Wednesday, May 14, 2014

42nd Street on Liberty Street: 'I Only Have Eyes for You'

This is the third installment of a week-long piece following a newbie's (my) initiation into musical theater with Ann Arbor in Concert. The previous two days can be found here and here. Our show is at 8 p.m. this Saturday, May 17, at the Michigan Theater. Tickets are available here.

At some point during rehearsals, the other dancers and I developed a sort of hero worship/Stockholm Syndrome in relation to Alex Miller, our choreographer. His choreography twisted the brain and his rehearsals beat feet to pulp, but he was the fountain of the creativity, the keeper of the vision, the answer to every question. “We’ll just ask Alex,” we would say. And “what’s on the video?” And “Alex: do you want it like this or like this?” We pored over recordings of his instruction, burning into memory the little quirks in his demonstrations, a practice that quickly escalated into obsessing about his personality generally. The choreographer looms large in the imagination. For instance, we like to talk about Alex's omnipresent flat-billed baseball hats (is there a better term for those? I have been calling them "Alex hats") and wonder why he often pulls them down so low over his eyes that he can't possibly see. (Are we so difficult to watch?) Alex also love-love-loves Harry Potter and weirdly seems to identify with the Hufflepuff house (he has a least one article of clothing advertising such--who likes Hufflepuff?). During our first rehearsal over a month ago, Alex taught us what "shwerking" is, so this is what Quinn and I had our families do during dinner on Mother's Day:

This my husband, my mother-in-law, and Quinn's fiance shwerking. Alex, get out of our heads.

More than anything, though, Alex is kind of a tap genius:

LOL whut.

And so we were pulled into Alex's web of omnipotence and tap-torture. He was the good and the bad, legislator, judge, jury, and executioner. What is that quote: "Talent is everything; sanity is nothing." All of a sudden, the things that I would normally find cumbersome or at least less-than-ideal became endearing. Cute. Part and parcel of Alex’s incorrigible brilliance. It’s almost like being in love. Or maybe a little like being kidnapped.

Cases in point:

(1) Alex taught us two eight-counts, and then decided to scramble all the choreography so that what had come first was now last and the middle was completely scrapped and replaced with something else.

Reasonable response: Well, that was confusing.

My response: Good thing Alex brilliantly realized the first arrangement didn’t fit perfectly with the music. Alex is a genius.

(2) Alex was about half an hour late to a weekday rehearsal.

Reasonable response: That is frustrating because I skipped dinner and drove through rush hour traffic from Detroit to get here on time, and now we’re going to have to stay even later when I have to be at work early in the morning.

My response: Thank God Alex is finally here! He’s such a busy and in-demand artist! I wonder what amazing choreography he’s going to teach us now! Alex is a genius.

(3) Alex does not count out music.

Reasonable response: That may be an obstacle to teaching a group of dancers with varying levels of proficiency.

My response: Alex is too talented to even acknowledge that music has counts and just “hears” how the choreography should go. We are so lucky to have such a talented choreographer! Alex is a genius.

(4) Alex does not seem to know the names of a lot of tap steps he teaches.

Reasonable response: That is an obstacle to teaching a group of dancers with varying levels of proficiency.

My response: Alex is too talented to even acknowledge that tap has steps and just “feels” how the choreography should go. We are so lucky to have such a talented choreographer! Alex is a genius.

And so on.

After about a month of deference to and wonder at the higher authority of Alex Miller, imagine the sharp transition we underwent when the show's director Mike returned this past week for daily rehearsals. Imagine the confusion when Mike's visions were sometimes different from Alex's. Imagine, specifically, when Mike decided to change the end of the closing number. (Spoilers omitted.)

Mike: "We need to change *this is the omitted spoiler.*"
Alex: "OK, then we'll have to re-do all the formations."
Mike: "OK, let's do it."
Alex: *removes Alex hat, rubs at hair*
Dancers: *stunned, confused silence; internal screaming*

Ha ha ha, you must be mistaken; this is what Alex taught us.

Immediately we got defensive: we've been working on this finale for so long, Alex taught it first so that it would be solid, why are we changing all this now four days before the show. The injustice! This is going to be a disaster! We'll never figure it out in time! (Maybe it's from being on stage every night, but everything feels really dramatic right now.) Of course, the next rehearsal, it took Alex all of ten minutes to work out the new formations, to tweak the choreography, to run us through the new ending two or three times. It works, of course, it's better than it was, it makes more sense, it's wonderful, it's elegant, and probably none of us should have been surprised.

What did I tell you: Alex is a genius.

42nd Street on Liberty Street: 'Audition'
42nd Street on Liberty Street: 'Young and Healthy'?

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