When the ground-breaking musical 'Hamilton' opens in Sydney on March 17, it will be the only production of the musical in performance anywhere, with both the Broadway and West End shows still closed because of the pandemic.
'Dance Australia' caught up with the choreographer, Andy Blankenbuehler, and found out what it was like auditioning and staging the show via virtual technology from New York.
What was your own dance training?
I grew up the only boy in a very all-American small town dance school. I started tap and ballet at age three. Hip hop didn’t really exist in the dance school world at that time, but I started with jazz in my teen years. My teacher was especially gifted at instilling the seeds of musicality in me. My dance life really took a huge step up when I fell in love with doing theatre in high school. I was almost ready to give up dancing, and then when I started doing shows, I became totally hooked.
I was going to study architecture in college (which is actually kind of what I do on stage) but decide to study concert dance. I only stayed in school for a year and then left to start working. I tried to keep my training going as much as possible in NYC, but I was lucky to start working in Broadway shows pretty young. So the rest of my career became about trying to balance maintenance with working.
When I met Lin and the rest of the In The Heights team, I did the deep dive to become a much stronger hip hop dancer.
How did you come up with all the different styles for Hamilton?
It’s my upbringing, all of my idols are in there. Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake … of course Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse … Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music is just thrilling. The beat is infectious in all his work. I felt that the show was wide open … not a lot of rules. So I felt comfortable using any and every kind of movement I could imagine.
What types of skills do you look for when searching for Hamilton’s dancers?
Musicality, honest humanity (both in the way they dance and the way they relate to me and others in the room) … and in the audition process, my radar is really searching to find the people who simply LOVE to dance. We need that to land the show every day.
What did you think of the Australian talent auditioning? And what was your involvement in the process?
When I saw the talent, I knew we were going to be just fine. The dancers KILLED it in the audition process. My associate Michael Balderrama had his boots on the ground in Australia, and I was present virtually. My first time casting a show that way. But I wasn’t nervous, because I loved what I saw.
What did you ask the dancers to do to audition? And how did they respond to the choreography?
Dancers love to tell stories. They love to be given that responsibility. We teach about four different combinations in auditions and each one presents a unique character in a unique moment of analysis or action. People love the music to the show … and I’ve found that when we ask them to step into our physical world, they have a great time.
What’s your involvement in rehearsals?
Michael’s been my rep there in Australia from day onr. He’s set the show several different times in the US. I let them get through a big chunk and then I zoom into rehearsals. I’ve been doing that twice a week. The technology is really a blessing. I really feel like I know the cast, and I know that the story is being told in an exceptional way!
Is there anything distinctive about the Australian cast compared with the US and UK casts?
In compliment to them, they fit right in with our family of Hamilton casts in North America. That makes them distinctive … because every one of our companies is golden in their own way. Every cast brings a wealth of ethnicity and flair, and this group is no different. I have especially loved the pride they carry in knowing that they are the ONLY Hamilton company open anywhere!
Many Australians aren’t familiar with the show or American history - what do you think will resonate most with local audiences?
The show is about people … all people. To me the show is about figuring out what is most important in life and then fighting for it with everything you have. That’s a story that we can all relate to!
'Hamilton' is being held at the Sydney Lyric Theatre. Info: https://hamiltonmusical.com.au/
Meet the cast here.