We caught up with former Professional Semester students to see what they’ve been up to and how the program has impacted their dance careers.
Now a 4th year veteran, I am so excited to continue my journey as an NFL cheerleader for an amazing team. I love being a role model on and off the field. It’s a lot of hard work and dedication, but being able to perform for over 73,000 fans, inspire children, participate in community outreach and most of all knowing that I am walking in one of my God given gifts definitely makes it worth it.
I have always carried everything I learned about dance, the industry and crafting my own style. The program gave me a boost in being a well-rounded performer, knocked out any sense of doubt I had about myself and opened many doors in my career. To say the least, the program helped me be better prepared and more confident in myself.
[The Wizard of Oz Tour] has been a dream and the job is just as challenging as it is rewarding. It’s been an honor to work with individuals that are not only talented, but provide a daily example of professional standards that I strive to embody.
As a newcomer to the city, the Professional Semester not only offered unparalleled dance training, but the perfect segue to living in the city. Broadway Dance Center provided me the invaluable opportunity to sign with an agent, which made being a professional less of an aspiration and more of a reality.
The Professional Semester gives you the information most people have to learn through trial and error. It’s a safe place to make mistakes and ask questions, so that when you walk into an audition you can present the best version of yourself. By the end of the program, I developed lasting relationships with casting directors and choreographers, signed with an agency, and booked my first commercial. I loved the program and am so thankful for everything it gave me.
Touring with Santigold has been such blast. I’m always on my toes, because things can change very quickly, which can make the show even more exciting. It’s helped me learn more about myself as a performer.
I loved my time in the program. I made some lifelong friendships, and was mentored by some of the top teachers/choreographers in the world. Having that experience has helped me to this day. I would say to future Pro Sems: take advantage of all classes, even if its completely outside your genre. Give it a try regardless. You can learn something from everyone’s class. You just have to be open to the experience.
Olivia Summer Hutcherson is one of BDC’s very own. She took her first class at 16 after moving to NYC from Atlanta, GA and instantly fell in love with the music pumping from every floor, the huge variety of classes, and electric energy flowing through every studio wall. At 23, she began BDC’s Work Study Program and was able to work in the studio in exchange for additional training in Ballet, Jazz, Musical Theater, Contemporary, Hip-Hop, House, Whacking, and even Voice. She later went on to assist BDC’s Children and Teen Program’s Latin Jazz classes as well as assist Shirlene Quigley. Olivia always considered BDC a second home but now recognizes them as a second family.
“And one and two and three and four!” Tracie Stanfield accents each count with a staccato clap. Dancers whip through double-time chaînés, changing their spot each time to travel in a tight square. It is the culmination of a demanding across-the-floor combination in Stanfield’s contemporary/lyrical class at New York City’s Broadway Dance Center. “I usually try to do style, a turn and a jump across the floor,” she explains. Today’s turns are challenging enough, however, to keep dancers busy for the entire class segment.
This push to get students moving through space with technical precision points to Stanfield’s core philosophy: Dancers should learn technique as movement, not a separate concept. “I feel like they always think technique is this mountain in China, and they’re going to climb it one day,” she says. “But it’s just how you move the body.” Through exercises that focus on deliberate placement, spatial awareness and body control, she trains versatile, marketable dancers who can perform nontraditional choreography with technical integrity.
From the time she was a little girl growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, Lainie Munro loved every single thing about Broadway musicals. Taking dance class since she was 4, she adored her teacher Lodzia Heath, a former Rockette from the 1930s and ’40s who played Broadway soundtracks in class at her tiny Satellite Dance Studio. “She way my star and so passionate,” says Munro. “There’s a mural of a Rockettes line from this era at the Top of the Rock in New York and Mrs. Heath is the second from stage left in the picture.” Munro always got to the studio early so she could go through albums like “The Tap Dance Kid,” “The Act” and “My Fair Lady.”
In fact, it was a really big deal to be selected for one of Mrs. Heath’s performance groups which had space-themed names. “When I was chosen to be a Starlite I was given a blue cape to wear over my costume and I never wanted to take it off. I even slept in it,” says Munro. “Satellite was the tiniest dance studio you ever saw. But inside it was magic.”
Munro’s father who was on the radio at WKTZ in Jacksonville also brought home many show albums from the station. So after dance class Munro choreographed every number on the records in her bedroom. “I made my little sister Alicia be in the numbers. My poor sister wanted to go outside and play but I’d say, ‘no, you’ve got to do that dance again, five, six, seven, eight,’” says Munro. “I was a task master dance captain even then and made her practice over and over with me until it was perfect. To this day, she’s my favorite person to dance with.” Munro even typed up programs, handed them to her parents and charged 5 cents to view the show as the young Munro sisters performed in the living room. “Yes I charged them!,” she says. “My parents loved it. I don’t know about my sister.”
At 8, she was cast as Gretl in a production of The Sound of Music at Alhambra Dinner Theater. The show’s Maria was a very young Paige O’Hara, who voiced Belle in the movie version of Beauty and the Beast. Munro idolized her. “She is a great and beautiful actress and has the voice of an angel. I thought, I want to be like her one day,” recalls Munro. And she remembers planting herself in O’Hara’s dressing room asking myriad questions about her life in New York and performing. O’Hara gave all the children in the show a silver ID bracelet engraved with their character’s names. “It’s my good luck charm,” says Munro. “It reminds me of when I started and I think of Paige all the time.”
After college Munro moved to New York, began performing and also taught at the esteemed Broadway Dance Center. “As a teacher I get to be a “Mrs. Heath” to my students and pass on my love of dancing and theater to them,” she says. She saw how talented the kids were and how they all wanted to perform. And she realized that they needed mentors. “They get their training, but they need somebody to say, “Here’s how I did it.” I remember when I was younger thinking ‘I want to do that, but how do I get into this business? “I wanted somebody to say, “Hey kid. Here’s how I did it and kind of be my friend.”
So Munro got inspired. She thought, imagine if I could give these children the opportunity to rehearse and perform side by side with a Broadway performer?
And in 2001 she created the Broadway Big Brother/Big Sister Program where kids perform with a dancer in the Broadway community. The young students who range in age from 10-16, are matched with Broadway cast members from a number of shows including On the Town, Pippin, Jersey Boys, Shrek The Musical, the Lion King, Anything Goes, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying and more. Working side by side with their Big Brother or Sister, the children rehearse a production number and get to dance before a large audience. The kids gain an invaluable life changing experience learning about the joy, hard work and discipline it takes to be a professional performer. Just last month they performed “Put on a Happy Face” at the Broadway Dance Center Student Showcase to a wildly enthusiastic crowd.
Outside the studio, the youngsters have an instant role model and mentor. The dancers invite their young siblings to their shows, give them backstage tours, and even coach them for auditions. And now the program has come full circle. Gabrielle Salvatto, once a little sister, grew up to become a professional dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem and returned to the program as a Big Sister to mentor and dance with a young person. “When I started the program I thought one day they’ll grow up, become professional dancers and maybe come back and be a Big Sister or a Big Brother,” says Munro. “It really is how we pass all this on, so that the current generation of performers can train the next generation.”
For one little sister who lost her mother to cancer, her Big Sister was like a surrogate mother, attending school play performances and helping with homework. “Some children start out very shy but they completely come out of their shell,” says Munro. And the big siblings benefit from the experience too. As one Big Sister and Broadway vet shared, “You can perform in show after show, but this program made me feel as if I made a difference in someone’s life.”
Amber Paul is not only one of Broadway Dance Center’s most beloved teachers; she is also celebrated for taking everyone’s class—from ballet and tap to theatre and hip-hop! Amber (or “Paul” as she is lovingly nicknamed by many ISVPs) integrated yoga into the fabric of the dance curriculum and currently teaches yoga and meditation classes here at BDC, catering both to dancers’ bodies and minds—and their important connection through the breath. BDC blogger, Mary Callahan, had the pleasure of chatting with Amber about the importance of yoga for dancers—of all styles, levels, and ages.
What was your dance training like and how did you come to find Broadway Dance Center?
I’m an actress and one of my acting teachers told me to take dance class. I was what they would call a “talking head”—I was really good on camera but my body wasn’t as expressive as it needed to be. That was how the whole professional dance journey started for me. I walked in to Broadway Dance Center off the street looking for basic adult dance classes and was literally welcomed by Richard Ellner who, as you know, was one of the original owners of BDC. Richard was the first person I met here. I had been to other dance studios in New York and they were not as friendly towards someone looking for beginner adult classes. I basically have not left BDC since. Richard became both a friend and a business mentor to me. I was a work-study student and would take up to eighteen classes each week. So, I’m home grown—literally! And although Richard passed on and never got the chance to see me become a teacher here, I know he would be really excited about that.
And when did yoga become a part of your life?
I like to do things backwards—its just part of who I am. I was a meditator first and then turned to yoga so I could learn how to sit better in my meditation. Most people start out in yoga for stress relief and then they turn to meditation. But I learned to meditate as a child…yet, in that meditation practice I wanted to learn how to be still. And, with all my dance training at BDC, I needed to really learn how to breathe. I knew how to be in the moment as an actor but I didn’t know how to be in the moment as a dancer. I felt very intimidated in auditions and even sometimes in dance class. Yoga was a safe space to relax, to breathe, and to improve my concentration.
What is the process like to become a certified yoga instructor?
I got certified to become a yoga instructor through the Yoga Alliance. I completed the 200-hour training at Sonic Yoga, which concluded with a written exam on both human anatomy and the history and philosophy of yoga as well as a practical exam where I taught a class to prove my ability. I then completed another 300-hour training at Three Sisters Yoga where I specialized in yoga and meditation for trauma survivors. Now I help teach that same teacher training at Three Sisters Yoga—to many students from Broadway Dance Center, actually. I am so adamant about teachers being certified. Students can easily get injured if a teacher is unfamiliar with human anatomy and all of the critical modifications for different populations and individuals.
Would you encourage dancers to get certified as yoga instructors?
Definitely. I wish I had become a teacher earlier in my life. As an actor, I used to wait tables between acting gigs. I wish that I had had a more fulfilling work when I wasn’t acting. Yes, teaching yoga can be exhausting physically, but it feeds me emotionally and spiritually (not to mention literally, with a pay check!). For me, acting and yoga are symbiotic. Yoga helps me so much when I audition—I’m calm, I’m breathing, and I know that whatever I have to offer in that moment is the right thing. It’s not that I never critique myself; but instead of judging myself, I recognize where I can improve and then I work to do so. As a yogi, I’m always, always learning. I would love for dancers to experience this same freedom and empowerment in their art form through teaching yoga.
How did yoga become a part of the curriculum at Broadway Dance Center?
I mentioned earlier that Richard Ellner was a sort of business mentor to me. From him I learned how important it is to set up an ethical business practice—to not take away anything from anyone else in order to achieve my goal of weaving yoga into the BDC curriculum. My first time slot was one that no other teachers wanted. They honestly didn’t think that yoga would work here because other people had struggled to get it up and running in the past. So I started out with one student. My job is to serve my class, whether it is one student or sixty. Because I’ve stuck to that mission, my classes remain popular. About two years ago, I began teaching meditation classes at BDC on a volunteer basis. BDC provided me with studio space and students would come take class for free. The dancers really started to attach to these meditation classes. There’s no imposed spirituality, which makes everyone feel welcome—especially our significant number of international students.
How do your yoga classes at Broadway Dance Center differ from other yoga classes?
My classes are designed specifically for the dancer—for students who are dancing fifteen classes a week, rehearsing, auditioning, and performing. I serve the students here. That has and always will be my goal. I ask my students every class, “What do you need? What postures do you want to work on? What areas of the body do you want to focus on?” And basically what I’m asking is, “How can I help you feel better? How do we, together as a group, prepare you for the next rehearsal or dance class or performance? How do you relax after a long day of classes? How do we keep you from getting injured?” And what happens is I keep hearing the same body parts all the time from dancers: the IT band, the psoas, the lower back, the hip flexors, the feet, the neck, and the shoulders. So, I’ve designed a whole series that really focuses on these areas in order to better serve my classes.
Why do some dancers call your class the “yoga hospital?”
Dancers sometimes come to my class when they are injured or burnt out—for restorative yoga. In fact, some students I only see in my yoga class (or, yes, as many call it, “yoga hospital”) when they’re feeling sick or broken. It can be very emotional for these students who are so used to pushing themselves in dance classes to learn to relax and experience the present moment without judgment. For those dancers, my “yoga hospital” provides a safe and nurturing space to relax, rejuvenate, and heal.
As dancers, we’re always striving for perfection. Does this exist in yoga?
Not exactly…Yoga is actually quite the opposite. You might have an asana (pose) that takes you twenty years to master. You may say, “Well, I don’t have twenty years.” But you do! Yoga is about the journey; it’s about taking an asana, finding your own version, and committing to that. Don’t beat yourself up or push for “perfection” because if you’re fully committing to your version of an asana, you’re already perfect. That blows dancers’ minds! It’s a different kind of “striving.” The secret is that if you fully commit to your version that day, you will eventually reach the full expression of that asana. But if you fight and judge yourself, it will never come. I also deliberately have my students face away from the mirror. Yoga is about listening to your body and noticing yourself in the space physically.
The stillness of yoga can be very uncomfortable for dancers. How can students learn to be still and present in the moment?
Dancers are constantly in motion. But if you think about it, even in any count of eight there’s a moment of stillness. That’s what makes choreography exciting—that pause, that breath before we move again. I teach Ujjayi breath in my vinyasa classes here at BDC—flow yoga where every movement is connected to breath. And if you listen to your breath, there’s a pause between the inhale and the exhale and also a pause between the exhale and the inhale. So really, there are four parts to each breath. That’s the first meditation practice I teach—to focus on this breath cycle. If the exhale is the past and the inhale is the future…what is the space in between? The present. And as dancers, we want to live in that present moment. First, you find presence in the breath, then in the practice, and then in your classes and choreography.
How has yoga affected you and your students as dancers?
My dancing has improved dramatically since I started practicing yoga and meditation. I think about my breath in every plié! I can also see that yoga has a great influence on my students here at BDC. The biggest change comes from the students I see at least a few times each week. There will finally come a moment when they finally drop into a pose and be still—but alive. It’s magical. I also take a lot of class at the studio (I really take everybody’s class!) and it’s exciting to see my students apply the presence and awareness they’ve learned in yoga to their other dance classes. They’re breathing through the movement, they’re confident, their focus is up and out, and they have less fear. And once you have that, I believe you’re unstoppable.
Take the pirouette. Some people can whip out six turns naturally. Other people walk in and try hard to push out two or three turns. The yogic way of looking at a pirouette is to start at the simplest form of the movement: a plié into a passé rélevé. You take it back to just the balance—and fully commit to it. Then the next week you attempt a single turn, using the same technique, and you find that your shoulders are tense or your spotting is off. Going back to the basics helps you realize the little things preventing you from fulfilling the full expression of the movement. Dancers often get injured because they don’t want to back up and start at the beginning. It’s an entirely different way of thinking—but one that can really transform your dancing.
How is your class a resource for international dance students here at BDC?
Yoga class can be such a safe space for students. I think especially about our ISVPs who are far away from home, don’t have any family around them, and are speaking a second (or maybe even a third) language. And, along with BDC’s educational department that serves as an incredible support system for these students, my yoga and meditation classes are a place where students can just be. Sometimes, in my meditation classes, I suggest that students meditate in their native language. For example, I’ll have students repeat a word such as “love” or “compassion.” And translating that into your own language can make you feel that much more at peace.
What are the other benefits of yoga?
The true secret is that practicing yoga allows you to dance much, much longer. You learn how to breathe through movement, how to recognize areas of the body that dancing demands extra from, how to stretch properly, and how to prevent injury. And a study has shown that meditation also reduces aging.
What goals do you have as a teacher here at BDC?
In each of my classes I hope to 1) provide a safe space, 2) help dancers’ bodies, and 3) encourage a mindset that says we’re a community and we can be supportive of each other.
I’ve actually realized my largest goal: that yoga and meditation are part of the fabric here at Broadway Dance Center. We have started to bring in other certified yoga instructors (such as Traci Copeland who teaches a wonderful power yoga class). I would love for there to one day be a yoga teacher certification program through BDC or through a partnership with another yoga teacher training program.
What kinds of yoga classes would you recommend to dancers who can’t visit Broadway Dance Center?
Look for vinyasa yoga from a teacher certified through the Yoga Alliance. This will be a flow-style class where the movement and breath are connected. Don’t be embarrassed to start with a basic or beginner class. Yoga is not at all about the ego—it is about the process, the journey, and the practice.
Photos courtesy of Betty Bastidas for Omala Yoga, Sekou Luke,Andy Eisner and Austin Hogan.
On Tuesday, April 1st Broadway Dance Center hosted a tribute celebration to the late Frank Hatchett who passed away last December. Hatchett helped to found Broadway Dance Center in 1984 and was one of BDC’s most impressive teachers. Hatchett was the kind of master teacher that comes along once in a lifetime, influencing the lives of each and every student he encountered. Many considered him their “dance dad,” a supportive father figure in the challenging performing arts industry.
As a performer, Hatchett danced with such stars as Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, and Pearl Bailey. But his heart lied in teaching dance. And truly, his classes were legendary—especially the infamous “3:30 Advanced class.” Hatchett gave attention to every dancer and would publicly call you out—for better or worse—in order to make you shine as a performer. But above all, Hatchett wanted the best for his students.
Hatchett’s students have gone on to do great things—both as dancers and as
human beings. Many have graced the Broadway stage and Hollywood films while others have followed Hatchett’s inspiring vocation to teach. And one thing is for sure: Hatchett didn’t teach “steps.” He instilled in his students a sense of self by expressing emotion and overcoming challenges through movement and performance. Hatchett was not just a teacher, but also a mentor, a father figure, and a friend. He saw greatness in each of his students and challenged them to explore their true potential.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Symphony Space Theatre was packed with students, colleagues, and friends who have been touched by Hatchett’s passion for dance. The nearly three hour-long performance celebration felt like a great big family reunion. It was a sort of homecoming for all of those lives Frank touched. Frank’s dance family—his brothers and sisters, daughters and sons—shared memories and performances that were humorous, sentimental, and moving.
After tripping up the stairs to the microphone (á la Jennifer Lawrence at the Oscars), Brooke Shields described how Papa Frank nicknamed her, “Tasty B,” when she was learning to get in touch with her sexy-side in class. “I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror,” she explained, tearing up. “I didn’t want to seem vain.” But Frank helped her overcome her fear. The mirror is not just a tool to see the lines and shapes of your body. The mirror makes you see yourself: your soul and passion as a dancer.
The songs felt like spirituals. John Eric Parker’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free” was so sentimental (and also quite a contrast to the character he plays in Broadway’s The Book of Mormon). Alyson Williams sang Bette Midler’s famous “Wind Beneath My Wings,” a poignant depiction of the teacher, mentor, and friend, Frank Hatchett; “Did you ever know that you’re my hero? …I can fly higher than an eagle, ‘cause you were the wind beneath my wings.” And Vivian Reed concluded the performance with a virtuosic rendition of “God Bless the Child.”
The video montages were a great addition to the performances, allowing those who could not attend the event the chance to say a few words about Frank. It was incredible to see—both on stage and on camera—the number of people who were so grateful to have had Papa Frank in their lives. It was thrilling to recognize the influence one man had (and still has) in the lives of so many dancers and performing artists.
In ancient Greece, Aristotle characterized “good” art as that in which the audience experiences , a purgation of emotions that results in a sense of renewal and restoration. The performance was an illustration of the power of art—not just dance, but also singing, music, speech, and film. Art can help us to mourn, to express gratitude, to celebrate, to honor, and to heal. This event, in my opinion, exemplified the therapeutic and magnificent power of art.In ancient Greece, Aristotle characterized “good” art as that in which the audience experiences catharsis, a purgation of emotions that results in a sense of renewal and restoration. The performance was an illustration of the power of art—not just dance, but also singing, music, speech, and film. Art can help us to mourn, to express gratitude, to celebrate, to honor, and to heal. This event, in my opinion, exemplified the therapeutic and magnificent power of art.
Now, to be honest, I never took an actual class from Frank Hatchett. But my dancing—all of our dancing—is still inspired by him, by the generation of his students-turned-teachers who are keeping his legacy alive, including Broadway Dance Center’s own Sheila Barker, Lane Napper, Robin Dunn, Michelle Barber, Heather Rigg, and Debbie Wilson. The celebration of Frank Hatchett created a tremendous sense of family and community within the theater—a feeling, I’m sure, was a part of his classes every week. Whether we knew Frank personally or not, it was clear to see that he has had an impact on all of our lives.
Thank you, Papa Frank, for inspiring all of us to be the best dancers we can be.
You’ll be deeply missed, but your VOP legacy will forever live on at Broadway Dance Center.
Last week Broadway Dance Center was honored to host our first Fosse Week, a full five days of theatre master classes taught by veteran Fosse dancers who have been sanctioned by the Verdon Fosse Estate. The prestigious faculty included Mimi Quillin, Dana Moore, Lloyd Culbreath, BDC’s own Diana Laurenson, as well as a special appearance by Nicole Fosse. The lucky participants who signed-in early (the classes maxed out every day) learned some of Bob Fosse’s legendary technique, style, and repertoire in pieces such as “Big Spender” (Sweet Charity), “Dancin’ Man” (Dancin’), “I Love a Piano” (The Ed Sullivan Show), “Cool Hand Luke” (The Ed Sullivan Show), and “Tijuana Breakfast” (The Ed Sullivan Show).
Bob Fosse’s signature style is everywhere – from Broadway shows to MTV. Fosse’s is probably the most imitated choreography…ever. Have you seen Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” music video? Many say that Fosse’s “Tijuana Breakfast” inspired her stylized choreo. Not to mention Bey’s “Get Me Bodied” music video which was obviously taking from Fosse’s “Rich Man’s Frug.” And how about the King of Pop? Watch a clip of Fosse’s “Snake in the Grass” followed by Michael Jackson’s performance of “Billy Jean.” If Beyonce’s the “Queen” and Michael Jackson’s the “King,” what does that make their inspiration, Bob Fosse?
Given Fosse’s legendary influence on the world of dance, it was truly incredible to learn some of his original choreography from his own dancers. Mimi, Diana, Dana, and Lloyd each told tips and anecdotes from their experience working with Bob. Even though Bob Fosse is no longer with us, his aura lives on.
Bonnie Erickson, Director of Educational Programming at BDC, said,“We’re so honored to present this work and so happy that it was such a rousing success. At BDC we’re so dedicated to preserving this epic work and making sure to pass it along to younger dancers. Can’t wait for the next set of workshops!”
Yes, you read that right. Stay tuned for another magical Fosse Week at Broadway Dance Center in the new year!
The American musical-drama, SMASH, might be over, but choreographer, Josh Bergasse, isn’t going anywhere. The long-time Broadway Dance Center teacher landed the coveted choreography job when the show premiered back in early 2012. In his numerous pieces such as “The National Pastime,” “Let’s Be Bad,” and “Ce N’est Pas Ma Faute,” Bergasse brings the energy and awe of live theatre to the television screen. Called the “secret weapon” of SMASH, Bergasse went on to win the 2012 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography. Take a look at BDC’s exclusive interview with Josh and check back on our website to see when Josh will be teaching at the studio again this summer.
BDC: What was your dance training like growing up?
JB: I grew up at my mother’s dance studio just outside of Detroit. I put my first pair of tap shoes on at the age three and I was hooked. I studied mostly jazz and tap in the early years, and it wasn’t until my late teens that I studied ballet seriously. Looking back, I wish I’d been in ballet class much sooner.
BDC: When did you begin auditioning and teaching?
JB: I began auditioning locally in Michigan for small shows and industrials as a teenager. That’s when I started teaching at my mom’s school as well, which gave me the opportunity to explore different choreographic styles. My first NYC audition was for a tour of WEST SIDE STORY. I booked the job and toured for two years. Shortly after that tour ended I started teaching at Broadway Dance Center. That was 15 years ago…feels like yesterday.
BDC: How did you get connected with SMASH as actual choreographer and acting as the choreographer on the show?
JB: I was brought on board as choreographer for SMASH by Michael Mayer, the director of the first three episodes and a Consulting Producer. Michael directed me in a musical in the past, but had never seen my choreography until an NYU benefit two-and-a-half years ago. Soon after, we started working on SMASH together. Once we were in rehearsals for the pilot, Theresa Rebeck, the creator of SMASH, asked if I’d play the assistant choreographer. Of course I said “yes!” I never thought it would be a recurring part. I was always surprised when I read each new script and there was a line for “Josh” in it.
BDC: You’ve choreographed for a lot of live theatre in the past – how was choreographing for a TV show different? Do you prefer one over the other?
JB: Since most of the pieces I choreographed for SMASH were theatrically based, there wasn’t much difference in choreographing for TV. I’d say the main difference is in theater you craft every moment perfectly in rehearsal so that the audience follows the action and story exactly as you want them to from any seat in the theater. For television, much of the work is done in the editing room. The more footage you get, the more options you have in postproduction.
BDC: How has your work with SMASH (and your Emmy award!) influenced your career as a choreographer?
JB: SMASH has been a wonderful lesson in the importance of collaboration. My assignment is to work with the producers, writers, directors, cinematographers, editors, and of course the cast, to develop the choreography that best serves the show. The visibility of the show (and the Emmy award!) has certainly opened new doors for me as a choreographer. It’s so important for choreographers to get their work out to the public so people to see it. SMASH has done that for me.
BDC: What impact do you think SMASH had on both the dance and theatre communities?
JB: I like to think that SMASH has made more people across the country interested in dance and theater. Not everyone has the means to go to New York and see a Broadway show, but everyone has a TV or access to the Internet. Hopefully it created a spark in people to go see theater or dance where they live, or even become a dancer or actor.
BDC: You recently choreographed New York City Center’s Encores! performance of “It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman.” What other projects do you have coming up?
JB: Right now I’m in the Berkshires choreographing “On The Town” at Barrington Stage Company. Next up is a developmental workshop of the new musical “Bull Durham” and then the new musical “Secondhand Lions” at the Fifth Avenue Theater in Seattle.
BDC: We know you’re very busy…but will you be returning to teach at BDC soon?
JB: I hope to get back to BDC this summer for at least a few weeks.
After a much needed catch-up session at Blockheads Burritos, Jason Aquirre (PS S’12), Molly Day (PS S’12) and I headed over to the Roseland Ballroom for the much-aniticipated “Happy We’ll Be,” a dance narrative choreographed by Al Blackstone. Al is a beloved guest teacher at Broadway Dance Center – just see what some students have to stay:
I have always subscribed to the notion that Al is the ultimate storyteller. Even in class, he brings a magical element to his teaching. The beauty of his movement and narrative is only matched by the warmth and compassion of his heart. – Alexa Erbach (PS F’11)
His class without a doubt always lifts my spirits. The energy he exudes is extraordinary and so motivational. – Nikki Croker (PS F’11)
Al was the 2011 recipient of the Capezio A.C.E Award (Dance Teacher Summit), which “is a great opportunity for emerging choreographers to expose their work to one of the most influential audiences in dance.” Check out Al’s winning piece, “Brown Eyed Girl.”
As part of their prize, A.C.E Award winners receive a grant to fund their own dance production in New York City. And thus, “Happy We’ll Be” was born…and for that, we are so happy!
The show is a full-length “dance narrative,” no dialogue – just music and dance. The show takes a bit after the concept of “6 degrees of separation” (“Six degrees of separation is the theory that anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries.”) In a sort of ripple effect, one character meets and affects another character, who affects another, and so on. But, only the audience gets to see the full picture.
Each new dance scene witnesses a character’s own pursuit of happiness. ie:
A teenaged girl learning to walk in heels to impress her school crush.
A man planning to propose to his girlfriend.
A young gay man looking for support from his family.
We are all connected in our pursuit of happiness and we all play a role in making others happy.
Al’s latest project is a full-length dance production that defies the convention of any other show you have ever seen. “Happy We’ll Be” is an inexplicable account of love, loss, kindness, wonder and hope. It penetrates the center of our hearts and delves into the source of individual happiness, taking the audience on an unforgettable journey that forces us to marvel at the exquisite beauty in the smallest moments of our own lives. “Happy We’ll Be” is a revivifying reminder that love can be found beyond a lover’s embrace. It reminds us that love is rooted in the slightest touch of a hand, the help of a friend, the kindness of a stranger, and the affection of a parent. – Alexa Erbach