To look at the choreography of Broadway’s Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of the Temptations and think “That’s just the way The Temptations moved” would be easy. After all, they were one of the greatest singing and dancing groups of all time. Still, the knee spins and splits and layouts—they didn’t dance quite like this.
“We are doing an adaptation of their story,” says choreographer Sergio Trujillo, who has been nominated for a Tony Award for his work on the bio-musical. “We’re doing a theatrical, dramatic departure so that’s what I felt like I needed to do choreographically.”
And while there are the explosive knee slides and pirouettes, Trujillo also had to summon restraint in his movement. “The beginning of the show, the first number [“The Way You Do the Things You Do”] I thought, ‘I’m going to make that vintage Temptations because I want the audience to feel like they remember them,” Trujillo explained. So they point to their heart to say “I love you” and rock to the beat. Just as the story tracks the evolution of The Temptations from simple start to Motown supergroup, the choreography has to start out like a group that’s finding its footing before it gets tighter, fancier, more impressive.
Trujillo did not re-stage old Temptations routines to their hottest hits. He blended the funk of Motown with contemporary styles like hip hop and b-boy, with some musical theatre movement “sprinkled through it.” Dominique Morisseau’s book parallels the experience of The Temptations in the ’60s as a quintet of black men grappling with fame and artistry in white America to the experience of black artists today, particularly the black male artists playing the Temps. So it only makes sense that the movement driving that story also adopt slight anachronisms. As Trujillo puts it, “How could I not take all the wealth of knowledge that I have in my dance trunk and run with that opportunity with this music?”
“Let’s talk about the talent I have,” he adds. “I can turn to Ephraim [Sykes] and say, ‘Ephraim, I need you to do a triple pirouette, land on your knees then catch the microphone,’ and he just goes, ‘OK.’ And Jeremy [Pope], who’s not a trained dancer, I said, ‘Jeremy I want you to do a knee slide, do a double knee turn, and come up.’”
But whether they’re executing choreographic stunts, technical feats, or subtle gestures, the full quintet—adding in Derrick Baskin, James Harkness, and Jawan Jackson (not to mention the new Temps)—always harnesses the energy of The Temptations courtesy of Trujillo’s movement design.