Dance is all about the details
The opening 15 minutes of the film, “All That Jazz,” is a New York cattle call, or what its star, Roy Scheider, called “the entire plot of Chorus Line in one scene.”
Local choreographer and dance instructor Katie Higuchi knows that world all too well.
“For an Equity dance call, you have to get on line at 5 a.m.,” she said. “So you find some cardboard and sit outside in the cold and wait.”
Ann Reinking knows that world the best. She moved to Manhattan from Seattle at age 17, with nothing other than high school and ballet school training. By 25, she had a Tony. Broadway’s bullet-proof star has been performing, directing and choreographing for more than 40 years. Her 1996 revival of “Chicago,” now in its 18th year, has become the most successful American theatrical production in history.
After acquiring her Equity card and graduating from the University of Washington with a degree in dance, Higuchi headed to New York in hopes of a Broadway career. She had taken a dance workshop with Reinking in Seattle and continued to work under her tutelage in New York. About Reinking, Scheider in 2003 said: “I can’t think of any modern dancer who can dance as well.”
I asked Higuchi what draws dancers to Bob Fosse, even 25 years after his death. “He was such an innovator – it’s almost an entire subgenre of musical theater. He was self-conscious about his hairline, so he always wore hats. He didn’t like his hands, so he wore gloves, and he felt he had bad ballet posture because he slouched. Fosse incorporated all those things into his unique style.”
Higuchi began training in ballet as a child and was introduced to the Fosse style at age 15. She credits Reinking as a great inspiration. “It’s like meeting the pope,” she said.
Both dancers were trained in ballet first. “Working woman-to-woman helped me to translate that style into my body.” Reinking, a Fosse casting favorite and his former mistress, exploded on the Broadway scene in the 1970s with “Pippin” and “Goodtime Charley.” A few years later, Fosse made her audition in “All That Jazz.” Starting this week, Higuchi will begin passing on her Fosse training with Reinking to Maui teens.
“When taking her classes, Ms. Reinking shared with us images that Mr. Fosse used to help his dancers execute the choreography. It was so special taking her classes and every story was a gem,” says Higuchi. “In the Charles Manson Trio section from ‘Glory’ in ‘Pippin’ there is a celebration where the dancer circles around with arms overhead. Mr. Fosse described a chalk outline of a dead body on the ground, and the dancer is looking at it while celebrating. This is fitting because the song is about going to war and death. These are all examples of how dance is passed down to the next generation.
“As a teacher and choreographer, it is so important for me to pass on these details because dance is all about the details. When Mr. Fosse would get stuck with choreography, he would put on a totally different song to choreograph to and then place the movement back in the original song and got great results. When he got stuck working on the Charles Manson Trio, he put on Roy Orbison’s ‘Let the Good Times Roll,’ and you can absolutely see how he adapted it from that song.” I asked about the saying, “If it doesn’t hurt, you’re not doing Fosse.”
She related a tale of a former colleague and cast member of the “Sweet Charity” revival, choreographed by Gwen Verdon, Bob Fosse’s wife. “Ms. Verdon worked her so hard that she had to crawl to the bathroom the next day,” said Higuchi.
After a few years of attending workshops and cattle calls in New York, Higuchi began to hear tales from talented dancers still waiting for their big break after 10 years. “I realized it might take 10 more years, and I already had a professional career in Seattle.”
She returned to Washington where she founded the Cascade Dance Academy in Snoqualmie, and continued to perform in Seattle musicals. “I met my husband (Sean Higuchi) there, and he was from Maui,” she shared. After selling the dance academy to colleagues, the two relocated to Maui where they own and operate Anytime Fitness in Pukalani. Before long, Katie began teaching dance at the Maui Academy of Performing Arts, and she’ll be choreographing their upcoming youth production of “Pippin” this summer. In fact, she has gotten a head start by incorporating Fosse into her dance classes.
The 1972 “Pippin” was considerably R rated. Subsequent “Pippin” productions have a reputation for being harmlessly naughty, but if done the way director Fosse envisioned it, the show is surreal and disturbing. I asked Higuchi how the show would be translated into a youth production. “There isn’t an edited Pippin Jr., so we’ll be toning it down for youth. Dance will be romantically suggestive – like a pretty ballet.”
Conceived by Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked”) as a student musical performed at Carnegie Mellon, “Pippin” is a semihistorical account of the teenage son of Charlemagne, and his growing pains journey as he seeks the meaning of life and his place in it. The musical uses the premise of a mysterious performance troupe, hosted by the Leading Player. Ben Vereen and Patina Miller won Tony Awards for their portrayals in both the original Broadway production and the revival. The revival, which won the 2013 Tony, reinvents the musical as a Cirque du Soleil extravaganza with a circus troupe instead. I asked which version MAPA will lean toward. “It’s open casting,” said Higuchi. “If there is a kid that can throw in back bends, we might incorporate the circus revival, but it will be a traditional ‘Pippin’ in the style of Fosse.”
* MAPA presents “Pippin,” music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Roger O. Hirson and Bob Fosse, directed by Sally Sefton, choreographed by Katie Higuchi, and under the musical direction of Marti Kluth. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, July 5 through 13, in Steppingstone Playhouse at Queen Ka’ahumanu Center. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students. Visit www.mauiacademy.org.
Hawai’i Opera Theatre presents “The Mikado” by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Don’t miss Gilbert and Sullivan’s romp through the mythical and nonsensical fantasy world of the Mikado, performed with members of the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra and international and local stars. Set in Japan, this satire on English society weaves together both cultures with humorous lyrics and elaborate plot twists. Nanki-Poo, son of the emperor, flees his home to avoid an arranged marriage to an older woman, only to find himself falling in love with the beautiful Yum-Yum, who is betrothed to Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner. Director Henry Akina, with costumes designed by local fashion designer Anne Namba, will present a modern take on the tale with characters dressed in the style of Harajuku Girls, Yakuza and anime characters.
* “The Mikado” takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. June 18 in Castle Theater at the MACC. Admission ranges from $27 to $97 (plus applicable fees), with half-price tickets available for children younger than 12. Visit the MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org.