Choreographer Chase Brock has always been a little ahead of himself. As a six-year-old, he watched his cousin’s dance recital, begged to be put on the stage, climbed up, and “felt the rest of my life born in that moment.” At 16, he left high school, got his GED, and moved to New York. Brock did not earn a degree in dance or theatre, but he learned at the feet of the masters. Ann Reinking, Pat Birch, Jeff Calhoun, and Gregory Hines were teachers of his at Broadway Theatre Project; he landed his first Broadway show at the age of 16—Susan Stroman’s The Music Man—and followed that up by assisting Reinking on her Broadway revue The Look of Love and assisting Kathleen Marshall on her revival of Wonderful Town.
At 24, he founded his own dance company, The Chase Brock Experience, which celebrates its 12-year anniversary this Thanksgiving—all the while simultaneously pursuing theatre dance and choreography. Though today, the multi-arced career is a familiar one, a decade ago artists stayed in their lane.
“Twelve years ago, you had to say, ‘I’m a modern dance choreographer with a company and we have 36 weeks a year that we tour,’ and now that’s over,” says Brock. “Basically everybody is sharing. It’s more project-based, and there’s crossover between theatre and film and commercial dance and concert dance.”
He continues, “I was weirdly out of time, and now I feel in sync with how we’re all working.”
But even if the working model has changed, it remains a challenge to balance. This past year alone, Brock presented the full-length dance work The Girl With the Alkaline Eyes, choreographed Broadway’s Be More Chill, choreographed the world premiere of Disney’s Hercules, and directed a high school reunion production of Fiddler on the Roof for the Disney+ series Encore! “I live with a constant fear and frustration that in order to move the ball forward on either a CBE project or a freelance project or whatever, I’m having to do that at the exclusion of a bunch of other things on my other to-do lists,” Brock says. For now, he continues to multi-task.
His dance piece “The Four Seasons” enjoys a revival presentation at Theatre Row beginning November 21; Be More Chill will bow in London come February 2020; his new artistic space in Accord, New York, opened a week ago; his new musical Luna and the Gold River Docks recently had an industry reading starring Betsy Wolfe; and Hercules wheels continue to spin. “I don’t know if I can do this forever in quite this way, but for now the company work feeds my soul, and I couldn’t do what I was doing in theatre without that. So I don’t want to choose.”
Here, we take a detailed look at Brock’s four most present projects:
“The Four Seasons” – The Chase Brock Experience
His role: Company founder and artistic director, choreographer
The origin: “Matthew Bourne, who is [now] on my dance company’s advisory board, saw an early concert of ours. He said to me, ‘There’s a piece of music you need to choreograph. I really want to see your version of this music.’ As a huge fan of his, I was like, ‘You thought of me and a piece of music?’ It was Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons.’ At that very moment, the intergovernmental panel on climate change released a report, and it was a chilling climate change report. This was in 2008. Like a global alarm bell. I thought, ‘That’s why I should make The Four Seasons. I should not make a European idyllic harmonious baroque piece. I should make a 21st century American or global piece. It’s as urgent as it was then—or more.”
The style: “I wanted to make a piece that kept changing the audience’s compass of what world we were in. I thought about Mark Morris in the spring movements; I took inspiration from Matthew Bourne for the summer movements. The fall is inspired by Jiri Kylian movement, and the end [winter] is Pina Bausch. I asked a playwright to write four weather reports. The set is like a giant clothing closet. While these weather reports happen, a cable news anchor gets increasingly frantic and the dancers move through a year’s worth of clothing.”
Be More Chill – London West End, February 2020
His role: Choreographer
Broadway v. London: “We have had five years of development on Be More Chill, and I feel that I’m definitely not going to reinvent the large movement ideas that I have brought to it. But the space will be different and the relationship to the audience will be different, and I think that is going to definitely instigate some new thinking. Be More Chill 4.0.”
The style: “The vocabulary for the students of Middleboro High—they don’t know what they’re doing. It’s what I call the heartbeat of the hallway. Then there is the self-conscious characters dancing in situations like the Halloween Party at Jake’s house. That refers to international street dance, like Belgian jump style and, essentially, the way we consume dance now is that we watch YouTube. Essentially, teenagers in this New Jersey high school—I’ve imagined—are watching social media clips and learning European social dance and then doing it at parties. Then the other big language is the language of the SQUIP, which is the most fun and inventive in a way. How do you create movement language for a digital character who is essentially a bunch of ones and zeroes? He’s essentially coding. How do we physicalize that? Then, how do we make that vocabulary ominous? How do we, ultimately, in ‘The Pitiful Children,’ see a landscape of what I say is the glittering face of fascism?”
Accord Train Depot – a.k.a. Art Incubator
His role: Founder, owner, resident artist
The origin: “My husband and I have a second home in Ulster County in the Hudson Valley in a small town called Accord. There was a former train depot that’s 117 years old built in 1902 for the New York, Ontario, and Western Railway. In the teens and ’20s, 500 people would get off the train twice daily and visit 250 resorts and boarding houses in an area that now feels like there are two hotels. This beautiful, dilapidated train depot sat on the Main Street of our town and we fantasized about it as our studio.”
The space: “Two years of construction and dreaming later, it’s a residency space where we can [also] house eight people. The station master and his wife and their son lived upstairs in the depot and our architect, Marica McKeel, created this extraordinary train-car-inspired sleeping-car-inspired bedroom. We’re going to start out and make invitations to our colleagues and artists we really admire, but the intention is to create a kind of incubator working space that companies can use, especially small companies that don’t have a zillion staff.”
Luna and the Gold River Docks – Musical in development with book, music, lyrics by Eric Dietz
His role: Director; “This is the first new musical that I have shepherded this far along.”
The story: “It’s all based on a true story that’s hard to believe and yet true [about an abandoned killer whale’s search for human interaction in Gold River]. It’s a piece that reveals all sorts of things about small-town business and industry and politics and environmentalism, and what do we do with wild animals, and what’s our responsibility, and what happens when the government gets involved in areas where they shouldn’t be involved in, and who gets to legislate the open waters. It’s a fascinating piece that has a documentary, small-town, quirky surface and a very mysterious, unknowable, ethereal underbelly. I’m excited about that duality.”
The future: “We are at a phase where I have produced all of the work to this point, and we are ready to have partners. In my dream world, we would have both a regional partner who is interested in presenting a regional premiere, and would have a New York non-profit.”