New York Spotlight: American Dance Machine

by Allison Durkee | 7/10/2017 6:25 PM

Some things from musical theatre's vast history have endured for generations. Millions of people who never saw the original productions of 'Sound of Music' or 'West Side Story' immediately recognize their songs, and iconic performances from the 1950s onwards have all been preserved on cast recordings for future generations to enjoy. But what about the dance numbers? All too often, the choreography from past Broadway hits get forgotten once a show closes. Hoping to change that, however, is the New York City-based company American Dance Machine, a dance company and 'living archive' that should be on any Broadway fan's radar.

American Dance Machine was originally founded in 1976 by Lee Theodore as a way to preserve and perpetuate the Broadway dance past, with current dancers learning and performing numbers from the Broadway canon directly from dancers who originally performed the choreography. Numbers that were in danger of being lost were passed on to a new generation, and the reconstructed numbers could now be notated and videotaped for future generations to enjoy. Though the original ADM ended with Theodore’s death in 1987, Nikki Atkins revived her vision in 2012 with the formation of American Dance Machine for the 21st Century. Like Theodore’s original company, ADM21’s mission is "to perpetuate the excellence of [theatre dance] through the preservation, presentation and education of…notable works of musical theater choreography."

The new American Dance Machine for the 21st Century has continued Theodore’s legacy over the past two years with multiple stints at the Joyce Theater in New York City. Their programs of dance numbers from stage and screen have included reconstructions of such works as “The Music and the Mirror” from A Chorus Line; Jack Cole’s “Beale Street Blues”; “Mr. Monotony” from Jerome Robbins’ Broadway; the “Manson Trio” from Pippin; and many more. About the company’s December 2015 performance, New York Times critic Alastair Macauley described the company as “a powerfully skilled ensemble that can bring life to one shared style and then another."

But just as important as the final performance was the process of bringing these iconic numbers back to life. To learn the choreography, the company’s young dancers worked directly with Chita Rivera, Donna McKechnie, and other Broadway veterans who could pass on their own wisdom and experiences with the choreography. In the company’s “Living Mission Statement” video, dancer Robert LaFosse, who worked with ADM21 on reconstructing a dance from Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, describes himself as "the closest link" to that choreography and Robbins’ process. About the company’s reconstruction process, LaFosse noted, "It’s not just someone looking at a video…and reconstructing it, it’s someone that actually experienced the actual time that it took to get to that point."

Luckily, now it’s no longer just members of the ADM company who have the privilege of learning these incredible works. Starting September 12, the company will offer weekly open classes on the Upper West Side at Steps on Broadway. Every Monday and Wednesday, a different Broadway professional will be on-hand to teach a number in the company’s Repertory classes (at the Advanced Intermediate level), with the first classes being taught by the legendary Donna McKechnie and Broadway choreographer Warren Carlyle. A separate “Ballet for Broadway” class with LaFosse will take place each Wednesday, giving musical theatre dancers a great chance to strengthen their technique while being immersed in Broadway history. Interested in taking class? More information about the classes can be found here.