And All That Jazz: “Chicago” Master Class with David Kent

Our Professional Semester students were incredibly lucky to take a private master class fromDavid Kent, the dance captain for “Chicago,” the longest running American musical on Broadway.  The Pro-Sems learned the famous, timeless Fosse choreography to the opening number, “All That Jazz.”

What dance training did you have as a kid?
None! I started in college. I was an athlete; I had Olympic aspirations and wasn’t even going to go to college. I lived in the Olympic training center for ski racing for 4 years. The Olympics didn’t happen for me, but no regrets! I went to college at the University of New Hampshire and started to dance. I was terrible – but I got hooked. I made it my minor and learned, fast – hours and hours each day. My initial background was in modern and ballet. Somehow I got sucked into musical theater and never left.
Did you study voice and acting too?
Yes. Both… But my strength is dancing.
When did you move to New York City?
I am from Cazenovia, New York but didn’t move to New York City until I finished Graduate school at Boston University. Broadway auditions were always priority, but I went to anything and everything.
When was your “Chicago” audition?
I went to a couple. There were just a bazillion people there in the beginning, and I kind of just got lost in the shuffle. But then I had two submissions from my agency and got to the end of both auditions but never heard back. So I to went to one more required call and again got all the way through … but apparently at the time, there was no job to be had! When a position opened up, they called me but I had to turn it down because I was performing in “Romeo and Juliet: the rock musical.” Later on the position opened up with the first national tour and I was available to take it. After the movie came out I did the third national tour that I dance-captained for. Then I moved into the Broadway company and I started as dance captain after my first year there.
How did you become dance captain?
The previous dance captains in New York wanted to move on to other shows and projects. Its a very time consuming job and doesn’t really avail much freedom… So I took over for them.
What are your responsibilities as dance captain?
I’m 80% psychologist, 10% telling people where to stand and 10% teaching choreography. That’s probably an exaggeration… Maybe more like 33% of each is more like it…. There are  a lot of egos to balance. You need patience. You need to get a job done while being considerate and respectful to your cast mates. I have the responsibility to teach everybody – I teach the stars, I teach the ensemble, I teach and maintain the choreography and staging. I also handle the dance aspect of the audition process. My bosses are basically Annie Reinking, Gary Christ (dance supervisor), and Walter Bobbie (director).
Why do you think “Chicago” has been so successful as the “Longest Running American Musical?”
It is so well written (it was trimmed down from the 1976 version). It’s down to its basic minimum, its just good story telling. It’s staged to be a feast for the eyes and ears too. You cannot help but laugh at some of the scenes while at the same time feeling the effect of a sensual drive that can leave you squirming in your seat. “Oh ya, and we’re not really wearing anything!”
Do you think there was resurgence after the movie came out?
Definitely! It brought in a whole new audience. Before the movie, the audience was made up of an older, regular theater crowd. All of a sudden this young, excited group of teenagers/twenty-something’s started coming to the show. We also began casting current stars – Usher, Ashlee Simpson, Kara DioGuardi, Kevin Richardson…. people like that are a huge draw.
What is your opinion of contemporary movie musicals?
In general, I would much prefer them to tape the live shows and air them on PBS. But Rob Marshall did an excellent job on the film [of “Chicago”]. It’s a huge feat. People keep trying, but have only had moderate success in comparison to what he accomplished.
What is it like to be part of “Chicago,” a show that has become such an American icon, especially in the dance world?
It’s an honor. I’ve done over 4000 performances now. With that said, I don’t care how tired I am or how broken I am, the minute that Overture music starts the adrenaline kicks in and its a whole new game. I love performing that show. I’ve had opportunities to leave and do other projects but it’s never even a question…. No thanks, I’ll stick with Chicago. Particularly with this show, if you don’t feel inspired, you should give someone else a chance. It’s too important of a piece to be lazy or uninterested.
Why do you think “Chicago” was chosen as the theater master class for BDC’s Professional Semester?
“Chicago” has become an icon. I really want to pass on all the information that I can, at least in the context of the people who created and originally performed the work…Because with every generation it is going to get diluted or changed – everyone is going to have his or her own take on it. I think it’s important to pass this choreography on in the way that it was intended. Particularly because numbers like “All That Jazz” can become over-simplified, pedestrian – and it’s not like that. Its actually hard, if you know the specifics, if you know the back-story, if you know the intent of the whole number and the number with in the context of the show. Even though you’re moving slow… There is resistance… Like moving through a thick soup… And your internal motor is still running full speed!
What is your teaching approach?
I am a really positive person and I believe in encouraging people. Particularly with this sort of material where there’s going to be improv involved, I think you have to learn to be able to look at yourself and not be judgmental.  I’ve noticed over time that it is better to encourage students than to yell, “You’re not doing this or that right!” I can get that way in the show, you know, after someone’s been doing a hundred performances and is still not doing something the choreographer has asked – a little bit more “tough love.” But my approach is basically: get them warm and then start right away with the material. I don’t do a long choreographed warm-up, because that would be more about me. I want to teach as much of the material as I can and be as specific as I can. I want to encourage students to find ways to look at themselves without being judgmental beyond the lines they are trying to create.
What advice do you have for dancers who want to audition for “Chicago?”
Good question – there is actually an audition coming up! Okay, for the women, you’ve got to dress sexy and edgy without being (forgive my language) “a whore.” You have to be intriguing. I like hair down. But we all have our own opinions behind the table. Also, you know you’re going to improv in this audition – LESS IS MORE! Do your three or four eights of improv in your apartment and take the best eight count out of whatever that was and make that last the whole time – you will stand out. Also learn to check your dynamics. You can move really quickly for four counts and then super slow for twelve. Know where you’re looking and what you’re looking at. Lack of focus is a big deal. I talked at a cocktail party with one of Bob’s former dance captains from “Sweet Charity” and she said, “Nobody teaches focus anymore.” Good reminder for me to mention it all the time. Men – be men…. Be fluid with out being light and soft… You can even make up the character – you are the guy that every other guy wants to be and every girl wants to be with – but you’re not trying, you are thoroughly comfortable with yourself.
Be sure to “rouge your knees and roll your stockings down” for the “Chicago” audition!
March 19th at Ripley Grier
10:00am Women
2:00pm Men

Here’s what our Professional Semester students had to say about their master class with David Kent:

“I had not done a lot of broadway work and was feeling a bit insecure. After taking the Chicago Master Class I felt inspired and confident . The class gave me the insight that I could be any type of dancer/performer I choose to be . And dressing up was a blast!” – Lara Luzim

“Learning the “All that Jazz” choreography from David Kent was a dream come true! I can remember countless times when I would dance around my living room as a kid to “All That Jazz!” Being able to learn the original choreography with such a warm and positive person like David was very comforting. Before the master class I would of never had the confidence to go and audition for the show, but now I feel like I am Velma Kelly! The master class will forever be one of my favorite dance memories!” – Molly Day

This was the best experience I have had so far while being in the city. David Kent was so inspiring and helpful, and he gave me the confidence to really let go. I had learned this choreography once before, when my high school did a production of Chicago, but this was so awesome to learn the little details and tricks to transform the dance into “more than just movements”. I am so happy that I was given the opportunity to be a part of his class!” – Julia Udine

Having the opportunity to have a master class with David Kent, and learn the choreography to “All that Jazz” was phenomenal, and by far one of my favorite experiences living in the city. I took a master class from him this summer at BDC, but this particular class was so helpful because we had more time to learn about the character, quality of movement, and  audition process. It has been a life-long dream of mine to be in Chicago on Broadway, so being able to meet David Kent, and learn actual choreography from the show left me a little star struck. Now I feel confident that I can go out and make that dream come true!” – Lara Scott

I am not a musical theater dancer, but this class made me wish I was! I have always been a huge fan of Chicago so I was very excited when I found out we had the opportunity to work with David Kent. He definitely helped boost my confidence in the performance aspect of my dancing. I also really liked how we all dressed up for the class; I thought that was a lot of fun, and it really helped me get into character. This was definitely my favorite master class so far!” – Mollie Kuhn

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