Transcript, Episode 121: Broadway Casting Controversy, and Dancing with Long COVID

Margaret Fuhrer:

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

Lydia Murray:

And I’m Lydia Murray.

Margaret Fuhrer:

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

We’ll begin as usual with a great big headline rundown, with all kinds of news about ballet company promotions and Emmy nominations and Broadway casting controversies—a ton to get into this week.Then we will do a longer section discussing the specter of long COVID from a dance perspective, and what this phase of the pandemic—which is very much not over yet, however over it everybody is—what this phase reveals about the vulnerability of our bodies and the problems with the ways that we think about chronic illness and disability.

By the way, before we get started, just a reminder that every week that we don’t have a new Dance Edit Podcast episode, we do have a new Dance Edit Extra episode out on Apple podcasts. The Dance Edit Extra is, of course, our exclusive audio interview series. We have some fantastic guests coming up, so please do go check it out. You can find it every other Saturday on Apple Podcasts—you can search for the Dance Edit Extra there—or you can follow the direct link in our show notes.

Okay. Headlines first, starting with the theater Twitter controversy of at least the season, if not the decade.

Lydia Murray:

Yes. What a controversy this has been. So Lea Michele and Tovah Feldshuh are joining the cast of Funny Girl on Broadway. Michele will take over the starring role of Fanny Brice from Beanie Feldstein, who is leaving the production early on July 31st. Feldshuh show will replace Jane Lynch as Mrs. Brice, Fanny’s mother. Feldstein and Lynch were originally slated to remain on board until the end of this year, but the departure was at one point moved to September 25th for both. Michele has been famously forthcoming about wanting to pursue this role for years, and playing in Funny Girl was a large part of her character, Rachel Berry’s, storyline on the hit TV show “Glee.” So, a lot of layers to this.

Margaret Fuhrer:

So many layers. I mean the official Funny Girl Twitter account said, about 24 hours before the announcement came out, that it would be making a casting announcement. And I simply could not be on theater Twitter in that interim period, or for the hours immediately after the casting was announced. It was just an utterly bonkers place. I mean, the “Glee” memes alone, my goodness.

Lydia Murray:

It was intense. It was very intense. I think everyone pretty much saw this coming and it was still… Boy, it was definitely an experience.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Oh gosh. I think it’s also very much worth noting that for the one-month period between Beanie’s departure and Lea’s arrival, Julie Benko, the understudy who has been going on as Fanny pretty frequently, actually, will be doing the role. And she’ll also continue to perform it every Thursday night after Lea joins the show. And a lot of people have said just awesome things about Julie’s portrayal. So, hooray for talented under studies getting their due, or at least a bit of their due.

Lydia Murray:

We love to see it.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah. Okay. Here is yet more significant Broadway news. Paradise Square, which was nominated for 10 Tonys, including best choreography, will close the Sunday following persistently soft ticket sales. And right after that news broke, we also learned that both Actors’ Equity and the union representing theatrical designers are taking Paradise Square to court for unpaid wages and benefit contributions. So, a turbulent week for this show. And we have links with more information about that in the show notes.

Lydia Murray:

But the bright note about that that I want to point out is Joaquina Kalukango’s great performance that she gave at the Tony awards. It was just so powerful and moving.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Thanks for bringing it back to a positive place.

Lydia Murray:

& Juliet is set to make its Broadway debut this fall. The production is a reimagining of Romeo and Juliet in which Juliet does not meet a tragic end. Instead, she gets another chance at life and love. Previews will begin October 28th at the Stephen Sondheim Theater before the show opens on November 17th.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Very excited to see Jennifer Weber’s choreography in particular, since it was nominated for Olivier award on the West End. And Weber’s also the choreographer for KPOP the Musical, so we’ll be seeing a lot of her work on Broadway very soon.

Lydia Murray:

Applause, applause, applause.

Margaret Fuhrer:

All right. Moving to the ballet world now. A group of Ukrainian ballet dancers displaced by Russia’s invasion are coming together to form the United Ukrainian Ballet. They’ve been rehearsing in The Hague with the support of the Dutch government, and in September, they’re coming to London to perform a special Ukrainian-inflected version of Giselle developed by Alexei Ratmansky. The season will feature guest performances from the star Romanian ballerina Alina Cojocaru, who trained in Kyiv, and also from English National Ballet’s Ukrainian first soloist Katja Khaniukova. And all ticket sale profits will go to the DEC Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal and the United Ukrainian Ballet Foundation

Lydia Murray:

Promotions galore happening in the ballet world. At American Ballet Theatre, Catherine Hurlin and Roman Zhurbin have been promoted to principal dancer and current guest artist Daniel Camargo is joining the company full time as a principal. Breanne Granlund, Sung Woo Han, Betsy McBride, Chloe Misseldine and SunMi Park have been promoted to soloist.

At The Royal Ballet some promotions include William Bracewell and Reece Clarke, who have both become principal dancers, and Joseph Sissens, who becomes a first soloist. Also a notable promotion at La Scala is Alice Mariani’s ascension to principal. And at the National Ballet of Canada, Genevieve Penn Nabity has been promoted to principal. Congrats all around.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Oh, so many well-deserved promotions on that list. I have to say—just because we’re just now seeing ABT’s season at the Met so that it’s fresh in my mind—oh my gosh, Cate Hurlin and Chloe Misseldine in particular have just been riveting.

Lydia Murray:

Just magical.

Margaret Fuhrer:

And I’m glad to see Daniel Camargo coming in full time too. I really like his sort of quietly poetic approach to story ballets. Although, it is going to take me a minute to disconnect him from the truly terrible character that he played in “Birds of Paradise”…just need a second to recalibrate that.

Lydia Murray:

Yes, but definitely a group of outstanding dancers. You just can’t take your eyes off any of them, so that’s really exciting.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Thank you again for bringing it back around to the positive. [laughter]

Here is some big dance team news that was actually sort of buried in a recent audition announcement. The Knicks City Dancers have brought in commercial dance legend Fatima Robinson as their new creative director. According to the casting notice, Robinson will construct “a totally reimagined version of what it means to dance center court at Madison Square Garden” and “usher in a new era” for the dance team. This sounds so fantastic. And it’s kind of in line with what we’ve seen the Brooklynettes and a couple of other teams do a few years ago when they started bringing in commercial world choreographers. But Fatima as not just choreographer, but also creative director? Yes, please. More.

Lydia Murray:

I’m so excited to see what she does. I just think this is going to be incredible.

On a much sadder note, a 33 year old dance teacher from San Antonio, Texas drowned over the July 4th weekend. Roger Mendoza was part of a swimming race with some of his friends at a lake in Austin, but his friends reported that he did not surface. His body was found on July 6th. One of his friends said, “Roger loved with all his heart.”

Margaret Fuhrer:

And here’s another upsetting headline. An Ohio dance teacher has been accused of repeatedly raping a student younger than 13. 19 year old Katilyn Wilkes has been charged with 12 counts of rape and two counts of gross sexual imposition. We have a link to that report in the show notes, but of course, please proceed with caution.

Lydia Murray:

This year’s choreography Emmy award nominations are in. For outstanding choreography for variety or reality programming, we have Sergio Trujillo, Daniella Karagach, Fatima Robinson, Parris Goebel and Tessandra Chavez and Derek Hough. For scripted programming the nominees are Ryan Heffington, Fred Tallaksen, Christian Vincent, Christopher Gattelli, and Mandy Moore and Jillian Myers. Once again, congratulations to an outstanding group of artists.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah, another stellar list. And the Emmys, one of the only award shows to recognize choreographers, so, bravo.

Lydia Murray:

That part.

Margaret Fuhrer:

A new Dance Data Project study of the largest 150 ballet and classically based companies in the United States reveals the financial impact of the pandemic, and also that a small group of large organizations still receive the lion’s share of funding. So the aggregate expenses for the largest 50 companies on the list dropped by about 12% from the previous year. And then if you look at the budgets for the next 50 companies down after that, their total budget is only 8% of the top 50’s total. And if you look at the bottom 50 companies, their total is just 2.5% of the top 50’s total expenses. So everybody has less than before, but most of the pie is still going to a few large organizations. And we have the link to the whole report in the show notes, because there is a ton of really useful information in there, as always with DDP.

Lydia Murray:

South Arts and the Ford Foundation have launched the Southern Cultural Treasures Initiative, which is a $6 million program supporting underserved southern arts organizations. Among the grantees are the Collage Dance Collective and Ballethnic.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Congratulations all around there, and more congrats are in order here, too. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts has announced its 2022–2023 dance research fellows. They are Juli Brandano, Rosemary Candelario, María de los Angeles Rodríguez Jiménez, Lindsey Jones, Richard Move, and Rachna Nivas. During their six month fellowship, they will be working on projects that help us consider and address climate change.

Lydia Murray:

Michoacan Mexico has beaten the 2019 Guinness record of neighboring state Jalisco for the largest Mexican folk dance. Over 1000 dancers are estimated to have participated.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Pretty cool. And over in TV land, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast will be getting the live treatment this December on ABC. The two hour live action/animated special—and I’m very curious to see what that slash will actually mean by the way—will be executive produced by Jon M. Chu, who we know loves dance and dancers. Casting has yet to be announced, so start your dream casting now. And fun fact, 30 years ago, the film became the first animated feature to earn an Oscar nomination for best picture. That was of course before the academy established the award for best animated feature, which happened in 2002. Not so fun fact, there’s still no Oscar for best choreography, as we will continue to take every opportunity to remind everyone.

Lydia Murray:

Boo.

The dance world has lost Bruno “Pop N Taco” Falcon, a street dancing pioneer and star of the popular 1984 film Breakin’ who also danced in Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” video. He passed away at age 58. We also bid farewell to Marina Keet, a dancer, choreographer, dance historian, and teacher with a lifelong dedication to the full culture of Spain. In 1989, she became a Dame of the Order of Queen Isabella of Spain for her efforts toward the preservation of Spanish culture. She was 87.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Thus concludes our big headline rundown, but as always, if you’re looking for the most current news, please be sure to take a look at our Dance Media Events Calendar, which has fully updated listings for lots of performances and events, including some things that we just don’t get to here on the podcast. So to make sure you’re not missing out on any upcoming shows or auditions, or to add your own events to the calendar, because you can do that too, head to dancemediacalendar.com.

Okay. Moving now into our longer discussion segment. We’d like to talk about an essay that recently ran in Dance Magazine by dancer Sasha Marlan-Librett. In the piece, Marlan-Librett, who just graduated from Scripps College, describes her harrowing experience with long COVID, which she was diagnosed with several months ago.

We’re at this point where a lot of the world seems to have just moved on from COVID; restrictions have been lifted pretty much everywhere in the United States. But we’re entering yet another wave of infections. And it’s important to be reminded that nobody is—I mean, no bodies are—invulnerable. Even young dancers in great physical health can be and have been devastated by this disease. And Marlan-Librett’s essay also reveals the way that our country’s culture, and dance culture is very much included here, is often just crushingly indifferent to the needs of the chronically ill and the disabled, especially if their illness or disability is invisible, as long COVID often is.

Lydia Murray:

That’s such an important topic. And to just give a recap of her story, after her junior year of college, Marlan-Librett spent the summer in Bed-Stuy working on philosophy of research and dancing. But at the end of July of last year, she tested positive for COVID. She thought her vaccine would prevent serious illness, but she lost her sense of smell. She became deeply lonely in quarantine and she eventually experienced difficulty breathing, and at one point she even needed an oxygen tank. She became chronically fatigued and she experienced abnormality in her sense of smell. Everything kind of smelled rotten to her.

And she had to begin always asking for accommodations and defending her need for them. And she found that people aren’t always or weren’t always understanding of invisible illnesses. Some friends of hers were supportive, but in all, her experience with long COVID made her more aware of the way society treats disabled and chronically ill people. They’re often regarded as a burden. And when it comes to COVID, there are a lot of able-bodied people who have the mindset of, let’s let the disabled community stay home while we continue to go out and live our normal lives, which is such a narrow and flawed perspective to have. And also as most COVID restrictions have been discontinued in New York City and in a lot of other regions, this problem will only continue as time goes on.

But Marlan-Librett has also become more aware of the gifts that her experience has brought her. She said that it’s helped her to gain strength and patience and resilience, self-compassion, sureness in her own abilities, even when she couldn’t use them yet. So frequently disabled people’s perspectives are ignored or undervalued when really they’re essential.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah. The fact that a significant chunk of the population is dealing with or has dealt with the effects of long COVID, I hope that ends up breeding greater compassion generally—that it helps us shed that terrible idea that those who are ill or disabled mean less because they “contribute,” heavy quotation marks, less. And instead, as Sasha says in her essay, that we end up not just accommodating them, but also learning from them. Because most of us will be ill at some point. All of us are going to die, and all of us live in perpetually vulnerable bodies.

And in some ways, dancers are especially well equipped to understand those ideas, to understand that type of compassion, since we live so fully in our bodies. So compassion and self-compassion, as she says, I hope those are the silver linings here.

Lydia Murray:

Same.

Margaret Fuhrer:

The other thing is—and I’m really guilty of this—we talk a lot about dancers as superheroes, this idea that they’re expected to do, and they do do, these incredible physical things. But nobody is invincible. Nobody should be thought of as invincible. And nobody should be conditioned to think of themselves as invincible, which a lot of young dancers especially are. That’s another thing that I hope we end up taking away from the pandemic and from COVID stories like this one, just to remember that dancer bodies need and deserve care and protection

Lydia Murray:

Agreed, and it can be frightening to think of your own vulnerability and to imagine a reality where you can’t use your body the way that you’re used to, especially when you’ve had that idea drilled into your mind for so much of your life, that you are what you are physically capable of doing, and that you must be able to do more than the average person at all times or something is wrong with you in some way.

I mean, I think in our culture, in general, just in this country, there’s that… a lot of us never really kind of shed that idea that health is somehow connected to morality, and that also surfaces in the dance world. When you get sick or injured or something goes wrong, I guess, or something that you didn’t expect, I should say happens with your body, sometimes there’s that feeling—or sometimes you’re even outright questioned: Oh, did you… what did you do? Or you can feel guilty or you can feel like, I must be a bad dancer, or something like that. Those things are very real. Those are very real concerns. And if we can move past that, yeah, not have that kind of…I feel like toxic is such an overused word, but that really harmful mentality, I think that can just be so much better, I guess, for lack of a better word.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah. Hard retweet. Anyway, obviously we hope you can read Marlan-Librett’s whole essay, which is beautiful and very moving and full of insight about what it means to mourn a past version of yourself. We have it linked for you in the show notes.

All right. That’s it for us this week. Thanks everyone for joining. We’ll be back in two weeks for more discussion of the news that’s moving the dance world. Keep learning, keep advocating and keep dancing.

Lydia Murray:

See you next time, everyone.