How This Dance Lab Grooms the Tony-Winning Choreographers of Tomorrow

Interview   How This Dance Lab Grooms the Tony-Winning Choreographers of Tomorrow
 
Shrek The Musical’s Josh Prince founded the dance think tank that gave space to Tony winner Andy Blankenbuehler, JoAnn M. Hunter, and more.

Following critical acclaim for Broadway’s Shrek the Musical, choreographer Josh Prince stepped back into the world of theatre, hoping to explore new ideas. To his dismay, however, he discovered that there was no such place to do so.

“I looked around and found that there was really no place to practice my craft or test new ideas, so I tried to do that on my own,” says Prince.

Yet, he soon found that doing it on his own was far too expensive. If Prince, a Broadway choreographer, was having a difficult time finding an efficient and affordable space to create, what were other choreographers doing? “Everyone deserves and needs a practice room. I found it to be a very broken model for creation and found that it was a problem that needed to be solved in the industry.”

His conundrum sparked what is now Broadway Dance Lab (BDL).

Founded in 2012, Broadway Dance Lab is the only arts organization in the community designed to service the needs of choreographers. Each cycle of BDL has worked with some of New York’s best choreographers, such as Andy Blankenbuehler (In The Heights, Hamilton), Al Blackstone (The View UpStairs, So You Think You Can Dance), and Camille A. Brown (Cabin in the Sky, Once On This Island), with the sole intention of providing them with an open, pressure-free environment to create.

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“[BDL] is based on the principle that choreographers are writers just like all other writers; we need tools to write,” explains Prince. “We need to provide choreographers with highly trained and versatile dancers and wonderful space that is conducive to making large work.” Imagine staging a something like “Dance at the Gym” as a single dancer in the room; there’s no way to work out partnering, let alone see the full picture.

Each year, through an online submission process, Prince invites a select group of choreographers to participate in the month-long lab. The Lab provides space and group of highly trained dancers to test dance concepts and present their work in a final showcase—free of charge. This season’s showcase bows May 25 at New York City Center.

Brown, who will be choreographing the upcoming revival of Once On This Island, was a participant in the 2015 cycle of BDL and raves about the organization. “The pressure is not there; I think that’s one of the main things that I love about it. With [BDL], you can explore all your possibilities and try everything. The point of it is that you’re getting all the ideas you’ve had in your body out,” she says.

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Blackstone, who was featured in the 2016 cycle and recently choreographed off-Broadway’s The View UpStairs, feels much like Brown, adding, “The choreographers have all of the tools at their disposal to be able to make, experiment or play. Every morning, I [was] able to explore and experiment in a way that I rarely am able to.

“Off-Broadway and Broadway really need choreographers who have a developed voice, and if choreographers cannot continue to evolve, then neither can theatre.”

Now in its fifth cycle, the May 25 presentation features work by Lucille Lortel Award nominee Wendy Seyb (Click, Clack, Moo), Broadway performer Ron Todorowski (Finding Neverland, Wicked), and up-and-comer Jeremy McQueen. Looking at the program, Prince is proud of how far the organization has come and how it’s helping choreographers to further their craft and Broadway dance as a whole.

“In a world like ours where there are playwriting labs and composer labs and directing labs, why is there not an organization dedicated to giving choreographers specifically what they need? It is my belief that Broadway dance is particularly American because it is an amalgamation of different voices; it pulls from so many influences. If we are to give our choreographers the same support that we give writers in the field, we need Broadway Dance Lab. It’s just that simple.”

For more information regarding Broadway Dance Lab, visit www.broadwaydancelab.org.

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