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

Where do you recommend taking classes? Are there certain classes (or teachers) that dancers should make sure they are attending/working with?
Gattelli: The classics are probably Broadway Dance Center, Steps and Alvin Ailey. There are so many now and that's great. I think that the need for dance and the want for dance is so high that there are studios that I don't even know about. There are many great places to study. But I will drop a name because she's still teaching and I feel that you don't get much better. Her name is Suzi Taylor. I was with her when I was 15 or 16 years old. Her warm up is phenomenal. It's all done in center, it's all technique, it really just grounds you and it's emotional as well. There's a beautiful art to her warm up that is really human, yet it makes you work. By the time you're done, you know that you are stronger. Period. I feel like when you dance with her, you really become something. You become a character. It's a really complete class, and when I was studying with her I grew very quickly because it was complete. I don’t want to take away from the tons of others, because everyone has so much to offer and variety is also great. Also, remember that if you just take class with one teacher that can be good in one sense, because there is a consistency and you can find a way to progress, but to throw yourself into other peoples classes, just to try different styles that you might not be so comfortable with is essential, too. You can get stuck thinking, "I know I look great in this; I'm just going to do this because I look great," instead of trying that hip hop class or that new tap class. To walk into a class with new people - there's nowhere to hide. I think that’s brave and exciting.

Do you have tips for dancers to stay healthy and take care of their bodies?
Gattelli: Definitely properly warm up before anything. It makes me a little nervous when I see people walk into an audition, or even some rehearsals to be honest, and they think that they can just jump in. Your body is very deceiving, you have to really take care of it. You have to take care of that instrument and you have to take care of your body. Honor what you're given to work with. That includes really giving it the proper amount of time to warm up. Getting that massage when you need it. Take time to rebuild and replenish.

Can you give some tips on what you look for when casting Newsies. What are some vital things to know when auditioning for that particular musical that might help a dancer book the job?
Gattelli: Definitely know your type. It is about newsboys not about newsmen. Commit to the acting. Every one of those moves in Newsies we tell them, "You're outside Pulitzer's gate. You're drawing your foot on the line. Also, at the end of the day there is strong technique that you have to have to be a part of that show. Mainly it's so that the dancers feel safe. It's for my piece of mind, too, so that when I hire a person I know that they are going to be fine doing that show eight times a week. It's not just about the dance numbers like "Seize the Day," "King of New York," the opening number, or the bows. The cast are also climbing a bunch of stairs in the towers, they are having to walk upstairs to the dressing rooms, it's a cumulative effect on the body. For Newsies get into ballet. You should be able to act the combination and not have to think technically. That really separates the men from the boys in auditions. In auditions I can see people thinking through their bodies, and that should be secondary. You should be able to turn around and take that first step forward and feel confident, cocky and prideful and all of those things that you have to do at that moment in the show and not worry about, "Oh God, that double tour or jete is coming. What am I gonna do?"



I also want to add that as much as people talk about the audition itself, I also find that right after the audition is just as important. I feel so many times people go in for something and never really know why they did or didn't get the job or get a callback. You hear so many stories such as, "Gosh, I thought I really did great in there," or, "Oof. That was not my best day." At the end of the day, ultimately, the result isn't a reflection of your talent. It's a bigger picture of what the overall show needs. And I say that with the hopes that more people will have greater confidence, and will continue to presevere, knowing that they did a great job. I've seen many people over the years give up because they felt like they weren't getting anywhere. But now that I get to sit on the other side of the table and I see that there are so many other factors that go into casting something. Many times it doesn't have to do with how that specific audition went. It's hard not to take it personally in this business because we are our work/art. So when there is rejection, it's tough… I think we've all felt at one time or another. So basically, all that boils down to: Just prepare for your audition as much as you can, so you can walk out feeling like you did everything you could, and then let it go.

(Adam Hetrick is the editor in chief of Playbill.com. His work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com, as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillAdamH).