Sunday, March 27, 2011

Broadway Choreography: Telling the Story

 (I’m dedicating this week’s blog to Mike Davis. A talented young dancer/choreographer/teacher that is on our directing team for Hairspray.)

You Can't Stop the Beat

Touring cast of the Broadway musical, Spring Awakening. Choroegraphed by Bill T. Jones.
Good choreography has to tell a story. In musical theatre, it not only needs to entertain but also tell the story and move the plot. It’s not enough to put a bunch of dance steps together; it’s how the movement enhances the story’s vision.  Great choreography moves and connects us to the performers. Brilliant choreography stays in our hearts forever.

As new groundbreaking shows on Broadway find innovative ways to refine the art, so do choreographers. One more recent example is Bill T. Jones, 2007 Tony Award winning choreographer of Spring Awakening. His work is earthy and raw, telling the story of teen angst in a thrilling combination of movement and style.

Bill T. Jones          Photo: Joseph Moran
Jones is the founder of the Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and has more than 100 original works to his credit. In 2010, he won the Tony Award for his choreography for the musical Fela! and  was also one of five recipients of the 2010 Kennedy Center Honors. Jones is best known for his works' focus of social issues.

The most moving choreographed work I have seen in years was sent to me by a friend on Facebook. It was from the Canadian production of So You Think You Can Dance, the song, Will I? from Jonathan Larson's musical, RENT. Choreographed by the brilliant, Mia Michaels.

I have never experienced a work that so embodied the depth and meaning of a song's lyrics. Michaels fully developed the passion and anguish of the piece in a stunning presentation.
Will I? from the musical, RENT, featured on So You Think You Can Dance. Choreographed by Mia Michaels.

I had the pleasure of directing the first amateur production of RENT in 2009, closely following the original Broadway staging. I knew at some point I would want to stage it again, using a totally original concept and reinvent it. When I saw Michaels staging, it was like a light bulb turned on, "THIS is how I want to interpret this!"

Mia Michaels      Photo: Kelsey McNeal/FOX
Though not a Broadway choreographer (yet), Mia Michaels is known around the world for her innovative work combining all dance styles into original works of passion and beauty. She is best known for her work with pop and contemporary artists and has won numerous Emmy Awards for her work.

Aspiring Broadway choreographers need so much more than training and technique. They must have and share the director's overall concept and vision for the production and tell the story. It's not enough to say, "this is jazz or modern piece....". The movement has to not only interpret the dancer's character and emotions, it has to be visual and intricately relate to the rest of the staging and the story being told. A showy dance number may be entertaining, but what does it have to do with the plot? Great choreography blends a seamless transition between dialogue and song in a way that appears effortless and full of life. It's all in the interpretation and artistry.


Bill T Jones Arnie Zane Dance Company Official Website:

Broadway Database. Bill T. Jones. Retrieved from:

Mia Michaels Official Website:

Spring Awakening Official Website:

Photo: Bill T. Jones by Joseph Moran. Retrieved from:

Photo: Touring Cast of Spring Awakening. Press Photo. Retrieved from:

Photo: Will I? Choreographed by Mia Michaels. Retrieved from:

1 comment:

  1. Now... I wonder who that FB friend could be. Must be someone AMAZINGGG. I only wish I were that cool... :[