The Pointe’ premieres at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival later this month. Photo credit: Craig Donnelly/BBTF.
Dance and theatre often go together — especially in today’s world of major commercial musical theatre — but Craig Donnelly’s new play ‘The Pointe’ which premieres in the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival later this month is taking a new perspective on how the two art-forms inform each other.
Playwright Craig Donnelly, who teaches and choreographs with dance schools and programs throughout the US, is back at the festival this year for the third time with ‘The Pointe’. Donnelly, who also serves as the piece’s choreographer, started dancing at seven in a public school dance program, and after participating in the competition circuit through his teens, performed professionally in musical theatre after finishing his education.
After coming across a particular Broadway play, ‘Master Class’, however, Donnelly found himself wanting to tell a story from another point of view from which he often creates — that of the playwright.
“I had the idea probably five or six years ago to do the dance version of 'Master Class’ by Terrence McNally,” Donnelly told Dance Network. “I wasn’t really sure what that meant, but I started thinking about different circumstances.”
After working through some ideas, Donnelly finally decided to tell the story of four young ballet dancers and their interaction with a legendary principal ballet dancer — the fictional, Madeline Davis.
"I wanted a scenario where young dancers would be learning from a teacher or a choreographer they might not normally interact with, which would heighten the stakes a bit and gives the characters some tension,” Donnelly said. “Once I decided that a ballet summer intensive with a guest choreographer would serve that structure, Madeline and the four dancers started coming to life.”
Playwright Craig Donnelly. Photo credit: J. Demetrie Photography.
As with many playwrights, Donnelly drew on some of his storylines from his personal journey through dance.
“I have been taught and worked with many, let’s say 'eccentric', teachers and choreographers,” Donnelly explained. “But, I really wanted to focus on what the dancers could learn from someone who’d lived through and seen it all — and, what someone like Madeline could still learn from the young dancers while creating this piece for them.”
After beginning his work on the play about three years ago, it wasn’t until earlier this year when Donnelly stumbled back upon the piece that he was able to complete it. Once it was finished, submitted, and accepted into the Broadway Bound Festival at New York City’s Theatre Row, Donnelly reached out to a former colleague, Paul Edwards, to direct.
“Paul directed my first play, 'Adam & Brian’,” Donnelly said. “I knew that if I wanted to tackle choreographing this play — as well as continue developing the script — I needed someone who I could trust to see the whole picture, and that’s definitely Paul.”
Since the playwright is also choreographing the piece, he has a unique opportunity to develop the movement on a fundamental storytelling level.
For example, the playwright explains, “the piece that Madeline is choreographing for the dancers is about the end of the world, so a lot of the movement is very aggressive and lives in the neoclassical world — whereas when we flashback to Madeline’s career, we see more classical lines and phrases.”
Donnelly, however, sees the biggest challenge today, especially for dancers, is understanding that life is about constant learning.
“It doesn’t matter how old or young you are,” Donnelly said, “there are lessons to be taught and lessons to be learned. The world is constantly changing, but there are universal themes that everyone goes through. Being able to pass on any words of wisdom while revisiting past mistakes and staying open-minded on the journey is so important. I think, if the audience can see the characters in the play grow and evolve through the piece from beginning to end, then I’m happy.”
‘The Pointe’ is being presented in the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at Theatre Row in the Lion Theatre. Performances dates: August 14th (5 pm), August 15th (8 pm) and August 17th (2 pm). Written & Choreographed by Craig Donnelly. Directed by Paul Edwards. More information and tickets can be found here. Follow playwright Craig Donnelly on Instagram, here.