Catching Up With 2020 Tony-Nominated Choreographer Sonya Tayeh

March 1, 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, Sonya Tayeh (who, with Sing Street, had been set to have two shows on the Great White Way simultaneously before COVID-19 shut everything down) talks about the nomination for her sensual, ferocious choreography for Moulin Rouge! The Musical.

Danny Burstein in Moulin Rouge! The Musical

Matthew Murphy, Courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown

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

I try not to get hung up on the accolade portion of what I do, because I want to stay present as much as I can. Although I feel how amazing it is to be recognized.

Early on, you daydream about the Tonys performance. That was something I was really looking forward to: Having the world see this incredible company that really celebrates dance in all its forms. I’m so proud to be a part of this show, as a dance show and an ensemble-driven show.

What was it like to put your own spin on such a well-known property?

I’d watched the movie a few times, and I remember how I felt when I first watched it. I did want to make the references that I feel are iconic, physically and narratively. What struck me most is the hyper-cinematic essence of the way the cameras shifted. I realized that’s what gave off so much adrenaline, the speed of the rail cam and the Steadicam flying and making it all so fantastical. And also the hot-blooded dance sequences! You hear them grunt, you see the sweat splashing from the bodies onto the floor. I wanted you to feel that adrenaline, swiftness and tension on a live stage.

Do you have a favorite number?

It’s hard to pick, but I do get excited about “Backstage Romance.” It’s your quintessential Broadway-musical, opening-of-Act-Two, big dance number. It was so fun to combine highly physical, sensual movement with the plot driving forward quickly. The secret of Christian and Satine’s affair is brewing, and that hidden sexual tension forms the baseline of the movement. There’s the incredible music—it’s a hodgepodge around Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” all arranged by the amazing Justin Levine. Plus it features our badass Tony-nominated Robyn Hurder, who plays Nini. I just love the energy in the theater when that piece starts.

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

There’s often a lane that artists think they have to choose. I think a lot of people thought I could only do short-form work or very commercial work, because of what I’d done in the past. If you’re saying this person doesn’t have the experience, that’s because you haven’t given them a chance to have the experience.

There’s a movement happening right now where things are fusing together. All types of choreographers are being hired for different venues. We want the audience to feel something, to be changed in some way, to provoke thought. All choreographers are storytellers, and I feel that awareness is really coming into the Broadway essence.