Dance on Broadway for Wii

There is an amazing summer program for musical theatre called Broadway Theatre Project, and I attended it in 1998 (probably the year some of you were born.  Weird..).  I cannot recommend it highly enough.  The people you meet and talent you are among without question are phenomenal, and the majority go on to have strong professional careers.  It’s like a little training ground, and for years, I ran in to and worked with several people I first met in BTP.  Please check out the website (click on the name) to see the faculty, curriculum, and alumni.  Truly outstanding.  More on that some other time.

But with all that said, Chase Brock, the guy featured in the article below, and I were there together way back when.  He now has a dance company, The Chase Brock Experience, in New York, and we don’t keep in touch, but I am super happy for this…  it’s nice when artists hit the jackpot:)  He’s now able to keep of his dancers employed and pay for his studio in Brooklyn, all thanks for technology:)  Thanks Wii!

A Video Game on Broadway, With Taps, Too

Damon Winter/The New York Times

Chase Brock has choreographed a Wii video game, Broadway Dance, in which players learn dance routines.

By REBECCA MILZOFF

CHASE BROCK never imagined he’d choreograph a video game, much less one involving Broadway dance routines. Until last summer Mr. Brock, 27, knew very little about video games at all. “I had a Super Nintendo very briefly in the ’90s,” he said recently. “And I had, like, five games. But major video game stuff I knew nothing about, and I’d never played a Wii.”

A Broadway Dance version of a number from “The Sound of Music.”

Marissa Jaret Winokur, Mary Bond Davis and Harvey Fierstein in “Hairspray.”

The Broadway Dance version of a number from “Hairspray.”

Still, a year ago Mr. Brock was selected to choreograph a Wii game, Dance on Broadway, that has become a top seller, and members of his small troupe, the Chase Brock Experience, were enlisted as models for the game’s avatars.

Mr. Brock’s unfamiliarity with gaming was but one small bump of many on the road to creating Dance on Broadway.

“We didn’t have a lot of precedent to work off of,” said Jeff Lindsay, a producer at Longtail Studios, the game’s developer. “There were other dance games out at the time, like Dance Dance Revolution. But they were much more about fast execution and really extreme dancing.”

Aside from the lack of gaming experience, Mr. Brock had the credentials that Longtail sought: He has worked as a dancer or a choreographer on Broadway shows (the revivals of “The Music Man” and “Wonderful Town”), and, as he pointed out, “I have all this ridiculous Broadway trivia in my brain, and I thought, this could be an outlet for a part of my personality that I sometimes feel I have to hide in the concert world.”

Longtail wanted dance routines that would balance artistry — the feeling of a Broadway stage, moves challenging enough to keep repeat players interested — with an eye to a beginning dancer’s needs, like repeated steps associated with a bridge or chorus.

So Longtail and Mr. Brock worked from a straightforward premise: Players mimic the moves of their on-screen avatars for any of 20 musical numbers, ranked by difficulty. Based on how the Wii remote tracks movement, each player receives a score at the end of a number, showing the percentage of moves executed “great,” “O.K.” or “X” (wrong). There’s no ultimate winner, but it’s difficult to finish a round feeling there’s no room for improvement. The game is also remarkably inclusive; others can easily follow along and dance (and sing) without holding the remote.

The song list itself was another challenge for Mr. Brock. “The game is in four-player mode,” he explained, “so you have to pick songs that make sense for four players.” He continued, “There were many great ideas for duets, but suddenly if you want to do ‘You’re the One That I Want’ from ‘Grease,’ it becomes an awkward question” of who are the two avatars other than the main characters, Danny and Sandy?

The final list thus includes numbers for groups in unison (“Aquarius” and “Let the Sunshine In” from “Hair”); a pair of duos (two guys, two dolls in “Luck Be a Lady” from “Guys and Dolls”); and soloist with trio ensemble (“Roxie” from “Chicago”). An occasional exception sneaked in: “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” from “The Lion King” was a favorite of Mr. Brock’s, and he hoped the strength of the action among threecharacters (Simba and Nala, the rebellious lion cubs, and Zazu, their much put-upon hornbill teacher) would let him get away with adding a character, Zazu 2, to round out the foursome.

The game’s technical limitations influenced Mr. Brock’s choices as well. The remote is meant to be held in the right hand; if it was to track movement, his steps had to keep the right arm ticking quickly. Early testing showed that players found leg-arm coordination difficult, so Mr. Brock emphasized hand gestures while sticking to “step-touch, box-step, tiny kick lines” instead of more complex leg moves like développés. Against early expectations, play testers also showed a love of tapping, so three tap numbers were added. (Mr. Brock’s feet can be heard on the tap track.)

The Chase Brock Experience dancers were filmed in groups of four for the animators’ reference (Dance on Broadway has hundreds of animations, compared with 40 to 50 for a typical game). Then, after an initial round of play testing, one dancer would be filmed from three different angles, sometimes in a motion-capture suit. “I find it easier to remember long phrases of choreography and harder to remember the easier stuff,” said Ashley Eichbauer, a company member who also acted as Mr. Brock’s assistant. “And that’s exactly what this game is: doing a pattern of ABC, then CDE and then ABC again. There’s a lot of brain teasing that happens. You could rehearse all day, but if one person messes up, you have to start over.”

Mr. Brock, who was introduced to Longtail by his commercial agent, said: “I think of my whole job as being about looking and, more importantly, seeing, and I found my eye and my dancers’ eyes were actually far less developed than the animators’. They will watch two dancers side by side and within eight counts will say: ‘Oh gosh, she’s so sharp. Do you want it to be that sharp?’ ”

Mr. Brock and his dancers benefited in more concrete ways as well — namely, financially. When he was hired, Mr. Brock had just rented a studio in Brooklyn for the company but was unsure about how he’d cover the rent all year. Thanks to Longtail, which used the space for filming and rehearsal, the rent was paid for six months, and the dancers got an unexpected extra gig. “I’m thrilled that I’ve been able to keep a company employed for 38 weeks this past year,” he said, no small feat for a small, single-choreographer company.

His pop-inflected, tongue-in-cheek movement style has received mixed reviews; not so the response to his game. Dance on Broadway, which was released in North America and Europe this summer, is currently the best-selling Wii game in Britain. “There’s absolutely the opportunity for it to grow as a franchise and move beyond the initial Wii version,” Mr. Lindsay of Longtail said.

Mr. Brock said the game ultimately fits into the path that he hopes to take as a choreographer. “I’m totally not ashamed to say I’m interested in speaking to a wide audience,” he said. “The populist nature of this appealed to me,” he added later. “I was thinking, wow, this might be some kid’s first exposure to dance, or first exposure to Broadway and what live theater can be. It’s not a dying art — but maybe there are new ways in.”



Posted on: 11.08.2010

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