Face to Face: Linda Haberman

Each holiday season, millions of people flock to New York City hoping to catch the Radio City Christmas Spectacular—the show that has been dazzling theatergoers of all ages since 1933. And audiences have been enjoying an increased stage presence by the Rockettes, after director and choreographer Linda Haberman revamped the singing and dancing extravaganza in 2007 for the show’s 75th anniversary. They dance more than ever before, not only in their trademark precision kicklines, but in challenging and visually impressive choreography. Last year, Haberman created an arena production, designed for large-scale venues seating up to 12,000 people, that traveled to 18 cities across North America. The performance was so successful it is now traveling to 36 cities.

Though the arena production is based on the Radio City Music Hall show, the size and scope are much larger, with 22 trucks and nine buses moving the elaborate sets. There are complex special effects, new songs and costumes (including a more lyrical grand finale, “Let Christmas Shine,” with costumes adorned in 3,000 Swarovski crystals), and a giant LED projection screen that journeys through wintry landscapes, Times Square and Santa’s workshop. At one point, snow even falls on patrons, as Santa himself flies over.

Even though Haberman was never a Rockette herself, the School of American Ballet–trained dancer is uniquely qualified to lead the leggy ladies. After finding her calling on the Great White Way as the youngest cast member in Bob Fosse’s Dancin’, she assisted Fosse in Big Deal and began working with the Rockettes in 1990 as then director Scott Salmon’s assistant. By 1993, she was choreographing and directing touring productions of the classic Christmas Spectacular. In the midst of rehearsals, Haberman took a break to chat with DT about the upcoming season.

Dance Teacher: What was your thought process when beginning to adapt the show for arenas?
Linda Haberman: I wanted a fresh approach and vision. I wanted to feature the Rockettes more in terms of big dance numbers that were not just about formation but also about dancing. The arena show is the same show creatively. It’s just staged differently to suit the space.

DT: Was it more challenging than choreographing for a theater setting?
LH: Yes, you have to be much more aware of how things look from the side and from above. I bring movement out into the auditorium more. The choreography faces different directions, so it’s not all straight front.

DT: It’s exciting that in a recession, the arena production is touring to more cities this year. What has made it such a success?  
LH: It’s amazing-looking in terms of scale and size and the amount of scenery. You just don’t get a touring show that looks like this. People have never seen anything like it.

DT: You are known to be strict, and when I think about those perfect kicklines I can see why that would come in handy. Would you agree, and is that how you get all 36 Rockettes onstage to dance with such exacting precision?
LH: I say that is fairly accurate! We have eight-hour days in the studio for four weeks. Once we go to the theater, we do 10-hour days. It’s very intense. We work the most minute details that in another setting people might not even notice. We spend hours on the tiniest things. There’s a pride in being a Rockette, and they are very proud of the show and their role in it. So it makes my life easier because they want to be good, and they work so hard.

DT: How do you find inspiration to choreograph a holiday show each year? Do you ever feel burned out?
LH: Oddly enough, I don’t. When you have to stay in the realm of Christmas, it makes your life easier as a creator because you know the confines. Luckily, I love the holidays. The challenge is coming up with things I haven’t done yet.

DT: Did working with Fosse have any impact on your creative development?
LH: Absolutely. He was also very detail-oriented and would spend a lot of time on a finger move or an eye move or a head nod.

DT: Any advice to pass on to fellow teachers and choreographers?
LH: Whatever your ideas are, don’t be afraid. We question ourselves as creative people, but you have to go for it and be willing to make big mistakes. DT

Kristin Lewis is a classically trained ballerina and the former managing editor of Dance Spirit. She is also a regular contributor to Dance Magazine and Pointe.

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