Interview with Bertwin Ravi Dsouza & Mihir Grover
What would you say is the biggest difference between choreographing for pure dance productions and musicals?
Bertwin: The biggest difference, the most important thing is the storyline. There is a very clear narrative that needs to be conveyed to the audience. I am fortunate enough to enjoy this aspect in dance, which makes choreographing for musicals come more naturally. The choreographer needs to sit down with the director, understand his/her vision and through this process, see what it is that needs to come through. The other huge difference is that in a musical, the dance is not a relief (like in movies) or purely for aesthetic reasons. It helps in furthering the story – new characters are introduced through songs as is information about them or that moves the plot forward. This information needs to be seen in the choreography as well.
Mihir: The main focus while choreographing a musical production is to make sure that the choreography follows the original interpretation, keeping in mind the mood of the scene or the act. The director and the choreographer work together on the movement vocabulary required for each act, scene, and actor. The choreographer also helps the actors develop their character by choreographing certain moves that enhance the performance. While choreographing for a musical one has to remember that the choreography cannot be flat in terms of formations or it cannot be just dancing around the actors; the dancers are an equal part of the musical and they enhance each scene and act by playing a character that is required of them. The dancers add another layer to the production.
What are the roles of choreographer and assistant choreographer in a musical?
Bertwin: The choreographer’s responsibility is to direct the songs while the director puts the scenes together and makes sure that there is flow of emotion and story. The choreographer and director sit together for a briefing to understand his/her expectations. Once this is clear, the pieces start to fit together. Then you can play with how to reveal a character’s personality, and what specific things need to be shown with specific actors. Another thing that influences the choreography is the tone of the musical itself. Some, like Aladdin, are shown larger than life, which allows for more flamboyant movements and costumes. Others, like Gandhi, needed to be more muted, and subtler. In essence, it is the choreographer’s responsibility to keep in mind the standard or scale and vibe of the musical in its entirety. And apart from choreographing entertaining moves, everything from costumes, props, lights, graphics as well as optimum utilisation of the set has to be cleverly designed by the choreographer. However, we are not normally involved with blocking scenes unless there is something specific that a director wants.
Mihir: My role as an assistant choreographer is to take the vision of the choreographer forward. It is very important to understand the mood of each act and help the choreographer achieve his vision. An assistant has to work closely with the dancers, keeping their strengths in mind, and actors, helping them with their performance process.
What is the relationship between the choreographer and assistant choreographer and how important is trust in this relationship?
Bertwin: In any space, it is not a one-man show. It is always a group of people that come comes together and that has their work divided between them. When I choose the people I work with, I only select people that I trust, who are like-minded, have the same morals and ethics, and work the same way. It is important to have a team whose energies connect. The performance industry is unpredictable, it is not like a nine to five. You could work fifty days back-to-back without breaks until work is done and you need a team that can work completely focused and with passion. It is so important to have someone you can trust and depend on. For example, if the main choreographer is busy, the assistant needs to take over and clean up or complete choreographies. With Mihir, I have been blessed to have people like him to count on.
Mihir: In my opinion, it is simply not possible to put up a huge musical production if there is no trust between the choreographer and the assistant. The choreographer has to have full confidence that the assistant will help the performers reach the best of their abilities. The assistant needs to be a good teacher and also someone who can choreograph keeping in mind the theme or story of the musical. An assistant gets the job done, and that simply cannot happen if there is no trust between him and the choreographer. Bertwin and I have that trust with each other, so the end result is what we collectively want to build, and what envision it to look like.