The Gardens of Anuncia is directed and co-choreographed by Graciela Daniele and co-choreographed by Alex Sanchez. When I caught a moment with Sanchez – he is shuttling these days between rehearsals for Florencia en el Amazonas at the Metropolitan Opera and previews of Anuncia at LCT – he explained just what a co-choreographer does.
“The co-choreographer,” he said, “has creative input into the movement of the piece as a whole. I collaborate with the director/co-choreographer to come up with steps. It has been an especially satisfying collaboration with Anuncia because everything is so interwoven. We don’t have giant musical numbers but every song requires movement.”
Sanchez calls the production’s movement “vernacular,” explaining: “We use basic gestures from everyday life – walking, turning the head, standing up – to convey the emotion of the song and to tell the story of a girl growing up in the Argentina of the late 1940s and early 1950s.” He added: “While not all the five actresses in the show are trained dancers they are all spectacular performers so it was a pleasure to work with them to come up with this vernacular.”
No matter how gifted the performers, however, Sanchez says that choreography “always involves a lot of trial and error.” Especially, he added, when numbers contain a mesh of styles: Latin, jazz, ballet. Even in the musical’s tango number, “Malaguena,” in which the mother character, played by Eden Espinosa, has a night out at a tango hall, the goal was not to create a quintessential tango.
“The aim,” Sanchez said, “was to take a social dance and theatricalize it. We use tango steps to convey a character’s emotional journey. We focused not on creating a pure tango but on telling the story.”
That Sanchez and Daniele can collaborate beautifully owes something to their shared professional trajectories. “We both trained in ballet,” Sanchez said, “which gives you a tremendous discipline and foundation. We both came to New York and ended up on Broadway, where we were influenced by Bob Fosse and Michael Bennett, her directly and me indirectly.”
The initial meeting of Sanchez and Daniele occurred right here at LCT, in 1994, when Nicholas Hytner’s London production of Carousel came to the Vivian Beaumont. Sir Kenneth McMillan, who choreographed the piece in London (after the original choreography by Agnes DeMille), had died during the London rehearsal period. Daniele, an LCT resident director at the time, was engaged to work on Carousel with Hytner, during New York rehearsals. Sanchez was a member of the ensemble.
“Meeting Grazie was very impactful for me,” Sanchez said. “After Carousel, we kept in touch. In 2005, she directed Chita Rivera’s autobiographical show, The Dancer’s Life. I was in the ensemble. On opening night, Grazie took me aside, looked into my eyes, and said: ‘You need to stop dancing and start choreographing. She saw something in me I didn’t see in myself.”
Commenting further on his relationship with Daniele, Sanchez said: “I can’t believe we’ve known each other for thirty years.“ He added: “In this show, there’s a number called ‘Travel,’ in which Younger Anuncia’s grandfather encourages her to see the world, to take her own journeys. It’s a bit of a cliché, but I feel that Grazie encouraged me to take a new professional journey, and I’m so happy that with Anuncia we’ve arrived at the same destination.”
Brendan Lemon is a freelance journalist in New York.