Catching Up With 2020 Tony-Nominated Choreographer Anthony Van Laast

March 2, 2021

It’s been five months since the 2020 Tony Award nominations were announced—and while there’s still no set date for the awards ceremony, voting officially began March 1. This week, Dance Magazine is catching up with each of this year’s three nominees for Best Choreography.

Here, Anthony Van Laast, who was nominated for a Tony in 2004 for Bombay Dreams, talks about being nominated for his stylish, crowd-pleasing choreography for Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.

Five women in yellow dresses stand in front of microphones on a brightly lit stage, their hands in the air as they sing. A band is behind them.

Adrienne Warren and the cast of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical

Manuel Harlan, Courtesy Polk & Co

What has it meant to you to be nominated during this historic Broadway shutdown?

This second nomination feels like the greatest accolade because I consider Broadway to be the quintessential center of musical-theater dance. That said, it’s been a strange year. It’s important that those of us who are nominated be thankful that we were able to work before, and that we will work after. We have to find ways to help our industry survive the pandemic.

What have you been up to during the pandemic?

I’ve been at home in the English countryside, just west of Oxford. Since the first lockdown ended, I’ve choreographed free charity concerts and pop videos and done television work. The biggest thing was reworking Tina in Holland for social distancing. But just before we reopened, the government changed the rules such that we couldn’t actually get going again.

Last year was a pivotal one for Black people in the United States—and obviously Tina is the story of this really strong yet vulnerable Black woman. What has it been like to be involved in a project centered on this living icon of Black history?

And it wasn’t just in the States. A lot of what happened in America reverberated across the world. We in Tina have been having lots of meetings, giving space for the company to discuss their feelings, breaking into smaller groups, and it’s been a reeducation for a lot of us. I’ve reappraised a lot of the way I’ve worked in the past. I’m grateful to have gotten involved as patron with a group here in England called Black Artists in Dance.

We’ve been so lucky to have Tina Turner herself [who was closely involved in the production] at the head of the whole thing. She’s an example of a really strong, determined, brilliant woman who has overcome adversity and pulled through.

Do you have a favorite number?

I’d have to say “Proud Mary.” The audience just goes completely crazy. I always work very, very closely with the costume designer, and on that number we decided that we wanted the ladies to get undressed and dressed onstage. I loved working with Mark Thompson to get the movement of those fringed skirts exactly right. I was actually just listening to the cast recording version of “Proud Mary” while working out in my home gym!

Were there any moments in the show that were difficult to get right?

Yeah, funnily enough, I thought “What’s Love Got to Do With It” was going to be really easy, but I found it really hard to do. It’s a slower tempo, and it wasn’t one of her favorites—even though it was one of the big hits. It’s taken me five goes to get it right—the West End, Hamburg, Utrecht, Broadway and Holland. I feel like I’ve finally cracked it after reworking the Dutch production for social distancing. As soon as I get the opportunity, I’ll be changing the American version to the spaced-out Dutch version.

What’s on your mind as the Tony voting period begins?

This unusual year has taught me how much I miss dance. One thing I desperately want to do is choreograph a duet in a black box. You know, just go back to basics and reexamine movement. That’s what I really love to do.