Youth Spotlight: So You Think You Can Dance?
Reality TV Show Inspires Young Choreographer
By ANGELA WAMPLER | A! MAGAZINE FOR THE ARTS | May 31, 2011Nora Beth Moran is passionate about theatre, including music and dance. With little in the way of formal training, she relies on her innate talents and forges ahead.
The daughter of John and Cheri Moran of Kingsport, Tenn., Nora Beth is a 21-year-old senior at King College, with a double major in theatre and French and a minor in psychology.
She became fascinated with the stage after watching plays directed by her aunt, Laura Roller, the theatre teacher at Sullivan South High School. Nora Beth says, "That was when I was really young. I could see myself doing that one day."
Later, when Nora Beth attended Sullivan South, she says, "I was excited to participate in the high school plays myself." She appeared in The Music Man, Beauty and the Beast, and The Bard.
Nora Beth has appeared in several productions by the King College Department of Performing and Visual Arts, including Cinderella Waltz. In The 1940s Radio Hour (2009), she was the female lead in the portrayal of the final broadcast of The Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade. Earlier this year she starred as Leslie in a musical adaptation of Katherine Paterson's beloved novel Bridge to Terabithia and, most recently, portrayed a conniving stepmother in the Broadway classic Pippin.
She also choreographed Pippin, a popular musical with tongue-in-cheek humor. A band of wandering players tells the story of Pippin, who longs to discover the secret of true happiness and fulfillment. He searches for it in the temptations of the flesh and in political plots for power, but in the end he finds it in the simple pleasures of home and family.
The pop rock score by Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Wicked) is filled with one show-stopping number after another. According to musical theatre scholar Scott Miller in his 1996 book, From Assassins to West Side Story, "Because of Pippin's 1970s pop-style score and a somewhat emasculated licensed version for amateur productions which is very different from the original Broadway production, the show now has a reputation for being merely cute and harmlessly naughty; but if done the way director Bob Fosse envisioned it, the show is surreal and disturbing."
Nora Beth says, "I knew our choreography couldn't have 'happy jazz hands' and hip thrusts. We wanted darker, harsher lines — not straight, pointed feet, but very angular."
For inspiration, Nora Beth did a lot of research and turned to the reality television show, So You Think You Can Dance? The Emmy award-winning dance competition series focuses not only on dancers' talents, but also showcases new works by cutting-edge choreographers, crafted specifically for the dancers and the show. The Fox-TV website features dance clips and full episodes from the show, step-by-step instruction videos on "signature moves" used by the choreographers, and a dance dictionary, for those who don't know a can-can from a cha-cha.
Because all the Pippin characters are on stage all the time, Nora Beth posed the actors throughout the show. To prepare more than a dozen cast members to do dance moves, she introduced them to Pilates exercise for strength. They worked and practiced for two months before presenting the musical in April.
Nora Beth is chairperson and past president of the King College Trousdale Theatre Guild. Through fundraisers, the Theatre Guild purchased dance shoes for the cast of Pippin and fed them when they practiced during spring break.
She is also a member of the college's dance team, created two years ago. "It's not a cheerleading dance team, although we dance during halftime at basketball games. We do a mixture of hip hop and jazz, no pom-pom routines."
Nora Beth recalls, "When I first came to King, I wanted a music minor, but switched to psychology after my first music class. I can read music for singing and had choir all through high school. My fiancee's father gave me a guitar, so I want to take guitar lessons this summer."
That's right. Nora Beth is getting married in December. Meanwhile, she's finishing her senior year at King College and contemplating her future plans. "I've always dreamed of going to a much bigger city, and I want to go to grad school for acting," she says.
Virginia Intermont College choral director Amy Oblinger was the music director for King College's productions of Terabithia and Pippin. She says, "I'm impressed with Nora Beth's maturity as an actor. She takes each role so seriously, whether playing a 10-year-old girl in Terabithia or a 40-something stepmother in Pippin. She's a role model in rehearsal for other performers, she's always there, 100 percent, in the moment. It was also inspiring to watch her flourish as a choreographer and grow as an actor."
Nora Beth Moran
Foreground, from left, Jenson Lavalle, Ian Charles and Nora Beth Moran in King College's production of Pippin.