Selective Focus: Brianna Hall

The Duluth Playhouse production of Cabaret opened at the Underground this week and runs through August 19th. For this installment of Selective Focus, we hear from Cabaret Choreographer Brianna Hall.

I am a dance artist and choreographer. For my current project Cabaret, I created jazz dance. Although this is my first time choreographing a full musical, I made my choreographic debut in musical theater with “The Wells Fargo Wagon” for my high school show choir. In college I earned a B.A. in dance where I studied modern dance performance and composition. To the uninitiated, imagine modern as a lot of artful running & falling followed by rolling around on the floor.

The Cabaret ensemble performing choreography by Brianna Hall. Costuming by Mary Myers. Scenic design by Ashley Werely. Lighting design by Patrick M Mulcacy Jr. Dancers pictured: Suzie Baer, Kristen Hylenski, Paige Kohler, April Roeder, Henriette Soderlind, Daniel Benoit, Noah Cornwell, Garrett Pierce Passer, Alec Schroeder, Louisa Scorich. Photo Credit: Crimson Clear Productions

I was inspired to return to jazz dance composition after attending the Boulder Jazz Festival in 2014. There, I rediscovered the breadth of jazz dance. And the joy! Apart from teaching jazz dance to children, I have not had many opportunities to choreograph it in Duluth. When I heard the Playhouse was doing Cabaret, I jumped at the chance.

I began jazz dancing in third grade and dance classes at five. Experience has made me more confident. In general, I am willing to take more risks and set movement that might “look weird.”

Working on Cabaret with a talented group of triple threats taught me to use choreography as a vehicle for storytelling. In a musical, every player has a unique character that must be embodied and sustained for 2 hours. For that reason, the choreography cannot exist just for aesthetics. It must develop characters and forward the story. I still have a lot to learn in that regard.

Dancing professionally in Duluth is tough. There are few chances for getting choreography seen and fewer performance opportunities. But, with the burgeoning HART district, I see an opportunity for growth. I constantly hatch grant ideas for concert dance shows. Now, all I have to do is write them…the grants and the shows.

Creating Cabaret choreography intimidated me at first because the show has a strong legacy as a Bob Fosse musical. (Bob Fosse is arguably the most influential jazz choreographer of the 20th century). The film version won best picture and the Broadway debut won best choreography. That’s a hard act to follow! I incorporated Fosse’s style while minding the Underground’s intimate space, thrust stage, and my personal style. It’s a little bit Fosse and a whole lot Brianna.

Teaching and rehearsing Cabaret was tremendously rewarding! Everyone in the cast brought unique strengths to rehearsal. I wanted to play to those strengths while fulfilling my wishes as the choreographer. It was a tricky balance to strike. Also, creating the work was solitary, but teaching it was incredibly interactive and dynamic. What worked in my mind and on my body didn’t always work with the company. I had to stay flexible. I kept reminding myself to check my ego at the door and pour energy into making the company look beautiful. Because when the (proverbial) curtain rises, that’s what matters.

Come to Cabaret! It opens this weekend and runs for three weeks Thursdays through Saturdays, Aug. 3-19 at 7:30 p.m. Cabaret is, in a word, complex. It’s bawdy, silly, tragic, touching, sexy, relevant and thought-provoking. Set in 1930s Germany, the story revolves around a cabaret performer, a wandering American novelist, and cast of Berliners. An omnipresent Master of Ceremonies acts as your guide as ominous political developments fracture the characters’ lives.

A respected dance teacher advised me that a dancer should always tend four fires: taking class, teaching class, choreographing, and performing. I always keep that guideline in mind as I move into new seasons of dance! I’ll be sure to put my upcoming gigs on the pdd calendar. 🙂

Cabaret tickets

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