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

By Adam Hetrick
31 Jan 2014

Christopher Gattelli
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Do you have any tips to help non-dancers pick up choreography at a dance call?
Gattelli: Go to any class just to throw yourself in as an exercise. Especially since a class isn't an audition, there really isn't anything to lose. You gain experience and you flex those "learning/picking up" muscles because those are muscles that need to be flexed. It may sound silly, but even going to something that's a not dance class, but maybe an aerobics class, or a yoga class, where you still have to pay attention and follow instructions and follow format and order. That can be helpful because it's not a dance class where you might feel a little more insecure.

When choreographers give auditioners the chance to improv, is it beneficial to show off all you've got? How far is too far?
Gattelli: I think it depends on the show. For example in Newsies, if you know you're going to get that one shot and I say, "Okay, the second time you do this combination, take what I gave you and add your own skills," then go for it. Throw in certain jumps that make you unique or things you've been working on. But I do similar things at the South Pacific calls, asking singers and dancers to improv based on a situation, such as being sailors on the beach for example. It is interesting to see what people come up with. Are dancers able to cross that line and think like an actor and not jump into the splits and do 20 turns? Can they come up with something like what they would really do on a beach? When you're asked to improv, look at what you're being asked to improv about.

How important is having "tricks" in your arsenal?
Gattelli: I don't think it's essential. We all have those little things that make us unique and the more things that you are able to do, you are able to give the creators a few more options of how to utilize you. For Newsies, yes those guys can flip and tumble, but it only helps add to the mix. If you are a singer and also play an instrument, you're probably going to be in a better position to be in Once. I wouldn't even say it's about tricks and jumps, it's anything - if you twirl a baton, if you juggle... Any of those things that you accumulate through your learning. Anything you bring to the table is helpful.

For example, in South Pacific we didn't tap in the audition. It was just one of those things that, after looking at everyone's resumés, many of those performers tapped, so we ended up doing a tap number in the follies section because people could do it. And one of the girls was on pointe because she could do it. It added to the texture of a show and to the variety. Even if you don't use it, it just adds to the options for the creators to think about. I wouldn't say it's necessary because at the end of the day, it's the basic three things: act, sing and dance, in any order.

And, in a bigger example, Kara Linsday played a huge part of how "King of New York" was created in Newsies. Originally it was for the guys to celebrate the first step they took against Pulitzer and that they had their picture on the front page of the newspaper. But because Kara showed us she could tap in her audition, it helped us add story to the number as a way for the boys to accept and trust her. It gave us a much richer number because of that one flash of a moment in her audition.