Ellenore Scott on Head Over Heels' LGBT Themes and What's Most Surprising about Broadway
For the new Broadway season, Ellenore Scott has scored two associate choreographer gigs: For Head Over Heels, which starts previews June 23, Scott is working with choreographer Spencer Liff on an original musical mashing up The Go-Go's punk-rock hits with a narrative based on Sir Philip Sidney's 1590 book, Arcadia. Four days after that show opens, she'll head into rehearsals for this fall's King Kong, collaborating with director/choreographer Drew McOnie and a 20-foot gorilla.
Scott gave us the inside scoop about Head Over Heels, the craziness of her freelance hustle and the most surprising element of working on Broadway.
Chasing the Beat
"With Head Over Heels the one part that's a bit confusing is trying to convince people that the story's not about The Go-Go's. It's about this kingdom called Arcadia. There's an oracle that gives them prophecies that they will lose their "beat," and the beat is the soul and energy of the kingdom. Basilius hears this and decides to take his people. But if you know anything about how prophecies work, you can't really run away from them. So basically hijinks ensue with a lot of mistaken identity. There are gender identity and LGBT ideas, and it's an exciting way to talk about things that are happening in society right now. It's very relevant."
The choreography is just as eclectic as the pairing of 80s songs with a 16th-century narrative. Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown.
On Head Over Heels' choreography
"It's athletic and exciting because we have this huge range of themes: We're speaking basically in Shakespearean while listening to 80s rock, so we can play in between all of that as well as keep it fresh. The style definitely has a lot of jazz, a lot of contemporary moments. We have a lot of nods to queer dance, so there's voguing, whacking, popping."
Teaming up with Spencer Liff
"I initially met Spencer Liff back in 2009 when he choreographed my Broadway routine on season six of "So You Think You Can Dance." Working with Spencer is amazing. He can literally sit and imagine what something is going to look like without even moving. When you have a choreographer and an associate, you want to respect that hierarchy, but he always is very much involved with getting me into the meetings and having my voice heard and giving ideas to him. In the studio I can look at him and know exactly what he needs. I can go talk to a dancer or give a note or clean something, so he can focus on other things."
Seeing the Show Evolve over Two Years
"When I was working on Cats and Falsettos [as assistant choreographer for both] those were revivals, so we already had the story and the concept. But because Head Over Heels is an original show, we're able to morph anything and everything. We gave an amazing show at the Curran in San Francisco, but we also could see things we wanted to change or improve when we came to Broadway. It's been nice to see the collaborative efforts between all of the creative staff putting their minds together to create the best version of each scene, of each dance, of each moment."
Look Closely at the Costumes
Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown.
"They're Elizabethan with a touch of flair. Our ensemble dancers' costumes have the sheet music for The Go-Go's song 'We Got the Beat' on them. If you go up to them really close you can actually see the notes, which is pretty freakin' cool."
And Next Up: King Kong
"I've been involved in two workshops so far in London and New York City. And since then I have been doing some pre-production with the director/choreographer Drew McOnie, getting a few of the dancers in to work on partnering and different sections. We're having a lot of emails and meetings and perfecting the things we know we want to work on. But we also can't work with the 20-foot gorilla before he's in the theater."
How She's Juggling It All
"Juggling all these projects is the life of a dancer. I am completely used to having to double- or triple-check my schedule, and I'm trying my best to be thankful. There've been many times where I don't have anything going on, and I feel very defeated, like, When's my next job going to happen? Do I need to quit this lifestyle? Being a freelance choreographer is very much about riding the waves. I'm at the top of the wave right now."
The Biggest Surprise of Working on Broadway
"It's not that different from working on any other show. I assumed that because we were on Broadway everything would be glitter and gold and magic and crazy. I had this naïve idea that everything would be bigger and better. Yes, the sets are bigger and, sure, the budgets are bigger, but when you're in the studio, you're in the studio. It doesn't matter if you're rehearsing for a show at a 40-seat theater or opening on Broadway. You still need to work hard every day."
Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.
But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.