Esther Antoine grew up dancing hip-hop with her siblings and her cousins. But it wasn’t until after she graduated college with a computer science degree that Antoine realized she could take hip-hop as a class. “Like five, six, seven, eight? Really? It’s not just something you feel?” Antoine remembers thinking.
Turns out, that natural feel is the secret weapon that landed Antoine her Broadway debut as the dance captain/swing for Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, which currently plays Broadway’s Imperial Theatre. Sergio Trujillo’s Tony-winning choreography fuses hip-hop, b-boy, Motown mega-group, and musical theatre movement, and it’s Antoine’s job to maintain Trujillo’s vision. “They’re not just steps,” says Antoine. That’s where that feel—the soul—comes in.
As the female swing, Antoine knows the material for all of the female tracks—in order to perform them when a castmate calls out. As the dance captain, Antoine knows the material for all 16 tracks in the show—in order to give notes to the cast, lead rehearsals, and teach new company members.
By day, unlike most of her castmates, Antoine is often in rehearsal with new dancers. By night, if she’s not performing, Antoine sits at the back of the house to note the show. “It’s really paying attention to detail,” she says. “It’s how the choreography is being taught and paying attention to where the hands are placed, where the feet are placed, is the head slightly tilted?” There’s also a psychology of movement Antoine must transmit to every dancer to nail the aesthetic of the show and communicate the emotional world of The Temps.
For example, “I Wish It Would Rain” finds the Temptations hearing that Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. has been assassinated. “They stand there and then they get on their knee and they look up when they have to sing, look down when they don’t sing,” Antoine says. “That’s one way to explain it, but there’s more behind it.
“There’s a heaviness because you just heard this news. Instead of just saying ‘get down on your knee,’ the way you get down on your knee is as if somebody punched you in the gut,” she continues. “There’s a contraction there, but it’s an intentional one. Imagine getting that news. That’s the way you get down on your knee.”
And Antoine knows that level of motivation for every step and the ethos of every character in the show, especially the five Temps. “David Ruffin is very dynamic. Paul Williams, he’s the most full-out. Eddie Kendricks, he’s more of a crooner. Melvin Franklin has more of the laidback choreography. And Otis Williams, he’s the one who’s in the pocket. He has the style. He has a groove.”
Thanks to Antoine’s eye, we can say the same of Ain’t Too Proud.
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