Heart-pounding music, passionate romance and intimate choreography make Dirty Dancing a timeless movie and the classic story is returning to the stage later this year.
Milton Keynes Theatre will welcome the as yet unannounced cast when the touring production gives fans the ‘time of their life’ in October and I was treated to a sneaky preview of what is to come at the recent launch event.
The captivating tale follows Frances “Baby” Houseman as she falls in love for the very first time with sexy dance instructor Johnny Castle while on a family holiday during the summer of 1963. Author Eleanor Bergstein wrote the film script after choosing the music – a wise move considering that the low-budget movie became a worldwide hit, generating two multi-platinum soundtracks that sold over 39 million copies (and still counting).
Producer Karl Sydow, the man responsible for putting Dirty Dancing on stage, credits his daughter for his decision to oversee turning the iconic cinematic hit into a stage show.
He said: “It is my daughter’s favourite film and she would always be watching it with her mother and friends. It is a strange demographic, not limited by age, it is just women generally and they like to watch it together in groups. So I thought it would only be if we ran out of women that we would then run out of audience!”
The Academy Award-winning film is considered one of the greatest dance movies ever made, launching the careers of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. Generations of women are fanatical about the classic moments (the risqué underworld of the staff living quarters, the log scene, the field, the lake) and the erotically-charged moves seen on-screen reinvented partner dancing.
Ensuring the choreography is right for such a well-loved film is surely a challenge. Associate choreographer Glenn Wilkinson confirms: “It is a conundrum. If you watch the film there really is not that much dancing – we get more of a suggestion of the moves, the feelings. When you have got a movie camera, that lens can follow just the upper half of the body and come in close. Getting that intensity in what I call a ‘wide-shot’ and keeping the dance momentum on stage is the challenge.”
Dancers in the show learn their Dirty Dancing vocabulary early on in rehearsals – every move is given a distinctive name, from the “dip” (backbend) and “circular dip” to the “koala” (female dancer airborne, clutched to male dancer’s chest, legs pulled up in a squat position) and even the “koala at a party” (as before but with wild arm movements).
These signature steps are then put together in tantalising sequences to create all the different numbers in the show.
James Bennett, who will dance in the Ensemble in the upcoming tour and work as Dance Captain and Swing, said: “It’s all about enthusiasm – I need to know everybody’s parts and get that feeling of excitement and teenage attraction out on stage.”
Partnering contemporary-trained dancer Lisa Welham (assisting for the launch), James demonstrated some exciting choreography. And, as we all know, “nobody puts Baby in the corner” so it wasn’t long before James was recreating the famous moves with a certain eager Dirty Dancing fan…
> Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage comes to Milton Keynes Theatre from Tuesday 21st October to Saturday 8th November 2014.
This feature is also published in the print edition of the Milton Keynes Citizen, 13th February 2014 and on the Milton Keynes Citizen website.