|Director Bartlett Sher addresses the women|
Guest rehearsal blog entry from Caroline Baum
What a difference a week makes! The girls are all tapping like seasoned hoofers and the men are swivelling their hips like old-timers. Broadway has definitely arrived at the Opera Centre.
New York choreographer Christopher Gattelli’s eloquence does not require words: his feet speak fluent Rodgers and Hammerstein.
To reinforce the production’s emphasis on authenticity, Gattelli has been giving the principals classes in posture. “In those days, people had carriage, class, grace and a sense of deportment. Today slumping and slouching is part of our culture so I need the cast to tuck in their tailbones, cross their ankles when sitting, stand erect, and learn to walk differently. The women wore girdles in those days, so that affected carriage and the men’s military training also had an effect on their bearing, especially as they had to know how to march in step and carry weapons. It’s a whole different attitude to movement, not just about learning dance steps,” says Gattelli, who studied films and worked with a swing dance expert to achieve the right forties style.
He breaks down a number into its component parts, demonstrating every step. Sometimes he wants unity, at other times it’s all about breaking out and doing a solo turn. “A lot of the things we came up with are organic and created on the spot, like the way the girls use the towels at the end of ‘I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair’.”
Everyone has to be given some bit of business. For Kate Ceberano, it’s refining the islander mime actions that define her character Bloody Mary (whom she calls 'Pimp Mummy') in ‘Happy Talk’ until they convey exactly the right mix of the mercenary and the maternal while Liat (Celina Yuen) perfects the hybrid Islander/Chinese inspired peacock hand movements of her seduction of Lieutenant Cable (Daniel Koek). Then the chorus blow away the sombre mood in a rampagingly lusty ‘Honey Bun’, adding a little bit of local girl-on-girl cheekiness to the action. Cat calls and wolf whistles ramp up the adrenalin. Bartlett Sher laughs that he’d never be as bold back home.
A couple of days later, the male ensemble are working full throttle on ‘Bloody Mary’. Sailor caps on, (each angled at individually rakish and jaunty angles; some have even managed to make a round hat square). Testosterone pumps as they spin, tumble and stretch in front of the mirror and for each other. Strutting? Showing off? You bet.
“This number is kind of like organised chaos, dancing that looks a bit like fighting,” says Gattelli in a rare moment of verbal exposition. “Now polka through this mess,” he urges a couple of sailors. One hesitates for the briefest second. “I can be led” he mutters, as if convincing himself.
“I’m going to give you a swing step, and then you mix it up,” says Gattelli to another group.
‘Now what about some butterflies?’ turning to the black trio who never mix with the other Seabees and have been waiting patiently for their moment.
‘Do it like you are throwing each other down the beach, I want it to look rough, not beautiful.' They oblige and the room whoops and cheers its appreciation.
‘Now go for more height.’ They deliver, amping up the tumbling and throwing in some back flips for good measure.
Sometimes rehearsal looks like nothing but hard work. Today it looks like nothing but fun.