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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

Aldridge creates the movement for "Chicago'

Amanda Aldridge talks about her journey through
Amanda Aldridge talks about her journey through "Chicago."(photo by Billie Wheeler)
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By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | August 31, 2016

It's takes a lot of courage to reimagine the choreography of a musical that you've loved your entire life that was originally created by someone you admire. That's the task that Amanda Aldridge, Barter Theatre's resident choreographer, faces.

"It's terribly daunting and intimidating, especially for a dancer. I was a struggling dancer watching Bob Fosse's work on Broadway. I've admired him and his style for years. He could be really creative within it, but it was his style. I don't think I have that, which I think is probably a good thing for a resident choreographer because you don't want every show to look the same. But I've always relished watching his work," she says. "Letting go of the iconic "Chicago' that I've loved all my life was difficult. It wasn't a challenge to want to do that. It was a challenge to shift gears and say "if you don't do that, then what?'"

Aldridge has been working on mapping out her journey to Barter's vision of "Chicago" since December.

"'Chicago' is so iconic. Even the younger folks have kind of grown up with that show. Every time they've remounted it, it's always been with Bob Fosse's choreography. So how do we find our way of telling this story? Tricia Matthews and I started talking last December, and she had some great ideas. It's been a fascinating journey to figure out what it will look like. That's the beginning of any process with choreography, figuring out where are we, who are the people, what is the story and what is the language of the dance?

"Then I go to the music, and that's everything. Part of the challenge is taking the music and figuring out what I want to do with it. Sometimes I'm building it, and I want to go one way, and the music wants to go another way. I have to figure out how to build it my way based on the music. I do a lot of listening and figure out who dances when, how it tells the story and where are they on the stage. The last thing is the steps," she says.

She also does a lot of research. She says that YouTube is a wonderful resource for old dance clips, musicals and contemporary dancers putting a new spin on older dance steps. Before the Internet, she would have to get all of that from books or tracking down a dancer or choreographer who knew the steps.

After her research and hours of listening to the score, she starts to visualize it in her head.

"I find if I start being too definitive too soon, I lose sight of the big picture. So before I get on my feet, I sit and listen and visualize it."

Then she goes to the rehearsal hall where the set is taped out on the floor. She spends hours in there choreographing the steps. "I move the cell blocks around, and I have a bowler to figure out the hat movements. I don't dance it full out, and I can't do the kicks that the dancers will do. But I look in the mirror and see what works. I'm not a jumper, so I get an assistant to help me figure out how many counts it takes and on what beat the apex of the jump is. When I get into rehearsal, a lot changes. I'll be inspired by something that happens, or someone will move a certain way, and I'll say. "Let's use that.' It's collaborative.

"The dancers are phenomenal. I've worked with Ashley Campos (Velma) for so many years. Sarah Laughland (Roxie) has been the dance captain and my assistant on "Mamma Mia.' Roxie and Velma have several numbers together and separately. I sketched the dances out in my head, but I told them to come with ideas. We've developed a lot on the fly. I want them to find their own style, and they look gorgeous dancing together," Aldridge says.

The play required Aldridge to create seven major dances and four to five smaller numbers for 10 dancers.

"It's a lot," she says. "It's one of the biggest musicals in terms of the number of songs that have dances. One of the songs is an homage to Fosse. We're not copying, but expressing our admiration. It's a little scary to think about the audience's expectations, because they grew up with him too."

To keep track of all the steps, she has a thick three-ring binder. It contains sheets of paper that have the beats of the music written on them with the lyrics written to the side and notes about the dance steps. They are also written on the score, which she keeps with her all the time. Sometimes, she even draws stick figures for an unusual movement.

If creating all these new dances wasn't enough, she's also designing the costumes. But that's her favorite way to do a musical.

"I love doing both on a show, because both are so visual. It's hard for me to visualize how the actors are moving without visualizing what they're wearing. When I think of the clothes, I think about how they're moving in them and how does that complement what they're doing.

"We're doing some fun things that I haven't done before. Each of the ensemble members has their basic costume. For the girls it's a silk dress, with a "20s line and Art Deco color blocks. For the opening number we wanted sparkle, so we're zipping a layer of sparkle fabric on the color blocks. When I looked at "20s dresses, they have strong design lines. A lot of time they have a stark difference in color to highlight the design line. So I used black lines to hide the zipper," she says.

Her favorite thing in this show has been the rehearsals. "I feel like a sculptor sometimes when I'm creating these patterns of movement. That's the most fun part for me. When I'm in rehearsal, nothing else is in my head. I love the process of bringing the show to life."


Topics: Theatre

The cast of "Chicago" rehearses Amanda Aldridge's choreography. (photo by Billie Wheeler)