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BWW Blog: Jesse Swimm of Goodspeed's FIDDLER ON THE ROOF - Ah, 5, 6, 7, 8...

Ah 5, 6, 7, 8...

A choreographer friend of mine once said during a rehearsal, "The Dancing is the Acting, the Acting is the Dancing." And as crazy as that might sound to someone who isn't a performer it really speaks volumes as to what it truly takes to tell a story with movement, such as in "Fiddler on the Roof". Now this is my second time performing in a show that was choreographed originally by Jerome Robbins (the first being when I played Action on the European Tour of "West Side Story") and if I had my choice I would continue to perform in his shows for the rest of my career. Robbins had a way with movement. Not only with his choreography, but his ability to facilitate the story through that movement became such an integral part of the plot that without it the action would come to a stand still.

Jerome Robbins with Zero Mostel rehearsing for the original 1964 Broadway production

As with any show, regional or Broadway, professional or amateur there is certain amount of rehearsal time that must be put into the choreography of a show. It usually begins early on in the rehearsal process with the bigger numbers being learned first and as the week progresses more and more is sculpted into the show. Even once the show has opened, the time put into keeping the choreography clean and maintained doesn't stop. For the most part that job falls on the dance captain (our DC, Curtis Schroeger, by the way is a rock star!!!)

Parke Esse with Dance Captain Curtis Schroeger giving out notes to the company

but every now and then you have the luxury of actually working with the choreographer again to fix, tighten, and remind yourself of the specificity (I'll be using this word a lot, lol) in the movement. Such was the case the other day as we had a cleanup rehearsal with our choreographer Parker Esse. As I mentioned before we recently opened our production of "Fiddler on the Roof" this past week and just to keep on top of things we had a brush-up rehearsal. For the most part it was to look at individual moments and tighten them up as well as add minor changes to strengthen the story at hand. Now with Fiddler, Parker has had the incredible opportunity to recreate some of the most iconic pieces from show, The Bottle Dance, L'Chaim, Tradition, just to name a few.

Our choreographer Parker Esse & Dance Captain Curtis Schroeger working with Lori Wilner (Golde) and Jen Brissman (Chava) on the Chavelah Ballet while Barrie Kreinik (Tzeitel) and Darren Matthias (Constable, u/s for Tevye) look on.

The beauty of Fiddler, at least I feel, and where I think Robbins truly mastered for this show, is that the movement comes from a very real and honest place. It isn't about technique all the time. Yes it is important in specific areas but what makes this show great is how it can translate onto anyone's body. Whether they are an actor who moves or a trained dancer there are nuances in the choreography that help bring to life what is being told in each number. As we worked through the day it was nice to take a step back and really digest what we have worked on for the past 4 weeks. Even the simplest moves such as presenting our arms up and proud in "Tradition" can get lost if there isn't any specificity in the movement. With each section of "Tradition", from the first downbeat of Tevye steps to the final chord there is a definitive story for each and every individual on that stage that is being told. The movement guides the audience through the daily life and rituals of the residents of Anatevka and helps set-up the events that will unfold later throughout the play.

The Company in "Tradition"

Now with a piece like "Tradition" the joy of the number comes from the simplicity of the movement. Not to say we aren't working hard because trust me...we are. But it is this simplicity that makes the number such a beautiful representation of Jewish culture and life in the Shtetl's of Anatevka. The moment the Papas come downstage center to explain their jobs "You know exactly who they are, and what God has intended them to do" as Tevye tells the audience. And it is with each passing group that we as the audience get drawn in more and more to the world of Anatevka. Watching Parker rehearse the cast in their individual sections of the number you can't help but get swept up into the life and energy of the piece. Again even though the movement might seem "pedestrian" at times it is actually quite athletic and if not given it's full value could very easliy become just another musical number.

"The Sons" Will Burton, Matt Amira (Avram), Charles South (Mendel), and David Perlman (Motel)
"The Daughters" Barrie Kreinik (Tzeitel), Elizabeth DeRosa (Hodel) Allegra Rosa (Bielke), Joy Del Valle (Sphrintze), and Jen Brissman (Chava)
Max Chucker (The Fiddler, obviously)

As the day progressed each number and beat was individually looked at, nothing was left out. As this would be our last time working with Parker we wanted to make sure we got everything down. From fixing timing in "L'Chaim" to the chaos of "The Dream" to making sure those bottles stayed on our head, Oi!!! We worked each individual number till Parker felt that his and Robbins vision were being upheld. The thing I really admire about the whole process with Parker was his ability to take the choreography and truly tell the story. It isn't just a carbon copy. As I had mentioned in my last blog there are certain things that must be upheld in "Fiddler on the Roof" because of the Robbins estate. For most, the idea of just "rehashing" movement can be unfulfilling artistically but if you really invest in the piece, which Parker has done with such expertise, you truly learn what it is to be not just a good choreographer but also a great one at that. As Parker told us he became a stronger storyteller because of this movement and in turn so did we. It is through his movement and his guidance that makes me incredibly proud of this production and the actors I am working with. It is their constant devotion to give 110% that will for most certainly have the audiences leaping to their feet nightly.

Parker looks on as Dereck Seay demonstrates movement for The Wedding Dance

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Jesse, has spent the last 20 years working extensively throughout New York, Nationally, and Internationally. He was Action in Broadway choreographer Joey McKneely's hit international (read more...)