Cats, the Tony Award–winning musical that rocked Broadway for 18 years, is returning to the Great White Way on August 2. Slated to choreograph is Tony Award–winner Andy Blankenbuehler (DT, Technique, February 2011) of Hamilton and In the Heights fame. His work will be modeled on Gillian Lynne’s original choreography.

Cats returns to Broadway after a 16-year hiatus. It closed in 2000 after more than 7,000 performances.

Based on the whimsical poetry of T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, and with an original score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cats opened in 1982, winning seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Photos (from top): courtesy of DKC/O&M courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

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Fred and Adele Astaire

Here at DT, we love the Fred and Adele Astaire Awards. Established in 1982 in honor of the king of movie musicals Fred Astaire and his equally talented sister Adele, the Astaire Awards are the one awards event each year dedicated solely to the hoofers, bunheads, jazzerinas and choreographic geniuses making waves on Broadway, off Broadway and in film.

The 2016 Astaire Awards, which took place last night at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, were eventful, to say the least. The award for Outstanding Choreographer for a Broadway Show went to, not one, not two, but three remarkable dancemakers: tap sensation Savion Glover for Shuffle Along, or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, Sergio Trujillo for his Latin moves in On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan and Broadway golden boy Andy Blankenbuehler for the record-setting Hamilton.

Shuffle Along dominated the awards with additional wins for Best Male Dancer (Phillip Attmore) and Outstanding Ensemble in a Broadway Show. For Outstanding Choreography in a Feature Film, Dave Scott won for the ballet-meets-hip-hop flick High Strung, starring former Mariinsky ballerina Keenan Kampa and The PULSE wunderkind Ian Eastwood.

Special awards went to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater artistic director emerita Judith Jamison, “So You Think You Can Dance” producer and judge Nigel Lythgoe, Broadway and film tap star Maurice Hines and Dr. Joan Fallon for her work with autism and related disorders.

The 2016 Tony Awards are coming up on Sunday, June 12. If the Astaire Awards are any indicator, it will be a stiff competition. Who do you think will take home the coveted award for Best Choreography?

Shuffle Along took home three Astaire Awards and is nominated for 10 Tony Awards.

Photos (from top): courtesy of @theastaireawards; courtesy of @shufflealongbroadway

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Chloé and Maud Arnold pose with NYCDAF Ambassador for the Arts, Debbie Allen.

Last night, the NYC Dance Alliance Foundation awarded Debbie Allen the 2015 NYCDAF Ambassador for the Arts Award at the annual “Bright Lights Shining Stars” gala. Held at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, the event paid tribute to Allen through song, dance and celebration.

Highlights from the evening:

Chloé Arnold’s Syncopated Ladies opened the show with a bang! With ear-to-ear grins, their fierce quintet, set to music by Beyoncé, created a celebratory tone for the entire evening.

Kolton Krouse performs Andy Pellick's Path of Enlightenment.

NYCDA student Kolton Krouse performed a gravity-defying solo choreographed by NYCDA faculty member Andy Pellick. Krouse was later awarded the Adele Astaire College Scholarship by An American in Paris star Robert Fairchild.

Jessica Lee Goldyn and dancers perform "I'm a Brass Band" from Sweet Charity.

Broadway star Jessica Lee Goldyn and a chorus of male dancers performed “I’m a Brass Band” from Sweet Charity. With original choreography by Bob Fosse, this was hands-down my personal favorite from the evening.

Allen's daughter Vivian Nixon performed the role of Anita from West Side Story.

Allen’s daughter Vivian Nichole Nixon made a surprise appearance, reprising Allen’s Tony-nominated role, Anita from Jerome Robbins' West Side Story. Nixon's lively rendition of “America” proved that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Dancesanity Stars' Karla Choko and Josen Torres showed that salsa can be enjoyed at any age, when they were joined onstage by their young students Nathalie Huiracocha and Felix Monge. The petite duet impressed—they held their own next to the professional duo.

Joe Lanteri stands with 2013 NYCDAF Ambassador for the Arts Catherine Zeta-Jones and her husband Michael Douglas. Zeta-Jones gave the welcome remarks at the top of the show.

Over the past five years, the NYCDA Foundation has awarded more than $17 million in college scholarships to hundreds of young dancers nationwide. Founded in 1993 by executive director Joe Lanteri, the NYCDA convention currently travels to 23 cities each season. Faculty includes Andy Blankenbuehler, Jared Grimes, Suzi Taylor and Melinda Sullivan. Many NYCDA alumni have gone on to have successful careers in dance including, Travis Wall, Derek Hough and Nick Lazzarini.

Photos from top: by Rachel Neville; by Eduardo Patino (3); by Rachel Neville, all courtesy of NYCDA.

Seen & Heard At the Dance Teacher Summit

Blankenbuehler led a Broadway workshop at the 2013 Dance Teacher Summit

Andy Blankenbuehler has devoted his whole career to musical theater dance. After performing on Broadway for nearly 15 years, he spent the past decade choreographing hit musicals. He won the Tony for Best Choreography for In the Heights (2008) and was nominated last year for Bring It On: The Musical. A faculty member with New York City Dance Alliance and the Dance Teacher Summit, Blankenbuehler shares his thoughts and advice on creating movement for the genre.

Dance Teacher: What’s the most important thing for teachers to consider when choreographing a musical theater routine?

Andy Blankenbuehler: In the convention world especially, it’s not always about making a plot happen, because you only have 2 1/2 minutes. But that’s still time to establish a character going through something.

Most people think it always has to be step-related, but first you need to figure out the character. Look at their situation, what’s going on for them. Think about how to make that person feel real. If you think of body language, a shy person moves a certain way and a confident person moves a certain way. Is your character strong in their point of view, so should they be standing in second position? Is your character whimsical because they just had their first kiss? In that case, something like a spin and a jump matches what the character feels. It’s about asking how those real emotions can be translated into movement.

DT: What’s the best way to help dancers embody their characters?

AB: When they are younger and less-experienced, you have to give them choreography that does a lot of the lifting itself. If I’m playing a bully-ish, insecure character, I’m standing with arms crossed and shoulders rolling forward. Right away that’s half the battle. If I have that bully-ish character doing fouetté turns, it doesn’t matter how good an actor they are: They’re not going to look like the character because that step hasn’t helped them find an identity.

Someone told me Jerome Robbins used to scream in his rehearsals to not act, just do the step, because if the choreography is descriptive, you’re already telling a story just by accomplishing that movement.

DT: How do you shake choreographer’s block?

AB: I had a very tough time starting the opening number of the musical 9 to 5. It was about the morning commute when everybody’s grumpy and no one wants to go to work. For six days I couldn’t even start the number. Finally I looked outside my window, I went for a coffee at Starbucks and I just started to watch how everyone would lean past each other to pass on the busy streets. I went back to my studio and kept looking out the window and just started imitating people’s body language as they were walking down the street. And those became the first steps of 9 to 5. It’s about pushing the reset button and trying to remind myself what the real situation is. —Andrea Marks

Photos from top: courtesy of Break the Floor Productions; courtesy of Andy Blankenbuehler

Andy Blankenbuehler working with Annie's Emily Rosenfeld and Georgi James Andy Blankenbuehler working with Annie's Emily Rosenfeld and Georgi James

Some of the year’s biggest Broadway hits, from Matilda to A Christmas Story, are powered by pint-sized stars. This Friday, PBS debuts a documentary featuring the feisty, pre-teen cast of Annie.

“ANNIE: It's the Hard-Knock Life, From Script to Stage” focuses on the details of prepping a single musical number—"Hard-Knock Life"—for performance, starting with casting and continuing through costuming, set designs, choreography, rehearsal and finally opening night.

Annie choreographer and Tony nominee Andy Blankenbuehler makes an appearance, helping the girls get into scrappy, rebellious character. The documentary's title song rings true, he says, to every underdog who has ever felt pushed down, himself included. "I've had that song in my head my whole life," he jokes.

Watch this preview of ecstatic child actors accepting their first big roles, then check your local listings for air times!

Watch Casting "Annie" Orphans on PBS. See more from ANNIE: It's the Hard-Knock Life, From Script to Stage.

Photo courtesy of WNET

The Tony Awards must never let Neil Patrick Harris not host ever again. The four-time MC of Broadway’s Biggest Night sang, danced, rapped and did acrobatics, magic tricks and cheerleading stunts all in an opening number that made me want to shut off the TV right then and there because nothing could possibly top it. The rest of the evening wasn’t too shabby, though, with pick-me-up performances from Motown and Bring It On, plus a slew of talented tots from Annie, Matilda and A Christmas Story.

Kinky Boots was the biggest star of the evening, however (after NPH). The feel-good show about a struggling shoe factory that finds a true “niche market” selling sturdy stilettos to drag queens claimed six Tonys, including Best Musical and two technical awards. Pop star Cyndi Lauper was honored for Best Score, while leading man/woman Billy Porter took home the much-deserved win for Best Actor in a Musical. And director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell won for Best Choreography, beating out talented contenders Andy Blankenbuehler, Chet Walker and Peter Darling. Mitchell has worked on Catch Me If You Can, Legally Blonde: The Musical, Hairspray and La Cage Aux Folles, for which he earned a Tony in 2005. Read more here about Mitchell, the busiest man on Broadway, and if you have any questions about his choreography chops, check out Boots’ show-stopping conveyor-belt dance performance from last night:

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