Mark Shenton: 10 best UK musical theatre choreographers right now
The Broadway musical is typically about song and dance, and while legendary composers have provided the first half of that equation, the other half has been as defined by the contributions of legendary choreographers such as Jerome Robbins, Michael Bennett, Bob Fosse, Tommy Tune and Susan Stroman, as well as more recent arrivals such as Casey Nicholaw, Rob Ashford, Jerry Mitchell, Andy Blankenbuehler and Sergio Trujillo.
In the UK, we are also blessed with some seriously good choreographers, many of whom have also seen their work transfer to Broadway. Here is my personal list of the 10 best British choreographers – presented in alphabetic order to avoid controversy. As with any piece of this nature, it is not intended to be comprehensive, and there are many more talented choreographers coming up on the inside track.
Alphabetically, Matthew Bourne is the top of this list, but in terms of commercial appeal and how he’s popularised contemporary dance, there’s no one quite like him. New Adventures, the company he founded and runs, is a resident company at Sadler’s Wells – where he is currently in rehearsal for a new show this Christmas, The Red Shoes. It also gives more performances than any other British dance company on tour in the UK and around the world. He’s received Olivier Awards for Swan Lake, Cinderella and Play Without Words, and Tonys for Swan Lake. Many of his productions look and behave like musicals, except for the fact that there’s no singing. But in musical theatre he also earns his place on this list for his work on Cameron Mackintosh’s productions of Oliver! and Mary Poppins.
A former associate artist at the Royal Opera, Aletta Collins is rapidly ascending the ranks of musical theatre choreographers to watch. Last year she staged the wonderful Bend It Like Beckham, with its wonderful fusion of Asian and contemporary dance, and she is currently working on the new Stiles and Drewe musical The Wind in the Willows, now in Plymouth. She also works with pop stars such as Will Young – she won best choreographer for her work on his music video Losing Myself at the 2012 UK Music Video Awards.
Another choreographer to watch is Alistair David, with his thrilling contributions to Sheffield’s productions of My Fair Lady, Oliver!, Anything Goes (subsequently also seen on a national tour) and Show Boat, which transferred to the New London. He’ll be back there this Christmas for Annie Get Your Gun. He also did great work on Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre last year (where in 2013 he also choreographed The Sound of Music). I’ve also seen his work in such diverse places as London’s Union Theatre (Bells Are Ringing) and Salisbury Playhouse (A Man of No Importance).
Winner of the Olivier for best choreographer for his dazzling work on Top Hat in 2013, Bill Deamer is a stalwart of the theatre, equally happy doing sterling service on the annual Guildhall musical (which I never miss) as he is working on Bill Kenwright tours of Evita and The Sound of Music. An expert in period dance, he has just been announced as choreographer for next year’s National Theatre production of Follies. His work can also be seen regularly on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing.
No one makes dance seem an organic part of the action, flowing freely inside it to advance the narrative story, as well as Peter Darling, whose work on such shows as Billy Elliot and Matilda is absolutely indivisible from their success. This year he did wonderful work again on the Broadway-bound Groundhog Day, and he is also represented in the West End by the soon-ending Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
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