My first draft of Jitterbug! had my protagonist Billy Rhythm expressing his love for girlfriend Tharbis Jefferson by tap dancing on the sidewalk below her Harlem tenement window. No music, no singing, just dancing. I'm letting his feet do the talking. In homage to Gene Kelly, a later draft has Billy jumping up on the lamp post, grabbing it and swinging around before leaping off into a split on the sidewalk in homage to the Nicholas Brothers --yeah, the actor who takes on this role will have to be one mighty fine dancer! Although I don't remember channeling The Bard at the time, William Shakespeare probably had a lot to do with setting up this scene although I've added two extra characters on that balcony and some humor. I look forward to someday soon seeing it come to life on the Great White Way.
If only Billy Rhythm and Tharbis Jefferson, the stars of my 1930's dancical, had access to YouTube. Oh, the things they could have done-- like learning a whole routine by watching a video on the Cotton Club's computer monitor. In this case, one that would crush the competition, drive the Savoy Ballroom audience insane, and ultimately win the climactic dance contest. I encourage choreographers on the jitterbug break to reach into the future for those mind blowing steps no one has seen before on the floor of the Savoy. Such as this one by Broadway Dance Center's Tom Richardson.
Reverend Cab of the Church of the Jitterbug! at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem knows what he's talking about. So does the documentary "Alive and Kicking." Directed by Susan Glatzer, the doc is currently in post production and seeking funding to prepare it for a 2016 opening. You can watch the trailer below. It looks muy worthy. If you are inspired to help fund it, click here.
My last post touched upon the use of break dancing in my climactic 1931 dance contest at the Savoy Ballroom-- and that breakdancing has been around for as long as the end of the 19th century if not longer. I urge choreographers for my dancical to reach into the future for moves no one has seen before at the Savoy. Today I got a Tweet from Paulette Brockington about an event in Detroit on October 28th called The Continuum: Back to the Future with Authentic Jazz. The three-day event will "explore the retentions of authentic jazz in hip-hop through black social dances of the 20th Century."
Yeah, it's like I been saying...
It starts with the showing of the documentary by Moncell Durden above on Friday night, dancing on Saturday night, followed by the workshop on Sunday. You can learn more and buy tickets by clicking the link above.
To win the climactic dance contest, I encourage choreographers to "reach into the future for moves no one has seen before." This includes break dancing which would surely affect casting since my protagonists, although they aren't required to sing, have to dance better than anyone else on stage. Since Billy Rhythm and Tharbis Jefferson are in their 20's, executing some break dancing skills is not out of the realm of possibility. In any event, the two will need to have a dance vocabulary that includes ballet, tap, and jazz dancing. Modern is not required. As is knowing how to dance the jitterbug or lindy. Those latter two dances can be taught within a short amount of time.
Of course, reaching into the future for dance moves to win a dance contest is actually in this case reaching into the past. Apparently B-Boys have been around since the turn of the century-- the 19th century-- so it isn't too difficult imagining this style of dancing showing up in a 1931 Harlem dance contest.
“I believe the greatest trend right now in the world of musical theatre dance is a trend towards humanity. I think it's less about a slick presentation of bodies in space and more about true feelings, true connection, true interpersonal relationships, however that helps tell a very deep and moving story.”
– Josh Prince, Choreographer
Broadway Zone turned me on to this short video about the role of the choreographer produced by the American Theatre Wing. It focuses on three choreographers: Josh Prince, Camille A. Brown, and Sergio Trujillo. It's worth a watch to see them at work, creating theatrical dances that help tell the playwright's story by giving power and empathy to the characters on stage through dance and the life experiences of the choreographers.
Nathan James made Billy Rhythm come to life. Until I saw James own the character in the first reading of the dancical at the National Black Theatre in Harlem, I could only imagine how Billy lived and breathed as a driven quintessential American with a dream that would not be deferred by man or law. Directed by noted actress, director, and teacher Petronia Paley, I was blown away by the power he gave to my words and the physical force with which he brought to reckon with black and white gangsters standing between him and his goals-- and the love of his life, Tharbis Jefferson. Since that time the poet, playwright, and award-winning actor has earned a M.F.A in Acting from Penn State University and gone on to working in TV and film. Check out his new reel and if you're looking for a smart, young actor, hire the guy already!
Multi-hyphenate with a penchant for writing.