Exclusive #BTS of Bandstand with Andy Blankenbuehler
Backstage at BroadwayCon 2017, Hamilton's Tony-winning choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler told DS all about his new Broadway show Bandstand, which starts previews March 31. Set in 1945, Bandstand follows a ragtag group of just-returned World War II veterans forming—what else?—a swing band, so they can enter a national talent contest. Whether you're a longtime Hamilfan or just dream of dancing for a top Broadway choreographer like Blankenbuehler, trust us: this exclusive Q&A is major motivation.
Dance Spirit: How does your choreography fit into the story of Bandstand?
Andy Blankenbuehler: Whenever we're in reality, it's 1940s–style movement. In a swing club, we're doing authentic swing dancing. But what if in the song, a character goes inside their head and they're singing because they love that person across the room? Choreographically, I feel like the moment can suspend. I never want the show to look contemporary, like it's modern dance or hip hop. But I have the ability in the show to take big gambles. For example, if the moment is moving and shaking and the character is in a rush, the people around them could tap dance. They could be stomping their feet or banging trumpet cases on the floor. Also, the characters in this show were in a war. I can steal all this physical imagery from that. What does it look like to lay in a trench and throw a grenade? That can become choreography.
DS: What do you look for in dancers at auditions?
AB: Because I'm not dealing with abstraction, number one is that I always need people in a show who can really look like real people, who can play parts. I need a person who knows what love is, who knows what loss is, who knows what struggle is. I need to see reality in people. But in every show, it's also technique, technique, technique. We need so much versatility and depth. If you look at the original company of Hamilton for example, each of those dancers was a beautiful dancer. They were also unbelievable performers, people, characters and stylists. And that's necessary in a show because as far as I can dream, I need them to be able to go there with me.
DS: What's your favorite dance moment from Bandstand right now?
AB: We've been exploring the depth of the piece, because these are really complicated characters and situations. There's a moment when the men are up all night long, each in their own house. They know that they're going to have nightmares, so they don't want to go to sleep. I staged it so a dancer is literally leaning on their back the entire time. Wherever they go onstage, they have a person attached to them, like they can't shake their ghosts. That was when I first unlocked how this show can have a contemporary sensibility. A show written in the forties wouldn't necessarily have done that, but a contemporary musical like ours can take those chances.
Check out Blankenbuehler's contemporary/classic/amazing moves in this new TV commercial for Bandstand:
(From left) Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland (all photos by Erin Baiano)
Dance Spirit's 2019 Cover Model Search finalists: Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland! One of them will win a spot on Dance Spirit's Fall 2019 cover. Learn more about the dancers on their profile pages, and then vote for your favorite below. You can vote once a day now through July 15.
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Imagine attending American Ballet Theatre's prestigious NYC summer intensive, training among classical ballet legends. Imagine taking the stage at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals, competing against some of the country's best contemporary dancers. Now, imagine doing both—at the same time.
Welcome to Madison Brown's world. This summer, she's in her third year as a National Training Scholar with ABT, while also competing for NYCDA's Teen Outstanding Dancer title. (She's already won Outstanding Dancer in the Mini and Junior categories.) The logistics are complicated—ABT's five-week intensive overlaps with the weeklong NYCDA Nationals, which translates to a lot of cabs back and forth across Manhattan—but Maddie is committed to making the most of each opportunity. "I love contemporary and ballet equally," she says. "While I'm able to do both, I want to do as much as I can."
Maddie has an expressive face, endless extensions, and a quiet command of the stage. She dances with remarkable maturity—a trait noted by none other than Jennifer Lopez, one of the judges on NBC's "World of Dance," on which Maddie competed in Season 2. Although Maddie didn't take home the show's top prize, she was proud to be the youngest remaining soloist when she was eliminated, and saw the whole experience as an opportunity to grow. After all, she's just getting started. Oh, that's right—did we mention Maddie's only 14?
There's a story Kate Walker, director of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX, loves to tell about Emma Sutherland, who just graduated from the program. "We were watching the students run a really long, challenging piece," Walker recalls. "Several kids couldn't quite make it through. But Emma did make it all the way to the end, which is when she walked up to us faculty and very politely asked, 'May I please go throw up?' "