Booking It! Tony-Winning Newsies Choreographer Christopher Gattelli on Nailing Your Dance Call

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31 Jan 2014

Christopher Gattelli
Christopher Gattelli
Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Playbill.com's new feature series Booking It asks leading industry members to share professional insights, need-to-know tips and essential tricks of the trade for up-and-coming and established theatre artists. This week we speak with Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Gattelli.

Perhaps best-known as the choreographer of the Disney juggernaut Newsies, which is filled with athletically demanding, muscular choreography that keeps its cast airborne for much of the performance, Gattelli is also know for his character-driven musical storytelling, including his Tony-nominated work on the 2008 Tony-winning revival of South Pacific.

His credits run the gamut of subject and style, from the Latin-kissed Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, the kid-packed musical 13, a sophisticated Broadway revival of Sunday in the Park with George, Godspell (featuring actors bouncing on trampolines), as well as the acclaimed Off-Broadway production of Dogfight, the long-running Off-Broadway boy band musical Altar Boyz, Jonathan Larson's tick, tick... BOOM! and the cult musicals Silence! and Bat Boy.

Below, Gattelli shares his insights on the contemporary world of Broadway dance and how to catch a choreographer's eye at an audition.

What are the first things you notice about a performer at an audition?
Gattelli: Energy, openness and eagerness. I'm also looking at posture, the way you walk and the way that you hold yourself. I can tell by the way people walk into the room if they are excited to be there, if they are prepared and if they are confident. The way you dress is also important. Is it appropriate for the job you're walking into? I would never say wear a costume, but know that if you're auditioning for a period piece, don't look too contemporary. Just at least give the impression of what you’re going in for. Oh, and also the way you talk to the accompanist. Be kind and clear.

What are some common mistakes performers make at an audition that stand in the way of them booking the job?
Gattelli: Showing lack of confidence, or overthinking instead of just trying to be who you are. Just be the best that you can be for what the job calls for. Be prepared. Have your book ready with different song choices in there if we ask for different options. I also don't think it's important to have sides memorized, but ideally be familiar enough with them so that if we ask for adjustments, you can do them with a little more ease. And for dance calls, really listen to the details. I don't expect things to be perfect in the audition, that's what rehearsals are for, but I want to know that someone can be on the same page and apply details quickly.

What is proper attire for a dance call? How does it differ depending on choreography, choreographer or show?
Gattelli: I would say use good judgment. If you're going in for West Side Story and you know the guys dance in jeans, I don't think it's unacceptable to go in jeans since that's how you're going to move in the show. It's going to affect how you move, affect your line and may help you embody the choreography. But also, we need to see your line and technique, so sometimes jeans aren’t the best attire for that. If you're wearing something that limits your movement or something baggy like big, big sweatpants, it may hinder your ability to move well.

Are there dos and don'ts for dance attire?
Gattelli: I would always rather see the line, but I think it depends on a show-to-show basis. Try to do as much research as you can and fact-finding before you get in the room. If you know it's a revival, listen to that cast album, look at old production photos. Try to find anything that you can so that you have some sense of what you're going to walk into. If it's a new musical, see who's involved. See who the composer is, who the director is, and what they've done in the past – it could give you an inkling of what type of movement, or what you might be expected to do.

But it also changes for each show. I'm working on a show called Amazing Grace and some men and women wore dance shorts and bare feet, and for that audition I loved it. I loved seeing their lines and the way their bodies moved easily. So that was really helpful. But for something like Newsies, I wouldn't necessarily say that tight shorts were the best thing because they break your line. For that specific show, any kind of dance pants are fine as long as it helps you move easily.



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