Posted by: Official_Press_Release 07:30 am EST 12/05/18


Al Blackstone, Raja Feather Kelly, Kitty McNamee, Jenn Rose, and Katie Spelman to Debut Original Works at SDCF “Mr. Abbott” Award Gala


Following a national call for submissions, Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation (SDCF), the independent, not-for-profit affiliate of SDC, Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, today announced the selection of five choreographers who will receive commissions to create original works inspired by a sealed envelope containing an unknown idea by famed choreographer Agnes de Mille, an SDC Founder, that has been held in SDC’s custody for more than a half-century.

The choreographers are SDC Members Al Blackstone, Raja Feather Kelly, Kitty McNamee, Jenn Rose, and Katie Spelman. Their original works will premiere in New York on March 25, 2019 at the SDCF’s annual “Mr. Abbott” Award Gala, to be held at the French Institute Alliance Française. As previously announced, Victoria Traube will receive a special “Mr. Abbott” Award that evening, for her advocacy and devotion to the work of directors and choreographers.

“I am thrilled to work with these five outstanding choreographers to honor Agnes de Mille’s legacy, and Victoria Traube’s contributions to directors and choreographers at the ‘Mr. Abbott’ Awards ceremony,” states Jerry Mitchell. “As the 2013 recipient of this award, as well as making my Broadway Debut in Brigadoon for Miss de Mille in 1980, I am particularly honored to direct this tribute.”

The Choreographers

Al Blackstone directed and choreographed Freddie Falls in Love (Pershing Square Signature Theater), Pippin (Music Theater Wichita), The View Upstairs (Lynn Redgrave Theater), and Happy We’ll Be (Roseland Ballroom). He choreographed The Noteworthy Life (Village Theater), Newsies (Maltz Jupiter Theater), and Hairspray and Oklahoma! (Music Theater Wichita). He was Associate Choreographer for Sonya Tayeh on The Wild Party, Head Over Heels, Kung Fu and The Last Goodbye.

In his application, Blackstone wrote, “Agnes de Mille pushed the limits of what was possible with story and movement but her impact goes beyond her effect on the art form. Telling stories without the use of words builds a bridge that can connect people of different cultures, languages, and generations. In an ever-growing and conflicted world, it is vital that we continue her brilliant legacy that reminds us that feelings are a language and that language can be spoken by anyone.”

Raja Feather Kelly founded the multi-disciplinary dance-theatre-media company The Feath3r Theory in 2009. His theatre credits include The Good Swimmer (BAM), Fireflies (Atlantic Theater), The House That Will Not Stand (NYTW), Fairview (Soho Rep and Berkeley Rep), Lempicka (Williamstown), and Everybody and The Death of the Last

Black Man in the Whole Entire World (Signature Theatre). His dance works include UGLY (Black Queer Zoo) at the Bushwick Star, Andy Warhol’s DRELLA (I Love You Faye Driscoll) at The Invisible Dog Art Center, and James Meets Anne at Joe’s Pub and Dixon Place.

In his application, Kelly wrote, “Everything I know of her [de Mille’s] work embraces the legacy of America’s heritage, the evolution of American dance, and the understanding of the American self-made (Wo)Man. This is inclusive, this is focused on craft, and it is focused on what is idiomatic to the American Dancing body and universal to a human being. Agnes de Mille inspires me to be me and to use what I know, to radicalize and revolutionize my contributions to American Theatre. To break formula”.

Kitty McNamee choreographed Sense and Sensibility (South Coast Rep), Don Carlo, Tales of Hoffmann, Lucia di Lammermoor, La Rondine, and Romeo et Juliette (LA Opera), The Fantasticks (Pasadena Playhouse), Firebird, Symphonie Fantastique, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Bolero: Ravel’s Dance for Orchestra (LA Philharmonic), A Winter’s Tale (Theater 150), Gulls, Mother Courage, and Summertime (Theatre @ Boston Court), Man of La Mancha at Reprise!, and Sondheim’s 75th (Hollywood Bowl).

In her application, McNamee wrote, “As in 1963, our country is in a massive state of upheaval and division. In ’63 free love was cracking open the hidebound systems of American life; we were ‘liberated’. As we approach a deeper liberation, the common thread between then and now is choice. Will we as artists make the choice to rise above sex and gender? Will we make the choice to say no to stereotypical representation? How would Agnes navigate these questions in our current era? Perhaps she would answer by directing us to embrace the possible.”

Jenn Rose has served as choreographer on numerous theatre productions including Honk! (Two River Theatre), Cabaret, Gypsy, The Stinky Cheese Man, Robin Hood, The Flea and the Professor (Arden Theatre Co.); A New Brain, The Black Nativity, Into the Woods, Spring Awakening, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Theatre Horizon), Mary Poppins (Roxy Regional Theatre), The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Little Shop of Horrors, Avenue X (11th Hour Theatre Co.), Herringbone (Flashpoint Theatre Company), Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Milwaukee Repertory Theatre), Chicago (Media Theatre), 42nd Street (Ocean City Theatre Co.), The Irish… and How They Got That Way (Walnut Street Theatre), Aida (Media Theatre).

“As an outspoken advocate for dance in America, Agnes de Mille changed the way people viewed the human experience. …de Mille’s revolutionary approach to story-telling through dance found a way to connect to the pulse of the people who experienced it. In an interview with CUNY TV in 1973, de Mille compared herself to Balanchine and said, ‘I cannot do what he does. I can only do what I can do.’ Her words are a constant affirmation for me to continue to stay true to who I am as a choreographer.”

Katie Spelman has been the Associate Choreographer of Moulin Rouge and Amelie, Associate Movement Director of Once, and Assistant Choreographer of American Psycho, in their Broadway or pre-Broadway runs. She was Associate Choreographer of Brooklynite (Vineyard), Hundred Days, and Joan of Arc (Public Theater). She has choreographed Indecent (Victory Gardens), The Who’s Tommy (Denver Center), Oklahoma! (Goodspeed), The Mikado, The Adding Machine, and American Idiot (Hypocrites), and Juno (Timeline Theatre Company).

In her application, Spelman wrote, “If assessed by traditional perceptions of masculine and feminine, the pique arabesque is the definition of a feminine step: graceful lines, pointed feet, a flowing arc up and over the supporting leg, a curvature of the lower back. It’s also objectively a vulnerable, surrendering position: the neck is exposed, the wrists are prostrate, and the chest is open and lifted. As a raw step, it could be described as delicate, light, or fragile. But Agnes added a muscular pulse of the arms and hands. In classical ballets, you often see the pique arabesque performed with the support of a male partner. But Agnes’ women perform it alone. Their standing legs are sturdy; the duration of their suspension is almost defiant. With one step Agnes took everything that her society deemed as feminine – a synonym for ‘weak’ in 1942 – and infused it with strength, control, and power”.

The Commissions

In September, SDCF issued a call for applications from SDC Member choreographers for original choreographic pieces. They are to be inspired by a letter from Agnes de Mille, discovered in the SDC archives. In December 1963, Ms. de Mille sent a letter to the Union for safe-keeping, explaining that it contained the outline for a new theatrical work which she described as follows:

“Under separate cover, I am mailing you a manuscript in a sealed envelope. Please file it unopened, with the date carefully noted. It is the outline for a play, and I have no means of copyrighting except this way. The material is eminently stealable and I’m discussing the matter with people of equal ambitions.”

SDC Member choreographers were invited to create works that imagine what Ms. de Mille might have had in mind in that turbulent year. The letter – marked “Please file unopened” and sealed with gold wax -- remains unopened to this day, and the Union has not yet determined whether it will in fact be opened following the debut of the pieces it inspires.

The commission recipients were chosen by a committee consisting of Helene Alexopoulos, Karen Azenberg, Joshua Bergasse, Donald Byrd, Theodore S. Chapin, Graciela Daniele, Maija García, JoAnn Hunter, Sam Pinkleton, and Susan Stroman. The committee will also serve as advisors to SDCF on the commissions and their presentation up through the event itself.

The 2019 SDCF “Mr. Abbott” Gala will be chaired by Philip J. Smith, Chairman, and Robert E. Wankel, President, of The Shubert Organization, Theodore S. Chapin, President and Chief Creative Officer of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, and SDC Executive Board Members Mark Brokaw (who is also an SDCF Trustee) and Rachel Chavkin.

Pioneering choreographer Agnes de Mille shifted the national perspective on how dance could be used in story development, both in musical theatre and balletic works. In 1943, her dream ballet choreography for Oklahoma! was the first appearance of truly story-integrated dance, using dance to advance the plot of a musical. Ms. de Mille choreographed over a dozen other musicals on Broadway, including Carousel, Brigadoon (co-winner of the inaugural Tony Award for Choreography), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Paint Your Wagon and 110 in the Shade, as well as the film version of Oklahoma!

One of the most important and admired men in the entire history of Broadway, George Abbott (b. Forestville, NY, 25 June 1887; d. Miami Beach, FL, 31 January 1995) was a theater director and producer, playwright, screenwriter, and film director and producer whose career spanned more than nine decades. He had a hand, one way or another, in the most historically and artistically significant New York productions of the twentieth century: Broadway (1926), Three Men on a Horse (1935), Brother Rat (1936), On Your Toes (1936), Room Service (1937), The Boys from Syracuse (1938), Too Many Girls (1939), Pal Joey (1940), On the Town (1944), High Button Shoes (1947), Where’s Charley? (1948), Call Me Madam (1950), Wonderful Town (1953), The Pajama Game (1954), Damn Yankees (1955), Once Upon a Mattress (1959), Fiorello! (1959), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1961), Flora the Red Menace (1965), and 103 other shows. Abbott had 40 films to his credit as screenwriter, director, or producer, among them All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), The Fall Guy (1930), and the film adaptations of his Broadway hits; his featured screen actors included Jean Arthur, Lew Ayres, and Gene Tierney.

Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation (SDCF)’s goals are to provide opportunities to practice the crafts of directing and choreography; to gather and disseminate craft and career information; to promote the profession to emerging talent; to provide opportunities for exchange of knowledge among directors and choreographers; and to increase the awareness of the value of directors’ and choreographers’ work. SDCF works to create access to the field, to connect artists, and to honor the theatrical legacy of these artists, at every stage of career. SDCF was founded in 1965 as Stage Directors and Choreographers Workshop Foundation, Inc., the not-for-profit foundation of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. SDCF is an independent, tax-exempt, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. www.sdcfoundation.org

SDC, Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, is the theatrical union that unites, empowers, and protects professional Stage Directors and Choreographers throughout the United States. Its mission is to foster an national community of professional Stage Directors and Choreographers by protecting the rights, health, and livelihoods of all of its members; facilitating the exchange of ideas, information, and opportunities, while educating the current and future generations about the role of directors and choreographers; and providing effective administrative, negotiating, and contractual support. 2019 marks the Union’s 60th anniversary. sdcweb.org

To support and attend

For information on sponsorship and advance table purchases, please write SDCF at MrAbbott@SDCFoundation.org

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