Working in the Theatre: Choreography

[music] 5, 6, ready, and [music] Dance can sometimes tell the story just
as well, if not better, than the spoken word. You can feel that energy back and forth. Dance specifically is in and of itself sheer energy. So you want to make sure that all the
moves that you’re doing are not dance choices; they’re people choices. This is like the dance choice, but the people choice is like…. you know, more pedestrian and real. I have the freedom to tell a story exactly the way I want to. I get my inspiration from personal experiences, everyday life, everyday observations. Politics – where we are as a country. Yes, dance is this joy of putting movement
together, but it’s also a craft. It’s also something that is intellectual too. [counting] In the beginning stages when I’m
beginning to create the show, those first few days when I’m trying to find it, when I’m exploring when I can lose myself and that is when it’s sort of …
everything just sort of all of it just goes away and all I have is the dance. [counting] I think being born in Colombia has a lot to do
with the way that I feel music. Ever since I was a little boy, I mean, there’s always been music and dance in my family. In the city that I’m from,
which is Kali, has the most exciting kind of salsa dancing in the world. It is
athletic and dynamic reminds me of Lindy Hop in the thirties. [salsa music] [classical music] I did musical theater since I was seven
years old, and so I just kind of learned choreography on the job. I think I always had a sense of
telling stories with movement specifically. [counting] I love just moving my body, and I love being active. I love humanity and all of the various parts of
humanity and how I feel people, just in general, move. [instructions] You can describe things just through the body. When it happens and when it’s effectual it
cuts right to the core of the emotion and the heart of of a relationship. If you touch somebody in just a certain
particular way, it can speak even more specifically than the word itself. Sometimes all you need to do is is look at someone in a certain way or touch
them in a certain way. And if you touch them just a little bit differently, it tells a completely different story. [salsa music] First of all, I had studied chemistry,
and then I went to chiropractic school. My first year of university, I fell in
love with dance. I decided to take a sabbatical. I went to LA. I was taking a dance class, and I heard the teacher tell everyone that there was an audition for a show called “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.” I was hired for that Broadway show, and I didn’t go back to school. [music] I started doing theater when I was seven
years old. It just became part of my blood. Then I stopped dancing when I was in my mid-twenties to be taken seriously as an
actor. I moved to LA to pursue film and television. Then I came back to the
world of dance because I started taking class again and I started reminding
myself of my love for it. When i was in college I used to ask people that came
through my college “how do you become a professional choreographer?” and they all
say “you just say you do it.” [music] As a child, I would choreograph and put
things together to the commercials for cartoons, and opening credits. I just loved
creating. I think it would be good to say that I never wanted a company, and it’s
really funny now that I actually have one. But I used to be a dancer for Ronald K Brown / Evidence, and he was a dancer; he was the grant writer; he was the manager; he was the teacher; he was the
choreographer; he was all of these things. And as an observer, I just said well that’s a lot for one person to handle. I don’t know if I really want to do that. So when I first started my choreographic journey I realize you actually need a company.
You need people who will go with you on this one to two-year journey of putting
a piece together. [counting] [laughs] I cast very carefully. What I like to do when I get into an audition room is really watch the dancers. Not only how they learn, but also how they
communicate with other people; how they behave in the room. You know, I’m not interested as a choreographer creating a chorus line of of dancers. I’m interested in creating a
mosaic of characters that can bring the choreography to life as though it’s
coming from a real honest place. you know we don’t have to work so hard
to put out that and it’s more about putting out who we are as people we are
conditioned to think that there’s a higher value for ballet or modern and
those are the techniques but hip-hop is a technique african american social dance is a
technique as a choreographer show and work I’m almost going against like centuries
of of conditioning in that way you know so it’s a it’s tough but in my head I’m
like I was just like them because that’s how I was I was conditioned to think
exactly like this i believe the greatest friend right now in the world of musical
theater dance is a trend towards humanity I think it’s less about a slick
presentation of bodies on space and more about the notion of true feeling true
connection true interpersonal relationships I’m
however that helps tell a very deep and a moving story and I find that a lot of
times when I ask people what are they telling me like will tell me about your
personality they always tell me who they are as a dancer and I go ahead and ask
you that I asked you who you are as a person and they can’t do it and I think some
people think that I’m telling them not to use their technique and that’s
actually not what I’m I’m saying I’m actually saying to use your technique
but don’t don’t use it in a way that that’s all you’re using and we just see
you as a technician and not an artist so so I just wanted to to say that a lot of
times when people hear dance they think something extreme but that’s not the
only way of moving gesture is dance just taking doing the two-step is dance
you know it could be something to its simplest form yeah grab this graph choreographers are
working with the language of the body choreographers are writers themes motifs
variations on motif stories characters all of these things writers of pros
let’s say use and choreographers use them as well as a marriage between a
director and choreographer a choreographer at times becomes the
cinematographer it is your job to continue to tell the
story to move the plot forward to move the story forward you know you sort of have to take the
baton from the composer composes the song the lyricist has the lyrics which
tell the story I think the best idea always wins it
doesn’t matter whose it is I call myself a special advisor because
i am there to help the team kind of make the most sense of the actual physical
space sometimes the actors are being trained to move so there i’m taking on
the position of a teacher or a director will step in and say you know what I’m
going to do this part and you just brush it up I have my own company I’m the artistic
director of community brown and answers so that means that I’m the boss I’m the
director I I call the shots and I create the vision yeah in theater it’s about making sure that i
bring the vision of the directors to life I think it’s wonderful because in both
i’m extremely challenged the first three or four opportunities that I had in
theater where with actors only and I’m love that because it gave me a new
perspective in a new language and i was able to really focus on people’s choices
and how those manifests in their movements well the history of dance is extremely
important but I realized that I wasn’t given all
of the information in terms of where things came from and the
african-american contributions to American culture I think it’s so important for us as
choreographers as dancers as critics as audience members to really have the full
picture and the full body of history of dance some examples of some historical dancers
one is Henry Lane who was called master juba juba is a social dance that started
during slavery the African Americans the enslaved Africans were not allowed to
have instruments and on many occasions so they had to use their hands and they
had to use their bodies to communicate one of the inspirations that created and
and brings us tap so these are some social dances that i
have incorporated in my dances one is the surety George so you have the
walk yeah the snake yeah the Roger Rabbit yeah the mashed potato yeah the Charleston if i were to think about the way that my
childhood or my culture has influenced me you just have to watch to work that I do
it on your feet I think on your feet as my husband said
to me said your family’s up on that stage on your feet there is a mellow dance
which is you know where the woman spends the man around and he sort of lays flat
down like this what she’s doing so this is walk like that is the
silliest have ever but then we get to Memphis which is
everyone always ask me how to do that one that’s my breakfast that on your feet
which is just out taking down walls all this piece is using music that is well
known so I always say that you don’t want to
fall into the trap of choreographing something that because people know it they like oh that’s my jam close my eyes
closed they’ll see the piece you know so it’s like how can we continue to
complicate the movement and complicate the music so people can hopefully hear
it in a different way five six seven and they have a ton of
inspirations of choreographers but i think you get to a certain point where
you need to make sure that your voice is the one that continues to get lifted up
and really craft that I think every choreographer looks to the generation
before them or looks to the Masters before them looks to their mentors and
takes a little bit from them to copy and to shift and then learning I see how you did it and now this is
going to be my spin on how you approach two and three and a four go five six
switch 1 2 5 6 5 5 6 8 12 five six seven eight and one in order to
create dance you really need a community you really
need other bodies and other mines two three four that’s one of the reasons i started my
nonprofit probably dance land to give the professional choreographer space-age
answers we are entering into our fourth lab
cycle for a professional choreographer broadway dance lab was an extremely
important opportunity for me because now i was able to focus more so on that
commercial side and really bring out that aspect of storytelling I think as a choreographer that’s black
sometimes you get pigeonholed people put you into the black show category and
it’s hard because I feel like I can choreograph anything I think it’s really about people giving
you the opportunity to do mainstream choreography has definitely changed I believe in musical theater over the
years I started to see the world of dance itself be particularly segregated
you are either a modern dancer a ballet dancer a tap dancer a jazz dancer but
the world of musical theater relies in my opinion on really the coming together of these
multiple physical art forms into one of them up right now and one I think at the end of the day you know
for those two and a half hours at the audience comes to see the show but
another part of my job is to make the audience feel like they want to dance the choreographer for me I think it’s
mainly about feeling empowered first and then grab from different things and
learn and research and come up with your own creative identity the idea is really what you define it as


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