Dealing With Your Choreographer

June 26, 2010

Choreographers are an interesting bunch. I’ve worked with really laid back ones, and very uptight ones. I’ve worked with choreographers who have every moment blocked before the auditions and others who work it out on the fly. Some choreographers come to you with a cut list on the first rehearsal. Others just listen to the cast recording and expect that somehow it’ll all work out in the end. There are a few things that you can do up front to make things go smoother with your choreographer:

1) Ask your choreographer if they have any specific questions or concerns about the show at your first meeting. If there is no meeting scheduled that the two of you are at, call one.

2) Provide access to a recording of the music as you want it done. This used to be a real hassle, poring over old cast recordings and figuring out cuts, dubbing from tape deck to tape deck, or playing dance breaks on the piano into a microphone. Now that virtually every show is all over youtube, you can watch 10 versions of every number with the score in hand, pick your favorite one, and e-mail the link. I can’t stress this highly enough. Your choreographer will not necessarily come to you with his or her needs, but you’ll have to scramble at the end if he/she hasn’t bothered to find out what the score actually says.

3) Come to dance rehearsals and pay attention to the tempos. When a dance has been set, the tempo is actually set too. A dance choreographed to a fast tempo just doesn’t work slow, and vice versa. The week before you go on the stage is far too late to fix a tempo if it’s been rehearsed wrong.

Another important point: Tempo markings in a Broadway show do mean something, but they don’t mean what they mean in a classical score. Fidelity to the original tempo indication is not the same matter of personal honor you might have learned in your conducting or musicology classes. If you want evidence of this, simply compare the tempi in the original cast recording with virtually any revival cast recording. Dance sections are almost always either completely rewritten or taken at a much faster tempo. So don’t go to the choreographer, score in hand, and insist on the tempo that’s marked. You’ll have to make a utilitarian argument instead, like, “at that speed, I don’t think the cast can make the words come out correctly”, or, “the orchestration doesn’t really work that slow.” or, “my pit players just can’t handle that speed.”

Going back to the two primary principles, Dealing with other directors, be they dramatic directors or choreographers is working out the balance between making them look good and following the needs of the score. In order to make your choreographer look good, you must give them all the material and information they may need to do their best work, and you must be responsive to their needs and concerns. In order to make the score sound good, you need to advocate for appropriate tempos and sensible cuts. Somewhere between those two imperatives is the correct course of action.



  1. Peter–I’m going to share, with your permission, all these posts with my future collaborators. Is that ok? Is that part of your purpose in writing them? They’re so helpful. Thanks.

    • Of course! Forward them anywhere you like! Megan- I learned so much from you; I treasure our collaborations. Thank You!

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