Courtesy Amazon Studios

Why This Season of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" Will Be the Danciest Yet

Marguerite Derricks might be employing more commercial dancers than any choreographer in New York City. That's because "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," which she's worked on since the first season in 2017, has quickly become one of the danciest shows on television.

The show's third season, which drops tomorrow on Amazon, will have more dance than ever (on every episode except for one!). That's because the showrunners, Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino, who Derricks has worked with on "Bunheads" and the Netflix reboot of "Gilmore Girls," "treat dancers like royalty," says Derricks, and hire dancers for non-dancing roles like waiters and department store workers. (This means the show has to pay them more than they would a regular actor.)

We talked to Derricks about what it's been like to work on the hit show, and what we can expect from season three:

On casting the show's many dancers:

Since most of Derricks' career has involved choreographing film and television projects in Los Angeles, filming "Maisel" in the New York area meant getting to know a new crop of dancers—each of whom can usually only be seen in one episode for continuity reasons. (Though some LA-based dancers wanted to be on the show so badly that they'd fly themselves to New York for auditions and filming.)

Derricks always asks dancers to improvise in auditions—and often ends up using what they come up with, which helps the frequent social dancing scenes look more natural. She also looks for dancers who can adapt quickly, as she often has to re-choreograph scenes on the fly when the camera movement changes.

On working with the stars of "Maisel":

With the exception of Rachel Brosnahan, who plays the show's namesake Midge Maisel, the main cast members of "Maisel"—which includes Tony Shalhoub, Alex Borstein and Jane Lynch—don't do all that much dancing. But Derricks says they are innate movers who know how to "dance with the camera."

"They know when to turn, which shoulder to turn over, they instinctively know if the camera is sweeping around," she says. "They're like a magnet."

Because Brosnahan is in almost every scene, Derricks usually only gets an hour to teach her choreography. "But she's a genius," says Derricks.

On choreographing the camera:

In addition to choreographing all the show's dance moments, Derricks also has a hand in shaping scenes that aren't so obviously choreographed. Because Sherman-Palladino loves "oners," or long, uninterrupted shots where the camera is moving through a scene, Derricks is often recruited to help choreograph where the camera is going.

For instance, the first episode of season two had Brosnahan sliding around on a rolling chair, answering phones in the B. Altman switchboard room. "You have to really know choreography to know that was even choreographed," Derricks says. (Brosnahan only fell out of her chair once while rehearsing the scene, Derricks says.)

On setting television records:

The first episode of season three—which has Midge performing at an army base—set the record for the most television extras in one scene, with hundreds of G.I.s as the audience for Midge, Shy Baldwin, and other acts.

"Every single take was so fresh," says Derricks. "Their energy and enthusiasm was off the charts." This was one epic scene that Derricks couldn't help with: Choreographers are not allowed to direct extras, otherwise they automatically get bumped to a principal contact.

Shy Baldwin performing onstage at the army base, in front of a large audience of GIs in their green uniforms. He is backed by three backup dancers in 60s style light blue dresses, and a band. A large American flag hangs behind the stage.

Courtesy Amazon Studios

On dancing without music:

Usually, when dance scenes on "Maisel" are filmed, the dancers can't hear any music because dialogue is being filmed simultaneously. Instead, the dancers listen to a "thump track" (essentially a recorded metronome) to keep the rhythm, and listen closely to the dialogue.

In an episode of season two—one the hardest scenes Derricks has choreographed—Midge gets passed around between eight dance partners while speaking nine pages of dialogue, all in one camera take. (Derricks taught the choreography to Brosnahan in an hour, a month before filming—then never got to rehearse it again.) "She nailed it every single time," says Derricks.

On what to expect from season three:

Derricks can't say much about season three until it launches tomorrow—but it's safe to expect more dancing than ever. "Amy and Dan have really upped that," she says. "There are some unexpected treasures. Look for everything to be heightened."

Though Derricks has multiple Emmy Awards under her belt, she says that working on "Maisel"—and with the show's famously detail-oriented showrunners—has been a new career high. "When you've done as much as I have, to find yourself growing is really exciting," she says.

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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