10 Minutes With Mia Michaels

The contemporary queen is taking on the most famous kickline in the world.

Michaels working with the Rockettes. Photo by Rebecca Taylor, Courtesy MSG Photos.

When you’ve launched your own company, become a three-time Emmy Award winner from your work on “So You Think You Can Dance” and choreographed a hit Broadway musical, what would you pursue next? Most people would think “A vacation.” But this summer, Mia Michaels will make her directorial debut as the director and choreographer of the New York Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes, a revamped version of last year’s New York Spring Spectacular.The show runs June 15–August 7 at Radio City Music Hall.

You choreographed the opening number of the Spring Spectacular. Now you’re running the whole show.

I’m getting my first official director credit—it’s really exciting! I’ve wanted to direct for a long time, and it’s happening. This show is huge. It’s a beast. But that’s perfect for me. I don’t start small, apparently.

What is your vision for this show?

The Rockettes have been around for more than 85 years and now they’re putting themselves into my hands. That’s golden. We’re creating this spectacle and making beautiful eye candy for the viewers. There will absolutely still be kicklines—that will never go away! But I’m excited to breathe fresh energy into it. My goal is to bring a Mia vocabulary into the Rockette world, and really marry the two. When a brand is this iconic, you don’t want to change it—it’s iconic for a reason. I’m protecting this little nugget while playing around with all the gravy that surrounds it.

What is the new story about?

It’s a magical journey through New York City, told through the eyes of a child, so it brings that fantastical quality of what New York can be. There’s a lot of dance, a lot of leg and a lot of original music. I’m bringing on a group of male ensemble dancers, so that’s a big change. The movement is all over the map, from the classic Rockette rep to more contemporary flavors. Not only do the dancers have to do Rockette material, they also have to do the physical and technical Mia work.

What are some of the challenges you’re facing as a director?

It’s so different from just choreographing because you have your eye on every team and every department. You’re looking at everything from the colors to the lights to the videos to the music. As a choreographer, you’re in your own pocket. As a director, you’re in every pocket.

Do you have any other projects in the works?

I wrote a book—an instructional inspirational memoir, if that makes any sense—called A Unicorn in a World of Donkeys. Everyone is always trying to look the same, be the same. This is about challenging yourself to stand out and celebrate it. It has a lot of stories from my life and career, but it’s not just for dancers. I’m also working on “Mia Michaels Live,” which is an online mentorship program for artists, dancers, choreographers and teachers. As I get older, I realize how much I needed a mentor when I was younger. Now it’s my turn to be a mentor—to be Mama Mia.

Any chance we’ll be seeing you on this season of “So You Think You Can Dance”?

Oh, I don’t know! I have no idea! But never say never. That brand is a big part of my life, so if Nigel [Lythgoe] wanted me to come back, I would definitely do it if the time was right. 

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021