Choreographer Profile:
Camille A. Brown

You most recently choreographed at The Public Theater for HELL’S KITCHEN, a world premiere loosely based on Alicia Keys’ personal experiences. This show featured both new music by Keys, as well as several of her most iconic songs. How did the show’s music inform your choreography?
I am very honored to be a part of Hell’s Kitchen and joined the project in February 2022. In preparation for rehearsals, I listened to all the music- both well-known and new by Alicia Keys and figured out how I wanted each number to move. I listened to the orchestrations and asked myself: how can dance both align and contrast? Since the show takes place in the 90s in NYC, it was important to incorporate movements- social dances- that reflect the time period. Through our workshops, I discovered that the dancers could not only serve as individuals in the space but also represent Ali’s thoughts and feelings. This provided a space for me to bring in my modern dance vocabulary, investigate gestural vocabulary, and bring different aspects of my voice into the space.

What is unique about creating dance for theater and musicals?
I love the balance of dance, music, song, and visuals all living in one space in service to a story. Dance is a language and can be an active participant in storytelling. No matter what medium I’m working in, it’s always in service of the story.

You were also not only the choreographer for, but also co-directed Terence Blanchard’s opera, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, which was presented in 2021 at the Metropolitan Opera. Can you tell us more about the story of this opera?
The story is based on the life of writer, Charles Blow, and delves into him navigating a world where his sexuality may not be welcomed in certain environments. It’s a story of great pain, but also vulnerability, desire, love, and truth.

How does the addition of a directing position change your roles and responsibilities within a production like this?
As co-director, I am contributing my vision to the show. As a creative team, we were in conversations about how the story is told, in what ways the dancers show up in the space, and what they are wearing. Being a director is like being on call 24/7 for everyone and everything. Several pots are on the stove cooking at the same time and it’s your job to make sure everything cooks evenly and a full and satisfying meal is presented at the end!

Your other opera credits include Porgy & Bess and Terence Blanchard’s Champion. What is unique about creating dance for opera? What drew you to choreographing within this art form and specifically for these shows?
I don’t really see working in different mediums as vastly different when it comes to my approach. Yes, each medium has its own way of functioning, but I never change who I am when entering a space. The story will change, and the way people are required to move in the space changes, but the base (my voice) remains.

My grandmother used to listen to opera on the radio all the time. It was one of her favorite things to do. Because of that, I was always interested in it as an art form. In 2019, I was asked to choreograph Porgy & Bess for The Met and that was my first opportunity to be in the world of opera. High stakes, but I just focused on the work.

You have a lengthy list of Broadway, film, and TV credits, as well as your own professional company based in NYC. What are the differences between choreographing for these diverse mediums and how does your approach change based on the kind of artists you’re working with?
With any of these mediums, you have to be ready for things to change on a dime. Have several plans just in case what you had in mind doesn’t work out. You’re constantly looking at the full picture. You may be designated one title, but the creative members function as a team and everything leads up to the story and the strength of telling it a certain way.

The first day of rehearsal is very important. We’re all getting to know each other in the space. You’re witnessing, in real-time, people’s process and you have to figure out how you align yourself within the equation. Also, people are individuals, so witnessing how people incorporate their personal choices into my choreography is thrilling. Who is in the room matters and they are part of what inspires me to create.

Your Broadway directorial debut was for the Broadway revival of for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, which celebrates the power of Black womanhood. In what ways do you honor female stories and perspectives on stage? And, how do you aim to support and uplift women leaders, dancers, and artists in your work behind the scenes?
I believe having the opportunity to direct FCG is one example of honoring Black female stories on stage. For concert dance, I choreographed BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play, which celebrates Black girlhood, womanhood, and sisterhood. I cannot represent all stories, but I can tell stories through my lens as a Black female. By doing so, I hope that I contribute to the legacy of storytelling that lifts up the voices of Black people, Black women, women, and human beings.

In 2014, I started The Gathering, which serves to empower Black female choreographers by providing support in many different ways. I also have a mentorship program that is going strong. Anytime someone reaches out to me and is interested in watching my process or shadowing me, I always say yes. As a young choreographer, I didn’t always believe in my dreams but it was my community and the people who came before me who inspired me to keep going. I am doing what I was taught- to pay it forward. 

Are there any other events or productions coming up that you’d like to promote or celebrate? Anything we at DDP should have on our radar?
On April 8th, Fire Shut Up in My Bones returns to The Met Opera. On March 28th, previews for Hell’s Kitchen begin on Broadway followed by the opening night on April 20th. The new work of Camille A Brown and Dancers, titled, I AM, will premiere in the USA, this summer 2024. More details to come on that announcement!

Want to learn more about Camille? Visit her website here.