David Neumann came to dance late in life. A b-boy, he danced in clubs growing up but didn't start dancing professionally until his mid-20s. But once he started, he wanted to know about dance and movement on a global scale. And all of that fuses together in the choreographer’s Tony Award–nominated work on Broadway’s Hadestown.
Neumann’s choreography draws on his knowledge of dance from “cultures all over Asia, Africa, South America, you name it.” But his storytelling is grounded in an American ethos. “The music is American,” he says. “This is an American piece about America.”
In a mythological world where the movement could be anything, the music is where Neumann began. “I really wanted to catch the vibe of the music, the feel,” he says. “It’s got plenty of stank. So that New Orleans trombone, jazz, funky groove to it I thought was a beautiful way to look at human effort, to look at the machinations of physical labor, as well as give the audience a chance to feel music in the body.”
In creating the realm of Hadestown, Neumann collaborated intensely with Rachel Hauck, the scenic designer envisioning that world, Rachel Hauck. Because of the amphitheatre meets music hall aesthetic, Neumann’s parameters involved a small stage footprint, so levels, gestures, and flow find more place in Hadestown than jumps or big traveling steps. “We also have turntables, which are challenging,” adds Neumann. “So the decisions about: Do they walk with the way the turntable is turning or against it?” impacts the story in the space.
So do the performers for whom he created the movement. “The performers have embodied the work, the choreographic material, in a way that is truly profound to me,” he says. “It makes the choreography function in the way that I intended, which is embedded in the story—not front and center.” Beneath the surface, if you will.
Learn six quintessential sequences of Hadestown choreography from Neumann in the video above. (Videography and video editing by Roberto Araujo.)