It's Tony Time!
The Tony Awards celebrate Broadway’s best and brightest. This year, they’ll be broadcast live from NYC on June 8, hosted by Hugh Jackman. The performances throughout the evening—including the opening number and excerpts from the nominated shows—are always a highlight. But are those of us watching at home missing any of the action? We asked Charlie Williams, who has performed at the Tony Awards for the past four years as a dancer in the opening and as part of the casts of Memphis and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, to let us in on a few behind-the-scenes secrets.
What happens during commercials?
Nothing, actually. Often there are comedians or a director of ceremonies to keep the live audience engaged. Other times they play clips of past Tony Awards on the big screens.
What was most surprising the first year you performed at the Tonys?
The camera hides a lot of the show’s craziness. It’s really a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, roller coaster kind of night. The cameras (typically 6 to 12 of them) add an extra layer to the performances. We don’t get to rehearse with the cameramen, who are sometimes also onstage. But they know how to dodge the battements and still get the shots.
Charlie Williams performs at the 2013 Tony Awards. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker)
The dancers in the opening number audition for the event—are any of them also in nominated shows?
No. It’s practically impossible to do both, although last year, some of the performers from nominated shows appeared in the opening. But no matter what, the casts from each show get ready at their own theaters. Then they board buses that take them to Radio City Music Hall right before their scheduled performances during the show. (The routes are even blocked off, so the buses don’t get stuck in traffic.) Afterward, they wait backstage until the final award for Best Musical, at which point the winning show performs again.
That seems hectic.
The whole day is crazy. The dress rehearsal that morning is a full run-through with hair and makeup—even the buses. On top of that, in between the two runs, you typically have a regularly scheduled Sunday matinee to perform. But every second of the exhaustion is worth it.
Do you have a favorite part of the evening?
The very end, when the nominated shows line up backstage before the last award. We all know only one group gets an encore. But we’re not giving each other the side-eye; we’re all in it together. There’s crazy energy back there. At my first Tony Awards, I was in Memphis, and when we heard our show won, we ran onstage and did our number to close the evening. It was a total pinch-me moment.
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.
But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?
Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.