It's a much-repeated part of Francesca Hayward's origin story that she discovered ballet at age 3, when her grandparents bought a video of The Nutcracker to keep her occupied and she immediately started dancing around the room. What's less well-known is that there was another video lined up next to The Nutcracker that Hayward liked to dance along to: Cats. "I really just did the White Cat bit and fast-forwarded the rest," she remembers. "I'd make my friends who came around be the other cats."
Twenty-four years later, she's not only become a Royal Ballet principal, but has been cast as Victoria the White Cat in Tom Hooper's new movie adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, out in theaters on December 20. "I remember the director telling me I'd got the part: 'Just to let you know you're the lead in a Hollywood film,' he said." Hayward laughs. "This is crazy!"
If the news about the upcoming CATS movie has your head spinning, we're right there with you. It seems like every week we have a bit more to share about the new film adaptation, which is set to release in December 2019. So, in order to keep it all straight, we present you with our master list of everything we know—our version of "The Naming of Cats," if you will. We'll add updates as they emerge.
It looks like Wayne McGregor won't be dancing at the Jellicle Ball after all.
According to Deadline, the British choreographer has stepped away from the upcoming film adaptation of CATS after scheduling conflicts with The Royal Ballet arose. Though principal dancers Francesca Hayward and Steven McRae are taking brief hiatuses from performing with The Royal to allow for their filming obligations, we're guessing that the full-length McGregor is working on for the company (the first part of which is slated to premiere July 2019 in Los Angeles) needed to take priority.
And who is stepping in to replace him? None other than Tony Award–winning choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler.
It's the casting news we didn't know we needed until we heard it. Ever since it was announced that Wayne McGregor would be choreographing the new film adaptation of CATS, we've been anxiously waiting to hear whether any recognizable names from the dance world would be joining the A-list cast (which, in case you missed it, already includes Jennifer Hudson, Sir Ian McKellan, Taylor Swift and James Corden). But never in our wildest dreams did we think that a Royal Ballet principal would be the first dancer to sign on.
We're willing to admit that Only Gold, a Broadway musical that Andy Blankenbuehler has had in the works since 2013, had somewhat slipped our mind. (In all fairness, Blankenbuehler got rather busy choreographing a moderately successful musical about American history, and then directing and choreographing Bandstand.)
Yep, that's ballet legend Alessandra Ferri. And yep, that means the pair of ballerinas are in rehearsals with Blankenbuehler for Only Gold. Excited doesn't even begin to cover it. Here's what we know so far:
This time last month, we were wigging out when news broke that Wayne McGregor had been named choreographer for the upcoming CATS movie. Sure, it made us scratch our heads, since the original dances by the late Gillian Lynne are as iconic as the Jellicle cats themselves. (There was even a stir when Andy Blankenbuehler was chosen to choreograph the 2016 Broadway revival based on Lynne's original moves.) But we definitely want to see what the abstract mind of McGregor can bring to this reboot.
But our biggest question is, Who will be stepping into the catsuits?
This morning, we woke to hear the sad news that British choreographer Gillian Lynne passed away last night at age 92. The original choreographer of Cats and Phantom of the Opera, Lynne worked on more than 60 shows on Broadway and the West End in her lifetime, and will be dearly missed by the dance world.
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There's a delicious bit of mischief in everything Kolton Krouse does. He'll toss off some impossibly difficult sequence—a quintuple pirouette into a prolonged développé into an aerial, say—and end with an impish smile that's the stage equivalent of saying, "How good was that? And how much fun did I have doing it?"
It's Broadway awards season, and tons of our favorite dancers and choreographers are getting big-time recognition.
The Tony Award nominations were announced yesterday and the Best Choreography finalists include:
Peter Darling and Ellen Kane for Groundhog Day
Kelly Devine for Come From Away
Denis Jones for Holiday Inn
It's no secret that Broadway dancers need to be incredibly versatile. In addition to having singing and acting chops, they need to be well-versed in a wide range of dance styles.
Knowing all this is one thing. But seeing it in action is another. BroadwayBox.com's Dancing Through My Resume series asks Broadway dancers to give a visual demonstration of their career, performing segments from all the shows they've been in. The result is a fast-paced tour of some of the best dancing on Broadway, past and present. Their newest video features Paloma Garcia-Lee, who's currently dancing Joshua Bergasse's choreography in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:
In Broadway's CATS, Giuseppe Bausilio exploded across the stage as the wild and rascally Carbucketty. With fiery exuberance, he transformed steps into drama, songs into lullabies, dosing out magic with his sheer joy of performing. He recently left his cat suit behind to join his fifth Broadway show, Hello, Dolly! Though he's only 19, he makes dreams like "originating a leading role on Broadway" sound possible.
CATS holds a sacred place in many dancers' hearts. Tackling T.S. Eliot's alternate, feline universe offers a chance to be part of a legacy, and cast members speak reverentially of the show's whimsy and technical demands. Now, in the current revival on Broadway, a new litter is exploring Andy Blankenbuehler's movement layered in with Gillian Lynne's original choreography.
Pazcoguin runs through her solo 30 minutes before curtain. PC Jim Lafferty.
Georgina Pazcoguin: Victoria
Backstory: Also a New York City Ballet soloist, Georgina Pazcoguin is known for exploring unorthodox roles. But although she was always drawn to CATS' theatricality, she never thought she'd perform it. Now she's donning a white unitard as Victoria, the balletic kitten coming of age.
Committing: “CATS is a weird show, so you must be fully committed. That's why we do our own makeup and spend so much time crawling around finding our own cat."
Solo Work: Victoria's iconic solo is filled with endless développés punctuated by twitches and swerves, ending in a Pilates-teaser–like seat. Pazcoguin first learned it from Lynne for a performance with American Dance Machine for the 21st Century last year. “Gillian, an 89-year-old woman, schooled me! I was sore for days. The tempo and control are difficult, and at the same time, Victoria's exploring her own body. The second I start, I think of a waterfall flowing off my body."
Hanes channels his Fosse felinity as Rum Tum Tugger. PC Matthew Murphy, Courtesy CATS.
Tyler Hanes: Rum Tum Tugger
Working With Andy Blankenbuehler: “Andy's brain is always going. He takes this show to a different level. He understands a dancer's body and knows what looks good."
Becoming Tugger: “Since my background is Fosse, with that slink and felinity to it, I'm giving myself permission to be free in that vein. But also, I feel like the character has a mind of its own. Before, I felt like I was trying to emulate Andy to be 'correct.' Now, the movement is coming from a place of character. It's more fun. Tugger dancing is not Tyler trying to dance like Andy!"
Body Prep: Because of the snug costume, Hanes had a clear
vision of what he wanted the character to look like: Adam
Levine. So, he hired a trainer who's helped him to build strength, not bulk, through basic strength-training moves like squats and
Shonica Gooden: Rumpleteazer
Ubeda (left) and Gooden (right). PC Jim Lafferty.
Backstory: Gooden had never seen CATS, but she wanted to work with Blankenbuehler again after performing in Hamilton. “When I watched the video, I thought, What did I get myself into?!" Now, she's fallen in love with the show's themes of forgiveness and community.
Becoming Rumpleteazer: Gooden and Blankenbuehler worked together to make her Rumpleteazer sassier than other versions. “I made her unapologetically part of my culture: Being a black woman, that sass and attitude was naturally coming out. I didn't want to suppress it."
Two-Person Cartwheels: To tackle the tricky double cartwheels with Mungojerrie, danced by Jess LeProtto, the two initially practiced daily during the lift call preshow. “I learned to place my hands on his thighs exactly the same every day. If you hesitate, it's not happening!"
Feline Features: “If I'm relaxed, I keep my fingers closed for a calm paw. But when Grizabella comes on, I open up my fingers for claws and my shoulders tense up."
The Naming of Cats: The cast often calls each other by their cat names. But, there are variations. “Georgina is so spicy in the show, and she has so much attitude. So I said, 'Your name is Lakisha.' It stuck."
Ricky Ubeda: Mister Mistoffelees
Backstory: Ubeda wore out his VHS copy of the London production as a kid. “I cried for three days when I got this part."
Making Mister Mistoffelees: While Mister Mistoffelees is traditionally pulled up and über-clean, Ubeda and Blankenbuehler agreed theirs would be a cooler, more personable cat. “He loves to get the party started, and I have this theory that he teaches the other cats to dance."
Rough Rake: “In rehearsal I had found my flow, but then I got to the rake and cried. Now, I've gotten to the point where I don't fight the rake. If it's throwing me, I just go with it."
Fauré as Demeter. PC Jim Lafferty.
Kim Fauré: Demeter
Backstory: This show was one of the reasons Fauré started dancing. “It was my plan to be in a ballet company for a few years—and then CATS for the rest of my life."
Feline Features: To keep her sophisticated character intact even when she's not dancing, Fauré lies on her stomach, paws crossed and one leg bent.
Body Prep: To handle the demands of the show, Fauré cut out sugar to avoid inflammation and upped her potassium, vitamin B, calcium and magnesium to keep her muscles pliable.
Fame: Tons of fans wait outside to meet the cast, and Fauré thinks it's because everyone can find a cat they connect with. “You can see yourself in the cats."
Corey John Snide and Emily Tate: Coricopat and Tantomile
Tate (left) and Snide (right) danced together at Juilliard before joining the show. PC Jim Lafferty.
Backstory: Pre-Broadway, the two danced together at Juilliard. Now, they play twin cats.
Twin Tales: The twins are clairvoyant, and Blankenbuehler allowed Tate and Snide a large role in creating their movement. “During one moment when the whole stage goes into slow motion, he said, 'I want the intuition to come from your head,' " says Tate. “We created a movement where we take our hands next to our ears as if a thought bubble is popping out."
Bloopers: Since the pair works so closely, snags are unavoidable. Snide says, “One day, my unitard got stuck on her tail, I ripped my arm away and it went flying!"
Duo Details: The whole cast improvises certain sections. But for their version of improv, Tate and Snide have to maintain almost identical movement. Snide says, “The details, the position of our legs and contraction of our backs, are essential to creating the look."
Blankenbuehler updated the choreography, but kept its sensual felinity. PC Jim Lafferty.
Layers of Choreography
When CATS first opened on Broadway in 1982, Gillian Lynne's choreography earned much of the accolades. Infused with jazzy ballet lines, her now-iconic movement struck spectacularly odd shapes to depict energetic, sensual felinity.
For the revival, the team brought in man of the moment, Tony Award–winner Andy Blankenbuehler to add his take. Fresh off Hamilton, he integrated his blend of gestural hip hop and cool jazz into the framework. Fans still find Lynne's trademark portions. But audiences looking for a modern stamp now enjoy details like a techno-fab Mister Mistoffelees nailing tilts in an LED-light jacket. “We don't move the way they did in the '80s," says Ricky Ubeda. “But it's great training to dive into that style and then be balanced by Andy's storytelling choreography."
For the dancers, this combination meant double benefits—and double challenges. To ensure Lynne's portions were tackled correctly, one of her associates oversaw rehearsals. “She'd explain the heart and the direction of those sections," says Kim Fauré. “Then, we could approach the layers of Gillian's and Andy's work more easily."
If you still don't know what you're going to be for Halloween, don't panic just yet. Dance Magazine has your back. Whether you're heading to a party, dressing up for technique class or doing some good ol' trick-or-treating, there are countless costume options that take inspiration from modern, ballet and Broadway. (Chances are you already have the basic pieces in your closet!) Snag one of these ideas, or riff off one to create a unique look. Happy Halloween!
Cartoon by Jessica Love in The Juilliard Journal via juilliard.edu
Go Modern: Want to transform into Martha Graham? Purple fabric can do wonders. You're sure to get some confused looks from your non-dance friends. Bonus points if you do an excerpt from Lamentation and give a mini dance-history lesson.
If you're even nerdier, you can create your own version of one of Alwin Nikolais' imaginative costumes. Back in college, I showed up to a party for dance majors in this gem, based on "Mantis" from Imago. Peruse the racks at Goodwill for colorblock clothing, paint your face white and fashion a hat out of a Styrofoam cup and elastic.
Left: "Mantis" from Imago. At right: Madeline Schrock's take on the original.
Cat costumes also require meowing. The cast of Broadway's CATS. Photo by Matthew Murphy, Courtesy DKC/O&M.
Broadway Bound: Characters from the Great White Way provide endless costume ideas. If you're looking for French flair, try these dreamy pieces inspired by An American in Paris. Flouncy skirts and wrap sweaters in pastel shades evoke the fashion of late-'40s Paris.
If you've ever wanted to be a Jellicle cat, now's the time to make use of that unitard at the back of your closet. Add some fur trim, ears and creative makeup based on your favorite feline from CATS.
Dressing up as a founding father doesn't have to be stuffy. Borrow a look from the cast of Hamilton, by pairing a ruffled blouse with a military jacket and boots.
Graceful Ballet Looks: Take a page from American Ballet Theatre principals James Whiteside and Daniil Simkin and dress up as your favorite ballet legend. Last year, the two transformed into Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
If you are addicted to "The Walking Dead" and ballet, this costume is for you. "One year as a last-minute costume, I was a zombie ballerina," says DM assistant editor Lauren Wingenroth. "It's a super-easy one if you need something in a pinch—use an old ballet costume that you don't care about getting dirty, and paint your face white with dark eyes. Fake blood optional."
Escoyne as Terpsichore (far left), next to Nijinsky's faun
A Balanchine look is timeless and doesn't require too much planning. "When I was getting my BFA, we all got really into Halloween and would have themed days for an entire week," says DM assistant editor Courtney Escoyne. "For 'Mythical Monday,' I decided to pull some inspiration from Mr. B and go as Terpsichore from Apollo: classic white leo, white ballet skirt, pink tights. It was easy to put together, plus I got to pretend to be an NYCB ballerina for a day."
Last but not least, Halloween is the perfect excuse to dress up anyone's baby who may be crawling around the studio. Suzannah Friscia, an assistant editor at DM, says, "My very first Halloween costume as a baby was dance inspired: I was a purple Sugar Plum Fairy with a sparkly tutu and a little wand."
Most people 20 or older have some "memory" about CATS, whether they were veteran theatergoers, saw a production as a child, donned a unitard for a middle school play or wore out the 1998 VHS recording. While this staple of the 80s and 90s captivated many, somehow I escaped the feline phenomenon—until this week when I saw the Broadway remount with Dance Magazine's "On Broadway" columnist, Sylviane Gold.
Aside from knowing a few of Andrew Lloyd Webber's famous show tunes, I went in blind, albeit a bit biased since I'm more of a dog person. I'll admit it: I was totally skeptical. What could be so great about humans dressed in fur frolicking around a trash heap? Well, a lot of things. These are the top seven that stuck in my mind after the show.
1. First things first: There's no denying there aren't creepy moments of the show. Even the pairing of Webber's atonal music with cat eyes intermittently glowing in the opening scene gave me the heebie-jeebies.
2. It took some coaxing to get me on board for the first few numbers, but the party really started once Rum Tum Tugger had his moment in the spotlight. Played by Tyler Hanes, the flamboyant, electrifying rock star of a cat reminded me of Elvis, 80s hair bands and David Bowie rolled into one.
3. The next showstopper, "Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer," a tune about two cat burglars played by Jess LeProtto and Shonica Gooden, was even more infectious. They were charming, funny and, boy, could they dance. Every body part from their eyes to their toes moved in satisfying syncopation, and their partnering had the finesse of acrobats. I could have watched a whole show about that pair.
4. Throughout the evening, it was impossible to miss New York City Ballet soloist Georgina Pazcoguin as the white cat, Victoria. Of course, she was graceful, and that's exactly who Victoria is. But I was drawn to the tension visibly coursing through Pazcoguin's body, capturing the musculature of a feline.
5. Although I didn't have much of an emotional reaction to the show as a whole (probably because it's structured as a series of vignettes instead of an intricate narrative), "Gus the Theatre Cat" yanked at my heartstrings. When Gus reminisces about his glory days as an actor and how he still identifies with that part of himself, I found myself reflecting on the fleeting careers of dancers, but also the notion that one is always a dancer even after their performing days are done.
6. A much younger cat, Mistoffelees, was just plain fun. "So You Think You Can Dance" winner Ricky Ubeda was not only charismatic, but his contemporary training, evidenced by tilts and (flawless) fouettés, added to the magic.
7. Overall, I was most impressed that dancing was packed into nearly every second of CATS. Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography based on Gillian Lynne's original movement made up the bulk of the show. I relished the lengthy dance breaks full of crisp, jazzy technique that's nowhere near as prominent on Broadway as it was in the 80s. The singing was fantastic, but every member of the cast had to be a rock-solid dancer.
Even though I'm still not entirely confident I know what a Jellicle cat is, I must admit that I'm now a CATS convert. Sure, the show is kooky, but it's a surefire sign that Broadway's danciest days aren't behind us.
A recent staging of CATS in London. Courtesy O&M Co.
When CATS opened on Broadway in 1982, it ran for a record-breaking 18 years. This summer, it will return under the guidance of much of the original team: composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, scenic and costume designer John Napier and director Trevor Nunn. The major change for this revival is the choreography. Andy Blankenbuehler will base CATS’ new moves on the original ones by Gillian Lynne. Can Blankenbuehler pull off another Hamilton-sized hit? CATS starts previews on July 14, and opens August 2.