BWW Interview: Choreographer Al Blackstone Talks FREDDIE FALLS IN LOVE for the Fire Island Dance Festival
Popular choreographer Al Blackstone, known for his Broadway style routines on So You Think You Can Dance, is excited to be returning for his third season at the Fire Island Dance Festival. The festival, produced by Dancers Responding to AIDS (DRA), a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, runs July 15-17 in Fire Island Pines, NY.
Blackstone will be presenting an excerpt from his new work, Freddie Falls In Love, which recently had its premiere at The Pershing Square Signature Center in New York City. The show was also a benefit performance for DRA and Blackstone figured it would be a perfect fit for this year's festival.
Al graciously took the time to talk with me while he's currently prepping a production of Oklahoma at Music Theatre Wichita.
Congratulations on the sold-out run of Freddie Falls in Love at The Pershing Square Signature Center! How did the show come about?
Thank you! At the time I was working on a large project that was cancelled. I found myself with a little bit of money and a lot of time on my hands, which never happens. I thought I'd like to do another original show and came up with the story of Freddie quite quickly. I went to Denise Roberts Hurlin, founding director of DRA, and told her that I'd like to do this piece as a fundraiser. She has always been wonderfully supportive and loved the idea. I was also lucky enough to have Gil Stroming of Break The Floor come on board as a producer so I was set to go. I literally had the rehearsal room to myself to create which was a dream come true on every level.
Every choreographer's dream right? Can you tell me a little about the story of Freddie?
Freddie is about a young man who is heart-broken and learns how to fall back in love with the world essentially. He also learns to fall in love with possibility and the unknown. It's about a guy who likes to plan and what happens to him when his plan doesn't work out. He has to embrace the idea that some magic can't be managed.
So what can audiences expect to see at the Fire Island Dance Festival?
We're basically doing a short excerpt that I've adapted to suit the new venue. There's a number towards the end of the show that takes place in a Paris nightclub. It's the biggest production number from the show and has a lot of sexy and athletic dancing. Just before that is a number where the main character finds himself in Paris and things aren't necessarily going again according to plan. That is until he finds himself, through a turn of events, in this incredible nightclub having the time of his life.
So I took those two segments and using the same ideas of the show, reimagined it for a young gay couple that's visiting Paris. I figured that this new concept would be perfect to showcase at the festival.
That sounds wonderful. What excites you about being a part of this weekend?
The Fire Island Dance Festival is by far the most special week of the year for me. It's truly a celebration of dance with such versatile dancers and choreographers that come together for a cause. The organizers take very good care of us and the vibe of the festival itself is so loving and beautiful. It's a bunch of really interesting and passionate people getting to not only perform amongst one another, but to also enjoy the island together. It's a very special experience partly because Fire Island is such a magical place, and partly because dance is so damn magical.
How nice to see that you're listed as a "festival favorite" for this event. What is it about your work that makes people so happy?
My work tends to be about regular people. People that you recognize right away. I always strive to make work that anyone can see and understand and relate to. I think my passion is that I really love to bring joy into the world through dance. It's always been my dream. And it's really easy to do that at the Fire Island Dance Festival, looking out at the ocean, with an audience that is ripe for celebration.
You seem to have a lot of super-talented and devoted dancers that love to work with you.
I'm in a place in my life where somehow I look around and I'm surrounded by the most talented, humble, and creative dancers that are willing to dance with me. My work is so generated by the people I'm working with and because it's inherently cheerful a lot of the time, I tend to work with people who have a lot of joy in their hearts. My rehearsal room is a fun place to be and I think that is what people respond to. It's easy to be positive when you're working for such a great cause and I like to leave a rehearsal knowing we made the best use of our time. I love doing these events!
Speaking of dancers, can you tell me who'll be performing in your piece next week?
I'd be happy to. The cast includes Peter Chursin, Lori Ann Ferrari, John Michael Fiumara, Jacob Guzman, Heather Lang, Paloma Garcia Lee, Shelby Nunn, Khori Petinaud, Samantha Sturm and Mikey Winslow. I'd also like to give a huge shout-out to my choreographic associate, Billy Griffin, who is a great collaborator and an all-around amazing guy.
Do you have any new projects coming up?
I'm very excited about working on a new show for Princess Cruise lines that Stephen Schwartz is producing. It's called Born to Dance, which will celebrate Broadway production numbers. I've also been commissioned to create an original piece for the dance company, 10 Hairy Legs, whose founder, Randy James I met last year at the festival.
That's terrific, Al. Keep up the great work! Best wishes for a fantastic show at the Fire Island Dance Festival.
Thank you, Bob. It was a pleasure talking to you.
Al Blackstone will join a diverse lineup of choreographers and performers including Ballet Contemporáneo de Camagüey Cuba, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Gallim Dance, KEIGWIN + COMPANY, Glenn Allen Sims and Linda Celeste Sims of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Madboots Dance and a duet with Wendy Whalen and Brian Brooks. This year's Fire Island Dance Festival will be hosted by the inimitable Tituss Burgess, a Broadway favorite and Emmy Award nominee for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Tickets for the Fire Island Dance Festival are available at dradance.org or by phone at 212.840.0770, ext. 229.
Photo of Al Blackstone by James Jin.