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Emmy-nominated choreographer Al Blackstone makes his Joyce Theater debut with Freddie Falls in Love
Three years ago, when a job Al Blackstone had fell through, the choreographer decided to put his unexpected free time to good use by focusing on his passion project: Freddie Falls in Love, a 75-minute dance-theatre piece told entirely through movement.
"It was something that I felt like I needed to do -- I had the idea and I felt passionately about making it," says the Emmy-nominated dance-maker, who's spent many seasons choreographing numbers for the hit reality TV series So You Think You Can Dance. "I work so much on project-based things. Usually people hire me to make something for them, musicals or television. But this was a wonderful moment of doing something purely because I wanted to be creative."
Blackstone quickly assembled some of his favorite dancers -- including Broadway performer Matt Doyle and So You Think You Can Dance season eight winner Melanie Moore as his leads -- and presented Freddie Falls in Love for four performances as a fundraiser for Dancers Responding to AIDS in 2016.
"My initial expectations were very limited," Blackstone admits. "As we started making it, people came on board to help support it, and it grew into a show. I was just so grateful that it got made. There was never any intention to take it further."
However Martin Wechsler, who was then the director of programming for the Joyce Theater, caught the show and was impressed. He gave Blackstone a call to talk about slotting it into an upcoming season, and on July 23, Freddie Falls in Love finally opens for a two-week run at the venue. Billed as an evening-length, Broadway-style dance play, the production represents an intriguing departure for the Joyce, which is best known for hosting concert dance companies.
Meanwhile, Blackstone is beginning to cross over the other way, from commercial to concert dance. He's a regular presenter at the annual Fire Island Dance Festival, which has resulted in intriguing collaborations: last year his submission featured American Ballet Theatre principal James Whiteside. And the artistic director of 10 Hairy Legs asked Blackstone to create a piece for the all-male troupe after seeing a performance of Freddie Falls in Love in 2016.
"So the show led to my first commissioned work for a dance company, which was a wonderful experience," enthuses Blackstone. "I've started to work more in that world. I feel very excited about that because a company coming to me and saying, 'We'd like you to make something' means that I can tell a story on my own. I've always felt like a choreographer but also like a writer. I enjoy coming up with characters and situations; I like using dance to tell a story."
The narrative for Freddie Falls in Love was inspired by Blackstone's own life. "I had a sad breakup of a five-year relationship," he says. "I had this image of a guy sitting on a couch, unable to move on because his heart's been broken, and a bunch of other ideas started to form around it. Then I started thinking about people who would be playing these parts. It just unfolded that way. It started out being about me, but of course as it developed, it became about many other things. But it was born from a feeling that I had, and from wanting to tell a story about someone who learns to be happy being alone."
Five of the 12 cast members are reprising their roles from the 2016 run, including the two leads. The seven newbies include recent Juilliard graduates, and musical theatre and concert dance vets. They hoof their way through 21 songs, an eclectic, decades-spanning mix ranging from Fiona Apple to Jacques Brel, Harry Connick Jr. to Noah and the Whale.
"It's all inspired by the idea of mix CDs," explains Blackstone. "When I was in high school, I made mix CDs and gave them out as gifts. So it's about how you can have a selection of songs that all relate to the same period of your life. I loved the idea of these songs that don't really belong together. "
Blackstone cites Matthew Bourne, whose dazzling work bridges the worlds of dance and theatre, as a major influence. "You have so many dancers who are amazing actors, with wonderful intuition and wonderful instincts, but there's not a lot of places for them to use all that," he says. "I'm happy to provide a space for them to do so."
Susan Reiter regularly covers dance for TDF Stages.
Top image: Matt Doyle and Melanie Moore in Freddie Falls in Love. Photo by James Jin.
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