The Functions of Dance in Musical Theatre: The Innovations of Andy Blankenbuehler
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A choreographer for the musical stage has the ability to create a unique marriage between movement and song. When a choreographer begins layering the language of movement into a production, they have the opportunity to prescribe any particular movement vocabulary. With new and original material, the choreographer embarks on a journey of layering movement onto a narrative. With a new work a choreographer is able to decide upon original movement vocabulary simply because the show has never been staged before. The choreographer works with the words and music to complete a vision that is in conversation with the other creators, all in service of the material as a whole. The movement of Tony-winning choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, paired with the music and lyrics of Lin-Manuel Miranda, is both compelling and unique to the world of the shows they have created. Both In the Heights and Hamilton have dynamic and significant movement vocabularies supporting its narrative in the same way with highly juxtaposed movements. The dance in In the Heights is arguably understated but dramaturgically significant, in that it completes the narrative. In the same sense, the more contemporary and interpretive movement vocabulary in Hamilton supports its narrative, rounding out the overall aesthetic. There are countless conversations swirling around the revolution that is Hamilton , which was also true for In the Heights in 2008. There is a missing link in these conversation in terms of the significance of the choreography and the meaning it creates for each show. Miranda's work is words; he has the responsibility of threading, weaving, and layering text, while Blankenbuehler creates meaning by adding an additional layer—one of movement—to the text. The dance functions through and around Miranda's words, creating a complementary relationship to the piece. With the Original Broadway Cast Recording as the vehicle through which the vast majority of audiences experience Hamilton and In the Heights , it's no surprise that there is a lack of conversation concerning the movement. In this thesis I will widen the scope of conversation around the choreography in these two shows, and analyze the movement, ultimately broadening the understanding of the dramaturgical functions of dance in musical theatre.