BWW Interview: Luke A Loffelmacher of Alley Kats Tap Company and choreographer of GREEN DAY'S AMERICAN IDIOT at Musical Theatre Southwest
Luke A. Loffelmacher, choreographer, singer, and actor, has two things that he would consider to be "passions in his life": tap dancing and hip hop. These passions are also ones that he has dedicated his life to since he was sixteen years old and performed in 42nd Street at Popejoy Hall. Not only has he been dancing his whole mlife, but he has also been working professionally as a choreographer since early 2000's, with his own tap company as well as a majority of theatres in Albuquerque, including: Landmark Theatre, Albuquerque Little Theatre, and Musical Theatre Southwest.
Loffelmacher' tap company, Alley Kats Tap Company, consists of eight tap dancers and his own band of six musicians who all play a variety of instruments as well as sing. The band's music started off as bluegrass, with tap routines being choreographed to that, and then it transitioned into what Loffelmacher calls "Jazz funk". Overall, the goal is to keep tap dancing organic. This means using a variety of techniques as well as musical and other dance styles to help bring tap dancing "back to its roots of hoofing style". The tap technique of call and response is one of the choreographic forms that Loffelmacher uses the most, whether it's involving the interaction between fellow dancers in the company; musicians from the Alley Kats band and dancers; or between the audience and the dancers. Incorporating all of these aspects, he hopes that he can find a way to "turn tap into music."
While working as a choreographer for the theatres means that Loffelmacher has less control over the work and has to follow the musical's book as well as the notes of the writer or director, he has complete control over the routines his company does. For Loffelmacher, this means having his band play live music for the tap dancers to play off of. From that point on, his dance company either performed scenes that have been recreated from musicals like Anything Goes or 42nd Street or routines that are almost entirely improved. According to Loffelmacher, what's important to creating a routine is to break a song down and then rebuild it. Loffelmacher and his musicians will take a song and work around the phrasing - if they aren't using original music that fits what his dancers are trying to do. After that, the bare bones of a number is created that can be "worked up from." For Loffelmacher's Alley Kats Dance Company, the routines are primarily improved using call and response. To prepare for this, Loffelmacher has his tap dance company work on their improv skills by doing drills regularly. For him, the goal of practicing improv is to help his dancers create their own style within the improv that is uniquely theirs.
Loffelmacher's next goal for Alley Kats Tap Company is to find a building for the dance company. He believes that they "need their own spot" to work out of rather than just renting space. In December, the annual Holiday Benefits Show will be held at Musical Theatre Southwest Center for Theatre. This is done to raise awareness and funds for Alley Kats Tap Company. Loffelmacher believes that while Albuquerque is growing and has potential for its arts scene to become more widely visible, there should be more support for the arts community. In particular, he thinks that there needs to be more funding and support for projects so that everyone would have a chance to experience what Albuquerque has to offer.
Allowing people to experience what New Mexico has to offer is a way that Loffelmacher hopes to "show that New Mexico has what larger cities like New York or Chicago have." One way in which Loffelmacher hopes to do this is through Musical Theatre Southwest (MTS)'s current production of Green Day's American Idiot. One of the main things that Loffelmacher is hoping to accomplish with his choreography of Green Day's American Idiot is to capture the vibrant energy of the show, something that he remembers from when he saw the show himself. After seeing the script and score for the musical, Loffelmacher realized that the production could be something special, that would not only end up being something special and "daring" for MTS, but also an opportunity bring in a new and younger audience to Musical Theatre Southwest.
A way in which Loffelmacher tries to capture the energy of the show is through his demanding choreography, especially for the ensemble. The is part of what makes Loffelmacher macher so proud of his work on Green Day's American Idiot, something that he considers to be "the best work I've done in musical theatre." During this production, the ensemble doesn't leave the stage for at least three to four numbers at a time, during which they are always moving and dancing. In Loffelmacher words, the "ensemble tells the show and is carrying it on." Because of the importance of the ensemble to Green Day's American Idiot, Loffelmacher created signature choreography for each one of the ensemble. In doing this, he tried to "keep the stylistic flow but keep it different so that it's not a mass." In order to pull this off, Loffelmacher put aspects of street Jazz and ballet into a routine of four or eight counts per person. He also ensured that each of the signature movements were unique enough to be recognized whenever they are seen. This helped to ensure that the choreography had flexibility while also maintaining the flow of the entire production.
Working on a production as intense and demanding as Green Day's American Idiot means that the cast tends to bond with each other. Loffelmacher stated that an instance of the cast being brought together that showed the "unity of the cast" occurred when they learned how to play guitar for "Good Riddance (Time of your Life). The cast of "twenty-some learned how to play a four to five chord song on the guitar", something that no one had previously known how to do. During one of the rehearsals for the show, when the cast was still learning how to play guitar, the power had gone out. The cast lit candles and used their cell phones for lighting while they were playing guitar. For Loffelmacher, this was a time that not only expressed how close the cast had become, but also the way that theatre can create a "community."
Musical Theatre Southwest's Green Day's American Idiot runs from July 7th until July 30th at the MTS Center for Musical Theatre. Performances are at 7:30 PM every Friday and Saturday with a matinee performance on Sundays at 2:00 PM. Tickets for the production can be purchased at: http://www.musicaltheatresw.com. Next, Loffelmacher will be choreographer of Albuquerque Little Theatre's The Addams Family, which opens in October.
Photo credit: Alley Kats Tap Company