In this poll we asked: How important is dance to musical theatre? How can choreographers of the 21st century use dance in new ways to illustrate theatre?
Here are your responses. Playbill On-Line thanks everyone who replied.
Dance is absolutely vital to excellent musical theatre. For example, "Crazy for You." Gershwin music alone makes it wonderful but dance enhances the whole story immeasurably and ties it all together. The same holds true for "Cats," "Big", etc., etc. Good musical theatre without dance is there, too. But, really, dance is a major drawing card. It lifts the spirits like nothing else and the whole musical theatre experience is not the same without it. Thus, the expression "song & dance man." "Song man" doesn't quite cut it.
As for how choreographers can use dance in new ways, well -- frankly what's wrong with the kind of thing they've been doing? Susan Stroman, Savion Glover, . . . there must be more geniuses out there. It's up to them to devise entertaining dance to get us out of our seats or tapping along, wishing we were dancers ourselves.
So, all in all, dance must be an integral part of musical theatre! It breathes life into it.
From Brad Baker:
Is dance necessary in a musical? That depends on the musical. Dance, dialogue and song are not necessarily the "required" elements of a musical theatre piece. As PHANTOM, MISS SAIGON, etc have proven, "dance" has become the forgotten element. So what?! I have always believed that musicals worked because of their adherence to this theory: Songs are moments of oral interaction that have become too charged or too significant to be merely expressed through words. Thus, the words have to be sung. Dances are moments of physical interaction which become too potent to be contained within a traditional movement pattern. Thus, a character must break into dance to express the extremes of that physical moment.
OK, the PHANTOM's and the SAIGONs have minimized "dance" as a contributing element. But, there IS lyrical movement in those two pieces; i.e. the floating gondola waltz in PHANTOM, and the staccato strut of the soldiers in SAIGON. Not traditional Broadway dance, but moments of expressive physicality.
Despite the many reasons to applaud RENT, dance is not one of them. In fact, of the two "dance" sequences in the show, one ("La Vie Boheme's" dance on the dinner table) is exciting because of its surprising and irreverent spontaneity; while the other (the dreadful death of Angel sequence) is forced and more traditionally "dancerish." As we all know, the truest and most powerful moments in that show are when the characters simply stand together along the edge of the stage. Again, an expression of physicality... but not dance.
Of course, Savion Glover's choreography in NOISE/FUNK is extraordinary. But why? Because it is derived from a place of personal expression. Savion cannot tell his story through song or spoken word (that's the domain of others), so his "dance" becomes his passionate poetry.
Now, take VICTOR/VICTORIA's dance... please! And don't bring it back!
If it's passionate, personal and poetic... dance it! If it's not... stand still!
From: Shana M Sisk:
Dance is an important part of musical theatre, but it is not essential. Personally, I love to watch dancing on stage. There's an exhilaration that comes with it. I am a musical theatre major, and my program (at U of AZ) has a strong emphasis on dancing. It is important for all actors to have some kind of movement experience. It will help to create characters. In musicals it will help you get cast, and can be a stunning visual effect for members of the audience. It's just interesting to note that aside from Noise/Funk, right now on Broadway there aren't any other NEW major dance shows. The trend right now seems to be more dramatic, vocally challenging shows. But musical theatre wouldn't be where it is today without dance.
I am a 21-year-old professional dancer. I think dance is vital to any musical. The body movements enhance the story and excite the audience. Dance is a beautiful language, and without it the show is missing a vital element.
The question of whether dance is essential to musicals is one that is difficult to answer. First of all, one must consider the musical that is being viewed. For instance, Les Miserables is a depressing, albeit magnificent, piece of work. A choreographed dance sequence would detract from the piece. However, musicals such as Gypsy and The Boyfriend (two completely different types of musicals) use the dance to enhance the show and sometimes keep the audiences interest.
In The Boyfriend, the musical suffers from a paper-thin plot, but reeks of wonderful opportunities for dancers. The number, "Won't You Charleston With Me?" is a perfect example of how dancers who can sing and act as well get to show off yet one more side of their already impressive list of talents.
Gypsy, on the other hand, has a fairly solid plot but relies on the dance to tell portion of the story. For instance, Tulsa's number, "All I Need Is The Girl," is a song about his nightclub act and how him and his partner dance. To illustrate to Louise, who is standing by watching, he demonstrates, thus allowing her to fall even more enraptured with the young man.
Dance is an essential part of musicals and even today, we can see it. Another example is Cats. If Cats didn't have any dancing, the show would be unexciting and you can bet that it would not be running "now and forever"
I think what musicals need are the strong plots and strong characters, but need to return to the style of characters bursting into song, tap dancing about whatever they are singing about, and then returning to their everyday life. After all, if we can suspend disbelief long enough to believe that Fantine, after being fired is going to break out into a gut wrenching ballad, we can certainly extend that period of time to include a quick shuffle off to buffalo for Reno Sweeney.
Dance is an art and that is the bottom line. Of course musicals need dance. Without dance, where would musicals be today? Think about it, is there any R&H show that doesn't contain some type of dance...NO...so why would one want to rid musical theater of that rare commodity? Dance is a great pleasure to watch and it also give you a great opportunity to sit back and just listen to the brilliant sounds of the orchestra.
From Trevor List:
As a person with no semblance of rhythm who has just started auditioning for college musicals, cabaret groups, and show choirs, I wish they would abolish dance. And then get rid of all of those choreographers who think "One Night in Bangkok" is a good tune to audition for.
Anywho, dance is a great thing if done well -- clean, together, attractive -- if it's not, well it gets annoying really quickly. And if it's done well, I usually will want to go up onstage with the cast.
One of the best musicals I saw last year was Buskers. Absolutely incredible dancing and direction. Too bad it hasn't made it to Broadway.
From: Andrew Hwang:
I believe choreography can be an important, sometimes inseparable, part of many musicals. On the other hand, there are those that make dancing look as if it had to be forcibly inserted in between scenes (Phantom, Sunset). Shows such as 42nd St, Crazy For You, West Side Story etc. simply don't work, IMO, without the original choreography, which had blended into the shows so seamlessly that it actually became part of them.
Movements in dancing can tell an entire story without the need of a single mutter, if it's done right. Kenneth Macmillan's Ballet in the new production of Carousel was so expressive and exquisite that it may easily be the highlight of the whole show. Jerome Robbins' work had become virtually synonymous with any show he choreographed. The bottom line is, I see dancing as an indispensable and inherent element in musical theatre.
From D. Christian Gottshall:
I believe that dance is very important to musical theatre. It helps to create to the spectacle and make the story more interesting. All musicals do not have to have extremely hard dance numbers, but rather movement to the number.
Throughout history people have celebrated through dance. When concerning Musical Theatre, it is very much a part of the medium. What would happen during any uptempo song? You could cut the score and dance breaks, but still the audience will tap their feet. And any period piece would have a gavotte or waltz, just because it was what people did. Even in today's society, people go to dance clubs to hear music and dance so it would only be absurd to have theatre with the ability to move along the plot with song, not include the much needed dance that accompanies it.