Musical Theatre in America: Papers and Proceedings of the Conference on the Musical Theatre in America

By Glenn Loney | Go to book overview

Black Influences on Choreography of the American Musical Theatre since 1930

RICHARD A. LONG

The terms black dance, stance, and gesture in this essay will include patterns that are distinctively Afro-American, as well as those of black African provenance and those of the black African diaspora, including the Caribbean and Latin America. The net can even be cast wider to include syntheses or amalgamations of these with each other and with other dance traditions, though in such a brief survey we simply indicate that the syntheses are also a field for investigation. The search for these would be especially fruitful in the work of the last twenty years.

Black influences in the choreography of the American musical theatre may be classified in descending specificity as (1) the direct inclusion of black choreographic movement in a theatrical work; (2) the mimetic reflection of black choreographic movement; (3) the absorption of black stance and gesture into a choreographic matrix; (4) the presence of a major black choreographic talent in a choreographed role; and (5) possibly, the choreographic rendering of distinctly black musical elements, such as jazz, the cha- cha-cha, or the Haitian merengue.

Taking the half century stretching from 1930 to the present, one can state that there have been more than fifty Broadway and Off-Broadway musical pieces in which black dance, stance, or gesture predominates. At the outset it is obvious that we have excluded from this number those revues and musical plays where the black element is present as vignette or cameo. We also exclude or treat perfunctorily those cases where what would be identifiable as black dance under our definition is performed chiefly by nonblack dancers.

A chronological survey has its uses, particularly from the developmental perspective. But several other perspectives may be employed to bring us a deeper sense of what the black presence in the choreography of the American musical theatre is. We could group the shows according to our schemata: direct appropriation, mimetic adoption, and so forth. Such an analysis, of course, would require the actual reconstruction of the chore-

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