work!

Jim and I had come to Australia for two weeks of workshops in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and the Gold Coast, and we were excited to bring our message of kindness between dancers, of supporting one another in the classroom, at the audition, and on the stage to Australia’s dancers, and especially to fellowship with other dance educators to bring the dance world ever closer. Jim is the Faculty Advisor for our Educational Programming and I am the Director of Educational Programming at BDC – in these roles, Jim and I teach this message to all the dancers who come through our full-time programs at BDC, creating dancers who are “Happy to be here, and ready to work!” – a quote I must properly attribute to the extraordinary Lucille DiCampli of MSA dance agency, with whom we work on our mock auditions.

At each of the eight workshops we taught, it was exhilarating to watch these dancers go around the room, shaking hands with other dancers to get acquainted and to get past their fears, and then expanding that energy as they learned Jim’s wonderful musical theater choreography to cheer for one another, to see their hearts and minds open, and to see them fully enthralled in the joy of dance.

We were fortunate enough to secure a segment on Australia’s popular television show The Circle, and at the behest of the show’s producers, Jim quickly put together a flash mob for the show, recruiting dancers we’d met at our Melbourne workshops through the lovely directors of the studios The Space and Dancescape to perform on the show. It was so gratifying to be able to immediately put into practice that which we’d taught them – life is the audition, and you never know what might lead to a gig in this industry, and quite simply being nice can get you the job.

After each of the workshops we had a talk-back with the students, answering their questions about Broadway Dance Center and New York, especially excited to announce the planned opening in April of two new studios on the first and second floors of the building, bringing us to seven state-of-the-art studios. The students were, as you can imagine, ecstatic to imagine a schedule of over 300 classes a week in ballet, contemporary, jazz, theater, hip-hop, tap, yoga, pilates, flexibility, belly-dancing, acting, Latin, partnering, and so many more. We also spoke of our new offerings, the Original Broadway Choreography Series, the Contemporary Variations Series, our Industry Insider Series, and the exciting introduction of Parsons Dance in Residence at BDC.

While BDC’s main demographic is and always has been the walk-in dancer — New Yorkers and others who come in and simply sign up for whatever classes they want to take that day — we’re also home to four full-time programs: the International Student Visa Program, the largest and eldest of the programs; the BDC Training Program, its counterpart for American dancers of varying levels; and our two professional elite training programs for US dancers, the Summer Intern Program and the Professional Semester. The students of the ISVP hail from more than 35 countries worldwide, and comprise a vibrant community of talented, multicultural dancers who take 12 classes weekly, enjoy special master classes, rehearsals, and performances, the benefit of a full-time staff, including a student advisor, as well as one-on-one faculty mentoring. They join us for three months, six months, or a year initially, and then can extend their programs for up to three years. It is quite simply a joy to watch these students progress as they study closely with our world-class faculty, many of whom are working choreographers — often they offer the students incredible performance opportunities available only through their participation in the program.

A recent graduate of the ISVP, Jess Orcsik, is herself a studio owner in Sydney, Australia, an ambitious young entrepreneur, as well as a lovely dancer indeed. Jess loved her time at BDC, as do of course virtually all our students, and upon her return to Australia felt that the training she’d received at BDC was so powerful that she wanted to find a way to share it with the dancers of her country, perhaps during shorter visits to New York. When she contacted me with her idea, we jumped at the chance to work with her to develop The Australian Intensive, a program designed by Jess through her J.O. International Productions, whereby groups of young dancers can come to BDC to study intensively in a similar structure to the rigorous ISVP course.

As a longtime Australiophile — I have a sister who lives in Yeerongpilly, Brisbane — I had a trip planned to take a respite from New York’s winter months to the lovely Aussie summer, and so in chatting to Jess about my trip, it became obvious to both of us straightaway that we ought to combine pleasure with business and offer some workshops and do some outreach into the burgeoning dance community of Australia. We’ve had many Aussie dancers in the ISVP through the years, and have been delighted to watch them getting better and better — the training in Australia is clearly on the rise; we’ve had gorgeous dancers like Amy Campbell from So You Think You Can Dance and Dena Kaplan from Dance Academy come through the program, and we’re seeing more and more dancers of their caliber apply to the program.

I like to think that the founder of BDC, the late Richard Ellner, would feel that his dream of one all-encompassing studio, with the best dance faculty in the world, offering the finest dance instruction at all levels for all people who want to dance, a veritable “home away from home” for dancers, is indeed thriving here in the heart of the Broadway theater district. Even more, I hope he’d feel proud to see that rather than resting on our laurels, we’re all working hard to further this dream and welcome ever more dancers from around the world into the BDC-red hallways of our studios. It is now ever more important to all of us at BDC that we be inspiring the world to dance!