In the competition world, a small group of musicians has attained almost cultlike status, with choreographers turning to their tracks over and over. We know how we feel about these bangers—there's a reason we can't stop dancing to them—but how do the musicians feel about us? We caught up with three contemporary artists whose music has dominated the competition scene recently, and gauged their reactions to the dances set to their life's work.
Bishop Briggs (photo by Eric Ray Davidson, courtesy Bishop Briggs)
Bishop Briggs<p><span style="background-color: initial;">When Galen Hooks and Tim Milgram released a class video set to Bishop Briggs' "River," it was instantly clear that the song would become a competition </span><span style="background-color: initial;">hit. Since then, choreographers at studios around the country have tried their hand at the song (not to mention the rest of Briggs' music), layering their interpretations</span> on top of her smoky pop beat.</p><p><strong>On discovering her dance-world popularity:</strong> "It's been surreal to find out what people have created out of my music. I'm really active on social media, so when I see dance videos set to my music, I watch them and comment on them. I stalk! I've met people completely out of the blue who've told me they've made a dance to one of my songs. That's the coolest thing."</p><p><strong>On making musical discoveries through choreography:</strong> "There are so many different beats that dancers pick up on that I wouldn't have thought of as the obvious choice. My favorite thing about the dance community is they're giving my songs new life. My original goal as a songwriter was to make people feel less alone. So the idea that dancers are taking a song and using it as their security blanket—or their reason to let go of that blanket and be fully themselves—it's just every dream of mine."</p>
Watch Bishop Briggs React to a Competition Dance Routine Set to "River"<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="67e19c51ddff411123658b02d6283df1"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/i2ZYjYF4k20?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Ryan Lott (photo by Zenith Richard, courtesy Ryan Lott)
Ryan Lott of Son Lux<p>Son Lux incorporates elements of post-rock, electronica, hip hop, pop, and even classical—an ideal piece of clay for choreographers to shape. Songs like "Change is Everything," "Dream State," and "Cage of Bones" have blasted through competition speakers so often, we all know each detail by heart. Founder Ryan Lott is no stranger to the dance world, either: He collaborated with Travis Wall on Shaping Sound's show <em>After the Curtain</em>.</p><p><strong>On discovering his dance-world popularity:</strong> "My niece is a dancer, and at one point years ago, my sister told me she kept hearing Son Lux songs at dance competitions. Around that time, my wife, who teaches dance at a university, also observed that auditionees were dancing to Son Lux. Then we started getting requests to use our music on 'So You Think You Can Dance,' and our Instagram started to light up with young dancers moving to our music."</p><p><strong>On how he feels about said popularity: </strong>"I think it's rad! I appreciate anyone who spends their precious time listening to our music. And there's something even more special to me for those who choose to move to it."</p><p><strong>On making musical discoveries </strong><strong>through choreography:</strong> "Happens all the time! It's one of my favorite things about experiencing choreography to my music. Once it's made, it's no longer mine. Music lives its own life apart from its makers, and watching dance to my music often reveals this truth."</p><p><strong>On what makes his music so danceable:</strong> "There's an internal dynamism in Son Lux songs that is relatively uncommon in pop songs. And there are relatively few lyrics in our average song—the instrumental aspects are always doing most of the work. I know a lot of choreographers look for these traits when seeking out new music. I'm not a dancer, but I've been writing music for dance—apart from the Son Lux stuff—for a very long time now. There must be something about movement that has made its way into my creative voice generally, even when I'm not writing explicitly for dance."</p>
Jack Garratt (photo by Jake Wagner, courtesy Jack Garratt)
Jack Garratt<p><span style="background-color: initial;">Dancers around the globe gravitated to Jack Garratt's 2016 "Surprise Yourself," with its powerful message, soaring vocals, and intricate beats. Since then, competition studios have created innumerable pieces to a range of Garratt's songs. And Garratt loves the dance world right back. In fact, his campaign for his latest album, </span><span style="background-color: initial;"><em>Love, Death & Dancing</em>, features eight videos full of him doing nothing but dancing.</span></p><p><strong>On the role dance plays in his music:</strong> "Dance is a hugely important part of the reason I make music. It's always been part of my life, and is an important storytelling method. As someone who makes a form of dance music, the highest compliment I can get is to have someone choreograph to it."</p><p><strong>On his personal relationship with </strong><strong>dance:</strong> "I'm not a trained dancer, but I used to dance when I was a kid. I like music that makes me want to move. Moving is such a vulnerable act."</p><p><strong>On his dance-world popularity:</strong> "I was aware of it a bit, because people tagged me in videos on Instagram, where my songs were being used in dance competitions. They were geo-tagged in different parts of the world that I'd never even been to, let alone known there was an active dance community there."</p>
Watch Jack Garratt React to a Competition Dance Routine Set to "Surprise Yourself"<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d1c045d8b865466969c09497339585ad"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/xtTLuI4gd9Q?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The curtain rises, the crowd goes wild, and the bright lights of Broadway shine down as you make your debut on opening night…it's every Broadway baby's dream. But you may be surprised to learn that a show's journey to the Great White Way can be months, or even years, in the making. How does a production go from concept to curtain call? We spoke to industry veterans about what happens at every stage.
The Initial Idea<p><span style="background-color: initial;">Typically, a producer, writer, composer, and director are the first people enlisted to help the idea for a show take shape, but every project is different. For Tony-award–nominated choreographer Joshua Bergasse, the earlier </span><span style="background-color: initial;">he gets on board, the better. "I like being able to influence </span><span style="background-color: initial;">the creation of the show, and point out which parts of the story can be told through dance and movement," he says. Once drafts of the book and music are completed, the team holds an informal reading of the work to get feedback from producers. Then, preproduction is assembled. "I'll use a skeleton crew of a few dancers, get into a studio, and come up with different combinations of choreography," Bergasse explains. "The goal is to create lots of different pieces that we can build on later." </span></p>
The women of King Kong on the first day of Broadway rehearsals (courtesy Eliza Ohman)
Developmental Lab and Rehearsals<p>The next phase of the production is a workshop or developmental lab, which usually lasts three to four weeks. Here, the show begins to take shape, as an initial cast of principal leads and an ensemble learn musical numbers and staging. Dancers, take note: This is typically the earliest that you can audition for a show. Broadway dancer Eliza Ohman auditioned for a developmental lab of <em>King Kong</em>, and saw the show all the way to Broadway one year later. "For labs, the creative team looks for unique artists who inspire them," she says. "It's important to know your artistic point of view, and also when it's appropriate to share your own ideas." Naturally, even when you have the job, the audition is never quite over. According to Bergasse, "dancers have to prove they're excited about the project, and make themselves invaluable to the team as things move forward." The lab often culminates in a final showing, and from there, the production will either go back to the drawing board, or move on to a more rigorous rehearsal period.</p>
The Broadway cast of King Kong after its final studio run (courtesy Joshua Bergasse)
Tech and Previews<p>Whether a show heads straight to a Broadway theater or out-of-town for a "tryout" run of performances, tech is where a production settles into its new home onstage. Costumes, lighting, and sets are all introduced in a jam-packed few weeks, until it's time to add the final ingredient: an audience. Ohman says, "When you start previews, the show feels alive again. It's rejuvenating for the company to have fresh eyes and ears reacting to the story." Previews are a production's first real test, for both the appeal of the show and the stamina of its cast. During previews, the cast spends its days in rehearsals implementing changes, corrections, and, sometimes, entirely new portions of the show. "By this point, you're exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally," Ohman says. "As an artist, you grow attached to certain aspects of the show, so it can be hard to see them changed. But you have to be willing to trust the process, problem-solve, and stay totally focused while performing each night's version." Adaptability is crucial. Bergasse explains, "If I have to put in a whole new number for the next performance that night, the dancers can't freak out. They have to be ready to roll with anything." </p>
Eliza Ohman (fourth from right) and the women of the King Kong ensemble backstage (Ellenore Scott, courtesy Ohman)
Opening Night<p>For Ohman, opening night is full of mixed emotions. "There's so much anticipation, but also a lot of nerves, because you don't feel settled in the show yet," she says. "It's likely that you didn't start performing the final version until a few nights before." Bergasse agrees. "There's a saying that you never actually finish a show; you just open it," he says. "You're always going to be tweaking things and trying to improve. But to finally let it go just a bit on opening night is cause for celebration."</p><p>Every show follows a unique path, and even veterans like Bergasse never quite know if a project is destined for Broadway. For Ohman, however, the process is just as rewarding as the final product: "There's nothing quite as exciting as being able to collaborate on a show you love, and help make it the best version it can be."</p>
If you're looking for a sign that 2020 might *just* be turning around, look no further than Netflix's new dance-centric film Work It. The movie comes out this Friday, August 7, and the hype is real. ICYMI, the film follows high school senior Quinn Ackerman, played by none other than Sabrina Carpenter, as she attempts to lead her dance team to a competition win in order to bolster her chances of being admitted to the college of her dreams. One small challenge: Quinn isn't a dancer.
Enter Jordan Fisher as Jake Taylor, a talented-but-troubled choreographer and dancer, to help Quinn lead the team. We had the chance to speak with Fisher about his experience on set, and why Work It just might be the dance movie we've all been waiting for.
Fisher with Work It co-star Sabrina Carpenter (Brendan Adam-Zwelling/Netflix)