Swooping in to save Spider-Man

Brock rehearses Spider-Man dancers on the stage of NYC’s Foxwoods Theater.

Brought in as part of the creative team tasked with overhauling Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, 27-year-old choreographer Chase Brock had his work cut out for him. The cast, besieged by injuries and bad press, had already endured a grueling five months of previews. The financial stakes were high. And to top it all off, Brock had only about four weeks this spring to create and set his new material.

But Brock took it all in stride; after all, he was no musical theater newbie. He’d made his Broadway debut at 16, in Susan Stroman’s revival of The Music Man, and has assisted directors such as Kathleen Marshall and Robert Wilson. He’s proven to be both prolific and versatile, choreographing for the stage, film, TV and even video games, in addition to creating work for his own Brooklyn-based dance company, The Chase Brock Experience. Dance Teacher talked to Brock about relaunching Spider-Man and the challenges he’d like to face next.

DT: Were you a Spider-Man fan as a kid?

CB: Not at all. I knew about Jem and the Holograms and She-Ra Princess of Power, but I didn’t know a thing about Spider-Man. So the day I got this job I started reading the comics. And now I’m a little bit in love with comic books and graphic novels.

DT: The show had a pretty rough start. Did you have any reservations about taking the job?

CB: My first thought was that I really loved the old version and I was sad they were changing it. But I accepted the challenge and thought, “I’ve got to do everything I can to make the show as clear and focused as possible, and get it to the finish line with the same sense of integrity and impetus that the original creative team had.”

DT: How did you approach the changes?

CB: It was an interesting experiment because I got to bring the editing side of my brain and the creative side of my brain. In act one, we had to clarify things and make sure that we were pursuing a particular arc from beginning to end, so I took existing numbers and finessed them. The old show was so artful and beautiful, but perplexing. We’ve restored a lot of elements of the mythology that were curiously absent. I truly believe that a mass audience, which is who this has to speak to, will now get it—which was my assignment. The second act was intensely rewritten, so that is 90 percent new choreography.

DT: How did the company handle it?

CB: For three weeks, the company performed the old show while learning the new show. They did their last performance of the old version—their 145th preview—on a Sunday at 3 o’clock, and on Monday at 10 am they launched into five days in which we did run-throughs of the new show with notes. It was crazy. For the first three weeks of that rehearsal period, there were four to six people out, injured or sick, every day. Their bodies were broken and they were in a state of genuine exhaustion. But they all got on board, unbelievably. In the rehearsal room I received nothing but enthusiasm and respect.

DT: What’s next on your agenda?

CB: I want to get back to my company. I love to jump back and forth between worlds, and right now I’m really ready to jump back into something of my own, something where there are no rules.

DT: Do you feel more at home in one world than the other?

CB: It’s a question I struggle with a lot. The dance world is really my first love. But I suspect that the theater world is where I actually belong. Hopefully I can just keep going back and forth. I would love to do another Broadway show, something that deals with fantasy or animal characters. If there was a Disney project, I would be very excited about that. It would be great to be able to develop and direct a project. DT

 

Michelle Vellucci holds an MA in dance and education from the University at Buffalo and was a 2009 fellow of the NEA Arts Journalism Institute for Dance Criticism.

Photo by Michael Cohl

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