Lorin Latarro is on fire. Currently in pre-production for the new musical adaptation of Almost Famous at San Diego's Old Globe, her La Traviata just completed its four-month run at The Metropolitan Opera and Waitress continues satiating audiences on Broadway, in London, and on a national tour. Plus, she just earned Lucille Lortel and Chita Rivera Award nominations for her choreography of Off-Broadway’s Merrily We Roll Along and a Drama Desk Award nomination for her choreography of Twelfth Night for Shakespeare in the Park.
From Shakespeare to Sondheim, from the grandeur of opera to small vignettes, Latarro constantly stretches herself. (Par for the course for a former company dancer turned Broadway performer turned choreographer.) “Dancing in Momix and Twyla Tharp, Martha Graham, going to Juilliard and having classical training and then dancing on Broadway doing everything from Fosse to A Chorus Line to Movin’ Out to Kiss, Met Kate, I’ve just really learned a gamut of styles and I just don’t believe one is more important or better than the other,” she says. But experience with that range of styles grants the choreographer a broad palette with which to paint. And Latarro draws on any technique she needs to convey character and story in a way that is both “athletic and psychological.”
“I’m interested in the inner life of characters, but I’m also interested in kinetic functions,” she says, which explains how she makes baking both frenetic and sensual in Waitress or how she renders writing both frustrating and blissful in Merrily. Here, the choreographer breaks down the movement behind five of her routines to get behind the psychology in the dance:
“The first time I heard Sara Bareilles’ music, I closed my eyes and knew what to do with the piece. It just taught me how to make Waitress move. I read in the New York Times about the importance of daydreaming. And I said, ‘I know what to do with the show now. We have to see her daydream. We have to see her daydream about having the courage to leave her husband.' And then the ensemble just became the extension of that. Sometimes they were the obstacles to her leaving and sometimes they were helping her leave—throwing her a suitcase. Sometimes they were actually part of her doubt, and almost stopping her. Other times, they were there just to hyperbolize her emotional state. The small breaths and the small head rolls, those things were just there to theatricalize something she was feeling inside. It all came from gestures.
“To get the show I had to put together 20 minutes of choreography. The first thing I did was go to the grocery store, and my husband said—to this day—it’s the most I’ve ever spent on food. In the rehearsal room, I was like, 'Well, we need to make butter. Let’s pour orange juice.' I was interested actually in the sensuality of food because this woman is clearly a sensual woman and she’s having this hot affair with a doctor. I wanted the food to sort of be a metaphor for sex. I wanted it to have this tactile feel. That’s how the props came to life. And they’re real. One of my biggest pet peeves is the fake-ity fake. I was like, ‘Why are we not pouring real coffee? We’re in a diner.’”
Merrily We Roll Along, “Opening Doors”
Roundabout Theatre Company presents Fiasco Theatre Company
“It was the director, Noah Brody, who said, ‘What if we just use chairs and see what happens?’ The two boys live together, so they're in their office, working on their first script and music together. One of them is at their piano and the other one is at their desk. Mary's in her own apartment at her desk typing away. We just kept finding new things to do with the chairs. They became a metaphor for doing well—standing in chairs, spinning out of happiness and then plopping down and sinking low in the chairs and pushing upstage away from the audience for when their script got denied.
"[In rehearsal], I asked them to move around the space and the chairs. What are some of the positions they might be in while they're writing? Then we hyperbolized that and froze them and then moved them sharply and then everyone learned one person's moves. We took Mary's move and then we all did Mary's move at a certain point. The movement came out of their psychological states. Mary's more effervescent. She's happy, she's young, she's excited, she's getting all these jobs working at magazines. Charlie is an uptight individual so he gets frustrated easily. There's a lot of moves from him that are just frustration and anxiety. Frank, the music for him came easy, so a lot of the moves were more lyrical."
“Sold My Soul” featuring Garen Scribner, Ryan Steele, and Yehuda Hyman
“The idea came to me because I was teaching at Juilliard. The kids now, the men now, they’re out. The freshman, they’re largely out. Many came out to their parents in high school or junior high and it was not a problem. When I was a junior, all of the freshman boys had not come out yet and a lot of them were really struggling. My freshman year at Juilliard, one of my most vivid memories are of these boys crying or being tormented or vexed. I was so moved—when I went back to teach at Juilliard—by the shift in the decade, that I wanted to choreograph something about it; because there must be some older gay men who look at these young boys with such awe and they must look inward at how it was different for them. So I wanted to offer them a piece: two boys struggling with their love for each other and it’s witnessed by this man alone. Of course, [the movement] would be very physical and I loved partnering. I wanted to see how much we could do with two men lifting each other. [The movement at 3:40] it was about being metaphorically swallowed by somebody or being surrounded by them or being enveloped by them.”
La Traviata, Act 2 Scene 2
The Metropolitan Opera
“I had just beautiful dancers and the music is glorious and the stage is giant, so I thought we’d take the opportunity to fill up the stage and really do a dance. Martha Nichols, she and Garen [Scribner] do the main pas de deux and they’re the avatars for Violetta and her lover. We say that [Violetta] is a prostitute and we say that she’s had a hard life—there are lyrics in Verdi’s score. But we never see her having a hard life. I wanted to portray some of the carnal aspects of this woman’s past. In a way, she was devoured by men up until this point. These men bought her, sold her, used her. She was as turn-of-the-century prostitute; she was a kept woman. So I wanted to choreograph the psychology of that—being devoured by men until this man comes into her life and says that true love does actually exist.”
Superhero, “What’s Happening to My Boy?”
Second Stage Off-Broadway
“The director [Jason Moore] said to me, ‘This number should feel like it’s taking place over a few weeks. How do we do that?’ I had just seen the new Spider-Man movie [Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse] and in the closing credits, they did that stop-action comic book stuff. They did this thing where they shot a picture of him and it went click click click click click with him sort of gliding, one building to the next, but they did it in snapshots. I was like, ‘Oh! What if we do that?’ Then I put [Simon] in the red hoodie that seems iconic for a young boy in a color that pops. Then I was like, ‘If you put the hood up, you won’t see their faces and you can shadow them upstage and it just became this montage of this boy and avoidance.”