Two prolific voices in the dance world united on Monday evening on the Leonard Nimoy Thalia stage of Symphony Space. Three-time Tony Award-winning choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler joined Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Sarah L. Kaufman to discuss his career, his technique, and approach.
Kaufman opened the evening by asking Blankenbuehler what Doris Day, Vera Ellen, Steven Spielberg, and Bootsy Collins had in common. The stumped Cincinnati native was surprised to learn that they all share the same hometown. After that, the high energy dance man was off to the races, regaling audiences with stories about his early days as a performer and choreographer. The first show he choreographed was his high school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. After that, he accepted his first professional job at a local theme park. Stints at Florida’s Disney World and Tokyo’s Disney Land followed.
He spoke about his first Broadway show, Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. A day after he saw it, he auditioned for one of the roles. He wasn’t cast, but would later join the dance ensembles of Fosse, Contact, Man of La Mancha, Saturday Night Fever, Steel Pier, Big, and Guys and Dolls.
Three dancers with whom Blankenbuehler has worked joined him in recreating steps from In the Heights, Hamilton, and The Bandstand. Video and audio clips from the shows also enhanced the explanations.
The acclaimed choreographer admitted to “stealing” steps from other lauded names in the business, but also touched upon the fact that his dancers dance in ways that everyday people move. While much of dance is focused on line and shape, Blankenbuehler thinks about how bodies snap in place to the music’s rhythm.
He finds inspiration on body language through movies and cited Road to Perdition, The Matrix, A Beautiful Mind, and The Shawshank Redemption among them.
On-screen, his work can be seen in the Emmy Award-winning series Fosse/Verdon, and the upcoming film adaptation of CATS. He spoke briefly about his relationship with Gillian Lynne, the original choreographer of the famous feline spectacle. At first, the two had a frosty relationship but over time, they became great friends. So much in fact that Blankenbuehler was asked to write her obituary.
Prior to the evening’s end, Kaufman asked Blankenbuehler about his work in Director Adam McKay‘s movie Vice. (Click here to watch) The choreographer was hired by McKay to mount an entire dance number based on the way things work in a political savvy Washington, DC. The scene, unfortunately, hit the cutting room floor, but Blankenbuehler was not dissuaded. “Sometimes you have to realize that the joy is not in the product, but in the process,” he said.
Following the 90 minute conversation, a VIP reception followed.
Words on Dance was started in 1994 by Deborah K. Kaufman “with a simple vision of offering dance artists a live platform to share stories and inspirations that shaped their life in dance.”
They will continue their programming On Nov. 11th when New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet Artistic Director Jonathan Stafford and NYCB Associate Artistic Director Wendy Whelan joins legendary ballet star and director Edward Villella to discuss NYCB’s creative development and the influences the new artistic leaders will bring to the company.
For more information, visit Words on Dance.