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For Broadway Dance, High Kicks and Low Comedy in a Season of Change

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This year’s Tony’s Best Choreographer nominations reflect a variety of theatrical dance styles. There are also directors and choreographers such as Susan Stroman (“New York, New York”) and Casey Nicolaou (“Some Like it Hot”). But there are also choreographers who reflect other backgrounds, such as Stephen Hoggett (Sweeney Todd) and Jennifer Webber (& Juliet, KPOP).

Lead theater critic Jesse Greene, along with dance critic Brian Seibert and contributor Elizabeth Vincenteri, discussed the choreographic changes they noticed in musical plays. Below is an edited excerpt of the conversation.

jessie green There was an almost bewildering diversity of action on Broadway this season. In “New York, New York,” Susan Stroman seemed to guide the great postwar film choreographers. In “Sweeney Todd,” Stephen Hogget lurched across the stage in a Victorian London crowd. On “Shucked”, Sarah Oglevy devised a Rockets-style kickline for corncobs. And, of course, there was the revival of “Dancin’,” framed as a “pure dance” tribute to Bob Diane.

Elizabeth Vincentelli It also adds styles that come from the world of pop, music videos, and TikTok, as demonstrated by two-time Tony Award nominee Jennifer Webber, especially for “& Juliet” and “KPOP.”

green There are also some strong movements in the play, such as the karaoke scene in “Fat Ham” choreographed by Darrell Grand Multrie. Not to mention the cyclone of stage action in “Life of Pi” which at times looked like a ballet with puppets. (The movement and staging of the puppet show is the work of Finn Caldwell and Scarlett Wilderinck.) Is it unusual to see such a wide variety of theatrical dances? And what does this say about the role of dance in the story, or vice versa?

Vincenteri Over the past few seasons, it has been a rare opportunity to see different generations of choreographers and artists representing their respective styles.

Brian Seibert There are also different kinds of influences that choreographers can have on their work. The role of director and choreographer is still alive and well in the likes of Casey Nicholaw in Strowman and Some Like It Hot.

green Strowman and Nicolaou led a purposely throwback show. Nicholas shows us a five-minute chasing ballet that’s clearly an homage to Jerome Robbins’ “Bathing Beauty” number from 1947’s High Button Shoes. And “New York, New York” seemed to refer to Hermès Pan. He choreographed many of Fred Astaire’s films. It’s no surprise, because their show was set in that era, or even earlier.

Vincenteri The director-choreographer’s style, dating back to Robbins, Michael Bennett, and of course Diane, is so strongly associated with pre-1980s Broadway that it feels frozen in time. Even when the show is set now.it will be interesting to see what happens Kione and Mari Madrid Britney Spears’ musical ‘Once Upon a One More Time’ opens May 13. Music videohip-hop, street dance, and period.

Saybert Agree. But there are two parts to him in this. One is show control. The director’s and choreographer’s shows tend to flow like dances, with dance transitions (sliding and gliding) between scenes. So are these cases. But a question of style, a personal stamp, comes into play. Of course, the master had it, but these choreographers do not. They serve a show, and if the show is a period, they use some version of the period style.

Vincenteri Brian, why do you think today’s directors and choreographers lack personal recognition? Her recent work has become a little more pro forma.probably my favorite show of hers “Scottsboro Boys” From 2010, storytelling and movement have been beautifully integrated. But that didn’t work and it seems they’ve gone back to something safer and flashier.

Saybert it may be correct. “The Scottsboro Boys” was great. But having both jobs is also very difficult. To me, the style of both the “New York, New York” and “Some Like It Hot” eras feels perfunctory and a little number-filled. Rather than stand out with its own brilliance or invention, it does its job.

green don’t understand. Inspired by Margaret Bourke-White’s photography, the tap dancing on the girders was very original. Invention alone is not enough. Let’s take a look at ‘Dancin’. All styles are beautiful and beautiful. But the intention of this piece, directed and re-directed by Wayne Cilento, is to assert Foss as the representative of pure dance geniuses like Robbins, as if the storytelling was an impurity. rice field.

Saybert It was very strange and contrary to the gift of my master. Instead of pure dance, they substitute strange “scenarios”. It’s simply an incomplete narrative, an excuse to insert classic mastery snippets and interests. It ends up looking like a dance version of a jukebox musical and has many of the same problems.The best criticism of the show is Master’s parody number “Do We Shock You?”In the current season of ‘Shmigadoon’: The dancers keep trying to shock us, but what they do is no longer shocking, so all that’s left is to challenge.

Vincenteri Like the score, I don’t think the choreography necessarily needs to move the story or characters. I am for wasted moments. So if it looks and sounds good, but what if that number or song doesn’t have a good reason? My favorite numbers have little bubbles.

green Elisabeth, you and I often disagree on that point, but I’ll admit that with some musicals, the bubble moment is all you want. I didn’t think much of “Shucked,” but the moment Ogleby let the cast use those cobs to create a chorus line was sublime, and the story’s re-use of musical theater traditions was intended to express how Otherwise, the dance seemed uncharacteristic and less ornamental. My problem with “New York, New York” was basically the opposite. Dance was powerful and effective in propelling characters too peripheral to otherwise demand. And the story of “Dancing” just seemed gross, no matter how well they danced.

Vincenteri I never hated the show as much as you did, but throughout the show, I felt the piece was neutered aerobics and none of Fox’s sexiness. In fact, much of today’s choreography lacks sensuality. It’s all very mechanical. Am I the only one who feels that way?

Saybert No, I agree.

green me too. But has there ever been a show where Elisabeth “doesn’t have to” dance really succeeds and moves the central narrative forward?

Saybert I think Hoggett’s choreography in both “Sweeney Todd” and Neil Diamond’s biomusical “Beautiful Noise” fits that bill perfectly. He emerges from physical theater, uses gestures, and has a style that can be mildly called expressionist. It probably doesn’t work all that well if you use it alone and intensively, but it does help for these shows.

Vincenteri I tend to enjoy Hoggett’s work, and his contribution to “A Beautiful Noise” was great in a natural way, without being overly flashy. As understated as diamonds can be, it created an interesting contradiction to the show.

green You can’t expect such sensitivity and emotional expression from such materials. Also, in the song “Forever in Blue Jeans,” Robin Harder, who plays Diamond’s proud and angry second wife, sings Bennett’s “The Music and the Music” in “A Chorus Line.” He performed an incredibly sexy star turn reminiscent of “Mirror”.

Saybert Hoggett does not come from a technical dance background, so that can be a limitation, but this is where he excels. Harder looks like her character is dancing.

Vincenteri Can we talk about the return of the ensemble? “A Chorus Line” was groundbreaking in that it shifted the focus from the ensemble to the individual and better conveyed the storytelling, but now the ensemble without a plot seems to be reappraising her dance. For me, it directly affects the rise of music videos.

Saybert Also music videos and pop concerts. As the number of shows based on that music increased, we saw more dances to it, not just in Weber’s work, but in Madrid’s as well. What I’m particularly excited about is that the dancers are coming with us. They have more street dance percussion and freestyle exuberance. “Broadway-style” dancing can become obsolete and, as Elizabeth put it, mechanical.

Vincenteri was fun Weber’s contribution to ‘KPOP’ Because it was like visual geometry being done in real time. A K-pop band is always in motion when playing a song, so the individual members must constantly be moved to bring the next soloist forward. She also had to incorporate a “point dance”, part of the choreography her fans could do in her home.I was very intrigued when I heard that Weber was using an app called hers. choreo room to help her devise those formations.

Saybert New tools, same old challenges. Weber also said he was influenced by Hoggett and his emphasis on storytelling.

Vincenteri On the downside, you might miss out on the triple threat of the new generation, especially among men. Quite a few leading women can do good, or at least interesting, moves, but I’m having a hard time coming up with moves for men.always having fun Norbert Leo Butts, not a trained dancer, but fully engaged with the physicality of the character. Otherwise it’s a really slim choice. Ensemble dancing will not create the next Sutton Foster, much less the next Fred Astaire.

green Does all of this suggest a new direction for dance as storytelling in the show? Fewer stars, more lofty ensembles, more abstraction, wider reference points. The first shows of the new season include Here Lies Love, the disco bio-musical by Imelda Marcos choreographed by Annie B. Parson, recently seen in David Byrne’s American Utopia. . I loved that show’s combination of dance “purity” and storytelling, neither looking down on the other.

Vincenteri When I saw ‘Here Lies Love’ in public, I found the movement very effective and beautifully integrated into the immersive concept. I love how the bridge between the worlds of pop and Broadway is enhanced, often via “downtown” artists.

Saybert This round trip is good. This makes dancing on Broadway more flexible, as the creators grapple with the eternal question of what Broadway her musicals are: how they should sound and how they should move.

green Their stories change too. That’s why I loved Multrie’s dance staging in “Fat Ham,” where characters discover their truth through what you might call diegetic movement. They were actually dancing in stories and lip-syncing to karaoke at parties, but they were also feeling something bigger about themselves and the world around them.

Saybert It’s one of the golden rules, a dance that allows you to get deeper into characters and emotions than words and music alone can do. But there are still places that offer some truly amazing excitement. There are many different types of dancing on Broadway.

green Also a kick line using a cone.

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