Please read Chapters 9 in your text and review the attached Prezi board as well.
A choreographic master of storytelling through dance.
Please view the following from his massive catalog of work:
West Side Story:
Watch West Side Story’s Prologue and note how much storytelling takes place through movement and style. This Prologue is near to a complete ballet with hardly any dialogue, so much storytelling is accomplished here at the opening of this story, with movement and action alone. Robbins gently moves us into the world of dance as the Jets walk down the street together, so that the viewer is subtly brought into the world of dance, without being jolted into a dance vocabulary.
Dance at the Gym: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fl32I2CTzKs
This is a wonderful example of movement telling story. The 2 gangs- The Sharks and The Jets have a dance battle at their high school gym, in competition with one another for the upper hand. In the midst of this, the two principal characters meet- it is love at first sight for Tony and Maria each from a different gang, as this is a re-telling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Notice how effective the simple movement is at telling the story of love at first sight. In my opinion, Tony and Maria’s movement together is more effective at expressing their feelings than the dialogue that they speak after the ballet.
Robbins really defines what it means to absolutely have to dance. There is an old theatre adage that explains the need to sing and dance, when words are no longer enough- you must sing, when singing is no longer enough to express emotion- you must dance. Robbins carves out the character arcs of the Jets’ gang here in Cool so beautifully. There is so much tension in their buildup to the climactic dance moment where they bust free and explode, then bring it back down again to a low simmer. Complex emotions beautifully expressed through dance.
Fiddler on the Roof:
Bottle Dance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSvhD0Htt_I
Robbins expresses joy and celebration in his interpretation of a Russian Jewish bottle dance, here from the show, Fiddler on the Roof. Without this movement, the song would not nearly have the resonance that it does.
DANCE IN HOLLYWOOD:
We looked at some of the most famous dream ballets from Agnes DeMille, in Carousel and Oklahoma– storytelling to further the plot of the play (or film), through dance. Some other notable dance in film:
Singin’ in the Rain from Singin’ in the Rain:
Moses Supposes from Singin’ in the Rain:
Compare and contrast these 2 ballets, Our Love Is Here To Stay, from An American in Paris. The iconic film was recently made into a Broadway musical. The dancers in the stage version were both professional ballet dancers and the choreography is by Christopher Wheeldon, from the NYC Ballet. His version is much more dance-y and technical, the film version is more about style and feeling. Both very effective. You will have a journal entry question below regarding this comparison.
- An American in Paris with Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron (original movie):https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rppk5Qp6XYY
- An American in Paris with Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope (Broadway cast):https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUj3e7E0gok
There are so many brilliant Fred Astaire films and numbers, it is hard to narrow it down for the purposes of this class.
Please view the following. He was known for his perfection and style:
Swing Time with Ginger Rogers:
I Won’t Dance from Roberta: notice his amazing footwork
We viewed some of the work of Bob Fosse earlier in the semester, with his Rich Man’s Frug from Sweet Charity. We will take a look at a few other Bob Fosse works. His style was unparalleled, it is hard to find a style of choreography that is so singularly identifiable, as Bob Fosse’s is. He took his shortcomings as a dancer (lack of extension, etc.) and turned it into an exaggerated style that is seemingly very simple, but in actuality, very complex. There is a wonderful new series that debuted this week on the FX channel called Fosse/Verdon. It is produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton and is a wonderful look into their world.
Please view the following Fosse clips:
Brief trailer on Bob Fosse from the PBS American Masters documentary:
From Sweet Charity, the brilliant Big Spender– so little movement, so much style and storytelling. These are "taxi dancers" that work in a dance hall, this is a brilliant flip of the male gaze, the women here become the voyeurs and it becomes about the female gaze.
From the musical, Cabaret, Mein Herr is an iconic Fosse number. Cabaret was originally a Broadway show, made into a movie starring Liza Minelli (Judy Garland’s daughter) and Joel Grey. Notice the use of chairs here, iconic Fosse.
Nowadays and Hot Honey Rag from Chicago:
Steam Heat from The Pajama Game:
Fosse’s Chicago was made into an Oscar-winning movie by Rob Marshall, who directed and choreographed. Marshall is directing the upcoming sequel to Mary Poppins- Mary Poppins Returns.
Please view this number, Cell Block Tango from the film, it is a little different than the Broadway version as it is not the Fosse version.
Opening Sequence from All That Jazz. This movie is about a choreographer (an auto-biography about Bob Fosse, based on the Fellini movie 8 ½). Roy Scheider plays the Fosse figure here and we are taken through a Broadway audition.
In the same vein as the opening sequence of All That Jazz, is A Chorus Line. There is a wonderful documentary called Every Little Step about the Broadway revival. Below is the trailer, if you are interested, it is definitely worth a watch, one of the best Broadway documentaries ever made. The legendary Michael Bennett, wrote, directed, and choreographed A Chorus Line. The music is by Marvin Hamlisch. The show is about the life of a Broadway dancer. Bennett’s choreography is iconic.
The revival Broadway cast performing on the 2007 Tony Awards:
There is a current production of A Chorus Line at Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA.
A recent production of A Chorus Line at City Center in NY. Here is a preview:
Hamilton brought to life a new way of storytelling. Dance using multiple vocabularies like hip hop, jazz, ballet, modern, and abstract movement to tell an epic story.
Hamilton’s Tony Award performance of the number, Yorktown:
We will snapshot throughout American history- from the early 20th century to today. Michelle Dorrance was recently awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant for her work in tap.
Nicholas Brothers– one of the first acts to perform as tap dancers- vaudeville act. They were tremendous, they were triple threat performers and acrobats as well.
Tap legend Gregory Hines talks about the Nicholas Bros.
Gregory Hines from the movie White Nights:
Savion Glover from So You Think You Can Dance
Michelle Dorrance on the Stephen Colbert Show
JOURNAL ENTRY QUESTIONS:
- Compare the 2 clips from An American in Paris. How do they differ in choreographic style? Which do you think works better and why?
- Why do you think Robbins work in West Side Story is considered to be the penultimate in choreographic storytelling? Use examples from the Prologue, Dance at the Gym, and Cool.
- Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire are two legends from the same time period. What is different about their own personal styles of dance? Use examples from the clips above.
- What is truly unique about Bob Fosse’s choreographic style? Use examples from the clips we viewed this week.
- Why do you think the show A Chorus Line resonated so deeply and has remained a staple of American musical theatre?
- How is Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography in Hamilton different from Robbins’ choreography? How is it similar?
- How has tap dancing evolved from the Nicholas Brothers to Gregory Hines to Savion to today with Michelle Dorrance?