By Cait Kemp
SEAT at the Table Week is in full swing, as a variety of sessions have already happened with still so much to come. Tuesday at 2 p.m., Sarah Zehnder, Springfield’s College HEAD OF DANCE, welcomed Brittany Monachino via Zoom for a session titled “Jazz Fusion.” This was the second session of SEAT week that Monachino hosted.
Brittany Monachino made her Broadway debut as an original ensemble member in the cast of “King Kong”, and has been a member of several other off-Broadway productions such as “West Side Story” and “Kiss Me Kate.” She has also been a part of different dance companies after completing college, as well as performed with Norwegian cruise line.
Jazz Fusion began with the dance portion of the session, where Monachino taught viewers a combination to the song, “This Is Me” from the movie musical, “The Greatest Showman.” She started by warming up with everyone, going through a series of plies, arm movements, and other simple dance moves to get moving.
“We get to move right now, and that’s a blessing,” Monachino said.
She continued the session by getting into the full combination, a variety of different movements that included moves from the “King Kong” choreography, to which she noted and explained what was happening in the musical when that certain movement would happen.
It was an incredible insight to a professional Broadway performer, hearing about the dynamic of “King Kong” and how it took hip-hop, ballet, and jazz and combined it to create intricate choreography.
After finally learning the entire combination, the audience was able to perform it all the way through with Brittany to the music.
“Whoever you are, whoever you feel today,” Monachino said, “bring that to through the movement.”
Zehnder had several members of the dance community on the Zoom with her, all expertly performing the moves. Many others were in the session as well, however chose to keep their cameras off.
Once finished with the dancing portion, Brittany sat down in front of her camera to talk to the audience about racial inequalities in the dance and Broadway world.
“Transitioning into musical theater where ballet is very strict, its growing still, but it has a long way to go. I thought ‘Yes, I can be my full self in musical theater,’ and coming to find out that every system has racist ideologies and biases that they’re either consciously fighting against or they’re not, or for those people who say they are unaware you can say that too,” Monachino said.
She continued to discuss the recurring theme of diversity that wasn’t always what it was made out to be.
“So, what I was experiencing and what I was seeing across the board was that many shows were getting people of different sizes and looks and everything and having this picture of diversity out front, you see someone who looks like you on stage,” she said. “But behind the scenes you see that the creative team is largely white.”
After auditioning and getting the role in “King Kong”, she noticed she was among a very diverse group of performers, and that they were inspiring people without even realizing it.
“One experience that was really beautiful for me was every day that I would come out from the show at ‘King Kong’ we would have to sign people’s autographs… and when I went out to sign I will never forget specifically [a person] of color coming up to me and saying ‘It meant so much to me that you were on stage and I saw myself in you,’ and a lot of times those people that were speaking to me, we weren’t from the same ethnic background, but what we did share is that we were both ‘other,’” Monachino said.
“What I learned in that moment was that I have a responsibility as an artist, whether or not I actually am what some of those people are, I can represent different, I can represent what I hope this world will start to embrace more and look out for,” she said.
She ended the session by encouraging the audience to bring their full selves into whatever they do in life, and to speak up through art, and even through their everyday actions.
SEAT at the Table continues until Sunday, Nov. 1. Information for sessions happening the rest of the week can be found at springfield.edu/seat-at-the-table. Stay updated on sessions that have already happened at The Springfield Student.
Graphic Courtesy of Jack Margaros