A conversation with Happy Feet Two choreographer Wade Robson

Beginning November 18, the South Pole will be grooving again, thanks to hundreds of penguins and Wade Robson’s fresh beat. Robson, who’s worked extensively for Britney Spears and *NSYNC and has won two Emmy awards for choreography on “So You Think You Can Dance,” brings a new flavor to Happy Feet Two: hip hop. Working alongside Aussie tap choreographer Dein Perry, Robson crafted the entire opening sequence—not only choreographing the moves, but also organizing the camera angles and co-producing the music.

In this Warner Brothers sequel, Mumble has a new son, Erik, who, it turns out, is not into dancing. Danger strikes Antarctica, and Mumble must save his penguin nation from impending doom, all the while convincing his son that dancing is, in fact, cool.

Dance Teacher spoke with Robson about “penguinizing” his choreography and exploring the virtual world of CGI motion capture technology.

DT: What was your reaction to being asked to choreograph Happy Feet Two?

WR: My wife and I knew we had a baby on the way, so I was thrilled to take on a children’s movie. Also, I’m from Brisbane, Australia, and it was the first time I’d gone back to do a professional gig. It was wonderful getting to know the Sydney dance community.

I don’t have a background in tap, but the idea was to bring in a new style and blend it with the tap. I was pretty excited to bring some dirty funk to the penguins’ movement. In the first few meetings, I did some simple motion-capture tests—I put the suit on and could see myself live, as a penguin. I experimented to get a feel for what kinds of movements worked, what was funny or cool. Basically, I started to get a little penguin movement training.

DT: Are there many limitations when choreographing for penguins?

WR: They can’t open their legs past shoulder width, kick their legs past a 45-degree angle, nor can they bend forward past 45 degrees. Your biggest assets are your flippers, neck and head—after a day of shooting, the dancers had very tired shoulders. It’s certainly challenging to find enough movement within that range.

DT: What were the challenges with CGI?

WR: You can capture up to seven people and watch the movement live at the same time, but we had 15 dancers, so there was a three- to five-minute rendering process before watching it. But penguins flock in large groups—there’s always hundreds and hundreds of them. Creating this effect wasn’t as simple as the dancers doing a phrase once and the animators multiplying it—that would look extremely computerized. It all becomes very technical with overlapping layers and volumes and more. There’s so much planning involved; imagining patterns, making drawings and spending one week to capture 30 seconds—and, of course, praying that the idea will work out.

DT: Did you have a goal in mind when desiging the moves?

DT: I followed my instincts and experimented in penguinizing what I’d do naturally. It was a process of morphing my moves to what reads on a penguin’s body and what was ultimately funniest.

In the trailer, there is a “Fluffy Back” sequence (instead of “Sexy Back”) that’s sung and danced by little, fluffy baby girl penguins. My initial thought was, “OK, this section is supposed to be cute, so I need to find cute, funny movement.” But I realized the little penguins are cute enough to begin with, and what makes it funnier is for them to kick ass and do something more serious with hard-hitting and sharp moves. They’re killing it, but they’re so cute. It was a really interesting contrast to keep in mind.

DT: Did you work with Savion Glover, who dances for Mumble?

DT: He came in a few days while I was there and busted out his parts for the opening. He’s absolutely incredible. We definitely work differently, though. I’m all about rehearsal and drilling stuff to get it perfect. And he just likes to go. For example, I’d set up this whole sequence and give him marks to hit and a structure to work within. He’d listen very intently. There’d be so much info, and I’d ask if he wanted to go over it again or walk through it. And he’d say, “Nah, let’s just do it. Let’s shoot.” And he’d do it—maybe not hit all of his marks, but it didn’t even matter because what he’d do was so freaking insane. So you just roll with it. DT

 

 

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Via Instagram

Happy Father's Day to all of the dance dads in the world! Whether you're professional dancers, dance teachers, dance directors or simply just dance supporters, you are a key ingredient to what makes the dance world such a happy, thriving place, and we love you!

To celebrate, here are our four favorite Instagram dance dads. Prepare to say "Awwwwwwwweeeeeee!!!!!!"

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're a studio owner, the thought of raising your rates most likely makes you cringe. Despite ever-increasing overhead expenses you can't avoid—rent, salaries, insurance—you're probably wary of alienating your customers, losing students or inviting confrontation if you increase the price of your tuition or registration and recital fees. DT spoke with three veteran studio owners who suggest it's time to get past that. Here's how to give your business the revenue boost it needs and the value justification it (and you) deserve.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Margie Gillis (left); photo by Kyle Froman

Margie Gillis dances the human experience. Undulating naked in a field of billowing grass in Lessons from Nature 4, or whirling in a sweep of lilac fabric in her signature work Slipstream, her movement is free of flashy technique and tricks, but driven and defined by emotion. "There's a central philosophy in my work about what the experience of being human is," says Gillis, whose movement style is an alchemy of Isadora Duncan's uninhibited self-expression and Paul Taylor's musicality, blended with elements of dance theater into something utterly unique and immediately accessible. "I want an authenticity," she says. "I want to touch my audiences profoundly and deeply."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Teaching arabesque can be a challenge for educators and students alike. Differences in body types, flexibility and strength can leave dancers feeling dejected about the possibility of improving this essential position.

To help each of us in our quest for establishing beautiful arabesques in our students without bringing them to tears, we caught up with University of Utah ballet teacher Jennie Creer-King. After her professional career dancing with Ballet West and Oregon Ballet Theater and her years of teaching at the studio and college levels, she's become a bit of an arabesque expert.

Here she shares five important tips for increasing the height of your students' arabesques.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Jennifer Kleinman, courtesy of Danell Hathaway

It's high school dance concert season, which means a lot of you K–12 teachers are likely feeling a bit overwhelmed. The long nights of editing music, rounding up costumes and printing programs are upon you, and we salute you. You do great work, and if you just hang on a little while longer, you'll be able to bathe in the applause that comes after the final Saturday night curtain.

To give you a bit of inspiration for your upcoming performances, we talked with Olympus High School dance teacher Danell Hathaway, who just wrapped her school's latest dance company concert. The Salt Lake City–based K–12 teacher shares her six pieces of advice for knocking your show out of the park.

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: I'm looking to create some summer rituals and traditions at my studio. What are some of the things you do?

A: Creating fun and engaging moments for your students, staff and families can have a positive impact on your studio culture. Whether it's a big event or a small gesture, we've found that traditions build connection, boost morale and create strong bonds. I reached out to a variety of studio owners to gather some ideas for you to try this summer. Here's what they had to say.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Sam Williams and Jaxon Willard after competition at RADIX. Photo courtesy of Williams

Self-choreographed solos are becoming increasingly popular on the competition circuit these days, leading dance teachers to incorporate more creative mentoring into their rehearsal and class schedules. In this new world of developing both technical training and choreographic prowess, finding the right balance of assisting without totally hijacking a student's choreographic process can be difficult.

To help, we caught up with a teacher who's already braved these waters by assisting "World of Dance" phenom Jaxon Willard with his viral audition solos. Center Stage Performing Arts Studio company director Sam Williams from Orem, Utah, shares her sage wisdom below.

Check it out!

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Dance studios are run by creative people with busy schedules, who have a love-hate relationship with props and sequins. The results of all this glitter and glam? General mass chaos in every drawer, costume closet and prop corner of the studio. Let's be honest, not many dance teachers are particularly known for their tidiness. The ability to get 21 dancers to spot in total synchronization? Absolutely! The stamina to run 10 solos, 5 group numbers, 2 ballet classes and 1 jazz class in one day? Of course! The emotional maturity to navigate a minefield of angry parents and hormonal teenagers? You know it!

Keeping the studio tidy? Well...that's another story.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox