In Defense of Addams

Last night, The Addams Family musical opened on Broadway, starring Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane. We’ve been waiting for this event at Dance Teacher ever since Bebe talked to us about creating the role of Morticia and how her dance training has influenced her career. (Check out the interview here.) Unfortunately, the reviewers have not been kind. I’ve always been a sucker for musicals, but, I must admit, I really loved it! All in all, that opening-night audience had a ton of fun. These were my ten favorite aspects of the hilariously morbid musical:    


1. The opening pose: When the curtain parted, and the awkwardly creepy Addams Family was revealed standing motionless among gravestones, the audience went wild, and I got the shivers. Infusing the opening number, “When You’re an Addams” with the classic Addams Family snaps, was truly picture perfect.  


2. The dress: There are very few people that could pull off Morticia Addams’ comically tight dress “cut down to Venezuela.” Actually, Bebe Neuwirth may be the only one. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to walk, let alone dance, in that creation, but Neuwirth was truly morticious from black-wigged head to pointy toe.   


3. Grandma: This character may have offered nothing but comic relief, but she offered oh so much of it. Jackie Hoffman’s transformation into hunched over, 103-year old Grandma was truly amazing. That woman could not open her mouth without the audience dying of laughter. All she had to do was stand there, always making a strange new face, and you couldn’t help but chuckle. 


4. The monster under Pugsley’s bed: This and other creepy crawlies hidden throughout the house were not only humorous, but awesomely executed. The puppetry by Basil Twist was truly phenomenal, and when the full extent of the squid in the basement was finally revealed, it was hard to believe that “calamari” wasn’t going to jump right into the audience.   


5. The songs still stuck in my head: “Full Disclosure” will be there for a while, and that’s fine with me.  Loved the silly little choreography that went along with it, too. Also, “Let’s not Talk About Anything Else But Love,” especially with Grandma’s added sound effects.   


6. Pugsley: I’m always blown away by kids who can dominate a Broadway stage on their own. During eleven-year-old Adam Riegler’s big solo number, “What If,” you would’ve thought he’d had decades of onstage experience. Bravo little guy!   


7. Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth: Obviously, but it had to be said, these two are Broadway royalty for a reason. They have an unbelievable presence on stage that is totally magical.  


8. The Addams Ancestors: While unlikely that Gomez and Uncle Fester are descendants of a troupe of lithe, gorgeous dancers, it was worth suspending my disbelief to see this group, all-in-white strutting their stuff to Sergio Trujillo’s choreography. In “Tango de Amor”, I must admit, they even stole the stage from Morticia and Gomez.  


9. The set: "Their house is a museum, where people come to see 'em." The staircases and moving furniture added the perfect amount of creepy glamour. Every set change left me breathless.  Even the curtain was impressive, always moving to perfectly frame the action.  


10. The snappy one-liners: Reminiscent of the original Addams Family comics, certain lines deserved endless laughs. Off the top of my head: When Morticia pauses amidst singing her big number, “Just Around the Corner” to ask the audience, “Get it? Death is just around the coroner?” When Alice asks Morticia what the one thing that everyone needs but few people have (clearly referring to love) and Morticia responds, “Healthcare?” And, again, pretty much everything that Grandma says.


Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.

"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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