They Were Dancing and Living Free

Robin as Jeanie, with Todd Schaefer, in New Line's HAIR, 2008Jesus, I wish you could have seen this first dance number that Robin (she's only pretending to be stoned in the picture) choreographed Sunday for the show. The song is "A Wild, Wild Party," and it's the "Hot Lunch Jam" (bonus points for catching the 80s reference) of The Wild Party. Robin has given us a genuine showstopper -- it's really funny, dirty, rowdy, it feels totally spontaneous, and it's just a tad bit psycho... Exactly right for this show.

And I'm now even more convinced than ever that we've been blessed with the hardest working cast in St. Louis theatre. This number today is one of the most athletic numbers I've seen in a long time, and they never let down for a second. And, in the show, it comes just a few pages after another showstopper, "The Juggernaut." I think there are four full company dance numbers in the show, and they're all fast.

Makes me glad I'm only the director.

It's fun to watch Robin weave authentic 1920s moves into her own choreographic vocabulary, the Charleston (obviously), the Shimmy, the Goofus... She truly is the best choreographer I've ever worked with. She and I have an identical sense of black humor, so when we need outrageous, subversive, and/or blasphemous numbers (Jesus and the dancing nuns in Reefer Madness come to mind), Robin is utterly fearless and ballsy. My kind of woman. She really understands the New Line style and aesthetic. She always surprises me, going places I never expected, but her numbers are always pitch-perfect in the context of the show.

But there's more than that. She understands that story and character come first. Style, tone, mood, themes, humor -- all that is important -- but Robin knows nothing can get in the way of story and character. I think what I love most about her is her frequent willingness to ignore polish and slickness in favor of authenticity. In Grease, her choreography was as rough and raw as early rock and roll. It was all about pulsating sexual energy, not cute faux-1950s moves. On the other hand, if a show is a period piece, like Grease or The Wild Party, she wants to know even more than she already does about how people moved back then. There are too many choreographers (some of them on Broadway) who put the "stage picture" and their Big Moments over the story. Robin knows dance isn't a diversion in a musical; it's a language.

Robin's Born to Hand Jive in New Line's GREASEThe other nice thing is that Robin and I have worked together since 2005. We know exactly how the other one works and we never have a problem between us. I think it's because we both have so much respect for the other's work. She has choreographed New Line Theatre's Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Reefer Madness, Jesus Christ Superstar, Grease, Urinetown, High Fidelity, Return to the Forbidden Planet, and Spelling Bee. And she will be choreographing Evita this summer. (And I hope all three shows next season.)

I've had two giant "happy accidents" in my life. First, I arrived at college only to find out there was no theare department at Harvard! So I became a music major instead, and that training has served me incredibly well over the years, in both my writing and my directing. The second happened when I couldn't find a job after college and ended up telemarketing for Dance St. Louis. I soon moved upstairs and worked in the office in various jobs for seven years, where I learned the business of arts administration, but I also learned a lot about dance. Like my first "happy accident," I learned so much at Dance St. Louis that has made me a better director and, I hope, a better collaborator with Robin.

I'm very good at "musical staging," staging a song to its music but without using actual dance moves. And I'm extremely good at fucked-up, wacky musical staging -- the opening to Bat Boy was one of my favorite numbers I've ever staged. But when a number requires real dance, Robin is the only one I trust.

And Sunday's rehearsal reminded me again why that is. Prepare to have your mind blown, New Line audience...

Long Live the Musical!