TUTS ‘CABARET’ – A Fresh Look

22 Jun

This interview by regular contributor Nancy Wozny originally appeared at www.dancesourcehouston.org.

It’s a whole new Kit Kat Klub over at TUTS. Based on extensive research of Weimar Germany, Bill Berry and his creative team at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre are bringing their newly envisioned Cabaret to Houston. Apparently, the cabarets of Weimar era Berlin were considerably more lavish than the original show revealed. New York Choreographer Bob Richard fills is in.

Dance Source Houston: How did you get involved in this project?

Bob Richard: Through Bill Berry at the Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre; I have worked there in the past, and he asked me to come along.

DSH: Did you have any previous experiences with Cabaret?

BR: I have seen the movie and several versions of the stage production. I even danced in a summer stock show, but this is the first time I have ever choreographed Cabaret.

DSH: Was Cabaret a personal favorite?

BR: It’s an amazing piece of work, I wanted to explore it and see what I could do with it. When an opportunity like this arises you jump on it.

DSH: So many choreographers have put their stamp on this piece from Ron Field’s original Broadway production to Bob Fosse’s film. Did you consider all that was done before or take an original approach that better gels with the show’s concept?

BR: I looked at what they have done and I appreciate it. I am trying to make my own statement in keeping with the vision of the show. That’s what Berry was going for.

DSH: How involved were you in the re-conception of this production, which is based on more historical evidence of the Weimar culture?

BR: Completely. The director came to me with this immense amount of research on Weimar Germany. As a very visual person, I found the photographs especially revealing. It was really quite a different process. My job was to make the choreography fit the vision of the director.

DSH: How do you get Weimar into movement?

BR: You will have to come and see for yourself. But you will see evidence of the lavish productions that cabaret culture was famous for. These were the best performers in the world.

DSH: In reading 5th Avenue Theatre’s Producing Artistic Director David Armstrong’s blog I got the feeling that some might be a bit skeptical about changing the down and out look of the Cabaret we all know and love. True?

BR: Most people have seen the movie or various stage versions so they have a certain expectation. Often they want to see a person that looks like Liza Minnelli. It helps to come in with a clean slate and see the show from a completely different perspective.

DSH: I notice in Houston there’s been a hefty dose of education about the approach, with photos, events and writing. I don’t often get a reading list from the PR staff at theater organizations. There has been an extraordinary effort to explain the basis of this re-imagination. That’s pretty unusual don’t you think?

BR: Yes, and it’s been great. Information that gets people talking is always a good thing.

DSH: Do you think the show will arouse a new wave of interest in Weimar Germany?

BR: I think so. We are keeping their memory alive.

DSH: For me personally as a dance critic, somatics researcher and writer, it’s fascinating to have the German body culture movement surface. Body Science, now called the Somatics profession, emerged all over the world at about the same time. We had F. M. Alexander, Rudolf Laban, Moshe Feldenkrais and many others. In America, we had Bernard Macfadden, who founded the precursor to Dance Magazine, and was involved in the early fitness movement. The German contribution to this rich history is the least well known, probably because of the war, and the dispersement of its leaders. How does the body culture movement appear in the show?

BR: The body culture movement embraced the human body through art, physicality and even nudity. They were interested in what the body could become. We tried to push that idea in “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” by using a solo male dancer who expresses that extreme physicality. He’s shirtless to show the sculpted form of the body.

DSH: How would you describe the variety of what we will see dance wise?

BR: There’s a ballet piece, a strip number, an S & M number, vaudeville numbers, a kick line and more.

DSH: A kick line? I just had a wild idea. Do you know that dance teams originated here in Texas, which was in part, settled by Germans. Is there any way that a dancer left Germany before the war to connect with family already here in Texas and ended up influencing the development of dance teams?

BR: That’s a great through line.

DSH: You will be the first to know when I get to the bottom of that story. I understand we are going to see a more Vegas-like production. Is there any possibility that members of the Weimar culture ended up in Vegas, and that truthfully Vegas is really Weimar-y?

BR: Could be.

DSH: What do you hope the audience takes home from this show?

BR: Expect an evening of entertainment where you will be moved one way or another. You can’t not have an opinion when you see the show. – Nancy Wozny 

Theater Under the Stars presents Cabaret, June 16-28, at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. Call 713-558-8887or visit www.tuts.org

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