Chase Brock

November 30, 2009

As a young dancer, Chase Brock was caught in a conundrum: He loved the classicism of ballet and trained rigorously with Ronnie Zink and at Ballet Spartanburg. But he also enjoyed—and excelled at—musical theater, attending the Broadway Theatre Project and performing in regional musical theater. Choosing between the concert dance world and the theater scene was a never-ending struggle. “All my dance friends thought of me as the dramatic one,” Chase says. “And all my theater friends thought of me as the technical dancer! I kept going back and forth.”

As a choreographer and founder of the Chase Brock Experience, the 26-year-old has finally found plenty of room for both. At a rehearsal for his piece Slow Float last summer, eight of his dancers worked on giddy pony skips, hip swirls and head rolls that recalled the swinging 70s (and perhaps Liza Minelli) right alongside flashes of delicate technical elegance. All told, it’s an appropriate example of 26-year-old Chase’s work, a hodgepodge of stylistic energy and serious precision, simultaneously indebted to animated musical theater, formal ballet and modern dance.

Chase watches this rehearsal thoughtfully then pops to his feet to discuss dynamics. He slides through an eight-count demonstration, momentarily revealing his own dance prowess. But while Chase was successful as a professional dancer—he nabbed his first Broadway gig, in Susan Strom

an’s revival of the The Music Man at just 16—it was choreography that fascinated him most.

“When I was young, I always got the kids in my neighborhood together to make up dances and plays,” Chase says. “I loved organizing people, building on a thought and seeing my finished product.” Later, during rehearsal for The Music Man, Chase realized he was jealous of the show’s creative team, especially when they got to work on formations and concepts. So, he grabbed a video camera and friends and started choreographing on his days off. After 721 performances in the classic’s revival, Chase decided to officially step from the stage to the sidelines. “Choreography is an invitation to make beautiful things,” Chase explains. “I far prefer that to being the center of attention.” After his stint on the Great White Way, he continued with his new endeavor and assisted such legends as Kathleen Marshall, Ann Reinking and Jeff Calhoun.

Fortunately for dance lovers, this once-frustrating dual influence now strengthens Chase’s work, keeping it interesting and varied, with nods to everyone from Fosse to Balanchine. The whole of it is in high demand: In the short lifespan of the group of 19 rotating dancers, Chase has created 23 diverse pieces, ranging from wildly technical to poignantly narrative. The company has performed them at increasingly impressive venues, including Dance New Amsterdam, La MaMa e.t.c. and Joyce Soho in NYC.

And, along with founding his 3-year-old company, he has created work for the New York Theatre Ballet, musicals for theaters around the country and operas internationally.

In his current work, Chase strives to “be part of the American dance lineage. “When I first started choreographing I looked at my ancestors: Martha Graham, Agnes De Mille, Bob Fosse, Jack Cole, Twyla Tharp,” Chase says. “That’s where I fit in—with Americana, that jazzy folk of our country. I want to uphold that tradition.”

With his troupe of “scrappy, beautiful creatures” swirling around him, Chase works toward this end daily, finally letting the borders of prescribed styles hold less importance. He also collaborates with young set designers, musicians and artists, hoping to move not just dance, but all art, forward in a thoughtful and deliberate way. “The name of the company started out as a joke, and yes, it’s cheeky,” Chase admits. “But in reality, we do try to give our audiences a complete, unique experience. From the graphics on the mailers and audience seating, to the details of each movement, costuming and live music, it’s all considered and measured. I want to do it all. And do it really, really well.”

Check out the Chase Brock Experience at these upcoming performances, all in NYC:

CBE fall season October 8–11 at the Abrons Arts Center

December 7, CBE Gala at the Galapagos Art Space

January 9 at the Dance Gotham Festival at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts

Photo by Sarah Small