The theme, director-choreographer Christopher Gattelli says, "is romantic destiny — when you find that one person, [and] that one person is forever. And no matter what comes at you in the course of that relationship and through life, there is something special when you actually find the one."
The show, In Your Arms, a dance-theatre musical that Gattelli co-conceived with theatre producer Jennifer Manocherian, is being performed at San Diego's The Old Globe Theatre. It is a series of ten vignettes set to dance, written by Douglas Carter Beane, Nilo Cruz, Christopher Durang, Carrie Fisher, David Henry Hwang, Rajiv Joseph, Terrence McNally, Marsha Norman, Lynn Nottage and Alfred Uhry.
Its cast of 22 includes Tony Award winner Donna McKechnie (A Chorus Line) and Academy Award winner George Chakiris ("West Side Story"). Its music is by Tony winner Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime), with his longtime composing partner Lynn Ahrens providing lyrics for the title song. The Old Globe notes that the show's participants have among them 18 Tony Awards, 4 Pulitzer Prizes, 6 Pulitzer finalist placements, 3 Emmy Awards and 2 Academy Awards. How did it happen, though? Gattelli and Manocherian, who have been working on In Your Arms for seven years, were talking about the possibility of doing a dance show, Gattelli says, and they agreed that Movin' Out, Twyla Tharp's 2002 dance musical based on the works of Billy Joel, "opened the ground for new opportunities."
"The idea that playwrights would [create] stories… without dialogue, really appealed [to us]" Gattelli adds. "[To] take playwrights and treat their material solely through movement… [to] tell the stories through dance, to use the body and face as the narrative and trust that."
While working on the recent revival of South Pacific at Lincoln Center Theater, he "was walking underneath the theatre, and on the walls I saw Terrence McNally's name, and Christopher Durang's name and Alfred Uhry's name."
He and Manocherian asked each of the ten contributors "to write a short play about romantic destiny," says Gattelli, who won his Tony for Newsies and was nominated for revivals of South Pacific and this season's The King and I. "They responded really well to it." It's "really incredible to see the varied takes of what that meant to them."
The vignettes range from "a quick four-minute snapshot of someone's relationship to about ten to 12 minutes.… They're all pretty brief. But, as I say that, it's not true; Marsha Norman's piece spans a 30-year relationship."
The dancers don't speak, he says, though words are used in "various creative ways. Douglas Carter Beane has a flicker-film period piece so you see the words pop up in the film. With Chris Durang, you hear his lead character's thoughts. So some of the playwrights were able to get their words in. But nothing is spoken."
Flaherty's music — and Gattelli's choreography—"range from Spain to Argentina to China to ballroom to contemporary to classical" to the Charleston and swing, Gattelli says. "It runs the gamut of ten different styles. It's incredibly expansive with regard to the genres."
The writers, he says, have told him "this was a gift to get to work on. There were stories they wanted to tell, and some of them, many of them, personal stories, but they never wanted to name the characters," so couples could be universal rather than specific. For In Your Arms, Gattelli says, those couples are just two people with a destiny in romance, and a destiny in dance.