Giving Chase to Choreographer Chase Brock

Dance "from character and situation and circumstance and plot and theme."

Katlyn Carlson, Tiffany Mann and Lauren Marcus in "Be More Chill." Photo: Maria Baranova.

This was going to be a straightforward Q&A, with a standard three- or four-graph up-sell introduction that would tell you, as if you didn’t know, that Chase Brock is a choreographer and director, and that his choreography for Broadway’s Be More Chill — a cult hit if there ever was one, directed by Stephen Brackett — had people talking. Nice, right? Does anyone remember 25 years ago, or maybe less, when weepy theater wags wagged their tongues in mourning for the death of the era of the director-choreographer? Let’s unclutch our pearls. Y’all can’t wait on Tommy Tune forever. Chase Brock also provided additional choreography for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark and he survived. Broadway needs more Chase Brocks:

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Last Saturday morning, slouching sleepy-eyed on the couch and groggily sipping my coffee, on comes NBC’s Open House with a profile of Brock — or more specifically, his whimsical, warm, more-colors-than-Benetton Brooklyn Heights apartment. “Nice get,” I mumbled to my slumber-y self, “he’s got great PR.” And for the full week that followed, I noticed that Brock seemed to be everywhere. Call it a campaign or call it coincidence, I call it as well-managed as Brock choreographic instincts — and his clear affection for narrative: spend a little time familiarizing yourself with his company, The Chase Brock Experience, for more about that. His work is exciting. It’s so simple, but it’s also so unusual. And it’s not as if he hadn’t arrived already, but with Be More Chill, good gravy, Chase Brock really has arrived.

For tickets to Be More Chill, click here (and if it wins the Tony for Best Musical, clear your calendar for 2022).

And now, 5 questions that Chase Brock has never been asked:

What’s the most perceptive question anyone has asked you about your work?

I have enjoyed being asked about small changes from night to night by audience members who have attended multiple performances of a given work. This has happened with my dance company, The Chase Brock Experience (especially our most recent work, a robot dance drama created with composer Eric Dietz), and has happened with Be More Chill and other shows I’ve choreographed or directed. There’s something life-affirming and bolstering when I’m reminded how smart and perceptive audiences are; that they do notice details and are affected by the small moments we refine and adjust and polish and shape tirelessly over the course of rehearsal and previews.

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Will Roland and the cast of “Be More Chill.” Photo: Maria Baranova.

What’s the most idiotic question anyone has asked you about your work?

I think sometimes people see unison group movement and assume it’s the work of the choreographer, but see solo movement or choreography on one actor and assume the actor just made it up. Sometimes that might be true and the choreographer’s work, in that instance, might have been to capitalize on an actor’s natural instincts or improvisatory skill. But more often, the choreographer’s hand and eye and taste has been involved in everything from story development to musical arrangements to weighing in on costume choices, helping actors with physicality in non-musical moments, directing scene shifts, staging curtain calls, and on and on. Musicals are collaborative and in the best (most integrated) of cases you really can’t tell who did what — and that’s a good thing. But group dances or dance breaks are really just the icing on the cake of what a choreographer has to do.

What’s the weirdest question anyone has asked you about your work?

I don’t know if this counts, but in just the last few weeks I have been mistaken multiple times for both George Salazar and Troy Iwata after preview performances of Be More Chill — and was asked to sign Playbills and take photos both before and after I gently mentioned who I actually was.

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Chase Brock. Photo: Matthew Murray.

I’m curious how you created a visual and physical language for Be More Chill –especially those “Squip”-driven moves. I’m curious about the choices you made but also those you rejected. How did you know which choreography was “right? How did you know when an idea, move or step was wrong? Which “darlings” were the hardest to cut?

It all started with a careful reading of the script and listening to demos of the songs, followed by an enormous amount of visual research on everything from dance in Wes Anderson’s films to Michel Gondry’s music videos to Belgian, Brazilian and Dutch rave dances on YouTube to digits and finger-tutting (as the Squip tells Jeremy in the show, “You and Rich have a connection now — it’s just digital”), to cosplay contest to manga animation to the vintage animated dancing of the Peanuts characters. All of these went into my choreographic blender and became part of the languages I’ve created for the show, including a language for the high school students when they’re aware they’re dancing in the Halloween party, to the language that the high school students speak in the hallway when the characters do not know they’re dancing, to the language of the Squip world and the people under the influence of Squips.

I knew choreography was right when it helped the actors with their characters’ arcs and when it added to the collective storytelling. The things that I rejected were diversions that were fun or interesting but ultimately didn’t serve the central narrative, or that took the audience too far away from the path for too long. For the Broadway version of Be More Chill, I made a little dance for Brooke and Chloe within “Sync Up,” which I hoped would give the audience another chance to get to know their relationship through movement — and reveal a vulnerable side of Chloe. But ultimately, even though it was only about 15 seconds long, and even though Lauren Marcus and Katie Carlson performed it beautifully, it just stopped the flow of the action at the wrong moment, and I cut the dance but kept the moment of vulnerability for Chloe, which was all that was really needed.

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I know an abstract artist who loves and admires 19th century impressionism but has no interest in creating a 21st century reflection of that genre. Do you have a choreographic equivalent — a style, mode or technique that you thoroughly love and admire, but really would not want to work in?

I think I’ve gone back and forth about ballet for my entire career — from when I was a pre-professional ballet student to this past fall, when I was a resident fellow at NYU Center for Ballet and the Arts. I love it, and love New York City Ballet in particular, but I’m just not sure if the world wants or needs a proper ballet from me.

The year is 2030. You’ve choreographed five more Broadway shows. Define the state of Broadway choreography. Is it relevant to modern contemporary dance?

It’s just impossible to know where dance on Broadway will be 11 years from now, but I hope it will reflect the melting pot of America even more. Personally, I am tired of the sameness and synthetic-ness of the style we started calling “contemporary dance” in the era of So You Think You Can Dance? That amalgam of modern dance, the style we called “lyrical” in 1990s dance competitions, and jazz dance, now so permeates the American dance world that it has just worn me out. I’m not looking for more slick, emotionally overwrought “contemporary” dance on Broadway — I’m looking for more dance and movement that grows organically from character and situation and circumstance and plot and theme. And I hope the dance that grows out of these needs will employ every kind of movement we can think of, reference, invent and mash up.