The most renowned chorus line in the world, the Rockettes (originally known as the Roxyettes) made their debut at Rockefeller Center's Radio City Music Hall in 1932, under the direction of the Broadway dance director Russell Markert, who led the troupe until his retirement in 1971. Despite historically epitomizing the all-American girl, the precision-dance company has always, for the most part, been led by men. "For some reason, it's always been that way," says Haberman, "although I believe there were women choreographers in the past who contributed specific numbers to some of the shows."
Haberman took on the directorship of the Rockettes' New York company in 2006. Prior to that, she had worked as an assistant choreographer for the troupe and in 1994 was chosen to direct and choreograph the first production of the Christmas show outside of New York, in Branson, Mo. "And then things slowly expanded from there," she says. "In 1996 we added another show, in Myrtle Beach, and in 1997 we added Detroit and Chicago. Today we have two theatrical companies that play two or three different cities a year, and we have a company in Nashville that stays there all season." Since 1994, the show has played 63 cities across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
"Two years ago we started an arena show that tours 20 or so cities per season, and that's based on the new show I created in 2007 at Radio City for our 75th-anniversary celebration," Haberman says. When she became director of the Christmas show, America's quintessential holiday entertainment, Haberman made some significant changes. "Generally, I think what I did was get the Rockettes focused more on dancing," she explains. "I raised the bar on what they did dancewise, because I felt they had been a bit underused. They've been around for a long time, but in order for them to stay relevant they need to evolve. I also focused on using all the new technologies we have to raise the bar on the whole production."
Combining High Tech and High Kicks
One of the clearest examples of Haberman's influence on the show is the "New York at Christmas" number, created in 2007, in which she combines new technology with the Rockettes' dancing. "That number involved having a full-scale double-decker bus on stage that was moving in sync with images on a 90-foot LED screen," she says. "But I see this all as just a beginning. We're working now to push the Rockettes beyond just the holiday season and to develop new kinds of shows for them. I'd like them to explore new styles of dancing, such as contemporary dance, and Latin dance."
Originally a Broadway dancer, Haberman performed in the original casts of "Dancin' " (1978), choreographed and directed by Bob Fosse, and "La Cage aux Folles" (1983). She went on to assist Fosse on his last Broadway show, "Big Deal" (1986), assisted Jerome Robbins on preproduction work for "Jerome Robbins' Broadway" (1989), and also assisted choreographer Christopher Chadman on "Guys and Dolls" (1992). "I think that's how I really learned to choreograph, by assisting all these great people," she says.
So what made Haberman want to leave the Great White Way for Radio City? "I find the scale of it to be extremely interesting as a choreographer—having that many people to work with in that large a space—and the Music Hall itself is amazing. You have all these tools at your fingertips: the huge stage, and all the elevators, and of course 36 great dancers. I don't know any choreographer who could turn that down."
The biggest difference between choreographing for Broadway and for the Rockettes is the planning, Haberman says: "When you're only choreographing for, say, 12 dancers, you can work a lot of it out on your feet at rehearsal. But when you have to figure out movement for 36 people, you have to do a lot more preplanning. I find myself getting out graph paper and making little X's all over it, because the Rockettes, as you know, are known for their formations. So I always have to work on finding new formations for them to make. Another thing they're known for, of course, is their precision. And having worked with someone like Bob Fosse, who was very meticulous about details and dancing clean, I really got a great groundwork for working with the Rockettes."
On April 22, Madison Square Garden Entertainment launched a new website, Rockettes.com, the first to focus specifically on the Rockettes. It provides information on auditioning for the troupe, the dance education programs offered by the organization, show schedules, vintage photos, archival costume sketches, and behind-the-scenes video.