The Long Term Relationship between Broadway and Ballet
Musical theatre and ballet have always an interesting relationship in America. Although the art forms may differ, one emphasise loose, loud colourful entertainment, while the other focuses on grace, poise and elegance.
Similarities includes that both utilise the combination of movement and music to portray a story and brings together choreography to showcase drama of loss, love and adventure. Quite a few choreographers and dancers shifts effortlessly between the two. One of America’s 1st theatre pieces joined ballet troupe’s up with actors in a play called, The Black Crook and is considered as the very first Broadway musical. The show combined dancing, acting and live music and premiered in New York in 1866. The five and a half hour production was so well received and successful it ran for 474 performances. The Black Crook show’s success led to 8 revivals.
The fusion of dramatic acting and interesting ballet let some of ballet greats into showbiz and some of the acting stars to the gracious dance moves. Notable choreographers for both Broadway and ballet includes Agnes De Mille, George Balanchine, Gene Kelly and Jerome Robbins.
George Balanchine is one of the most famous choreographers of the 20th century and a known co-founder for New York City Ballet. He was also one of the 1st to be recognized for Broadway. He created in 1936 the Ziegfeld Follies and later went to stage works such as the 1936 hit called On Your Toes and in 1937 Babes in Arms, Cabin in the Sky in 1940 and in 1943 The Merry Widow. Some works from Balanchine’s were a flop such as the 1942 play named The Lady Comes Across, while other were huge successes that still are performed such as the 1936 Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. Both Miami City Ballet and New York Ballet are still performing his work 75 years later.
Agnes de Mille got her first break as choreographer when she was hired a dancer – choreographer in the revival of The Black Crook. In 1932 she moves to London and undergoes extensive training at the Madame Marie Rambert – Ballet Club. Here she was influenced by choreographers Anthony Tudor and Frederick Ashton. Her career really took off in the thirties and forties when she joined the American Ballet Theatre in 1940 and Black Ritual became the 1st ballet to ever make use of African American dancers. Rodeo was created by her and was a highly energetic American play. She later joined Hammerstein and Rodgers to create Oklahoma a musical theatre hit!
Gene Kelly is another renowned dancer who assisted to bridge ballet and Broadway dance. His upbringing that was merged ballet and sports became the force in the film industry for energetic and physical dance styles in the forties and fifties. Kelly gained respect and had freedom to experiment with commercial movies and ballet scenes. Just one example is that Kelly had sailors performing ballet moves in 1949 in On the Town and while working on the 1951, An American in Paris with director Vincente Minnelli he choreographed a long ballet sequence for the ground breaking finale. His efforts in this film was honoured with an Academy Award for his versatility as singer, actor, dancer and director and especially for his brilliant achievements in the art of film choreography.
The history of Broadway and ballet often overlaps with great choreographers and great dancers, creating work in both fields. Even today commercial dance and Jazz fuse the forms together.