Corine Cohen: Congratulations on your brilliant work in The Public’s production of ” First Daughter Suite” and my favorite part (Spoilers) was the scene with Alison Fraser as Betty Ford. How did you come up with the choreography? It reminded me a bit of Grey Gardens, all you needed was a flag and some curtains. Just hilarious!
Chase Brock: Thank you so much. Before she became Betty Ford, young Elizabeth Ann Bloomer was a serious modern dance student at Bennington School of Dance in 1935 and 1936, studying with Martha Hill, Hanya Holm, and Martha Graham. Elizabeth was accepted by Martha Graham as a student and moved to New York where she became a member of the Graham Ensemble and eventually danced with the Graham company at Carnegie Hall! She and Martha were lifelong friends, and as First Lady, Betty Ford was instrumental in Martha receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In First Daughter Suite, we lovingly reference dances Martha made in the period in which Elizabeth was studying with her like Satyric Festival Song and Chronicle, as well as the Medea solo from Cave of the Heart, which I imagined Betty still trying to work her way up to dancing more than 30 years later when our play takes place — as interpreted by an inebriated ex-dancer aboard the presidential yacht in the fever dream of a 12 year old.
Corine Cohen: Alison Fraser is perfectly cast in this show. Loved her as Betty Ford and as Nancy R! What goes on at a typical rehearsal? How many hours is needed and what goes on?
Chase Brock: Isn’t she? I can’t take any credit for her casting; I was just grateful to be blessed with her by Michael John and Kirsten. I don’t know that there is any ‘typical rehearsal’ on a new musical, but in Alison’s case, she made it clear from the beginning that she was going to go all-in with the choreography, and she dedicated herself to untold hours of work on the movement, in and outside rehearsal. I have to give a shout-out to my associate Emily Maltby, who worked tirelessly with Alison to clean and clarify and reinforce the movement during every phase of the process.
Corine Cohen: I know you are working on a new play at the Vineyard can you tell me about the choreography and how do you balance all of the shows?
When you do choreography for a show do you work on it at the start and then move on to the next piece or do you make any changes after a show opens?
Chase Brock: The new musical I’m choreographing at the Vineyard right now is called Gigantic and is a subversive coming of age story set in a weight loss camp. The idea of having the chance to work with a talented, dynamic, hilarious and curvy group of artists spoke very loudly to me and I have had the best time working on the show. I hope the movement I have made has challenged and revealed and honored these artists and their characters just as I always strive to do in my shows.
The balancing act of projects is tough, and I really tested the boundaries of that in 2015 with 15 projects, including six new musicals. Working at this volume takes the support of producers, directors, associates, assistants and dance captains, not to mention my husband, family, closest friends, and therapist! And daily meditation.
Choreography for musicals takes a huge amount of work at every phase: the initial big dreaming and pitching, the practical pre-production work, daily work in rehearsal and refining outside of rehearsal, revising throughout the rehearsal and tech, changes and cuts in previews and, of course, maintenance after opening and replacements. Once a show has either gotten into previews or past opening, I don’t exactly move on, but I do indeed keep moving forward.
Corine Cohen: Can you tell me about the Chase Brock Experience and what is next for you?
Chase Brock: The Chase Brock Experience is the dance company I founded in 2006. I just made my 27th dance for the company, Splendor we only partially imagined, which was a commission from Dancers Responding to AIDS and premiered October 10th in the Hudson Valley Dance Festival.
In 2016, we are excited for a one-night-only concert with all live music in collaboration with the fabulous Pit Stop Players at Symphony Space May 20th. We will also be on tour in Chatham, NY, and Tannersville, NY in August as well as working on my new version of The Nutcracker, which we plan to add to our repertory in 2017.
Corine Cohen: If you could go back in time is there a show you would love to choreograph and why?
Chase Brock: Spring Awakening or Billy Elliott, although the exquisite work by Bill T. Jones and Peter Darling on those two shows is burned into my eyes, memory and soul in such a deep way that I would have to go through a total hard drive reset / memory erasing process before tackling either show. Spring Awakening’s themes of miscommunication between parents and children are so universal, and its blue, melancholy tone is so alluring. And (like every male dancer who has seen it) Billy Elliott felt like my story and reduced me to a weeping mess when I first saw it in London.
Corine Cohen: What is your dream project on Broadway and who have you always wanted to work with both in the present and the past?
Chase Brock: My dream project on Broadway would be to direct, design and choreograph a new musical based on some really unique and kinetic source material. To really create and articulate the visual and physical world at every level from the environment to the people to the clothes to the movement, and to then be responsible for helping guide the cast through the emotional and psychological arcs of their characters. To be able to curate and select and invite all the collaborators.
Just a few people from the past I’d like to work with: Agnes de Mille, George Balanchine, Jack Cole, Keith Haring, Syd Barrett, John Lennon, Martha Graham, Jackson Pollock, Isamu Noguchi, Dan Flavin, Oliver Smith
Just a few people in the present I’d like to work with: Sofia Coppola, Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry, Wes Anderson, Madonna, Mika, Annie Leibovitz, The Magnetic Fields, Patricia Field, Es Devlin, Mary Oliver, Bjork, Christine Jones, Robert Lepage, Ivo van Hove, Jenny Holzer, Patti Smith, Stephen Powers
Corine Cohen: If you were not a choreographer what would you be doing with your career?
Chase Brock: Fashion design, home design, puppetry, sculpting, film editing or essay or novel writing
Corine Cohen: What are your favorite shows currently on or Off Broadway?
Chase Brock: Aladdin, An American in Paris, Matilda, The Lion King and Wicked on Broadway, and The Flick off-Broadway. Very much looking forward to A View from the Bridge on Broadway and Lazarus and These Paper Bullets! off-Broadway this season.
Corine Cohen: Who do you admire most and why?
Chase Brock: Twyla Tharp for her mix of high and low.
Robert Wilson for his total vision.
Michel Gondry for his visual inventiveness.
Martha Graham for the force of her work.
Mark Morris for his musicality.
Matthew Bourne for his humor.
Wes Anderson for his mastery of tone.
Lear deBessonet for being an agent of change.
My assistants for being my teachers.
My husband Rob Berman for his kindness and generosity.
Corine Cohen: If you could go in a time machine back in time anywhere is the World where would you go and why?
Chase Brock: One fun place would be to the premiere of Agnes de Mille’s ballet Rodeo. She was such a pioneer, and she made comedies in a time when women weren’t encouraged to be funny, and in a medium that has to function without language, and even though she said she preferred dramas and plotless ballets. I know from her account of the Rodeo premiere that it was not easy, and to be able to experience an artist of her caliber dealing with the same frustrations and issues that the rest of us deal with sounds so comforting.
I adored ” First Daughter Suite” hurry to see it as it closes on Sunday. It is one of the most exciting musicals running today. Catch it at the Public Theater. Hoping this show will move to Broadway or extend as it is brilliant. I thank the Public Theater for making this interview possible.
Corine Dana Cohen