A Conversation with Choreographer Warren Carlyle

Carlyle rehearsing the Rockettes

Warren Carlyle may be from England originally, but his dance resumé places him firmly on American soil. Plucked from the chorus of a Royal National Theatre production of Oklahoma! by none other than Susan Stroman herself, Carlyle went on to serve as Stroman’s associate choreographer for the show’s West End transfer and then again on The Producers. After moving to the U.S. in 2000, he quickly got the chance to stretch his own choreographic legs—on Hugh Jackman’s one-man show, limited engagements of Great White Way favorites like Finian’s Rainbow and, most recently, the sultry, tap-happy After Midnight.

Any regrets over making this side of the pond his home? No way: “I love American dancers,” he says. “They’re fearless.” This month, you can see Carlyle’s work on both the Broadway and Radio City Music Hall stages: He’s choreographed the revival of On the Twentieth Century at the American Airlines Theater and completely revamped the Rockettes’ spring show, New York Spring Spectacular.

The difference between Broadway and Radio City “On Broadway, I’d use two dancers to cross the floor, and here at Radio City, I’m using 12. I’m learning to move blocks of people and have big ideas choreographically. And phrases take longer. On Broadway, it would take one count of 8 to get a dancer from a wing to center stage, and with the Rockettes, it takes 16 counts of 8 because there are 36 of them and the stage is so vast.”

Seeing his choreography come to life “It’s interesting and strangely moving when a step or sequence that was created by me—moving in a mirror, flopping around with two assistants—is translated to 36 incredible dancers. That’s very powerful. It’s taking the seed of an idea and suddenly seeing it in a giant, magnified way. So whatever the emotion was when I created it, it’s now times 36. The first time I saw it happen, the assistants had taught the first 32 counts when I was not in the room. And I walked in and saw 36 women dance the sequence and had to leave and gather myself. It was really moving.”

The question of tradition “With revivals, I tend to make it all my own, from zero, but I’m very conscious of the shoes that I’m walking in. Follies is a good example—it was choreographed by Michael Bennett, a crazy-talented icon. I was inspired by what he did, but there was not a step in [my version] that was Michael’s. That was all mine. But I believe in those ghosts. I believe in tradition.” DT

Training: Doreen Bird College of Performing Arts in Sidcup, England, and the Bush Davies School of Theatre Arts

Choreography: Follies (2011); The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2012); A Christmas Story: The Musical (2012); “So You Think You Can Dance”

Direction: Finian’s Rainbow (2009); After Midnight (2013)

Photo courtesy of MSG Entertainment

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