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Emmy Award–Winning Choreographer Josh Bergasse Makes His New York Directorial Debut With "Smokey Joe's Café"

Dionne D. Figgins and Dwayne Cooper perform in Smokey Joe's Café. Photo by Joan Marcus

Emmy Award–winning and Tony Award–nominated choreographer Joshua Bergasse has made his New York directorial debut with Smokey Joe's Café, and the result is absolutely dance-tastic!

Harnessing the talent of his performers (especially former Dance Theatre of Harlem dancer Dionne D. Figgins), Bergasse's choreography shifts effortlessly between genres with nonstop energy. The originality and star power of the movement should come as no surprise, considering Bergasse's choreography credits include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, On the Town (for which he won an Astaire Award and was nominated for a Tony Award) and the NBC series "Smash." Really, it was practically destined to be a riot 💁♀️.

DT caught up with Bergasse to hear all about his time directing and choreographing the 90-minute, 40-number set. Check out what he had to say! 👇


Dance Teacher: How does it feel to be making your New York directing debut?

Josh Bergasse: Oh, it feels great! It was a wonderful experience. I love the cast so much, and the music is wonderful. As far as my directorial debut goes, this was a great way to start!

DT: I've heard choreographers mention that it can be difficult to be beholden to a director's opinion. With this show you've had the freedom to create whatever you want without restrictions. How does that feel?

JB: It's amazing and terrifying all at the same time. Sometimes you can feel beholden to a director's plans as a choreographer, but other times it's nice to have another set of eyes on things. They can understand what you're trying to accomplish, but might have a better way of accomplishing it. With this show I didn't have that other set of director's eyes to guide me, but I did have a great producing team that I was able to bounce ideas off and hear their perspective.

DT: Tell us about your process for choreographing this show?

JB: The first thing I do is get to know the music intimately. Then I get into a studio with my associate Alison Solomon and a couple dancers. We see what feels and looks good on the body, what's going to tell the right story and what's going to portray the characters well. We come up with a bunch of things and then film it. Then, we go back and look at the video and pick out what's good and what isn't. I welcome the dancers' input because I want them to feel great about the piece. When a dancer feels like they're collaborating, it gives them a feeling of ownership.

DT: What advice do you have for aspiring Broadway choreographers?

JB: Get your work out there, and make sure it's your best every time. Even if it's just a showcase or something you don't think is a big deal, you never know who's going to be in the audience. I got "Smash" because I choreographed a benefit for NYU, and it just so happened that the director for the first three episodes was in the audience.

Some of your jobs will come because you have a great reel, some will come from your agent, but 90 percent of the time it will come from people seeing your work, being inspired and wanting to work with you.

DT: What advice do you have for the dance teachers who are training the next generation of professionals?

JB: I would like to see more dancers who are trained in theater dance. I find there are a lot of really great contemporary dancers, which is wonderful, but the lines are totally different. I know that if I hire them I will have to teach them a whole new style while in rehearsal, which takes up time. If they can be more well-versed in other styles beside contemporary, it would really help a lot of Broadway choreographers when they get into the rehearsal process.

It won't take long for them to learn the correct line or port de bras in class. I see it happen in my classes at BDC and Steps, and a lot of times I will book dancers because of that. If I see that they are smart, I realize I want to use them in my next show.

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