Orlando Ballet’s Arcadian Broad has been called 'the future of ballet' 

Wunderkind? Prodigy? Unicorn?

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click to enlarge PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
  • Photo by Rob Bartlett

On a Friday morning I arrive at the ballet studio to observe him in rehearsal with a few male dancers from the company for his new work, "Mad Hatter's Wonderland." The premise, choreography and music are all Broad's own, with the Mad Hatter exiled to the London of the 1920s. Broad's score is equal parts Sergei Prokofiev and Danny Elfman, with buoyant, off-kilter motifs in a colorful harmonic language. There is a tension between elegant and angular, but there is always his dancer's connection to rhythm.

This weekend's Contemporary Wonders program at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts features a half-hour preview of "Wonderland," which will eventually be a 70-minute, three-act ballet involving as many as 50 dancers, Broad says. "Everything from the production department to the wardrobe department to the makeup department is shaping up to be something that I haven't seen a ballet company do yet."

Broad waves to me and gets back to teaching the steps for a solo by the White Rabbit. He pushes the dancers through explosive leaps with eccentrically precise landings, then through twists and hops evoking the dances of the Jazz Age. They're following along, relaxed and laughing but very much on their toes; they're sharing the same easygoing feeling of discovery as guys in a garage band teaching each other songs.

The piece culminates in a hyper-exaggerated reveal of the White Rabbit's bête-noire: his pocket watch. Broad has refined the stop-on-a-dime movements into a signature language for the fidgety, high-strung Rabbit. If every number captures its character this well, "Wonderland" will be a smash.

I ask Broad about his method for choreography. Does he write it down on paper? Use notation software? No, he says, he envisions point A and point B and then works out what comes between in his head, in rehearsal. He improvises, and the dancers follow him. They trust him.


Back at Lineage on that warm April morning, I ask Broad how it feels to be the Future of Ballet.

"I mean that statement alone is kind of heavy," he says. "Everything you do is going to be analyzed, scrutinized, and people are going to want to dissect it. Which is scary. But also if you look at it from the other perspective, like, you have nothing to hide and all to give, then that's not a bad thing."

The young artist projects a nervous, occasionally mischievous energy – eyes darting back and forth, talkative but sincere. There's none of the cold, stern seriousness of the archetypal ballet dancer, but he is unmistakably confident, showing a remarkable level of comfort with the demands and expectations placed on him.

Broad is aware of the abnormality of his circumstances – he has been his whole life. Feeling like he didn't fit in with other kids, being bullied and then home-schooled, national television appearances – none of it has been normal, much less the rapid path to being a professional dancer.

"Normal is you spend eight years in school and two years in a second company and then you gotta spend however long in the corps before reaching soloist and principal," he tells me. "I spent – what, seven months in the school? And then nine months in the second company, and then I was a professional."

"It's unheard of," he continues, "and almost frowned upon."

He clearly knows that some ballet purists will be skeptical, that some people will use the spotlight shined on him to look for blemishes. He tightens up a bit when I ask if his career trajectory would've been possible in New York or London. "Maybe. Maybe. I don't actually know. We can speculate." But then he softens again and considers whether Orlando's unique circumstances helped shape him. "Maybe."

Only time will tell if Broad's career will bear out his mentor's predictions. To realize just how unique a talent he is, it's enough to look back at how few dancer-choreographer-composers there have been at all. Many dancers become choreographers, certainly, but adding composition to the mix is rare. It bodes well that many great choreographers were also accomplished musicians – George Balanchine, arguably the most important choreographer of the 20th century, was a gifted pianist trained at the Russian National Conservatory – but there are few if any memorable choreographer-composers. Could Broad be the first?

"I definitely consider myself an artist, as opposed to a dancer, composer or whatever," says Broad. "But the world needs those titles."

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