As I began writing this I thought to myself, “Fosse as an example of a great choreographer? How cliché.” But then it occurred to me that FOSSE IS AN EXAMPLE OF A GREAT CHOREOGRAPHER. Period. What has happened to musical theatre choreography in the past 30 years?
When did theatre dance veer so far from its old ideals? Standards of talent, performance, rawness, realness, excitement, risk, originality. When did “less is more” become more is more? What happened to subtlety? When did people forget that an isolated shoulder or a moment of absolute stillness could say more than a 180 degree penchee? When did choreographers forget that WHY and HOW you dance are just as important as how high you are kicking? How have they forgotten that dance creates the world in which the musical lives. It’s strictly visual storytelling. Dance suspends disbelief. THEY’RE DANCING! The possibilities are endless. So why is it so uninspired today?
I don’t want to see another Fosse
bastardization recreation. I don’t want to see the work of Jerome Robbins on Broadway again. It seems to me that in rehashing old work, Broadway is saying that its greatest days are behind us. I don’t want to see another musical trying to sell 90s hip-hop as movement for the new millennium. It’s not. It’s time for theatre dance to recreate itself, innovate, and move to the front of the curve. If that means fostering new talent from within the industry, so be it. If that means outsourcing choreographic work to creatives outside of the immediate industry, all the better. I see tremendous possibility in collaboration between pop, concert, and theatre choreographers working to create unique movement within the framework of Broadway STORYTELLING. Because at the end of the day if your movement isn’t telling the story, moving the plot along, and heightening the emotional treble of the piece, you should probably get off the stage.
I’m not suggesting that we should give the keys to the kingdom to choreographers outside of musical theatre. Musicals are specific. They are not concert pieces. They are not music videos. There is a formula. There is a common understanding of what it is. I am asking for interdisciplinary collaboration. An exchange of ideas. A new set of eyes to help solve a problem.
I am suggesting that choreographers from within musical theatre entertain the following:
FINESSE: Am I the only thinking that HOW you do something is important?
SUBTLETY: We are animals. We understand body language innately. It’s not a language you have to learn. It’s instinct. What is dance but mime to music? Return to the idea of gesture and communication. Cause and effect.
STORY: Is this movement creating the world the musical inhabits? Is it solving a problem? Is there a relationship between characters that is being built? Why are people dancing?
This all sounds so basic and yet I see multi-million dollar show after multi-million dollar show missing the mark. Perhaps the key is in looking back through time not to recreate great works or to plagiarize their style, but to ask what it was about THAT movement that made it so perfect.
I believe in asking questions to find solutions. But I suppose that only works if you realize that there is a problem in the first place.
*It should be noted that I believe in the value of preserving and documenting past work. Round of applause for American Dance Machine.