HOOLIGAN ‘Footloose’ Production Kicks Off With A Mix Of Dance Styles
Sam Brogadir took the stage as Ren McCormack in the hip-hop-style opening number of “Footloose.” He switched to smooth, groovy jazz in “I Can’t Stand Still,” line dancing in “Still Rockin’,” and a mix of each dance form in the finale.
The HOOLIGAN Theater Company’s production of “Footloose” will begin Friday at 8 p.m. at the Freud Playhouse. The company’s no-cut audition policy allowed dancers of all skill levels to participate, challenging choreographer Ellen Durnal to work with cast members of varying dance abilities.
The third-year theater student used detailed choreography and a slow-paced teaching style with less experienced actors to bring the dance-centric story to the stage, she said.
The plot of the 1984 film follows the character of Ren McCormack, who moves to a small town in the Midwest where dancing is prohibited. McCormack, along with local Reverend’s daughter Ariel and their friends Rusty and Willard, protest the law by experimenting with all forms of movement, from line dancing to hip-hop.
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Durnal held a dance audition at the start of the winter term to help him decide which cast members would be placed in each song. To determine where an actor is placed on stage and how difficult their dance moves are, Durnal said she looks at their energy level while dancing.
An enthusiastic dancer was more likely to be placed towards the front of the set or given tricky moves such as partnering.
“If a number has a kind of more excited style, I’ll put dancers who naturally dance like that in that specific number,” Durnal said.
When Durnal asked the dancers to straighten their arms perpendicular to their bodies, the energetic and experienced dancers responded by performing the task from their shoulders to their fingertips with a broad smile, while those with less experience in dancing answered with loose fingers.
She asked the actors to lift their legs and the experienced dancers to kick behind the ear as far as they could. Someone who likes to dance will always choose the more difficult version of the move because they want to expel that energy, she said.
The complexity of certain dance numbers such as “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” or “Holding Out for a Hero”, which include high kicks, jumps and partnerships, requires the most energetic dancers who like to be twirled and soaked, she said. .
“It just depends on what style they have or how they like to dance,” Durnal said.
The dynamic dance moves featured in the performance, ranging from line dancing to square dancing, proved to be a challenge for even the most skilled cast members.
Tala Moussouras, a fourth-year gender studies student, is participating in a HOOLIGAN musical for the seventh time. She started ballet at the age of two and later added Irish dancing to her repertoire.
But the choreography for “Still Rockin'” was particularly difficult for Moussouras due to the fast-paced line dancing sequences. Repetitive heel-toe movements were a different style of dance from the continuous, graceful positions performed in ballet, she said.
The actors rehearsed the sequences for five seconds at a time to memorize the order of the moves, Moussouras said.
“Since these shows are uncut, anyone and everyone can participate, so there’s a lot of variety in how we learn and what we actually know,” Moussouras said.
[Gallery: HOOLIGAN’s production of “Footloose”]
Even an experienced dancer can have difficulty remembering a sequence of varied actions, Durnal said. As part of the choreography process, Durnal created a detailed chart for the cast. The two columns — one for the lyrics and one for the corresponding move — mapped out each dancer’s location along with their respective dance moves in a short paragraph, she said.
Durnal later explained the choreography in rehearsal, detailing each step for new dancers. Instead of having the cast do the vine on the stage, she defined the terminology involved — step with your right foot, step back, step then touch. The process slowed down the choreography to allow performers stronger in acting or singing to learn the steps, she said.
Jayne Skinner feels more confident in the vocal field. The fourth-year psychobiology student has been singing since fifth year, but “Footloose” forced her to try more complex dance moves, like line dancing with a partner, she said.
Skinner, who plays Rusty, will show it vocals in his solo number “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”. While the majority of his moves in the song are simple, like walking on stage, Skinner wanted to add a more complicated move during the dance break – a cartwheel in the splits.
Skinner already knew how to do the splits and a cartwheel, but combining the two moves into one smooth motion was difficult due to foot placement and balance.
After watching videos of drag queens doing cartwheels in the splits, Skinner crossed the floor of the John Wooden Center during rehearsal and jumped into the dance move.
“The challenges are what make it fun,” Moussouras said. “If it was super simple and she was just trying to give us something easy so we could all do it, then it wouldn’t look so cool, and then we wouldn’t learn anything.”