Transcript, Episode 81: Broadway’s Comeback, Real Talk About Money, and Choreography Awards

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

Lydia Murray:
And I am Lydia Murray.

Margaret Fuhrer:
We are editors at Dance Media, and in today’s episode, we will talk about Broadway’s big comeback, with some of the industry’s largest shows resuming production this week after the longest shutdown ever. Then we will discuss the New York Times piece about choreographer Miguel Gutierrez’s excellent podcast, “Are You For Sale?,” which explores the complicated ways that dance and money intersect. And finally, we’ll get into the very busy awards weekend that just happened, during which both the Emmys and the VMAs handed out choreography prizes—I mean on the same night, even.

But before we get into all of that, we just wanted to let you know that the second episode of The Dance Edit Extra, our premium audio interview series, is dropping this Saturday, like in two days. This time around, we have a conversation with the absolutely wonderful Britt Stewart, who made history as the first black female pro on “Dancing with the Stars” last season, and is now about to head back to the ballroom again this season. So, she does spill a little bit of “Dancing with the Stars” tea. And she also talks about how she’s working with the nonprofit Share the Movement to change the training pipeline for young BIPOC dancers. So, if you want to find out more about The Dance Edit Extra, you can head to thedanceedit.com/podcast, or you can go right ahead and subscribe on Apple Podcasts. It is only available on Apple Podcasts, so make sure you’re searching for it in the right place.

Okay. Now it’s time for our weekly dance headline rundown. Go ahead, Lydia.

Lydia Murray:
This year’s Dance Magazine Award honorees have been announced. Congratulations to Robert Battle, Andy Blankenbuehler, Dormeshia, Akram Khan, and Tamara Rojo. Bubble residency expert Dr. Wendy Ziecheck will receive a special citation. Alafia Pace and Yan UA will be recognized with the Harkness Promise Award. And this year’s chairman’s award will go to the Guggenheim works in process. The award ceremony will be held at the Guggenheim in New York City on Monday, December 6th, and there will be performances and presentations for each recipient. And for anyone who can’t make it in person, the event will be live streamed.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah, we’ll include a link with more information about all of that in the show notes. I mean, it’s an epic list every year, but it feels especially epic this year. Congratulations to everybody.

Here is some pretty major Broadway news. The fan favorite musical Beetlejuice, which was forced out of its home at the Winter Garden Theatre despite a successful run there, will return to Broadway on April 8th, this time at the Marriott Marquis. And this makes me miss our former co-host Cadence Neenan, one of the show’s biggest fans, who you just know has been saying “Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice” into her pillow every night. Cadence, it worked! We’re so glad for that effort. [laughter]

Lydia Murray:
Yes, our resident Beetlejuice expert is gone, sadly.

Actor Roger Bart, who plays Doc Brown in Back to the Future – The Musical on the West End, has tested positive for COVID-19. He will be temporarily replaced by his understudy.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah, that was not the kind of news we wanted to be hearing the day before Broadway’s big reopening, which is when it came out. But, wishing him a speedy recovery.

So, our next news item is just… [sigh]. I mean, it is “big sigh,” that’s what it is. Amazon Prime recently released the trailer for its upcoming ballet drama, Birds of Paradise, which portrays two young women competing for a spot in the Paris Opéra Ballet. And if you’ve seen the trailer, you know what the sigh is about, because this film seems very much along the lines of Black Swan and “Tiny Pretty Things.” It’s presenting what appears to be this highly sensationalized portrayal of ballet. I was actually a bit surprised that they even got clearance to use the Paris Opéra’s real name.

Lydia Murray:
Yeah, that was surprising.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. Anyway, we have not seen the movie itself yet, so maybe it will prove all our worries baseless. It begins streaming on Amazon Prime September 24th.

Lydia Murray:
Sonia Rodriguez, a principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, will retire in 2022 after 32 years with the company. She will give her final performance with the role of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Margaret Fuhrer:
I’ve always thought of Sonia as like the Wendy Whelan of the National Ballet of Canada. I feel like they share similar artistic and leadership qualities.

Lydia Murray:
That’s a good point.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Merde for your next adventure, Sonia.

So, some dance history was made this week: Joe Powell-Main became the first dancer in a wheelchair to perform with The Royal Ballet. The performance took place Sunday night as part of the ParalympicsGB Homecoming event. Powell-Main actually trained at The Royal Ballet School for four years before suffering an injury that left him with impaired mobility. Here’s to more collaborations like this in the future, for sure.

Lydia Murray:
American Ballet Theatre and Segerstrom Center for the Arts have announced a three-year partnership to begin this December. The partnership will include annual co-presented productions of Alexei Ratmansky’s The Nutcracker, as well as world in West Coast premieres and engagements every spring through 2024. Starting next March, the two organizations will offer a mixed repertory program, including a world premiere by Alonzo King, and the West Coast premiere of Ratmansky’s Bernstein in a Bubble and Jessica Lang’s Zig Zag. In the following March, 2023, ABT will present the North American premiere of Like Water for Chocolate, adapted from the eponymous award-winning film, at the center.

Margaret Fuhrer:
And our last headline item today is another very Cadence story, actually—we miss you Cadence! “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” will return for a third season, and this time around the very meta Disney+ show will be set at a summer sleepaway theater camp. We don’t know yet which characters will be returning, so no, we don’t know if Olivia Rodrigo and Josh Bassett are coming back as Nini and Ricky, or if we’ll get another “Driver’s License”out of the bargain, although here’s hoping. I do love a good teenage showmance that leads to great pop music—all for that.

Lydia Murray:
Very true.

Margaret Fuhrer:
So, for our first longer discussion segment today, we wanted to mark the big Broadway reopening moment happening this week. Several huge, long-running musicals reopened on Tuesday; those are The Lion King, Wicked, Hamilton, and Chicago, which is—that’s a lot of dancers back at work.

Just to clarify, these weren’t the first shows to reopen, but they are major powerhouses. And a few different articles have come out recently that get into what it takes to bring these big productions back to life after they’ve been dark for 18 months, like what the physical and mental and emotional challenges are for everyone involved. I loved the quote in the New York Times story from, I think it was a rep from a production management company, who said, “If you turn off your car or your computer for 18 months, and then turn it back on, you don’t know what problems you might come across.” And it’s definitely that kind of, not breathe and reboot, but reboot and hold your breath moment.

Lydia Murray:
Yeah. The Times piece dealt a lot with change as it relates to Broadway, and it illustrated how much theater is in a period of testing. It’s in something of an experimental phase, even with all of the preparation that’s gotten it ready to reopen—and this applies to everything from testing equipment to making sure that it still functions properly to testing people to keep COVID at bay. The effects of time have become clear at this point for better and for worse. There have of course been—so tragically, there’ve been deaths within the Broadway community, but there have also been births. There have been costumes ruined because their color is faded, but they’ve been replaced. And workers were out of work for over a year, obviously, but in that time, strides were made to help build a more equitable Broadway.

So there’ve been major changes in this time period on various levels. And in terms of dancers returning specifically, one thing the story mentions is that the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries now has a back-to-Broadway program for strengthening and stretching, which has been used by performers in Wicked. I thought that was just kind of nice to see that, I guess nitty-gritty level, or just this kind of what it actually takes to get back into shape.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Shout out to the Harkness Center. They are the best, forever and always.

Lydia Murray:
Yes, they are absolutely incredible. But there’s also a bit of an undercurrent of trepidation in the story, because one performer acknowledged lingering concerns about other shutdowns that could happen—hopefully not, knock on wood. And kind of in that vein, the Washington Post piece focused more closely on dancers, and it outlined how, as exciting as this return to the stage is, it’s also stressful.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. I thought it was interesting in the Washington Post piece to hear about the complicated logistics of masking for dancers in this productions. They aren’t performing in masks, but they want to wear them backstage to be respectful of stage hands and crew, but what does it mean to put on a mask after coming off stage from an entrance where you’ve just been like literally nose to nose with a dance partner? It’s a small part of the story, but it’s also sort of the heart of the story. Bringing theater back safely is a herculean effort because it requires a million little negotiations like that.

I did love seeing, after the big reopening nights on Tuesday, the scenes that came out of them that were just over the top joyous—whole theaters of people experiencing catharsis simultaneously. I love the videos of Lin-Manuel Miranda singing “New York, New York” outside of Hamilton, and we had Kristin Chenoweth showing up onstage at Wicked, and like 10 minute ovations everywhere. Broadway TikTok was a great place to be on Tuesday night, let me tell you, that was super fun.

But I guess to hit on a theme we’ve hit on many times before, the symbolism of this moment is deeply important. Because when Broadway is closed, the city feels closed. If Broadway is open, the city feels open. Can it stay open? The success or failure of the reopening will either bode well for the rest of the performing arts or cast a shadow over the whole industry.

Lydia Murray:
It’s so significant and so important to in New York’s economy and also just, yeah, just that image of New York being available and open and resilient.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. Well cross your fingers, cross your toes, and wear your darn masks. Let’s keep it open.

Lydia Murray:
Wear your mask!

Margaret Fuhrer:
So, in our second segment today, we want to talk about another podcast, actually. Another dance podcast, even. The pod in question is choreographer Miguel Gutierrez’s “Are You For Sale?.” Which got a great feature in the New York Times last week. So, Miguel describes the project as a look at “the ethical entanglements between art and money.” And he uses his own experiences in the New York dance scene to illustrate those entanglements. But he also brings on a bunch of expert guests—authors, historians, fundraising consultants, lots of different perspectives. And the result is this very candid and very necessary talk about a lot of issues that all too often go undiscussed in the dance world.

Lydia Murray:
Gutierrez has already been vocal about the financial reality of dance in the past, and the need for more transparency around it, which I think is great. I love that so much. As just one example, he was one of the leaders that Dance Magazine spoke to for its April story last year on radically re-imagining the dance world post-COVID, and he talked about the importance of bringing attention to the precarity that freelance dancers experience. And he’d planned to start this podcast before the pandemic happened, but this feels right on time. It launched in August, but it’s already covered a range of topics, including what it means when dance artists get paid, and where the money comes from, the history of philanthropy, government funding, several other issues. And Gutierrez is as transparent about his own dollar figures, including how much he’s raised in grants over the years. Money can be a major challenge in the life of a dancer, and it’s still not always addressed in such frank, open terms. I think these conversations can help move the industry forward.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah, I love that the podcast looks not only around and forward, but also backward to see what the foundations of our current philanthropic system, are and how actually, our way of thinking about them today, as like an essential public good—they weren’t always seen that way, and actually for good reason. In the Times interview, Miguel emphasized that we don’t only need to be having open conversations about money with funders, but also within dance environments themselves, that choreographers shouldn’t see questions about payment as threatening and dancers shouldn’t see them as accusing. And that then we have to change the dance-world culture that makes dance artists apprehensive about those conversations. Fixing these problems requires change at multiple levels.

But I mean, here we go again, talking about something when what we really want you to do is just experience it for yourself. So, please do listen to the podcast. We have the link in the show notes. And it’s like everything Miguel does in that it is very smart, but also funny and entertaining in a totally singular way. Plus it has a kind of a banger of a theme song. Please check it out.

So, last up today, certainly not least, we have not one but two award ceremonies to discuss. Which is crazy—there are almost no awards given ever for best choreography, and yet somehow, some of the few that are given were awarded on the same day this year. On Sunday night, the Creative Arts Emmys handed out prizes in two choreography categories, outstanding choreography for scripted programming and outstanding choreography for a variety program. And at almost the same time, across the country at the Barclay’s Center in New York, the MTV Video Music Awards gave out its—not Moon Man, but Moon Person now, as of this year—for best choreography. So, let’s talk about who won first of all, and then, we didn’t get to see much of the Creative Arts ceremony, but let’s talk about some of the dance highlights of the VMA show, which was fully live again this year.

Lydia Murray:
So, at the Creative Arts Emmys, Debbie Allen won for outstanding choreography for scripted programming for the Netflix feature Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square. And we’re always saying, give Debbie Allen at all the things. So, that’s great. She’s getting all the things still. We love that. And for his work on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” Derek Hough won the honor for outstanding choreography for variety or reality programming, also applause there.

And for the VMAs, Normani and Lil Nas X both brought the house down, I think it’s safe to say, with that fantastic choreography by Sean Bankhead, that I believe we’ve talked about. Chloe Bailey also gave an explosive, dance-heavy performance of her debut single as a solo artist, called “Have Mercy.”

Margaret Fuhrer:
She did not. She did not have mercy. [laughter]

Lydia Murray:
Yeah! No mercy on that stage. And one of my personal favorites was Doja Cat. She performed a beautiful contemporary dance alongside Greg Lau and Kevin Mallari Pajarillaga—I hope I’m pronouncing that correctly, I apologize if not—and it was choreographed by Ebony Williams. So much dance talent on that stage.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Doja Cat’s performance was so cool and so unexpected. I love getting surprised that way, that suddenly she veered in this contemporary direction and there was aerial choreography and it felt like—maybe I’m just saying this because it’s Ebony and bony danced with Cedar Lake, but it felt very Cedar Lake to me, and I mean that in the best possible way.

I wanted to go backwards for a second and just mention that Debbie Allen is the most-awarded choreographer in Emmys history with her four wins. Also the most nominated with 12 nominations. And she is, by the way, about to receive the Governor’s Award during the primetime Emmys this weekend. So yes, again, all the awards forever. That is correct.

And then at the VMAs, the best choreography award went to Harry Styles’ “Treat People with Kindness” video, that like fantastic Nicholas Brothers-inspired creation that co-stars Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Which is great. But, while I understand that choreography was collaborative, I found it deeply annoying that the award didn’t recognize Paul Roberts, the choreographer, the actual choreographer, which was so bizarre. All the other nominations called out choreographers specifically. So, what’s up with that, MTV? You’re usually good about this! You’re usually one of the good ones!

Otherwise, yeah, I’m with you, Lydia: my favorite parts of the show were pretty much anything that Sean Bankhead touched. And I loved how he incorporated these references to both Aaliyah and Janet Jackson in Normani’s performance.

Lydia Murray:
So well-blended.

Margaret Fuhrer:
So well-blended! And that kind of awareness of pop culture dance history…that’s the way to do it.

Anyway, all the VMAs performances are now up on YouTube, you can check them out if you haven’t yet. And be sure to watch Debbie Allen receive her Governors Award during the primetime Emmys on Sunday night. Yay, Debbie.

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

Lydia Murray:
Bye everyone.