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Bullets over Broadway

by Susan Stroman

Jazz II midterm assignment

Jasmin Maria Gauguin

Susan Stroman is both the director and choreographer of Bullets over Broadway. It was originally a Hollywood movie by Woody Allen from 1994. Stromans other works include: Crazy for you, The Producers, Big and most recently on Broadway Big Fish. In this assignment, I will refer to the things in the show, knowing that my teachers have seen the show, and therefore I will not give a resume of the story. First of all, I absolutely loved this show. I kept thinking how genius Susan Stroman was, because the staging looked fantastic and the transitions were so smooth and well thought through. These were just the things that made me notice how smart a director she is. However, what actually happened onstage is of course a whole other story. I thought it was phenomenal. The choreography was very specifically created for each character and the scenario. I noticed some things about Stromans style: Frames: Stroman sees the stage as a whole and her dancers are like a frame that applies to the visual experience in the scenery. *In dance classes we have talked a lot about creating frames; catching poses in the technique (like a hand detail or a jump in the air), as if someone had to take a picture of it. These frames mean that the dancers move in specific shapes. For this, I saw a lot of triangular movement, straight lines going both across and downstage. Working in shapes like this, it requires that each dancer has a very precise technique, being perfectly aware of the placement.

Example of a triangular frame

Example of a linear movement across the stage

By calling Stromans style frames, I also refer to her style of entering and exiting her dancers; its a style in the transitions. The dancers enter and exit the stage in frames. This draws the audience eyes towards the dancers from the second theyre onstage, the storytelling begins already from offstage. The opposite of this (which I very often see in shows) is that the dancers run onstage to their spots during a blackout, and start the dance when the lights come up. This says a lot about Stromans style; that her choreography is one that travels a lot, and that entering and exiting are just as important as the steps on center stage. This point was further proven to me during a scene with a character running from a murderer. The scene didnt fully take place onstage, but in between stage and offstage. The performers danced across the stage back and forth in the form of running from or after something. I found it interesting that the stage was only used as a crossover, and in this way it was like the whole theatre became the scene. Stromans framework is also used for creating the background sometimes; a frame to set the mood for eg. a club, a train station or a fine party. These type of frames are usually freeze frames, or such with little movement - like a hand detail or hip swing. These type of frames are also used as pieces of scenography. For instance to create a train: the dancers hang over their hips and walk slowly in two tight lines to create the train approaching the station. Or to create props: for example the giant hot dogs in Olives character song. Big endings: Stroman likes her dancers to hold a pose by the end of the number, preferably in many different level and impressive positions (like a split, or standing with one leg by the ear). This specific choice is something I think she applied for the certain time period too. The 20ies were very big expressively in a performance. This was the time of the real showgirls, where the girls were more of a materialistic item for entertainment.

Example of an ending pose. As well as the dance poses, this picture also shows the showgirl touch and the props (cats tails).

Once that is said, I think that Stroman is very fond of these big endings of a number, because she has also created several straight ballets for Lincoln Center, a style which is very much about beautiful lines and impressive frames. Ballets tell more of a story with the complete visual experience, not as specifically character-directed as in musicals. This ancient style must be one Susan Stroman has been very inspired by. In fact, Stromans career began in the classical world, choreographing operas for Hal Prince productions. The other performance by Susan Stroman I watched recently was Big (from 1996). I noticed that she used these frames a lot in that choreography too. Dancers moving in and out of the stage in frames was such a significant part of the show. Interestingly, in big contrast to Bullets over Broadway, these frames never finished in a big pose/freeze frame. My interpretation is that Big is a show about a fast evolving journey and constant discoveries - the frames reflect the tempo of the story; it never stops, its restlessness, excitement and eagerness. Bullets over Broadway is not as fast. There is time for glamour and pleasure. The show is very physically exposed. A lot of the dances are very seductive, and therefore the overall mood is cunning, secretive (in a sexual hintful way) and heated. This a totally different mood. In the new era of musical theatre, we see less of these freeze frames. A reason for this, I think, is because we moved further and further away from entertainment into realism. Holding a big pose by the end of a dance number asks the audience for applause, - and in this moment the audience is drawn out of the story and reminded that its just a play. Furthering the storyline: The style of the 20'es was like mentioned more for entertainment, not so much the style of storytelling that furthers the story line. However, there was a bit of that in a minor way. Two examples are: - Nobody's business: the lady with the dog performs a tap dance as a form of trying to get her point across by getting the rest of the group to dance along with her. - Olive and the fat man from the theatre group notice each other, and through a very intense dance they come on to each other and decide to take each other to bed. This is very specifically storytelling through dance, because the decision is made from the way their touch in the dance leads to the next thing, and not a dialogue.

The intense dance between the two

I noticed a funny detail about this scene; the girl is wearing a bright yellow dress - just like the girl in Susan Stroman's show 'Contact'. For both shows the girl in the yellow dress is a seductive Queen and a catch for the man's eye. For this reason I wouldnt say you could characterize Susan Stroman in one style - in the same way that you for instance can recognize Bob Fosse as being dark, sinister and seductive. I also watched an interview about this, - that Stromans style isnt easily defined. I would say she is a director and storyteller, but one who has the ability to look into the world of the art with all the different set of eyes that the different departments in a show require. Choreography is her definite strength in storytelling. How the dance applied to the story: The dance style varied, according to which of the characters that danced. - The boys had a very pedestrian jazz style, not very 'show-oriented' with big jumps and jazz hands, but a cool and easy - looking approach to the classical steps, that made them look more manly. This reminded me of Jerome Robbins choreography for the Jets in West Side story. - The girls were more glamorous and pretty looking. The arms in the choreography was very significant. Ballet-like, flary and effortless. And as mentioned earlier, the girls were used more as materials to invite and seduce. What made the dancing believable, according to the story, is that it was built for the character, not the style. The dynamics of the dance was measured by the size of the character's personality. Very big for the main character and smaller and more modest for a character like the lady with the dog - her style is a cute tap. What I loved about watching this performance is that there was almost every kind of dance in this one show. Jazz/showdance for the club dancers and the train ladies, ballroom for the guests at the ball, tap for the more laid back scenes in a bar or in the rehearsal. I thought it was an extremely entertaining show with tons of surprises, and no possibility to fall asleep. I was astonished by their multiple talents in all the different styles of dance. Stromans beautiful tall girls are very unforgettable.

Reference The paragraphs about the technique, is my own subjective interpretation of Stromans work. Other knowledge about Stromans works come from wikipedia and interviews from youtube. It was my wish to find books on the style of Stroman, but since she is a more recent artist, there arent yet any books that cover that yet. Below is a list of my links. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Stroman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xeOiHgFxIxI https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cttf_IN5jkQ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VD7Sq_PfWgE !