BWW Interview: Kelli Foster Warder of ORDWAY CABARET: GOTTA DANCE! at Ordway Center For Performing Arts
Kelli Foster Warder has been working in the area for years in various capacities, but perhaps her most visible work is what audiences see on stage with the artistic creations she brings to life with actor/singer/dancers as a choreographer. In her latest effort at the Ordway in Saint Paul, Warder high kicks that to the curb by showing that side as well acting as producer of the ORDWAY CABARET: GOTTA DANCE!
She began dancing when as a little girl with her father "an old hoofer" (tap dancer), and she grew up dancing and just didn't stop. While there were times she was not making a living dancing, she said, "Dance always finds me and I am so grateful." Warder had a chance to highlight dance in a new installment of this irregular series that takes place just one night: Feb. 20, 2020, at 7:30 p.m. on the concert stage. She answered 6 Questions & 6 Quick Hits between rehearsals.
This is the first time the Ordway Cabaret series has focused on dance (vs. singing songs) -- can you talk about how this idea came to be and as producer and director, what you had to do to make it a reality?
The goal of this series is to bring forth the voices of artists as we celebrate and critique musical theater. So many of the most famous musical theater moments have to do with dance yet we rarely hear from the people that create and perform it. We have such wonderful dancers in our community, it is exciting to highlight them in this way -- and hear in their own words about the life of a musical theater dancer.
What are some of the shows/numbers people can expect to see in this 90-minute production?
"Singin' in the Rain," "Steam Heat," "Too Darn Hot," "A Chorus Line" and even a little HAMILTON.
Will this show be danced to live music or recorded? Are your performers also singing the songs or will you be focused entirely on the dance?
The music will be live and the dancers will sing and dance - just like in a musical! We even have three singers who will lend their voices to the dancers' stories.
I read you will highlight the style of some well-known choreographers like Bob Fosse, Susan Strommen and Andy Blankenbuehler. As a choreographer, how do you honor the original work of these artists while putting your own touch on the dances and making sure they're truly original works? Is there a trick to that or a way to think about it that you use?
As a musical theater choreographer working here, we are most often working on shows that had their Broadway life. I like to pay homage to what made the moves famous but also focus on the dancers in the room to create pieces that further the story and highlight the gifts of the artists. For this Cabaret you will see that we have recreated some of the most famous pieces in some places and in others, come up with work that is totally our own. You can't do "A Chorus Line" without a hat and some high kicks but the purpose behind the song is precision and unity - so you keep the intent alive and make it your own!
Do you have to spend a lot of time researching shows, songs, the era they're from and the original productions before determining how to choreograph your own work? What is a typical process for you as you plan a number?
I have had a lot of fun watching videos, talking with the dancers, focusing on the content, the history and the intention behind each of the numbers both in their original show and the purpose it has in our show. For the solos, I met with each dancer, we talked about what connects them to the piece, what they feel great doing and what is iconic and will be familiar and satisfying to the audience. Then we put all of that together and run with it!
Your job encompasses the artistic, as we've been talking about, but you also work to promote education and community engagement, and also the business side as a producer of this show. And you do casting. You also freelance a lot with other companies as a choreographer/dancer. How do you make time for all of these varied aspects of your jobs and what is the most rewarding thing you do?
In all of those roles I am lucky to play, the most rewarding part is helping a person see themselves in the work and grow as a person and an artist because of it. Whether it is a student experiencing the performing arts for the first time at the Ordway, an audience member gaining a new perspective through a story, a person seeing themselves represented on stage in a powerful way or an artist having the chance to grow in confidence and skills - I am most happy when together we are making each other better.
6 Quick Hits:
Favorite musical? RAGTIME, THE COLOR PURPLE
Fries or Tater Tots? Fries!
Favorite pastime that's not theatre? Laying around in the sun
Favorite film? I love so many - non-musicals: White Nights, Black Panther. Musicals: On the Town - I just loved Gene Kelly
Theater or Theatre? Depends :-)
Favorite dance (or dance style)? Can't pick!
For more information and tickets, visit https://ordway.org/event/ordway-cabaret-gotta-dance/.
Photo: Kelli Foster Warder, courtesy of the Ordway.