A conversation with “A Chance to Dance” co-choreographer
Michael Nunn (center) watches a rehearsal with William Trevitt and Allison Holker.
A new Nigel Lythgoe Production premieres this month—a treat for those who watch “So You Think You Can Dance” and pine for more in-studio rehearsal footage. Ovation TV’s documentary-style show “A Chance to Dance” follows former Royal Ballet dancers Michael Nunn and William Trevitt as they auditioned and worked with 24 dancers over two weeks at Jacob’s Pillow this past spring. Their goal: to form a new company and produce a show for New York audiences.
Nunn (former Royal Ballet first soloist) and Trevitt (former principal) broke from the classical mold in 2000 to found BalletBoyz, a London-based contemporary ballet company for 10 men. They’re also no strangers to dance on film. Their Strictly Bolshoi won the 2008 International Emmy Award for arts programming, and their documentaries The Royal Ballet in Cuba and BalletBoyz: The Rite of Spring were nominated for the 2010 Rose d’Or.
Surprisingly, the work that Nunn and Trevitt create with the new American dance company isn’t all that balletic. “We wanted the broadest possible audience and didn’t want to particularly specialize in one genre over another,” says Nunn. “And to really highlight the dancers, we had to find out what they could do best and then challenge them.”
Dance Teacher: Have you found differences between American and European dancers?
Michael Nunn: In the U.K. I’m used to working with mainly ballet dancers. But in the U.S., the skillset of each dancer seems to be a lot broader. In one group there are dancers who can do ballet and hip hop and circus skills. It gives you so much more scope when creating a dance.
DT: Many of your dancers are only 18 years old. What were some of the challenges in working with them?
MN: You forget how young they really are. For some of them, it’s their first professional engagement, and there are little things you wouldn’t expect out of more seasoned dancers. For instance, someone may come to class maybe three minutes before it starts, when you’d expect a professional dancer to be in there at least half an hour before. Not that the dancers were undisciplined. They just didn’t know some of the etiquette that comes with being in a professional setting.
The real challenge is digging out the abilities of each dancer in a short space of time. It’s not as if we had three months to work with them, and then create material; we had to create it instantly. We hadn’t taken into consideration that the guys weren’t as experienced in classical partnering, which is much different than contemporary partnering. So we had to change one of our pieces quite radically overnight and manipulate it. We had to be open to these types of changes, which you have to be if you only have a few days to create something.
DT: Do you like having cameras in the studio?
MN: Even if we’re not filming for TV, we always record our work in the studio and show our dancers what they’ve been doing at the end of every day. It’s so instant. I can spend an hour giving notes to a group of 12 dancers, or I can just run the film back for 40 seconds and everyone gets it immediately. It’s an amazing tool.
And on the production side, we can film parts of the dance, take it back to the hotel and start piecing it together to see how it could work with different music or different backgrounds.
DT: So you would recommend that dance teachers use cameras on a day-to-day basis?
MN: Absolutely. I use video for teaching class. Dancers can look at themselves in the mirror all day long and still not see what you do, maybe because they’re focusing only on one element. Video allows them to see a bigger picture. Whether a dancer’s shoulders are up through a whole solo or she’s not using the correct port de bras, you can just show her, and 99 times out of 100 she’ll understand. Dancers don’t like to look at themselves on video, but it’s something that I believe they should get used to from an early age. DT
Photo courtesy of Ovation