International Women’s Day Special

by Michael Mahany | 3/13/2018 4:23 PM

Photo Credit: QWOC.


Last week folks across the country celebrated International Women’s Day by sharing thoughts, memories, and stories of strong, powerful, and influential women in their lives. Here at Dance Network, in honor of the day, we thought we ought to do the same: so we reached out to a few of our favorite New York City based choreographers, all women, who are shaping the contemporary landscape of dance, and asked them to share with us a little about how they work and what story they strive to tell through their platform.


Kelly Devine


Kelly Devine. Photo Credit: Playbill.


TONY® nominated Broadway choreographer Kelly Devine has been making a splash on the boards of the Great White Way since she burst onto the scene with her first solo choreographic venture with the smash hit Rock Of Ages.


“The things I consider most important to me while going through the building of a new show, or any new work really, is a positive and creative work space and staying original and truthful to the story,” Devine told Dance Network.


Devine’s current work, Escape To Margaritaville, which opens on Broadway this Thursday, takes place at a quaint island resort getaway, and with the help of the great songwriter Jimmy Buffett’s music, the show focusses on forgetting about life’s day to day problems and honing in on the things that truly matter.


“I like to have fun in the rehearsal room, a good laugh is never a bad thing, and I want all of us to feel comfortable enough to try new things without judgement —which can lead to originality and solid character work,” Devine explained. “Then, hopefully, that builds a solid foundation to get to the heart of the story.”


MORE: Read Dance Network’s Spotlight on the Nominees: Come From Away's Kelly Devine


Kelly Devine. Photo Credit: Getty.


Prior to her solo choreographic career, Devine was the associate to Broadway’s Sergio Trujillo on both Jersey Boys and Memphis. As solo choreographer, she’s designed the dances for five Broadway shows including the previously mentioned Rock Of Ages and Escape To Margaritaville, as well as Doctor Zhivago, and the two musicals for which she’s earned Best Choreography TONY® nominations; Rocky, and 2016’s TONY® award winning Best Musical, Come From Away.


These days, Devine’s name is often floated with greats like Stroman, Marshall, and Verdon— all of whom over the course of the last few generations have sought to make a mark in a world dominated my men. Dance Network asked Devine about what it means to be among the women at the top of the Broadway choreography game.


Her answer, while simple, was precisely to the point.


“I just try to remember that we all have to be fearless to do this job.”



Lorin Latarro


Lorin Latarro. Photo Credit: Mathew Murphy.


Lorin Latarro, a graduate of The Juilliard School, danced on Broadway for years before she became one of the industry’s leading choreographers. As a performer, she danced for some of Broadway’s top choreographers like Kathleen Marshall and Rob Ashford, in at least 14 different shows including Swing, Movin’ Out, and the 2008 revival of A Chorus Line. In 2010, when she was named Stephen Hogget’s associate choreographer of punk-rock band Green Day’s musical, American Idiot, Latarro began to really make a stake on the creative side of the table. She’s since gone on to choreograph Sara BareillesWaitress, as well as the movement for both Les Liaisons Dangereuses, and Waiting For Godot (which starred Sir’s Ian McKellen and Patrick Stuart)— all on Broadway.


We asked Latarro to tell us about what it is she strives for as a leading dance-maker in New York City.


“Though my platform as a female choreographer, the answer is twofold: As far as content, I always approach my work through both music and text,” Latarro explained. “What is the story I am trying to tell? What can dance offer the whole of the story without words in terms of emotionality, subtext, energy, buoyancy? As a woman, I am interested in, of course, making sure we see a female protagonist or antagonist or supporting character holistically, not myopically. Does she have her own narrative, or do things (as in many older traditional musicals) happen to her? How can we make sure, even in a revival, we shift her action to give her agency? Choreography and staging can solve some of those questions especially when the text must remain the same.”


Lorin Latarro, Sara Bareilles, Diane Paulus and Jessie Nelson. Photo Credit: Walter McBride/WireImage.


“In our community, I actively push for parity and try to hire female associates when possible,” Latarro added. “I love working with both male and female directors, and I find in the room, the energy and focus is the same no matter the gender.”


Michelle Manzanales


Michelle Manzanales. Photo Credit: Ballet Hispánico.


Michelle Manzanales is a choreographer, educator, and dancer who, after seven seasons as Ballet Hispánico’s resident rehearsal director, became the Director of the company’s School of Dance. Born in Houston, Texas, and of a Mexican heritage, Manzanales met and danced for Ballet Hispánico’s Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro in his Chicago company, Luna Negra Dance Theater.


As the director of the School Of Dance, Manzanales strives for her students to not only build a strong technique, but to also understand dance’s artistic and communicative proficiency.


“I love that dance is a universal language, connecting people of such diversity,” Manzanales said. “It goes back to being a student of dance and remembering when people would ask, ‘why do you dance?’ The answers often swarm around something like, ‘because it allows me to communicate and express my feelings’. As the Director of the School of Dance at Ballet Hispánico, it is of course our mission to train technically proficient dancers, but the bigger picture encompasses so much more. The feeling that swells up in me when I see our young ladies (and gentlemen) stand tall with pride, elegance, intelligence, power, and's everything. We strive everyday to make sure our students feel safe, supported, and encouraged to allow the artists within to develop their voices.”


Manzanales’ most recently heralded work as a choreographer, a piece titled Con Brazos Abiertos —which in English translates to With Open Arms— confronted the dichotomy of her younger years growing up as a Mexican-American, and was presented at The Joyce in New York City last Spring.


“I have found that as a choreographer, it is my works where I have had the courage to be the most honest that have had the greatest audience response. The more specific and personal, the more universal the stories seem to become,” Manzanales told Dance Network. “In my latest work, [Con Brazos Abiertos], I told a very specific story about my experience as a Mexican-American girl growing up between two cultures in Texas. It was incredibly humbling to have Latinas like me reach out and talk about how they had never seen themselves reflected like this on the stage. It was also amazing to have people of so many different backgrounds, gay, straight, female, male, young and old, say to me, ‘you know Michelle, I know I'm not a Latina, but I really saw myself in your dance’”.


“As a choreographer, there is nothing I desire more than to offer the audience a moment in their life to unplug from the hustle and bustle,” she continued, “and to watch something that allows and encourages them to connect, [and remember] how nice is it to be allowed to feel. [As Maya Angelou said], ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’”


CON BRAZOS ABIERTOS by Michelle Manzanales from Ballet Hispanico on Vimeo.


Manzanales, who’s career has allowed her to dance and work with dancers and students from all over the world, told us about the power of dance and the moments that have stuck with her.


“I have seen a large number of dance performances in my life, but the list is small of the ones that have truly impacted me in a profound way,” she continued. “Don't get me wrong, many performances leave me with joy and in awe of the talent that is shared on stage through the choreographers, dancers, and entire production, but I am talking about those rare moments where you have to remind yourself to breathe you are so into to it— those performances that have you thinking about them for weeks, even years. The ones that when you think of them, you remember what you felt like in that moment and suddenly you are back there, feeling it all over again.


Michelle Manzanales with students. Photo Credit: Alona Cohen.


Manzanales explained to Dance Network about a key experience early on in her career that shaped a lot of who she’s become as a female choreographer and leader in the dance world.


“Once many years ago, when I was presenting a new work on a mixed bill show, the curator approached me after the technical rehearsal with his concerns about how ‘personal’ my work was,” Manzanales explained. “It was the first time he had seen the piece run with the final soundscape, and he wanted me to consider omitting interviews of the three women dancing in the piece that I had recorded, edited, and laid over the music. He was concerned that because the women's interviews were so personal, the audience may not ‘get it’. The dancer in me, always eager to take the note, sat pondering these words, ‘too personal’. And, the Libra in me went manic with weighing how or if the piece worked with or without the stories of these women told out loud in their own voices. Was it critical for the audience to hear them? Was it not? My choreographer-self asked, ‘did the dancing speak for itself? Was the text necessary?’ While the woman in me asked, ‘why was the curator so uncomfortable with the interviews in the first place? Was it because they displayed such a strong point of view from women?’ In the end, I decided to keep them in. I have no way of knowing if the piece would have still had the impact that I wanted without the interviews in, however, what I do know is that I took a valuable lesson/realization away with me, I value honesty on the stage.”


MORE: Read A Love Affair With Dance; A Dance Network Exclusive Interview With Broadway’s JoAnn M. Hunter


Special thanks to Kelly Devine, Lorin Latarro, and Michelle Manzanales, for their time. And, Happy International Women’s Day to all the strong, intelligent, and influential female choreographers, dancers and artists out there; from all of us here at Dance Network, we champion and support your work!