MADISON, NJ - Madison High School (MHS) hosted Performing Teaching Artist, Joann Tongret in a four day high school residency in musical theater dance this January as part of the school’s dance program.
MHS first implemented a dance program in 2008 as an alternative to the traditional physical education class. The program has since grown to include both this option as well as an outlet for students who are already proficient in dance and want to increase their skill set. The class accommodates all ability levels and the curriculum includes all styles of dance from tap to jazz to ballet.
Classes are not meant to be performances. This way students can work at their own pace and experience the moves on whatever technical plateau they may be.
The Janurary Madison High residency introduced students to the Choreographer/Directors of the “Golden Age” of American Musical Theater. “This era, popularly designated 1943 to 1968, is the time when the United States performing arts community set the standard for what we consider to be the core constancy of that performance era,” said Joann Tongret, Artist in Residence.
“The Golden Age is not a “rule”, it is a trend, when audiences and creators came together, unconsciously, of course in anticipation of a structure that requires all of the media involved in the performance (music, lyrics, dialogue, songs, dances, design components) to be in service to the “book” -- the narrative, the story. Because of that structural mandate, the creative supervisor must articulate a commanding vision for the whole piece. Thus was born the director/choreographer (auteur),” said Tongret.
The students were able to experience the work and background visions of four golden age auteurs: Agnes de Mille, Jerry Robbins, Bob Fosse, and Tommy Tune.
Stacy Snider-Supervisor Visual, Performing Arts and World Languages believes it is beneficial for Madison students to learn from experts in the field. Tongret "brings a wealth of experience as both a professional dancer and choreographer. Her perspective and unique style have been a welcome addition to our program and the students have embraced her presence with enthusiasm," she said.
"Young people study the arts not necessarily to become professional artists. The arts have always offered the advantages of a well-rounded education and a window into humanity. The fabulous and exciting technological advances we create have no meaning if they cannot be used humanely and wisely," said Tongret. "Empathy is another major advantage which the arts can provide. The ability to see multiple points of view, to respect what other cultures may have to offer, to free the imagination and to treat peers with respect."
She explains, "The arts as an experience can also encourage good habits for “life skills:” Responsibility, collaboration, communication, self-image, generosity, tolerance, listening. The arts can, and do, transcend race, gender, generation, and creed. These powers should not be seen as a luxury."
“I really enjoyed learning about each of the choreographers and how they contributed to dance and musical theater. I loved how passionate she was. You could tell how much she enjoyed what she was doing and that she loved being here," said Raine Monaghan, a MHS student participant.
"It was a fun experience and I am so grateful to be able to work with such a talented choreographer," added Fiona Purce, another MHS student.
"It has been such a joy to bring together talented students, exemplary educators and a practicing professional artist in Madison High School. I appreciate the support of the Board of Education members and the administrators for their ongoing support of new programming," said Diane Schulthes, Madison Public School's Director of Curriculum.
The district is to be applauded for offering outside experiences, connections and opportunities to the students," said Tongret. “As a theater professional and university instructor I have totally enjoyed working with these Madison High students. The students have been absolutely wonderful: fun, brave, and attentive. I only wish I had more time with them since they are so willing to learn and experiment. I must add that I have learned as much from them as they have from me.”
ABOUT JOANN TONGRET
Recently named co-recipient of the George C. Wolfe Fellowship awarded by SDCF and was host/writer for the NYC Ziegfeld Society’s opening production Tongret staged the Bistro and Mac Award-Winning “Screen Gems” cabaret featuring Sarah Rice for the Laurie Beechman Theatre in Manhattan, has performed in the Beechman’s “Sondheim Unplugged” as well as with Broadway Concerts Direct at Birdland, has appeared with the Blue Roses Theatre Co., and is a featured VIP Masterclass instructor for the annual International Model and Talent Agency Conference. Currently she is an instructor for the Performing Arts Division of PACE University (Dyson Campus) teaching Broadway Dance, History of Musicals, & Period Movement.
Tongret has performed and choreographed in theaters throughout the country including Alice Tully Hall Playwright’s Horizon, Brooklyn Academy of Music, CCMU’s Hot Summer Nights, for the Royal Viking Cruise Line, and has staged fashion industrials for I. Magnin and Saks Fifth Avenue as well as a number of variety specials. Her Musical Theater production “No Legs” toured the southwest to school districts presenting a “living history” of the American Musical Theater.
Her training includes the American Ballet Theatre School and the University of London. She is listed in several volumes of Theater World Annual.
Tongret is an Emerita from Arizona State University School of Music where she taught Musical Theater Performance and Rep, Broadway Dance, Audition Techniques, Movement for Actors, Musicals on Film, Period Movement, and Cabaret Production in additional to Sondheim and Bernstein Seminars. She served as resident director/choreographer for Lyric Opera Theatre and coordinated the company’s Ed/Outreach program (LOOP).
As well, Tongret was writer and host for KBAQ’s (Public Radio) presentation of ASU in Concert and most recently appeared at the Puffin Cultural Center in Teaneck as guest lecturer presenting “American Musical Theater: Mirror and Mythology, reflecting on America’s musicals in their national and cultural context.