PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Rob Ashford, the 2012 Tony-Nominated Choreographer of Evita

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
09 Jun 2012

Rob Ashford
Rob Ashford
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Tony Award-winning Thoroughly Modern Millie choreographer Rob Ashford is celebrating his seventh Tony Award nomination for the first-ever Broadway revival of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical Evita.

*

This production of Evita is so cinematic. There is a constant sense of movement throughout. Where does your work as choreographer, and that of director Michael Grandage, begin and leave off?
Rob Ashford: It's a very special collaboration. We're great, great friends — he's been such a supporter of mine. He gave me my first directing opportunity at the Donmar Warehouse. He's been a mentor for me, so we had that simpatico from the beginning. It's only gotten stronger. I think that's the goal — to finish each other's sentences on stage, in a way. I don't know how we do it, other than just pure honesty.

Part of that achievement is also the work of the designers, too, right?
RA: Completely. Christopher Oram, the scenic designer; Neil Austin the lighting designer; Michael and myself — we had this great sequestering all together with a set model, with photographs and research: an entire week away from any other disruptions at Michael's place in Cornwall, and we all got on the same page. That's not always the case, but with Evita it truly is.

The original Hal Prince production of Evita is iconic. It has toured and been restaged across the world. Part of that package is Larry Fuller's Tony-nominated choreography. Did that shadow you at all?
RA: I've actually done it! I loved doing it, I loved dancing that choreography. There were two boys who would dance with Eva in Fuller's original, called the Slouchos, and I was one.



Did you still have that in your muscle memory when you revisited the music?
RA: Well, what you hope to do is to use that for inspiration. Just by chance, I've spent a lot of time in Argentina. What they knew 30 years ago when they first did Evita, and what we know now about the specifics of the music and the people, the dance and the culture, is different. I mean, the original team didn't have the kind of exposure we have now. But they had this great piece to play with and work with and I think their whole point was this different kind of idea, these thrilling broader strokes.

Elena Roger in Evita.
photo by Richard Termine

You want to reinvent it, somehow, and with all of our knowledge of Argentina and what it is now. It was really nice to get to the real depth of the people, the heart of the people and come from there. The idea was to do a more naturalistic and realistic version. The set is realistic, the tango is the basic [movement] language [throughout]. It's more natural [dance flow] rather than [the] clever commenting and staging that they did in the original. I think both are valid. I think the original is brilliant, myself.

What were some of the first moves or images that came to you when you began work on Evita?
RA: One of the first ideas was to have this mourning tango in the "Requiem" — to have everyone fall into each other's arms as though they were calling out or crying out, a sort of swaying tango, all in unison. Everyone is in the same loss. Once we realized that's how we were going to start the show, all the rest just went down that path.

Another was the Charity Concert. The idea was that...there would be these shadow dancers in the back, dancing alone. The rule was that nobody could dance as a couple, a sexual couple, until Peron and Eva got together. That was one of the first ideas. So we had these shadow couples, men and women separate, dancing as if they had a partner, and they cannot touch or be together until Peron and Eva were together. As soon as they come together, then the other couples come together and we have that dance of passion that they all do. 

A very exciting moment in the production is "Buenos Aires." The way the set opens, and we see the bustling city, is such a powerful visual.
RA: It's kind of Eva's Emerald City. So all the people are bigger, more beautiful, more precise, more specific than she even dreamed. That was our jumping off point for that. Their chests are so high, their noses are so in the air, they're so beautiful and so confident. Everything was about lifting those images for her. Also, once we realized we had an Eva who dances [Elena Roger], that was a huge help. Then Christopher Orem designed that huge open space for me to put dancers in. It was thrilling to try to define it.

View highlights from Evita: