By Kim Martinez, Artistic Director
Every show that we create at Out on a Limb includes dancers with different experience levels and different abilities. From the professional dancers who comprise our Company to young dancers who are beginning to learn the art, our goal is to give all of them the chance to experience the impact that the whole show creates for both audience members and the dancers.
I’m often asked “How do you decide which shows to perform?” Well, my answer includes a number of considerations. Whether I’m launching a new show or re-launching an encore of a show that was previously staged, the deciding factors are largely the same. Here’s my laundry list for how I choose our winter show each year.
Each show we select:
1. Has to be recognizable to the children who are part of our school outreach program.
2. Must be something that the kids will be excited to see.
3. Has to be appropriate for school-age children.
4. Should also appeal to the general public.
5. Has to be based on a story that translates well to an unscripted form, and must utilize multiple genres of dance.
6. Should provide a strong showcase for the unique talents of the company members who are available to perform in it.
7. Should work well for Out on a Limb’s students and should promote their continued growth and progress as dancers.
8. Needs to have an attainable musical score. Our shows are unscripted, and in most of our shows, the majority of the music doesn’t come from the theatrical version, so we also seek music that matches the era, genre, and emotion of each scene and the overall story.
9. Has to be one we can stage well considering technical requirements, costuming, sets, and budget.
10. Should be one that I, along with my company members, can choreograph appropriately. It seems silly to even type this one… but it’s true
This year I chose to re-launch Annie (Out on a Limb also staged Annie in the summer of 2003) simply because we currently have a remarkably talented group of young dancers who also bring strong characterization to the available roles. As one example, we originally planned to have seven “Orphan A’s” – a challenging role for young dancers - and we have so many students who can meet the demands of the part that we expanded the group to nine dancers.
Casting for the role of “Annie” was both a joy and a chore. I had several children who could fit the bill from an acting standpoint, but the part also demands a child who is an exceptionally versatile, well-rounded dancer and who can, at the same time, convey the pluckiness and innocence of the character. As if that weren’t enough, as the lead, the ideal candidate can also handle the pressure of learning and retaining choreography in nearly forty scenes. Sadie Woolman-Schlukebier, who won the part over several strong candidates, does all of it with humility and authenticity. The entire cast supports her completely.
Casting for title roles in shows is always challenging for company members as well as non-company dancers. I have a set of criteria that frames decisions most of the time.
Leads and main characters:
1. Must be able to perform a variety of dance genres well. Just as not all actors are equally proficient with comedy and drama, not all dancers are equally strong in ballet and tap and acrobatic work. When casting a part, I look for dancers who display general strength in multiple genres.
2. Must be dancers and actors who can portray the role, both physically and emotionally.
3. Should contribute to the characters they’ve been given in the past. In other words, I want people who are able to fill in the inevitable gaps between character and choreography, regardless of the size of the role. I look to see who is really immersed in the scene and who is just dancing their part.
4. Need to have a certain synergy with other main characters, as dancers and as actors. I love it when performers feed off of each other. It’s not easy to describe, but I know it when it’s there and so do most audience members.
5. Have to care about the production as a whole and not just their part. This is critical because Dance Theater is completely dependent on everyone being in sync with every aspect of the show.
In the end, it is the entirety of the show that matters. The lead roles carry the burden of being the conduits of the show’s connectivity, but the ensemble carries the responsibility for the overall continuity. Everything and everyone contributes to a wonderfully entertaining show. All of the performers working together, with lighting and sets and music and costumes are essential to the art of dance theater. And, of course, all of it works best if you have the right show at the right time with the right resources available. Whew!