Dance in Time: August
This month marks the birthdays of August Bournonville (1805, Copenhagen, Denmark), Gene Kelly (1912, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), Mark Morris (1956, Seattle, Washington), Michael Jackson (1958, Gary, Indiana), Tyce Diorio (1970, Brooklyn, New York), and Robert Battle (1972, Jacksonville, Florida).
Another milestone, on August 17, 1949, was the premiere of José Limón’s masterpiece The Moor’s Pavane, based on Shakespeare’s Othello, at American Dance Festival at Connecticut College in New London. The original cast featured Limón, Lucas Hoving, Pauline Koner, and Betty Jones, with costumes by Pauline Lawrence and music by Henry Purcell (arranged by Simon Sadoff).
And on August 6, 2015, the smash hit musical Hamilton moved to Broadway, making its home at the Richard Rodgers Theatre after premiering Off-Broadway at The Public Theater the previous February (a production that won eight 2015 Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Musical, and a Special Award for choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler). The Broadway production, now touring, racked up a 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and a record-setting 16 Tony Award nominations. On June 12, it won 11 of them. Blankenbuehler, who received a 2008 Tony Award for Best Choreography for In the Heights, won again for his choreography for Hamilton. The groundbreaking show also received awards for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design of a Musical, Best Lighting Design of a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Orchestrations, and three actors’ awards.
Dancers on Dance
“I think I reached a point of the most clarity that I’ve ever had when I met Lin[-Manuel Miranda, creator of In the Heights and Hamilton]. . . . [He] brings out some really interesting things, and it’s very inspiring to me, and rhythmically what he does just works for me. . . . I became the most Andy Blankenbuehler at In the Heights, . . . and so Hamilton is sort of another step of that. Choreographically things are not always natural for me, like hip-hop . . . , but the idea that the characters are so embedded into the music, so embedded into the lyrics, makes my job easy.
Parameters are so good for me. So, if you know you have to wear boots, that informs the choreography. If you know that you’re supposed to be carrying a 30-pound rifle in your hand and you have to load it a certain way, that informs choreography. So, in that way, Hamilton has been extraordinary to me in providing me rules. The scenic design for Heights was very limiting because the buildings were all over the stage. Hamilton’s wide open and so those parameters—the parameters that I need—actually come from Lin’s lyrics as opposed to scenic elements. Lin gives you such a challenging road map to follow, but it’s a detailed road map.”
(from “Andy Blankenbuehler on Making History With Hamilton,” playbill.com, June 3, 2016)