Much in the way that certain memorable costumes have become synonymous with some of our favorite characters, certain dance numbers have become pinnacles of some of our favorite Broadway musicals. The work of a great choreographer enables the performers to express themselves and conquer the stage in a way that words often cannot. Over the years, there have been dozens of amazing dances to pair with the incredible scores of some favorite musicals, but there are a few that have gone down in history as the true icons of the choreography world. It is nearly impossible to hear the snaps of West Side Story’s “Prologue” or the “FIVE..SIX…SEVEN…EIGHT…” of A Chorus Line’s “Opening Number” without envisioning every movement of the accompanying iconic dance routines. Here, we take a look at some of the most memorable dance numbers that audiences know and love.
“Dream Ballet” from Oklahoma (1943)
One of the most memorable moments of the classic Golden-age musical, Oklahoma, was the nearly 15-minute act-one finale ballet, often referred to as the “Dream Ballet.” The ballet features two ballet dancers who emulate Laurey and Curly in the sequence. The sequence set the standard for dream ballets, introducing the concept of an interpretative ballet — usually featuring well-trained dancers rather than the characters’ actual actors — to musical theatre. It paved the way for other musicals’ dream ballets, including choreographer Agnes de Mille’s other work in Carousel and Brigadoon, and other choreographers’ use of the style in musicals throughout history including West Side Story, The Wiz, Cats, and An American in Paris among others. Agnes de Mille choreographed the original production of Oklahoma on Broadway in 1943, which was her first time choreographing a Broadway musical. She also choreographed the 1951 Broadway revival as well as the 1955 film adaptation, and her choreography was recreated by Gemze de Lappe for the 1979 Broadway revival.
“Prologue” and “Dance at the Gym” from West Side Story (1957)
A musical with such illustrious choreography that it’s impossible to pick just one number for the “most memorable” list is West Side Story. Both the “Prologue” and “Dance at the Gym” are deserving of icon-status. From the chassés and finger-snapping of theprologue to the lively and high-speed footwork of the synchronized couples in “Dance at the Gym,” these two numbers are particularly memorable and are instantly-recognized by their signature choreography. Notably, both of these pieces are instrumental and dance-only numbers, sans any vocalizing (aside from the occasional whistling or exclamations).West Side Story was choreographed by Jerome Robbins, who won the Tony Award for Best Choreography in 1958. Robbins also went on to co-direct and choreograph the 1961 film adaptation of the musical. Robbins’ choreography was then also restaged in the 2009 Broadway revival of the musical.
“Bottle Dance” from Fiddler on the Roof (1964)
Dancers balancing bottles on their heads while maneuvering complex choreography? Instantly iconic. The bottle dance from Fiddler on the Roof is easily one of the most memorable pieces of choreography and feats of the stage. It’s not every day one sees a group of men executing increasingly involved footwork while balancing wine bottles atop their hats. Fiddler on the Roof was choreographed by Jerome Robbins, who won the Tony Award for Best Choreography in 1965. Fiddler on the Roof was Jerome Robbins’ last original Broadway staging for a musical. Robbins also directed and choreographed the first and second revivals of Fiddler on the Roof in 1976 and 1981, and the choreography in the third, fourth, and fifth revivals in 1990, 2004, and 2015 were based on his original concept and choreography.
“Cell Block Tango” and “All That Jazz” from Chicago (1975)
Bob Fosse is known for his iconic and recognizable choreography style, which is particularly evident in Chicago’s “Cell Block Tango” and “All That Jazz,” both of which undoubtedly earn a place on the “most memorable” list. From the minimalist set of six chairs in “Cell Block Tango” to the sexy and alluring group choreography of “All That Jazz,” the two songs trigger very specific images in the minds of theatre fans and prove that the choreography of Chicago is some of the most memorable of Broadway history. Bob Fosse earned a nomination for the Tony Award for Best Choreography for his original choreography of Chicago in 1976. While the musical has since been revived and restaged many times, recent choreographers have been mindful of Fosse’s iconic style and have sought to maintain his flair in the updated productions.
“Opening Number/I Hope I Get It” and “One” from A Chorus Line (1975)
Much of the choreography in A Chorus Line is iconic, as the show depicts just under twenty dancers auditioning to be a part of the dance chorus in a musical. So naturally: complex and intricate dance is a-plenty. However, two particular A Chorus Line dances make the “most memorable” list, because it would be impossible to pick between the opening sequence and the epically synchronized and fantastically glamorous “One.” So whether it’s the iconic “FIVE..SIX…SEVEN…EIGHT…” of the opening number or the Rockette-style kicks of “One,” the dance moments in A Chorus Line are by far some of the most memorable of the Broadway stage. A Chorus Line was choreographed by Bob Avian and Michael Bennett, who won the Tony Award for Best Choreography in 1976 for their work on the musical.
“Audition” and “42nd Street” from 42nd Street (1980)
The image of dozens of dancers tapping in synchrony calls to mind the iconic group numbers, “Audition” and “42nd Street,” from 42nd Street. The musical’s opening and titular songs feature some of the most famous synchronous tap dancing known to Broadway. In “Audition,” the show memorably begins with the curtain rising just enough to reveal the feet of a mass of dancers in colorful shoes, tapping fervently as the stage is slowly revealed. By the end of the musical in “42nd Street”, the colorful everyday clothes are swapped for glitzy matching costumes, and a staircase platform (in the revival) is used for the dancers to truly showcase their precise movements, but the enthusiasm and magnificence of the dancers maintains its undeniable quintessential Broadway energy. The original production was directed and choreographed by Gower Champion, who won the Tony Award for Best Choreography in 1981. Both the 2001 Broadway revival and the 2017 West End revival were choreographed by Randy Skinner, Champion’s dance assistant for the original 1980 production.
“The Jellicle Ball” from Cats (1982)
Few choreographic works can compare to dozens of dancers fully-suited in feline attire nailing complex routines in a nearly 13-minute dance, as seen in “The Jellicle Ball” dance in Cats. With plenty of high kicks, leaps, and chassés across the stage, the Jellicle Cats execute some of the most complicated choreography in musical theatre history. “The Jellicle Ball” blends the show’s integration of ballet, modern dance, jazz, and acrobatics into the culminating moment of the musical: the great annual dance in which all the cats celebrate. The original production of Cats was choreographed by Gillian Lynne, who received a nomination for the 1983 Tony Award for Best Choreography.
“Electricity” from Billy Elliot (2005)
With emotional music by Elton John and a pristinely choreographed ballet number performed by an 11-year-old boy, “Electricity” has all the necessary ingredients for an incomparably iconic dance number. With a dance break including both synchronized and solo ballet infused with hip-hop movements as well as gymnastics- and acrobatics-style choreography, the “Electricity” combination has the young dancers spinning and flipping across the stage in an impressively unforgettable number. Billy Elliot was choreographed by Peter Darling, who won several nominations and awards — including the 2009 Tony Award for Best Choreography — for his choreography of both the original film as well as the original stage productions in London, New York, and Australia.
“Step in Time” from Mary Poppins (2006)
The epic chimney-sweep tap dance break in “Step in Time” from Mary Poppins is a raucous and joyous combination that enchanted audiences both in the original 1964 Disney movie and then again in the 2006 Broadway production. The number is particularly memorable for its dozens of dancers executing complex tap choreography on the set of a rooftop, further emphasized by moving chimney pieces and other various rooftop accoutrements. Between the synchrony of the many chimney sweeps and the impressive tap solo performed by the character Bert, the narrator of the musical and the leading chimney sweep, the choreography for “Step in Time” has gone down in history as some of the most memorable. The original film was choreographed by Marc Breaux, while the Broadway production was co-choreographed by Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear, who were nominated for the Tony Award for Best Choreography in 2007.
“Seize the Day” from Newsies (2012)
Another beloved ensemble dance number, “Seize the Day” from Newsies has all the ingredients of truly iconic choreography: dozens of impressive male dancers, gymnastics and acrobatics, and clever use of props in synchrony. Whether it’s dancers conquering choreography while dancing atop newspaper pages, tossing their fellow dancers through their legs, or executing perfectly synchronized spins, kicks, and handstands, the choreography of this number has an unmatched energy that makes this number empowering and truly unforgettable. The Broadway production was choreographed by Christopher Gattellli, who won the Tony Award for Best Choreography in 2012.
The Ballet Sequence/”An American in Paris” from An American in Paris (2014)
While musicals are known for their versatility of style and flair, it’s not every day the musical theatre stage is graced with a full-fledged ballet number. The Ballet Sequence from An American in Paris is a stunning and iconic integration of a traditional pas de deux ballet into a Broadway musical. The two dancers who originated the roles of Jerry and Lise were professionally-trained ballet dancers. The dance is the epitome of elegance and a truly memorable use of ballet in the musical theatre setting, echoing Agnes de Mille’s “dream ballet” aesthetic and technique originated from her 1943 Oklahoma choreography. An American in Paris on Broadway was both directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, for which he won the Tony Award for Best Choreography in 2015.
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