Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Christine O’Grady.
Cossak dancing? Check. Russian soldiers' marching technique? Check. Busby Berkley? Cyd Charisse? Fred Astaire? Check. Check. Check. What did we do before YouTube? I've been thinking about this a lot lately as I circle back to a project that I first worked on back in 2006, before countless videos were a click away.
I'm choreographing a musical for Prospect Theater Company called Iron Curtain, which is primarily set in Russia during the Golden Age of musicals in America. This is my second time mounting a production of it and the director (Cara Reichel) and I were really interested in doing it bigger and better than last time. As I was reviewing my old choreography, which, at the time, I remember being quite proud of, I realized how little Russian influence there was on the musical numbers that take place there. When I think back to why, I realize part of this had to do with the fact that the show was being completed while we were in rehearsals (you gotta love new work!), but video research of this magnitude was also far more daunting five and half years ago than it is now. Now I can spend an afternoon watching hundreds of sources, and because of this, hopefully, I can anchor my work more specifically.
There's not enough hours in the day to take classes in and become a trained expert on every kind of dance I may need to reference for a musical I'm choreographing, however with the explosion of available videos on YouTube I'm finding that referencing styles of dance that I have never trained in, for example Cossak, has become both manageable and thrilling. Sometimes these videos just jog my memory, but other times I find the perfect trick or traditional step to integrate--and that's when I love this the most. In the first big musical number in Iron Curtain, The Ministry of Musical Persuasion, five of my favorite parts have been inspired by videos of Russians dancing that I stumbled across. It goes without saying that I am not talking about plagiarizing someone else's work but when it comes to comedic historical and cultural references some help has been helpful, and for this, I'm very grateful to YouTube as of late.