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Broadway choreographer Josh Rhodes: A “freak for style”

Josh Rhodes

Choreographer Josh Rhodes seems to have done it all, from the recent Broadway revival of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella to the annual burlesque AIDS fundraiser Broadway Bares, and much more. Rhodes will teach a Master Class for the OFA Dance Program at 5:30 p.m. March 14 (TODAY) at the Harvard Dance Center with a Q&A to follow. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Rhodes and I exchanged emails earlier this week.

How did you begin as a choreographer?

My first great schooling for choreography was being a dancer in multiple Broadway shows, [which] is priceless schooling for anyone who wants to craft stories with dance in musical theater. I was also an assistant choreographer and a dance captain. I started dipping my toes in the water as the need came for me to finish numbers for a choreographer or add small sections of dance once the choreographer or director trusted me. After a while, you gain confidence and technique and you think perhaps you could do it on your own.

How do you collaborate with a director on a piece like Cinderella?

Cinderella was a wonderful experience because the director Mark Brokaw and the writer Douglas Carter Beane let me look through the script and asked where I could enhance the story with dance. They let me experiment for months with a few ideas and many are in the show today. The two of them helped me shape the numbers to make sure they use principals and keep the story moving during the musical numbers. Working on new dance arrangements with a classic Rodgers and Hammerstein score was heaven. It is a choreographer’s dream.

From "Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella" on Broadway, Laura Osnes and ensemble. PHOTO: Carol Rosegg, from cinderellaonbroadway.com

What’s the most unique or bizarre piece you have ever choreographed?

Probably the first thing I ever choreographed. I choreographed a number for the students at my studio in Decatur, Illinois when I was a high-school senior. I used Yaz’s In My Room. The girls ran around with flashlights doing the oddest jumps over and over. It was hideous. I thought I was bringing “high art” to Illinois. I was high, I guess, just low on the art.

What can people expect from your workshop tomorrow?

I love these workshops to be fun. I am a freak for style. Observing a choreographer keenly is job number one for a dancer. I think that concentrating on the style of the choreography is the best way to enjoy the act of dancing. It doesn’t matter if your kick is high, low, or if you can’t jump with a pointed foot. What is the style? What can you bring as an actor? How much fun can you have playing a role while dancing? That’s what I love to do when I am teaching. Other people can teach you fabulous technique much better than me. I want you to bring your personality and we will have a great time. If not, I’ll buy you a beer after the class.

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