Sam Pinkleton on Choreographing The Great Comet

Pinkleton choreographing the New York premiere of Marie Antoinette at Soho Rep in 2013. Photo by Gregory Costanzo, courtesy of Pinkleton

Sam Pinkleton has found a niche as a Broadway choreographer of plays and even musicals that feel, ironically, largely absent of dance. His gifts are subtlety and authenticity, as he carefully folds in movement so natural and organic the audience might not even realize they're witnessing choreography. In fact, when working on a new project, the first question he'll ask the director is, “Do you really need a choreographer?" says Pinkleton. “I often take jobs away from myself." On November 14, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812—a nontraditional musical staged in and among the audience—makes its Broadway debut with his choreography.

Training: Appomattox Regional Governor's School for the Arts & Technology in Petersburg, Virginia; New York University Tisch School of the Arts, BFA in drama

Choreography: Broadway: Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812; Amélie (2017); Significant Other (March 2017)

Direction: Runaways (City Center Encores! Off-Center Series)

Photo by Gregory Costanzo, courtesy of Pinkleton

Choreographing The Great Comet “There are two things for me as a choreographer: Proximity, because people have to dance totally like themselves—the way their body does. If you put a performance on, I will call you on it. Second, the music has so much contrast. One second there will be full-on gypsy-punk throwdown, and the next, you're in a ball gown doing what appears to be proper 19th-century ballroom dancing. And then you're upside-down twerking in a strobe light."

Doing his research “I have to learn a completely new skill set for every show that I do. Heisenberg is a two-person play, and at the end, there's a tango. I've never tangoed in my life. So I went to tango class for a month and a half. Then I made this tango based on what a person who's taken tango for a month and a half would do—tentative, full of errors and not virtuosic."

On his process "I almost never, ever, ever choreograph on my own body. I often work with prompts and have people build things, and then I sculpt from there. Or I'll have one phrase that I mutate. I'm like an editor. I'm choreographing a play called Significant Other. It's about best friends in their 20s, and there's a bachelorette party and a wedding. It definitely shouldn't look like there's a choreographer. It's drunk, joyful people at an emotional climax in their lives, expressing themselves physically. So it was me getting the cast in the room, playing Beyoncé and shouting at them for three hours."

Teacher Voices
Photo courtesy Rhee Gold Company

Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, there has been a shift in our community that is so impressive that the impact could last long into our future. Although required school closures have hit the dance education field hard, what if, when looking back on this time, we see that it's been an incredible renaissance for dance educators, studio owners and the young dancers in our charge?

How could that be, you ask?

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Photo by Yvonne M. Portra, courtesy Faulkner

It's a Wednesday in May, and 14 Stanford University advanced modern ­dance students are logged on to Zoom, each practicing a socially distanced duet with an imaginary person. "Think about the quality of their personality and the type of duet you might have," says their instructor Katie Faulkner, "but also their surface area and how you'd relate to them in space." Amid dorm rooms, living rooms, dining rooms and backyards, the dancers make do with cramped quarters and dodge furniture as they twist, curve, stretch and intertwine with their imaginary partners.

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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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