|Kurt Froman was formerly a dancer with the New York City Ballet and is now the choreographer of Billy Elliot playing at the Orpheum.
Kurt Froman has lots to say about dancing and choreography. Below are excerpts from an interview with the man who did an astonishing job as resident choreographer for â€śBilly Elliotâ€ť now playing at the Orpheum Theatre.
BayTimes: What do you love most about dancing/choreography?
Kurt Froman: I love the "perfection" of a performance, where everything is incredibly focused and present, and I am demanding that my body do its maximum at that moment in time. It is a moment of losing yourself while being totally aware of everything that is going on inside your body and mind, and [still] being aware that there is an audience.
I really like to gear up my body for performingâ€¦and train in a very calculated way to get into amazing shape. It definitely gets more painful the older I get.
Coaching also requires me to be hyper-present, but I am giving instead of taking. The beauty of dealing with such young performers who play Billy is that they are a pretty blank canvas, with everything to learn and nothing to unlearn. Most have had only basic dance training in terms of ballet. I get to totally fine tune their technique. It gives me huge pleasure to see how far I have taken them in such a short few months.
When did you first begin dancing? And choreographing?
I started dancing at my older sister's dance studio in Texas with my identical twin brother when I was about 8. Tap and jazz were the things I really loved, and ballet only came a few years later. Auditioning for a local production of the Nutcracker really opened my eyes to the whole ballet world, and started my journey down that road. When I started studying with Paul Mejia and Victoria Fedine, both SAB/NYCB trained dancers, I became obsessed. The Balanchine style, with its clean training, musicality, footwork, and jazziness, knocked my socks off. My brother and I performed with Fort Worth Ballet since we were 14, and joined as apprentices when we were 17. We had also been attending the School of American Ballet (SAB) for their summer courses since we were 15, so we knew there was a big interest in us from the NY ballet world. The first Rudolf Nureyev Scholarships for promising male dancers that we received at 18 paid for us to move to NYC and train at SAB full time. Within six months, we both received
our apprenticeships with the New York City Ballet, where we danced for my own career in the Broadway scene.
I started coaching only the past few years, which happened totally by accidentâ€¦ [after]â€¦injuring my ankle pretty badly on the third day of rehearsals in Twyla Tharpâ€™s â€śCome Fly Awayâ€ť. While recovering, an old friend and colleague from NYCB, Benjamin Millepied, was in need of someone to assist him on a possible movie of Darren Aronofsky's. This movie became "Black Swan". I was in charge of teaching the material, coaching, and sometimes partnering and teachingâ€¦both Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis.
After "Black Swan", and staging one of Millepied's â€śTriade" at the Paris Opera Ballet, I got a call from Jeffrey Edwards, Resident Choreographer of the Bâ€™way production of "Billy Elliot- The Musical". After many days of grueling auditions, as a performer and a coach, I was given the Resident Choreographer position and Understudy for "Older Billy"/"Scottish Dancer" for their second national tour.
When did you realize you wanted to be a professional dancer/choreographer?
When I was 14 and realized I had the talent and tremendous love for the Balanchine style of ballet. As I got closer to graduating high school, I knew I had to leave Texas and move to NYC, and prayed I was good enough to join the New York City Balletâ€¦.I always knew I was opinionated as a dancer, and it has been a perfect adjustment to now have a platform as a coach to voice my opinions.
What do you consider to be your strengths as a performer/choreographer?
My proportions. I have long arms and legs, and I am a pretty good turner, and have good flexibility. The thing I am most proud of, which I try and emphasize in my teaching, is that I am musical. It is what I look for mostâ€¦and is a huge pet peeve of mine when I'm watching someone move without any kind of relationship to the music. Alsoâ€¦remembering choreography. I can still remember the first jazz dance I learned from my sister when I was 8. My muscle memory has been great for both my dancing and coaching.
As a coach, I think I have a great eye, and keep a good balance of being tough and nurturing. I have had a few teachers that were bullies and narcissists. Neither should be coaching or especially dealing with kids.
When you get down, what lifts your spirits back up?
I would say watching the boys perform and seeing them exploring on their own. I have seen this show hundreds and hundreds of times, but when I see a Billy do something unexpected during a show, the tears will start flowing down my face.
What of your many accomplishments are you most proud of? Professionally? Or personally?
Definitely that I was a dancer in NYCB, because it was my one and only dream as a kid and I achieved it very soon in my career. Having a diverse career as a performerâ€¦Doing a leading role in "Movin' Out"â€¦was the first thing I did on my own, away from my twin brother, as well as me leaving my career as a ballet dancer. There is a lot of safety when you are a dancer in such a reputable company, and quitting to be your own boss is a scary, but really empowering departure. ..That I got to work with Darren Aronofsky, an artist I really respect, and that he trusted my expertise. "Billy Elliot" has probably been the most personal project I have ever been a part of, with its premise really reflecting my journey as a young dancer trying to legitimize my love of ballet to my family and community.
What have been the most challenging experiences youâ€™ve had in your career?
Accepting the fact that as a freelance artist, there are stints of unemployment. You can't take rejection personally, and have to trust that you are headed down the right path. It is very easy to start doubting yourself when you have gone in for three hundred auditions to Broadway shows and continue to get cut.
Who would you say has influenced you most professionally? Personally?
I have been lucky to have worked for and with such amazing artists, from hugely diverse backgrounds, that there is something to draw from with all of them. I loved working with Martha Clarke, from a performance art background as well as modern dance. Suzanne Farrell is not only one of my favorite ballerinas, but also an amazing coach. Nothing she ever said to me was technique driven, rather she used a lot of imagery.
Who are your heroes?
I have many artists that I admire. Stanley Williams was a huge mentor to me. Dancers in NYCB that I have really admired were Wendy Whelan and Suzanne Farrell. I love filmmakers that have a unique and uncompromising voice (Darren Aronofsky, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Roman Polanski). I admire dancers that check their ego at the door and work beyond their expectations. I love people that love animals too.
If you were to give advice to someone wanting to be a dancer today what words of encouragement and/or warning would you offer them?
One thing that I notice in a lot of young dancers is a sense of entitlement. It annoys me when I see that. Be prepared to work hard, but find the joy in the work. Also, not to take rejection personally. Educate yourself in what you're doing, and see as much as you can.
If there were one thing you would want to be remembered for, what would that be?
I guess it would be that I was a hardworking and devoted artist. I would hope that people enjoyed my dancing as much as I loved doing itâ€¦ that they felt I was an honest performer, and saw my spirit in my work.
Whatâ€™s up next?
I'm not sure, and I am excited about that. I still have a lot of dancing left to do, and feel that I want to make use of the last five years of my thirties to do that. I would really love to dance in some Fosse choreography since I've never done it. I definitely have come to realize that life presents you things when you are ready, and that there is a master plan that we aren't always aware of. I'm enjoying the ride!