John Heginbotham featured in the New York Times

A Dark ‘Oklahoma!’ Brings Barefoot Modern Dance to Broadway

By Gia Kourlas , New York Times - April 16, 2019.

How long has it been since a dance changed the temperature of a Broadway show?

In Daniel Fish’s unnerving production of “Oklahoma!,” the second act opens with a rumble of electric guitar. Its brooding, sexy sound fills the space until a familiar melody takes over: “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin.’”

But is it really a beautiful day? By this point, a fog machine has created enough haze to sink a ship.

And then comes an odd yet arresting sight: A dancer, Gabrielle Hamilton, walks to the center of the plywood stage. She lingers long enough to gaze at audience members, who ring the performance area on three sides. Soon she sets off, galloping around the perimeter with her hands in front of her body crossed at the wrists. Her glittering white top grazes her mid-thigh and reads “Dream Baby Dream.”

For the show’s choreographer, John Heginbotham, the shirt is an instruction for the viewer. As he put it in a recent interview: “Please, now, take this time to dream.”

When Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” was first unveiled in 1943, its dream ballet, masterminded by the choreographer Agnes de Mille, was a game changer. Instead of incorporating dance as filler, it advanced the plot by showing the emotional trauma of the heroine, Laurey, who is being wooed by two men, one seemingly wholesome (Curly), the other sinister (Jud Fry). The year before, de Mille had explored the theme of sexual awakening with her ballet-drama “Rodeo.”

The new dream ballet, which Mr. Heginbotham called an “expressionist explosion,” also unlocks Laurey’s sexuality. But Mr. Heginbotham, 48, has revised it for the modern world, making a dance about outsiders that brings to mind issues of race, inequality and the treatment of women. Both visually and sonically, it’s different from anything else in the show. Mr. Heginbotham, a member of the Mark Morris Dance Group before forming his own company, has brought barefoot modern dance to Broadway.

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