Transcript, Episode 119: Tony Awards, the Season Ahead, and How the Arts Improve Public Safety

Margaret Fuhrer:
Hi dance friends, and welcome to The Dance Edit Podcast. I’m Margaret Fuhrer.

Courtney Escoyne:
And I’m Courtney Escoyne.

Margaret Fuhrer:
We are editors at Dance Media, back with a new episode. And just a reminder that we are biweekly now, so we’ll be here every other Thursday.

Today, we’re starting with an absolutely jam-packed headline rundown, featuring Tony Awards highlights and several big appointments and promotions and departures in the ballet world and the latest on the “So You Think You Can Dance” judging controversy and a whole lot more. Then we will slow down a bit for a longer discussion about how investing in the arts can actually improve public safety—public safety being an issue that is at the forefront of many people’s minds these days.

So we’re going to get right into these headlines galore. Go for it, Courtney.

Courtney Escoyne:
All right. So we are kicking off with the Tony Awards, which were held on Sunday. As always, there are loads that we could be talking about, so I’m going to try to stick to the more dancerly bits. Christopher Wheeldon took home his second best choreography Tony for his work on MJ. The show’s 22-year-old lead, Myles Frost, walked away with his own Tony for his portrayal of Michael Jackson, and led one of the more dance-filled performances of the night. A Strange Loop won best musical and best book of a musical, and the rest of the awards were scattered amongst other shows.

Mostly, I just want to talk about Ariana DeBose, reminding everyone as host that yes, she really is a triple threat. And yes, she really is that good. She danced and sang her way through a five minute opening number titled “This is Your Round of Applause” that sampled a few dozen different musicals, as well as referenced their choreography. There was Fosse, there was MJ, there was some of Cassie’s trickiest choreography from A Chorus Line. Commentary on the internet was musing about whether the Tonys should lock her down to host for the next five years, which is a proposal I personally could get on board with.

Margaret Fuhrer:
I very much support that. It was interesting—I was actually seeing some mixed things about her hosting online. But how can you be mad at a dyed in the wool musical theater kid bringing all the musical theater kid energy to musical theater kid prom? You can’t be mad about that. That’s exactly what we want at the Tonys.

I also love that she shouted out Broadway’s heroic swings and understudies and dance captains, who are her people—that’s how she got her start, too. I actually thought there could have been a little bit more of that kind of acknowledgement, but I was really glad that she, at least, was able to get it in there.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah.

Margaret Fuhrer:
All right. We have big news from American Ballet Theatre. Former principal dancer Stella Abrera has been named acting artistic director of the company’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. Since retiring from performance in 2020, Abrera has been artistic director of Kaatsbaan Cultural Park in upstate New York. And her name was actually one of the names being floated in dance circles as a potential artistic director pick for the company, for ABT itself. So, it is exciting to see that she is, indeed, taking on a leadership position within the organization now.

And about the “acting” director title: Stella has been hired for one year because of the changeover in artistic direction at ABT. Meaning that Kevin McKenzie, the company’s current director, hired her, but Susan Jaffe is coming in at the end of this year, so school leadership decisions will involve Jaffe from here out.

But big congrats to Stella. This seems like such a great role for her. Those lucky kids!

Courtney Escoyne:
Lucky kids, such a good fit. I also think it’s, frankly, adorable that her husband, Sascha Radetsky, is still heading up the Studio Company. So they’re both going to be working side-by-side at ABT studios on that.

Margaret Fuhrer:
The mom and dad of ABT.

Courtney Escoyne:
They kind of already are in spirit. So here for it. I am curious to see what happens with Kaatsbaan going forward because she’s done such excellent work there.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. And Sonja Kostich is staying on there in her role, so we’ll see who joins her.

Courtney Escoyne:
Taking a bit of a downturn here: Past students of Zurich Dance Academy are alleging that teachers there bullied, body-shamed, and physically abused them, with incidents spanning from 2007 to 2021. The school is affiliated with Zurich University of the Arts, which is reportedly opening an administrative investigation that is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Margaret Fuhrer:
We have links to some coverage of those allegations in the show notes so you can find out more—some in German, but also some in English.

New York City mayor Eric Adams has proposed zoning changes that would make it easier for people to dance in bars and restaurants. Back in 2017, the city repealed its cabaret law, which was from 1926 and prohibited dancing in these venues without a specific license. But there are still antiquated prohibitive zoning regulations on the books. And Adams says that getting rid of them will help small businesses recover from the pandemic, which, hear hear. I know many people have many different feelings about Eric Adams, but his love of nightlife I think most of us can get behind.

Courtney Escoyne:
A musical adaptation of Almost Famous is officially headed to Broadway, directed by Jeremy Herrin and with choreography by Sarah O’Gleby, who incidentally is who choreographed our Anna DeBose’s opening number from the Tonys, which I probably should have shouted out earlier in this. Lorin Latarro, who choreographed the initial run at San Diego’s Old Globe in 2019, will also get an additional choreography credit after scheduling conflicts resulted in her departing the production. Previews are expected to begin on September 13th, ahead of an opening night on October 11th.

Margaret Fuhrer:
As Lydia said in our Slack as soon as this news broke: It’s all happening! [laughter]

Here is the latest news on the “So You Think You Can Dance” controversy, which continues to unfold. Actor Leah Remini has replaced Matthew Morrison as a judge on the show after Morrison’s firing last month. Remini is not a dance expert, but a dance enthusiast; she did appear on the 17th season of “Dancing With the Stars.” Her first appearance on “So You Think You Can Dance” is actually set to air this evening, the evening we’re recording. So, we’re not sure what her judging style will be yet.

But there’s more to talk about here, because a few days ago, Morrison responded to reports alleging that he had been let go because he sent inappropriate messages to a contestant. On Instagram, Morrison posted a defense of his actions that included him reading what he said was the DM in question. And he decried “toxic gossip.” This is clearly a fraught situation—we don’t know the whole story. But choreographer Cat Cogliandro of The Dance Safe posted her own response to Morrison’s statement explaining why it’s problematic. And we have included a link to that in the show notes.

Courtney Escoyne:
And the 2022 Drama Desk Awards, which see Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-off Broadway productions competing in the same categories, were also announced this week. A fair few of their picks matched up with the Tonys’. But I particularly wanted to shout out the award for outstanding choreography, which went to the team behind Paradise Square—so, Bill T. Jones, Irish and hammer step specialists Garrett Coleman and Jason Oremus, and associates Gallen Lambert and Chloe Davis. Huge congrats to that crew.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. Nice to see that whole team getting recognition.

I did a terrible job organizing this list. We are all over the place in terms of styles and parts of the dance world. But back to ballet now: There are yet more leadership changes happening in the ballet world. Ben Stevenson is stepping down as artistic director of Texas Ballet Theater, a position he’s held since 2003. His new title as of July 1st will be artistic director laureate, although it’s not clear exactly what that position will entail. Associate artistic director Tim O’Keefe will become acting artistic director until a permanent replacement is found. And of course previously, Stevenson was artistic director of Houston Ballet from 1976 to 2003. So this is yet another significant changing of the guard in ballet leadership.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah. Ben Stevenson has been an institution in Texas ballet for decades.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. Wild.

Courtney Escoyne:
Christopher Hoopes has been charged following the fatal shooting of his wife, Ballet Arizona dancer Colleen Hoopes. He admitted to shooting her, he says after she startled him awake, and now faces charges of second degree murder and unlawful discharge of a weapon. And I believe news that was made official today, the family of Colleen Hoopes has started a ballet scholarship in her name.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yes. And we have more information about that in the show notes.

Here is some happier news: Kyiv City Ballet, which was on tour in Paris when Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, will make its first tour of the United States beginning this fall. The company has been essentially nomadic since war broke out, unable to return home. The fact that they’ll be able to bring their artistry here for the first time is a small silver lining. So the tour will begin in September, and so far includes 13 cities. One of them is New York City, where the company will perform as part of City Center’s Fall for Dance Festival. Which segues nicely into…

Courtney Escoyne:
New York City Center has announced its 2022-23 season. It’s the last season whose programming was overseen by current president, Arlene Shuler, who will step down this summer. Among the highlights are the annual Fall for Dance Festival this September, which once again has a very international lineup for the first time since 2019, including Kyiv City Ballet, as Margaret mentioned. Also of note, Ayodele Casel will curate the Artists at the Center program, which was launched this past season, while the City Center Dance Festival moves to the summer, and will be a celebration of contemporary hip hop co-curated by Ephrat Asherie and Adesola Osakalumi. The annual flamingo festival, another Twyla Tharp program, a visit from National Ballet of Canada and expected engagements from Alvin Ailey, Ballet Hispánico, and Dance Theatre of Harlem are also on tap, as well as a spate of musicals from City Center Encores, perhaps most notably the first major New York City production of Oliver in about 40 years. So lot to look forward to.

Margaret Fuhrer:
I can’t believe it’s been that long.

Tis the season for season announcements, actually: The Brooklyn Academy of Music recently revealed the lineup for its Next Wave festival, which runs September 28th to December 22nd. The dance highlights include the U.S. premieres of Lia Rodrigues’ Encantado, Emanuel Gat’s LOVETRAIN2020, DorkyPark’s Open for Everything, and Gisèle Vienne’s CROWD, and the New York premieres of Dimitris Papaioannou’s Transverse Orientation and Stefanie Batten Bland’s Embarqued: Stories of Soil. By the way, Dance Magazine did a great story about Batten Bland’s work a couple of months ago that you should definitely check out.

Courtney Escoyne:
And Atlanta Ballet has also announced next season’s programming. Among the highlights our new ballets by resident choreographer Claudia Schreier and Dutch National Ballet’s Remi Wortmeyer, set to debut in May. The latter is currently being called Significant Others and will explore three historical creative power couples, including Clara and Robert Schumann, to whose music the ballet will be set. The season will also include the company premieres of Justin Peck’s Increases, Cathy Morriston’s Snow Blind, and Helgi Tomasson’s Concerto Grosso, as well as the Yuri Possokhov choreographed full-lengths The Nutcracker and Don Q.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Lots of good stuff there.

OK, now we have news about dancer roster changes at a couple of different ballet companies, beginning with English National Ballet. The company announced more than a dozen promotions, notably including Precious Adams’ promotion to soloist. Nearly as many dancers have also joined the company, and several dancers will be leaving, including lead principals Joseph Caley, Jeffrey Cirio and Isaac Hernandez. Cirio is coming back to Boston Ballet, as we’ve previously discussed, and Hernandez is joining San Francisco Ballet alongside his partner Tamara Rojo, of course the longtime ENB artistic director who’s becoming SFB’s new director, also as previously discussed. Rojo’s departure means this kind of roster shakeup isn’t totally surprising; things tend to shift when a leader leaves. But it will be interesting to see what ENB looks like going forward, which will of course depend a lot on who its new director is.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah, well, and I saw the company here at Brooklyn Academy of Music last week and I was really impressed. They look really strong and really solid. So fingers crossed for everyone’s careers and whoever the new director is that the company keeps strong.

And there are also some roster updates over at the Washington Ballet, where five studio company dancers have been taken into the main company. So congrats to Andrea Allmon, Rafael Bejarano, Nicholas Cowden, Audrey Malek, and Isaac Soriano. Four of the five came up through the Washington School of Ballet, something artistic director Julie Kent seemed delighted to be able to note in the release announcing the promotions.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Congrats to all of them.

A new BBC documentary will go inside the world of the Blackpool Dance Festival, which is one of the world’s most elite ballroom dance competitions, held annually in the UK. Cameras were apparently allowed behind the scenes at this year’s event, which wrapped up earlier this month. The documentary will air on BBC One later this year, and fingers crossed that it eventually becomes available internationally, because yes, I want to watch that please.

Courtney Escoyne:
Very curious. And the Tap Dance Awards will be presented next month during Tap City, the New York City tap festival. This year’s American Tap Dance Foundation hoofer awards will go to Dewitt Fleming Jr. and Germaine Salzberg. The tap preservation award goes to Yvonne Edwards, and new inductees to the ATDF Tap Hall of Fame will be Leonard Harper, Pete Nugent, Eddie Rector, and Salt and Pepper. That ceremony is scheduled to take place on July 7th at Symphony Space here in New York City.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Over in the world of dance education, Jody and John Arnhold along with the Arnhold Foundation have donated five million dollars to the Teachers College of Columbia University to fund several state of the art dance education studios. Jody Arnhold is, as dance folks know, a respected dance educator herself, who has long work to bring dance to public school students in New York City. And back in 2016, she and John and the foundation also gave $4.365 million to the Teachers College to establish the nation’s only doctorate program in dance education. So, continuing in that mission.

Courtney Escoyne:
Very curious to see what comes of these studios once they’re constructed.

New York City Ballet principal and one of my personal favorites Jovani Furlan has launched his own performance clothing brand. Furlan Dancewear is a male-specific dance wear line, something that’s still relatively rare, that is being produced in his native Brazil using locally sourced fabrics. He started working on the project while pandemic-related visa issues kept him in Brazil, and will be donating 10 percent of the proceeds to a scholarship for young male dancers in his home country. Just snaps to Jovani.

Margaret Fuhrer:
I mean, continuing to be, yes, not just one of our favorite dancers, but also one of our favorite human beings.

Courtney Escoyne:
He’s just a ray of sunshine.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Here’s sort of a fun one. Actor Monica Barbaro, who’s one of the stars of the film Top Gun: Maverick, says that her dance training helped her get through the movie’s super intense action sequences. Because Top Gun infamously filmed aerial maneuvers and actual F-18 fighter jets. And Barbaro, who graduated from NYU’s BFA dance program back in 2010, she told Glamour that she was one of the few actors who did not throw up when the planes went upside down—because years of dancing meant she was used to being upside down. It’s always good to see dance people getting Hollywood attention and also Hollywood paychecks. I’m all for that.

Courtney Escoyne:
Love that. Also love getting to shout out to fellow Tisch alum. What’s up.

Margaret Fuhrer:
There you go.

Courtney Escoyne:
And we are ending today’s rundown on a more somber note as we mourn the death of Martha Myers. She was the founder of the dance department at Connecticut College and was the first dean of the School of the American Dance Festival. She died on May 24th at age 97. And even those two little sentences I think hint at the scope of impact that she had.

Margaret Fuhrer:
So that concludes our epic headline rundown. But as always, if you’re looking for even more current news, please be sure to take a look at our Dance Media Events Calendar, which has up to the minute listings for lots of performances and events, including things that we don’t get to here on the podcast. So to make sure that you’re not missing out on upcoming shows or in particular upcoming auditions, or to add your own events to the calendar, because you can also do that, head to dancemediacalendar.com.

Okay. So, at last, moving into our longer discussion segment this week: We’d like to talk about an op-ed that ran in New York Daily News a few days ago about how arts and culture are key to the creation of safer neighborhoods. We’re in a moment when gun violence is on the rise, when crime rates in some places are rising—there’s just a lot of anxiety after two full years of a global pandemic about the world feeling less safe. So questions about public safety feel especially urgent. And the Daily News op-ed was co-written by Amy Andrieux, the executive director of the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts and a board member with New Yorkers for Culture and Arts, and Daisy Rodriguez, the executive director of government and community affairs at the Wildlife Conservation Society. So, two people who are deeply involved in New York City’s cultural life. And they argue that strong and connected communities are right at the heart of public safety, and that funding arts initiatives is not just a hypothetically good idea, but actually a proven way to build stronger and more connected communities.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah and the thing I want to draw attention to in that last statement is the phrase a proven way. Because something this article does is illustrate that while this sounds like an idealistic take on what investment in arts and culture can mean—it sounds sort of pie in the sky idealistic—but actually there is real research to back up this assertion. One that they cited was that the UPenn Social Impact of the Arts project in 2017 actually studied New York City neighborhoods, and “their data showed that neighborhoods with cultural assets had improved outcomes in education, aging, mental health, public safety, and decreased engagement with the criminal justice system.” That is something you can point to that is appreciable, that is factual, actually having arts and cultural engagement in neighborhoods that are connected to communities and connecting communities, makes a legitimate difference.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. And when you’re calling for change at the government level, which is what Andrieux and Rodriguez are doing, that kind of evidence is an especially powerful tool. You need numbers when you’re trying to convince people to change things that involve policy. Because yeah, why is this op-ed happening right now? It’s not just that a lot of people are anxious about public safety, although that’s certainly true, but it’s also because the city is in the process of determining next year’s budget. This is money decision-making time.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah, and so one of the things that this op-ed is doing is, it is calling attention to and a call to action for the fact that there’s a coalition of arts workers and cultural organizations that have created a plan for a 100 million dollar investment in culture across the boroughs, emphasizing funding culture in historically disinvested communities. It’s called CultureVIBE NYC, which stands for fund culture, a visionary investment to build the economy of NYC.

Margaret Fuhrer:
We’ve got that link in the show notes, of course.

There was one other thing that I wanted to point out that I really liked about this op-ed, and that was that it directly connected public safety to mental health, talking about how psychiatric studies have shown that when people are able to safely express and process their emotions—as we’re often able to do through art—that can help relieve anxiety and depression and other mental health issues that, if not addressed, can destabilize families and communities.

The writers talked specifically about how a dance troupe in East Harlem created a piece in response to the killing of two police officers—one of those police officers was a cousin of one of the choreographers—and talked about how the performing of that piece and then the posting of it online offered a way for the community to grieve and heal together. Because dance and the arts can connect and heal us that way.

I guess to come back to one of our forever themes on the podcast, when we’re talking about what’s getting public funding, we have to stop putting the arts and especially dance at the bottom of the list. We have to stop thinking of them as luxuries or as frivolous. They are a public good with a meaningful and measurable impact on our communities.

Courtney Escoyne:
And emphasizing community I think has increasingly over the past several years, it’s become increasingly clear that community care and that interconnectedness is the way forward.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yep. That’s a good note to end on. All right, that’s it for us this week. Thanks everyone for joining. We’ll be back in two weeks—remember, it’s two weeks—for more discussion of the news that’s moving the dance world. Keep learning, keep advocating, and keep dancing.

Courtney Escoyne:
Mind how you go, friends.