Lifeline: Some Badly Needed Support for Dance-Driven Musicals

 photo:  Zeren Yasa/shutterstock

photo:  Zeren Yasa/shutterstock

In a recent post, I reported on institutional dance funders like the Shubert Foundation ramping up giving as strapped government agencies cut back. News out of New York City provides another example of this phenomenon while suggesting that a top-heavy dance field needn't be a foregone conclusion.

Following the success of its pilot program launched in the spring of 2017, the Springboard Project announced it was accepting letters of inquiry for its 2018 residencies. Backed by the Jerome Robbins Foundation and a half-dozen other funders—including the Mertz Gilmore, Howard Gilman, and Slifka Family foundations—the program provides a three-week development workshop for two creative teams in early conceptual stages of a new dance-driven musical.

It's the kind of program we've come to expect from the Jerome Robbins Foundation. An influential player in the dance space, the foundation has provided support to New York City-based troupes like the New York City Ballet, the Gibney Dance Center and the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, as well as the Houston Ballet, Boston Ballet, Miami City Ballet and Oregon Ballet Theatre.

And just like the Shubert Foundation, which raised its total grant payout by $1.6 million from 2015 to 2016, Robbins' largesse is also trending positively. Its annual contributions rose from $1,392,466 in 2015 to $1,541,455 in 2016. That's a very respectable 11 percent increase.

Now, at this point, the hook-hunting journalist in me would posit that maybe the Springboard Project has something to do with the "Hamilton Effect," which had generated new interest in dance-driven musicals.

I'm sure the Jerome Robbins Foundation would agree that Hamilton's success has been good for the field as a whole. That said, foundation planners and Project Director Mara Isaacs weren't taking any chances when conjuring up the Springboard Project. The team spent two years conducting an "in-depth inquiry into the feasibility and desirability of an initiative that would support the development of dance-driven musicals."

"Overwhelmingly, we heard from directors, choreographers, composers, lyricists, and book writers that while the appetite for developing dance-driven musicals is genuine, there is a profound frustration with the limited avenues available to independent artists," said Ellen Sorrin, a director of the Robbins Foundation.

The Springboard Project was created to meet three goals. First, to encourage creative teams to incorporate choreographic and directorial ideas at conception; second, to develop the work with dance fully integrated into the storytelling; and three, to address the existing financial and practical obstacles to developing those ideas in the early stages of development.

Creative teams may range in size and must include a choreographer and a composer. Both residencies will take place in New York City in June 2018.