"Oklahoma!" Is Back on Broadway—in a Brand-New State
The cast of "Oklahoma!" during last year's run at St. Ann's Warehouse (Teddy Wolff, courtesy DKC/O&M)
You may think you know Oklahoma!, the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that made history when it first opened in 1943 and is best known for Agnes de Mille's groundbreaking dream ballet. But the latest Broadway iteration of the musical isn't your average trip to the frontier. Opening April 7, the revival features new choreography by Mark Morris alum John Heginbotham, and swaps the traditional windswept-prairie set and full orchestra for an intimate, minimalistic staging and a bluegrass band. Coming fresh off an acclaimed run at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn, the daring, unconventional production is sure to turn heads when it begins previews on Broadway tonight. Dance Spirit caught up with Heginbotham to get all the details on the dancing, and what it was like choreographing his first Broadway show.
Dance Spirit: What got you interested in Oklahoma!?
John Heginbotham: I grew up with musical theater. It was my introduction to entertainment and to the performing arts, and Oklahoma! was one of the first movie musicals that I ever saw. There was always a soundtrack playing in my house, and we'd watch tons of movies. I was extremely excited to be asked to be part of this version.
Rebecca Naomi Jones (left) as Laurey with Damon Daunno (right) as Curly in last year's run at St. Ann's Warehouse (Teddy Wolff, courtesy DKC/O&M)
DS: What's the choreography like?
JH: There's quite a bit of dancing in the revival, but a lot of it's based on social dancing: two-steps and country swing, things that you might see at a community center in the South. The beauty is that everybody brings their personality to the moves. That's how it would be if you were at a dance party; everybody kind of dances in their own way. The one exception to that is the dream ballet, which is performed primarily by a single performer, Gabrielle Hamilton.
DS: How did you approach the dream ballet?
JH: Our way into the dream ballet is through this one performer. She's purposefully ambiguous, and the intention is that the audience is free to associate and interpret what they're seeing. The vocabulary features quotes from Agnes de Mille and her original dream ballet, and images that were previously mundane in the show presented in much more sinister or fantastical ways. It's a surreal sequence that for me follows dream logic. I'm hoping it's going to feel startling, but also tender and lovely.
DS: Was it intimidating to choreograph your own version of a piece so many people know and love?
JH: Yes, 100 percent. Agnes de Mille broke serious new ground with the dream ballet, and she made a strong case for what the place of it should be in the show. We're doing something that's really different, but I think it's true to her intention—'What is going to advance the plot, or the momentum, or the arc of the show?' I would say that if somebody pays a lot of money expecting to see an arabesque, they will not be very happy.
A version of this story appeared in the April 2019 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Oklahoma! Heads to Broadway—in a Brand-New State."
Gabriel Figueredo in a variation from Raymonda. VAM Productions, Courtesy YAGP.
This week, over 1,000 young hopefuls gathered in New York City for the Youth America Grand Prix finals, giving them the chance to compete for scholarships and contracts to some of the world's top ballet schools and companies. Roughly 85 dancers made it to the final round at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater on Wednesday. Today, the 20th anniversary of YAGP came to a close at the competition's awards ceremony. Read on to find out who won!
After a string of ballet-company rejections, Jennifer Sydor (here in Laura Peterson's "Failure") found success in other areas of the dance world. (Stephen Delas Heras, courtesy Jennifer Sydor)
In her senior year at Butler University, Jennifer Sydor auditioned for more than a dozen regional ballet companies—and got a string of "no, thank you" responses. "I have an athletic build, and my movement quality isn't the typical ballet aesthetic," Sydor says. "But I'd been laser-focused on ballet. When I didn't get a ballet contract, I was heartbroken."
Her one job offer came from Kim Robards Dance, a small modern company based in Aurora, CO. After attending KRD's summer intensive, Sydor ended up accepting a yearlong position with the troupe. "I was relieved and happy to begin my career," she says. She's been working as a contemporary dancer ever since.
In the dance world, rejection is part of the package. That doesn't make it any more pleasant. But whether you didn't get the Nutcracker role of your dreams or you weren't picked for a job despite feeling like you aced the audition, you can emerge from even the most gut-wrenching "no" smarter and stronger.
Ballet West principal Beckanne Sisk as Kitri (Luke Isley, courtesy Ballet West)
Guess who's baaaaack?! Your resident Dance Spirit astrologers! And on the eve of the Youth America Grand Prix awards ceremony, we thought it was the perfect time to pair each zodiac sign with a variation commonly seen during the competition. After many painstaking hours spent researching, consulting the stars, and staring wistfully into the sky, we compiled our data and present you with the definitive list of each star sign as a YAGP variation! As we said last time, don't @ us if you're not happy with your pairing—the stars don't lie, baby!