For many shows, choreography is just as vital to the storytelling as its text or music—What would Oklahoma! be without the Agnes de Mille's dream ballet to illuminate Laurey's fears? And how would we know about the dynamics between the Sharks and the Jets without Jerome Robbins' danced prologue to West Side Story?
Choreographers Camille A. Brown, Warren Carlyle, Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, Bill T. Jones, and Christopher Wheeldon are the 2022 Tony nominees for their work in choreography, each using the art of dance not only to enhance their shows, but to move them forward, to show us who the characters are, and to tell the story.
This season's shows nominated for their choreography include the revival of Ntozake Shange's 1976 play (or choreopoem) for colored girls...(choreographed by Brown); the Golden Age classic The Music Man (Carlyle); the 16th-century pop concert SIX (Ingrouille); the Civil War era tale of Black Americans and Irish immigrants Paradise Square (Jones); and the Michael Jackson bio musical MJ (Wheeldon).
Playbill spoke with some of these Tony-nominated choreographers about the dances they created and how the choreography serves the story. Read on for what they had to say.
Describe the style, or styles of dance you’ve used in creating the choreography for the show.
Camille A. Brown (for colored girls...): Because there is no set style for this work, it gave me the opportunity to incorporate many different genres of dance—mainly social dance, African dance, and modern dance. I was able to explore a wide range of movement with Ntozake Shange’s beautiful text as the anchor. There’s everything from “the chicken head” to a tendu/battement in the work. There’s step, j-setting, juba, salsa, and there are also moments in the show where I incorporated my concert dance influences of using abstraction through gesture.
Warren Carlyle (The Music Man): In The Music Man, I used every possible style available to me. I wanted to make something wildly original and exciting...and that was different in every number. It was a non-stop challenge.
Carrie-Anne Ingrouille (SIX): So many dance styles intrigue me and I still like to train in a multitude of areas! In SIX we use movements, rhythms, and grooves from the styles of house, social dances, hip hop, waacking, locking, jazz, waving, and vogue.
Christopher Wheeldon (MJ the Musical): MJ incorporates the movement vocabulary of Michael Jackson with his Broadway and movie influences seen through the lense of a contemporary ballet perspective.
How does dance serve as an extension of the storytelling in the show?
Brown (for colored girls...): Ntozake Shange coined the phrase “choreopoem” when describing this work. To me, that means that dance and text coexist. With this work, Ntozake Shange gave me the freedom to celebrate that dance IS language. There are also many references to the joy of dance throughout the play. It was thrilling to work on a show that truly leads with movement.
Carlyle (The Music Man): Dance in The Music Man pushes the story forward at every single turn. Dance is the new, original element that freshens this classic revival. "Shipoopi" is eight minutes of storytelling through dance. We watch Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster fall in love through dance at the top of Act 2. "Marian the Librarian" is nine minutes of storytelling through dance. There is 45 minutes of new, original storytelling dance in this American classic.
Ingrouille (SIX): When I choreograph, everything is first rooted in the narrative, script, or character building of that particular scene. It’s like my paintbrush—Without it, the strokes/pictures don’t make sense to me. I like to really focus on extensions of body language and emotional connection to the lyrics and conversations brought up in the songs and scenes—otherwise I feel like the movements don’t connect to an audience in the same way.
Wheeldon (MJ the Musical): Dance is woven throughout the show and does not simply exist within the numbers. It is used for transitions, passing of time—looking backwards but also exploring the creative recesses of the mind of a genius performer.
Jones was unable to participate in this article, but check out some of his work in the video from Paradise Square below.