PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Bill Deamer, Choreographer of London's Top Hat

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30 Jun 2012

Bill Deamer
Bill Deamer

Meet Bill Deamer, London's latest star theatre choreographer, the man behind the feet and movement of the screen-to-stage musical Top Hat.


Just as Christopher Gattelli has recently entered the top rank of Broadway's most sought-after choreographers following his Tony win for Newies, London, too, has a new dance star: Bill Deamer, whose choreography for Top Hat brilliantly reinvents the movie-dance classic for the stage.

Like Gattelli and choreographers from Michael Bennett and Bob Fosse to Susan Stroman and Rob Ashford before them, Bill Deamer began his career as a dancer, and has served a long apprenticeship to build up his current profile. Now he's on a roll, juggling interesting student projects like the current first major London outing for Chaplin (not the version opening on Broadway this year but one that was intended to reach there 30 years ago, in 1982) at Guildhall School of Music and high-profile British TV jobs choreographing for "So You Think You Dance?" and "Strictly Come Dancing."

When Top Hat opened at the West End's Aldwych Theatre in May, the London critics were particularly impressed with the dancing; Kate Bassett, writing in the Independent on Sunday, commented, "The tap-dancing is pretty dazzling.... from the waist up, an air of nonchalant idling, while the feet are a blur of patent leather, rapping out punctilious beats. The chorus routines sound like a crescendoing war dance with syncopated machine-guns." Playbill recently caught up with the engaging Deamer over coffee in London.

Where did you train and how did you start in the business?
Bill Deamer: I was already a trained dancer before I went to the Guildford School of Acting when I was 18. So when I went there, I was able to continue my advanced ballet and tap, but what was great there is that I used to warm up in the morning, do an hour's ballet, then go to a Shakespeare class. They concentrated on all the disciplines. After I graduated, I started going into shows like Underneath the Arches in the West End and The Boyfriend for Cameron Mackintosh — a show I would later choreograph myself and which got me my first Olivier nomination when we did it at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park! But Cameron's production, which went to Canada before it came to the West End, was wonderful, and I'll always be very grateful to him — he taught me the value of good production early on, and that has been really important to me.


Tom Chambers and Summer Strallen in Top Hat.
photo by Brinkhoff and Mogenburg

When did you make the switch into choreography yourself?
BD: I was doing a production of Cabaret in the West End, choreographed by Gillian Lynne, in 1986. I did the first three months, but I was then offered a choreography job at the Salisbury Playhouse, and I had to take it! It was to do a production of Cabaret, funnily enough! Gillian taught me a couple of great lessons: I learnt from her that you must always choreograph what it is you want to do, not what's expected of you. And she also told me early on: you will never be a choreographer's assistant — you have a mind of your own.

I worked there for a while — I was able to choreograph and be in the shows as well, that was the joy of it. Because of the way I trained and was brought up through the ranks working with great choreographers and good directors, I developed my own way of doing it. I was always greatly influenced by Fred Astaire and Bob Fosse, but I was never a copier. You have to create your own style — so it sometimes takes a while to break through.


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