A Dancer’s Details: Act 1

A Dancer’s Details: Act 1

Rehearsals were in full swing, and that meant a few things. First, the cast members had all settled into their own little groups, coming together when need be but only choosing a few to confide in. Second, you know it’s performance season when your body is five hundred different shades of bruise. Third, with great productions come great expectations.

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Why Do We Applaud Kicklines?

Why Do We Applaud Kicklines?

Months ago, I was watching a musical that included some very impressive choreography. It didn't hurt that this local production also had quite a number of talented dancers in the ensemble. 

One moment in particular that I found most impressive was a group tap number, but even when the company did synchronized wings, the audience hardly reacted. However the moment that four characters did a kickline, you would have thought they were receiving a standing ovation. 

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The Top 10 BFA Dance Programs in the Country for 2017-18

The Top 10 BFA Dance Programs in the Country for 2017-18

The end of August is usually a time where college seems to be on everyone's mind. Whether it's incoming freshmen getting ready to move into their residence halls or high school seniors preparing their applications, college is a constant discussion. 

For theatre students, where you attend can certainly have an impact on your career with the type of training you receive. It's also important to note that while each school listed here is excellent, a college degree doesn't guarantee success nor is one required to become successful in this industry. 

Here at OnStage, we take months to research the best BFA programs to come up with our own lists.

We're going to do separate lists for each type of degree field. Let's start today with BFA in Dance. 

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An Open Letter to the Dance Teacher that Changed my Life

An Open Letter to the Dance Teacher that Changed my Life

Thank you.

I know we met a little later than most, but it feels like it's been a lifetime. There are never going to be enough words to express how thankful I am for everything you've done, though I sure can try. Thank you for the countless hours you've spent working with me. Thank you for providing me with all the tough love I could ever ask for. Thank you inspiring, helping, and motivating me to achieve things I never thought possible. Thank you for providing me with a home away from home. 

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Travis Wall’s Shaping Sound “After the Curtain”: A Story Teller has Emerged

Chris King

We all know Travis Wall from SYTYCD with his dynamic movement and control. He became a household name on the show and his choreography is now known throughout the world. 

With the creation of his company Shaping Sound with his friends and co-founders/co-choreographers Nick Lazzarini and Teddy Forance, Travis now had the ability to create an entire show. Shaping Sound Dance Company first debuted its full-length production “That’s Where I’ll Be Waiting” in 2013. Since then they have been touring throughout the country and selling out theatres normally used for big Broadway tours.

Each year the company became more finessed with intricate partnering and beautiful staging. The dancers leave you scooping your jaw up from the ground. The sets and costumes get bigger and better, but the only thing that seemed to be missing was a story. 

This year’s Shaping Sound tour “After the Curtain” with music by Son Lux is a story of Vincent (Travis Wall) a writer who lives in his head. The audience gets taken through a dreamy world involving flying,  and seamless transitions with lighting design by Nathan Scheuer and Terese Porterfield. The story is told mostly through the choreography and imaginative set design of Greg Anderson that the dancers move around the stage. Each pás de deux helped push the through line forward showing each character's relationships and hardships. Many of the visual effects are also very well done by the cast and rival most Broadway shows. It takes you on a ride and left most of the audience as they left the theatre saying, “I didn't expect that!”

The male ensemble was fluid and dynamic while the female ensemble had strong beautiful lines and a sense of cohesiveness you don't always get out of ensembles.The company members are truly family to each other and it shows on stage. 

Shaping Sound has been able to bridge the gap between the commercial and concert dance world. By doing so, families who wouldn’t normally see live theatre are choosing to see them live instead of on TV. Each year Shaping Sound has improved, but this year with the addition of a story the company’s future looks very bright.

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Chris King is an artist with a background in dancing and acting. He has performed in many commercials, tv, film, and was recently Chistery in Wicked on Broadway. While touring and traveling, he has spent time in over 35 countries and 5 continents. He loves chatting and getting to know new people

*To hear my interview with Travis, Nick, and Teddy go to www.halfhourcall.com or download Half Hour Call with Chris King on your podcast app. The episode will be out on June 21st.

Broadway’s Big Swing Problem

Gretchen Midgley

This past week I had the pleasure of staying in New York City for a dance intensive. Though I spent a good seven to eight hours a day dancing, I made sure to cram in as many shows as I could manage (and afford). One of those shows was Bandstand. I’d been following Bandstand since it was at Paper Mill Playhouse and was excited to see what promised to be an original, fresh show hit Broadway. I didn’t love some things (the book felt forced and awkward) and loved others (like seeing the actors playing members of the band— all incredible musicians— playing together on stage), but the main thing that disappointed me was— wait for it— the swing dancing.

See, while I spend one half of my life as a musical theatre nerd, the other half is spent dancing, teaching, studying, and geeking out over lindy hop and balboa, the original swing dances. In the early 1990s, the swing craze took over the world, with movies like Swingers and Swing Kids, along with the 1998 Gap Khakis commercial, driving hordes of people to swing dance classes and dance halls across the globe. Now, twenty years later, while the craze has mostly died down in the public eye, the swing revival is still alive and well, with thousands of dancers from every corner of the planet gathering in cities around the world each night to dance the original dances of the 1930s and 40s to big band music. You’re a wizard, Harry.

As one of these swing dance fanatics (in fact, the dance intensive I was in town for was an invitational swing dance intensive), I should have been the ideal audience member for Bandstand. I walked in with high hopes. I wanted so badly to love it. Here was a musical about a swing band! But alas, as soon as the first attempt at “swing dancing” made its way on stage, I deflated. Frankly, I should not have been all that surprised. Broadway has a pretty bad track record with how swing dancing is represented on stage. From what I can tell, 1981’s Sophisticated Ladies (the Duke Ellington revue) was more about tap dancing and dream ballet, and while 1999’s Swing! the Musical presented authentic lindy hop on stage, the show didn’t even have any dialogue or a through plot. So any search for a full-fledged Broadway musical with authentic swing dance on stage will leave you coming up empty-handed.

What Bandstand put on stage was a mix of traditional musical theatre dance and tap dance (both done beautifully), along with a caricature of lindy hop. Granted, the average theatergoer with no swing dance knowledge would not be able to tell the difference between “real” lindy hop and what was on stage at the Bernard B. Jacobs. At intermission, I heard the couple next to me gushing about how amazing the dancing was (to my great frustration). But while authentic lindy hop is powerful, playful, and energetic, what was presented on stage was sultry and overly smooth. And frankly, the technique was bad. Mistakes were being made left and right that I correct within the first fifteen minutes of my free drop-in beginner classes. Don’t get me wrong; all the dancers on stage were incredibly capable and highly trained (albeit in a Broadway style); it’s not that they would not have been able to execute the movements correctly had they been given some proper lindy hop training. While attention was clearly paid to certain parts of the swing dancing, such as the lifts and aerials (as it should have been, given the safety concerns with improperly executed aerials), very little energy seemed to be put into teaching the dancers lindy hop mechanics and leading and following. The technique is different than Broadway jazz and different than ballroom, and the dancing should have reflected that.

My main issue comes down to the fact that this was a show about swing music, and that the dancing was put front and center. Surely, in a show about swing music and dancing, you can put some genuine swing dancing on stage. Apparently not. When doing a bit of research, I was shocked to find that director-choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler consulted with New York-based lindy hop instructors, and that assistant choreographer Mark Stuart was an “old school” lindy hop dancer and competitor from the days of the swing revival. It doesn’t show. With resources like that, there is no reason watered down lindy hop should be on stage.

So what’s the problem? Is genuine lindy hop not graceful enough to be on Broadway? Watch Naomi Uyama dance. Watch Jewel McGowan or Jean Veloz. Go. Look them up on Youtube right now. Tell me that they aren’t graceful. Technique and mechanics don’t need to be sacrificed for grace and polish. Can we not expect Broadway artists to learn new skills for their shows? Debbie Reynolds learned how to tap dance for Singin’ in the Rain. Julie Taymor studied Bunraku puppetry before staging The Lion King. Asking Broadway dancers to get a little deeper into their study of swing dancing for a swing show? That’s not a lofty request here. And if for some reason that’s not possible… What about hiring actual lindy hoppers? There are plenty, I assure you, especially in New York City. At the very least, let’s not reward bad lindy hop with a Tony nomination for Best Choreography.

Broadway, you can do better. If you want to have some “swing dancing” going on in the background of your token jazzy number, fine. I won’t expect you to prepare for months. But when you put a show on stage that is about swing music and dancing, some authenticity would be appreciated. And when you do put authentic lindy hop on stage? Some dialogue and a plot might be nice.

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Gretchen is a musical theatre performer, director, and writer originally from the Los Angeles area. She is a proud graduate of the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music at Catholic University where she received her Bachelor of Music degree in Musical Theatre. As a performer, some favorite roles include Maria in West Side Story, Miranda in The Tempest, Artful Dodger in Oliver!, and Monteen in Parade. She was last seen as a soloist in West Side Story Concert Suite No. 2 at the Kennedy Center.  As a teacher, Gretchen focuses on building a foundation of healthy, classical technique and blending it with contemporary styles (musical theatre/pop). She loves seeing her students get excited about singing and working on new material!