It's World Theatre Day! Here are 3 Ways Dance Makes Theatre Even Better

by Michael Mahany | 3/27/2019 8:20 PM

Photo credit: Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging


It’s World Theatre Day, and we at Dance Network want to celebrate! 


Dance most certainly adds a layer to the theatrical experience that is unmatched and unlike any other aspect of what goes into a Broadway show. To celebrate World Theatre Day, here’s our list of the 3 Ways Dance Makes Theatre Even Better.


1. Dance Enhances Theatrical Storytelling



The opening number of 42nd Street on the 2001 Tony Awards. Video courtesy ATW/CBS.


Think back to some of the most exciting moments you’ve ever experienced in a theatre, and chances are pretty good a few of them involve some monumental, astonishing, and amazing production dance number. Since dance and theatre are two of the oldest forms of expression combining them can create pure magic. Dance, simply put, is body language and because its communicative abilities are relatable to just about everyone, it adds understanding and emotional connection on a visceral level.



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Think about it: when a character in a musical can no longer contain their passion for something through words, they sing — and when it grows to a level where the notes of a song are no longer suitable, they dance.


Musical theatre choreographers like Agnes de Mille, Michael Kidd, Jerome Robbins, and Jack Cole changed the game and took the old idea of "dance for dance’s sake" and turned it on its head. They began to use dance in a more useful way; as a conceptually designed and story forwarding element. Those choreographers then paved the way for the modern era geniuses like Bob Fosse, Gower Champion, Michael Bennett, Graciela Daniele, Gillian Lynne, Tommy Tune, and more who continued and grew the tradition.



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‘The Rich Man’s Frug’ from Bob Fosse’s ‘Sweet Charity’. Video courtesy: Universal.


And, because of the work of all these brilliant artists from the past, we’re seeing a sort of second Broadway Golden age. Current generation dance storytellers like Casey Nicholaw, Christopher Gattelli, Warren Carlyle, Susan Stroman, Kelly Devine, Camille A. Brown, Andy Blankenbuehler, Spencer Liff, Josh Bergasse, Steven Hoggett and so many more of Broadway's biggest stars are continuing this heritage of movement based storytelling — and, all with the added benefit of contemporary theatre technology.



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2. The Lines Between The Screen And The Stage Are Blurring 


The cast of ‘Frozen’ on Broadway. Photo credit: Deen van Meer.


It’s been argued that movies and film are the crafted shapings of the past, while theatre is the artistic shaping of the present. Recently, however, the chasm between the two art forms has seemed to move a little closer.

 

Firstly, more than a large handful of the musicals on Broadway in this day and age originated from films. Shows like ‘Mean Girls’, ‘Frozen’, ‘King Kong’, ’Clueless’, ‘Pretty Woman’, ‘Aladdin’, or the upcoming ‘Tootsie’, ‘Beetlejuice’, or ’Moulin Rouge’ all derived a film adaptations, and because of their respective films' popularity these musicals are highly sought out tickets.


Secondly, with the help of contemporary set and wardrobe designers and the vast growth of theatrical technology, choreographers are now able to create worlds that have never before been possible on stage. If you look back at what Wayne Cilento was able to do through dance in the world of ‘Wicked’ or what Rob Ashford was able to do with ‘Frozen’ on Broadway, it's impossible not to recognize that a) the realistic and transformative designs available to dance makers now is astounding, and b) they're assuredly inspired by the film world.



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Third (and speaking of inspiration), looking back at the work of directors and choreographers from the golden age of film, it's easy to see how the cinematic world was influenced by the theatre. Moreover, though, the choreographic images, illusions, and design created in the movies of the MGM era have most certainly inspired the way choreographers and dancers approach today's contemporary stage work.


Case and point: the magic and fantasy behind Steven Hoggett’s choreography in ‘Harry Potter And The Cursed Child’. Hoggett's movement work on the play, which was nominated for a 2018 Tony award for Best Choreography, combines elements of work definitely inspired by film directors and choreographers of the past.



Gene Kelly in ‘Singin’ In The Rain’. Video courtesy: MGM.



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Fourth, there is so much more crossover in who’s creating dance on stage and on screen. Some dancers and choreographers like Rob Marshall, Spencer Liff or Kelly Devine whose successful theatrical ventures have landed them tv or film gigs, expanded their career opportunities the old fashion way. Mandy Moore, Mia Michaels, Sonya Tayeh, Ellenore Scott, or the recently announced Keone and Mari Madrid who are slated to choreograph the upcoming Britney Spears musical, however, found success on screen first, and are now making moves in the theatre.



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3. Dance World Stars Are Making A Big Impact On Broadway


Tiler Peck as Marie in 'Marie, Dancing Still - A New Musical'. Photo credit: Matt Karas


If you take a look at the stars making waves in today’s popular theatre, there are certainly a few names from outside what many consider to be the normal spectrum of Broadway dance and choreography.


Television dance programs like ‘So You Think You Can Dance’, ‘Dancing With The Stars’ and ‘World Of Dance’ have brought many of the previously mentioned dancers and choreographers to the forefront, but major high level formally trained ballet and classical dancers are beginning to make more of an impact on professional theatre, too.



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It’s not uncommon for some of New York City’s professional ballet dancers to appear on Broadway occasionally, but in recent years it seems to be more and more of a growing trend.


Look for instance at Justin Peck. Not since the days of Jerome Robbins or George Balanchine has a ballet dancer and choreographer made such a huge impact on Broadway. Peck, a star soloist and the current resident choreographer at New York City Ballet, won the 2018 Tony award for Best Choreography for his work creating the dance in the revival of ‘Carousel’ — and, he hired a whole host of dance world dancers to fill his ensemble.



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And, what’s more, Peck’s NYCB colleagues like Tiler Peck, who’s currently starring in the Broadway hopeful ‘Marie, Dancing Still’ at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre, Sara Mearns who just finished up a quick run in City Center Encores’ ‘I Married An Angel’, and Megan Fairchild who made her debut in the last revival of ‘On The Town’ are all part of an expanse of high-level dance world dancers finding their place on Broadway.



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From the insanely talented ensemble dancers who’ve trained their entire lives to dance on Broadway to those who’ve found their way to the Great White Way via avenues that have been more recently opened, Broadway is thriving in a way it seemingly never has.


Dance Network tips our (bowler) hat to everyone who loves theatre — especially those out there dancing to make it even better. Happy World Theatre Day!



Chita Rivera and Gwen Verdon performing Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag. Video courtesy: Howard Cosell Show.


Michael Mahany serves as Dance Network’s New York City correspondent. He is also a professional actor, singer, dancer, writer, and host. Follow him on TwitterInstagram, or Facebook.

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