Interview with Choreographer Denis Jones

Posted on: August 24th, 2016 by Ted Sod


Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin choreographer Denis Jones spoke with education dramaturg Ted Sod about his inspirations and the process of working on the version of a classic film.

Choreographer Denis Jones

Choreographer Denis Jones

Ted Sod: Tell us about yourself. Where were you born and educated? Why did you want to become a theatre choreographer? Did you have any teachers who had a profound influence on you?

Denis Jones: I grew up in San Francisco and then moved to New York, where I went to NYU as an acting major. I was a theatre kid from my earliest memories, inspired by the movie musicals I saw on TV, as well as the local theatre and touring shows I attended. My parents were very supportive of my interest in theatre, and I started dance class when I was in third grade, as well as acting classes at ACT. I performed on Broadway in a number of shows over a period of 15 years and was fortunate to work with choreographers like Rob Marshall, Rob Ashford, Tommy Tune, Ann Reinking, Jeff Calhoun, and Jerry Mitchell. I later became Jerry's associate on Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Legally Blonde. He probably has had the most influence on me. His attention to the importance of choreography as an essential component of storytelling, as well as his relationship to his dancers as a compassionate leader, taught me a great deal, and I hope I carry that with me every day. I was very inspired by movie musicals as a kid. While my friends had posters of "Star Wars", the walls of my room were covered with posters of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. Their stylish and smooth athleticism had an enormous impact on me.

TS: How did you research the world of the play? How did you prepare to choreograph a stage version of a movie musical like this? Can you give us some insight into your process as a choreographer?

DJ: I have seen the Holiday Inn film many times and certainly hope that the stage adaptation celebrates the original, but my goals are not in any way to replicate the choreography. I am very inspired by the dances Fred Astaire does in the film (and what choreographer wouldn't be?), but Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin Musical is its own thing, and the dances will be built for and on the amazing dancers in the cast. My only goal is to make them look good in a way that is authentic to them, not to try to impose someone else's style on them, while still honoring the genre and period. I often tell dancers, "If you don't look good, I don't look good." I see the film as an extremely exciting jumping-off place. My process always starts with the script and the music. I actually try to avoid doing any visual research of dance from the period until I’m very far down the road conceiving dances, as the work of others can get in my head in a way that hangs me up. I usually start in a dance studio alone with the music, and I walk around in a circle. I know that makes me sound like a crazy person, but that's what it is. I have a close circle of dancer friends/collaborators with whom I spend long days creating and filming dance, which I then spend my evenings pouring over. There are hundreds and hundreds of short videos of dance vocabulary for Holiday Inn. A lot of it gets thrown out, but I use them as puzzle pieces to put together a larger picture.

Bryce Pinkham with director and co-book writer Gordon Greenberg and choreographer Denis Jones. Photo by Jenny Anderson

Bryce Pinkham with director and co-book writer Gordon Greenberg and choreographer Denis Jones. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

TS: What do you think the musical is about?

DJ: I think the musical is ultimately about discovering your authentic self and giving that place a home. Whether that be Jim wanting a simple life to share with the woman he loves or Ted only being interested in the bright lights of show business. This creates a tug of war with the women in their lives, but in the end everyone finds home.

TS: Were you at all influenced the original film choreography by Danny Dare?

DJ: I believe that, out of great respect for the film and for its choreography, that I am inspired by it but am in no way trying to replicate it. For starters, I consider it plagiarism, but more importantly, it was created at a certain time on a certain group of people. I think it would be reckless of me not to embrace the unique gifts of this cast I have the pleasure of working with to create dance that allows them authentic physical expression.

TS: Will you talk about working with your collaborators: Gordon Greenberg, the director and co-librettist, and Andy Einhorn, the musical director?

DJ: Collaborating with Gordon (which I have a number of times now) and Andy is a pleasure. I think mostly because the departmental lines are a bit blurry such that we can all meet in a grey area of sorts to discover what's best for the show, not just for one department. I certainly don't have all the answers going into a process and am dependent on a strong collaborative relationship. I particularly enjoy that process early on when you don't necessarily feel like you have to solve problems but see what doors start to open when facing challenges.

Corbin Bleu and Bryce Pinkham with Denis Jones . Photo by Jenny Anderson

Corbin Bleu and Bryce Pinkham with Denis Jones . Photo by Jenny Anderson

TS: What did you look for in casting the dancers?

DJ: Honestly, casting the dancers for Holiday Inn (and I saw many wonderful, highly-skilled dancers for this) came down to who made me smile. It was a very important component when casting dancers for a show like this. There is a great deal of dancing in the show, and New York is full of excellent dancers, but the ones who dance with joy and abandon, who are playful and mischievous when they dance, who dance as if nobody is watching them, those are the ones I'm most attracted to.

TS: What inspires you as an artist?

DJ: I am continually inspired by the dancers I work with. Sometimes I'll come into the room with an idea that seemed amazing in my head but makes no sense on actual bodies, and then, through the collaborative process with dancers and the sharing of ideas, a path starts to emerge and something magical happens. It's that collaboration that inspires me and is my favorite part. Some days it doesn't happen and we end up with nothing, but some days I walk out of the studio being the happiest guy in New York.

Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin Musical begins previews at Studio 54 on September 1. Click here for tickets and more information.

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Interview with Teaching Artist Daniel Robert Sullivan

Posted on: August 16th, 2016 by Abby Case


Daniel at the Student Theatre Arts Festival in 2012.

Daniel at the Student Theatre Arts Festival in 2012.

Master Teaching Artist Daniel Robert Sullivan has been on Roundabout’s Teaching Artist Roster for the past sixteen years. Daniel just returned from a long run as Tommy DeVito in the Las Vegas production of Jersey Boys, but spent much of his time out West coordinating the rolling world premiere of Prospect High: Brooklyn, a play he conceived and co-wrote with a team of New York City teenagers in Roundabout’s Education Studio.

Through Roundabout, Daniel has served New York City students and educators in multiple ways. He has served as the director for Roundabout’s annual Student Theatre Arts Festival and trained educators through Roundabout’s Theatrical Teaching Institute. He’s also facilitated multiple classroom residencies in Roundabout Partner School classrooms.

Educator Program Manager Abby Case spoke with Daniel about his career and work at Roundabout.

Abby Case: Tell me a bit about yourself and your artistry.

Daniel Robert Sullivan: I'm an actor, writer, and teaching artist trying to keep my feet firmly planted in all three disciplines.

AC: How did you come to be a teaching artist? Could you share your first arts education experience?

DRS: While student-teaching in Rhode Island during college, I was tasked with introducing Julius Caesar to an English class. The traditional lesson plans used during this unit had much to do with analyzing the text and working through the meaning of words, and very little to do with the raw emotional power of performance. I thought, “Well, shoot, I can get these kids to like Shakespeare way more by showing it to"

I asked a fellow actor to bust into the classroom at a particular time and begin a speech from the play, which I then countered with another. It was wild and completely effective. The 'bust-in' is teaching artist technique...I just didn't know there was such a thing as a 'teaching artist' until the following year when I moved to New York. A friend introduced me to Roundabout's Education program, I was mentored and inspired by its early leaders - Margie Salvante and Renee Fleming - and I've been attached ever since.

AC: What is your favorite part about working as a teaching artist?

DRS: My favorite bits are usually those that follow some kind of sharing event, much like my favorite part of performing is often the moment immediately after the curtain call. After the work has been presented, it is then time to reflect on how it has changed you. And it always, always changes you. Having students articulate this change is my favorite part.

AC: What is the most challenging part about working as a teaching artist?

DRS: Working in the room is fulfilling, but scheduling the work in the room is the hardest part. We all must balance our own creative work with the creative classroom work, and the classrooms we work in are all over the city! So piecing it all together remains a challenge.

AC: Could you share a memorable lesson or moment from your time as a teaching artist at Roundabout?

DRS: The very first Student Theatre Arts Festival stands out as a moment to remember. Students from all over NYC gathered together to perform short scenes on Broadway. Not only did they meet and connect with each other, but the legitimacy of their stage gave them confidence and the respect of their peers and family who had come to watch.

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Education @ Roundabout, Student Production Workshop, Teaching Artist Tuesday

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I am thrilled to share casting details for our production of Arthur Miller’s The Price. Please join me in welcoming John Turturro (Victor Franz), Tony Shalhoub (Walter Franz), and Jessica Hecht (Esther Franz) to the Roundabout stage.

John and Tony are making their Roundabout debuts, though they are certainly not new to the stage or the screen. John has won an OBIE Award for Danny and the Deep Blue Sea and the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival for his role in Barton Fink. He has most recently starred in the hit series “The Night Of.” Tony has won a Golden Globe Award and has received Tony nominations for his roles in Act One and Golden Boy. Both John and Tony have won Emmys for their roles in “Monk”—in which, as it happens, they also played brothers.

Currently starring in Broadway’s Fiddler on the Roof, Jessica has received a Tony nomination for A View from the Bridge and is a good friend to Roundabout, having appeared in both Harvey (2012) and After the Fall (2004). I look forward to seeing this wonderful cast bring an exceptional Arthur Miller play to life.

Preview performances for Arthur Miller's The Price will begin Thursday, February 16, 2017, with an Opening Night set for Thursday, March 16. For tickets and more information, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Arthur Miller's The Price, Roundabout News

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