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Alastair Muir

Nobody puts Dirty Dancing in a corner!

9 December 2013 Charlie Kenber

“it’s about knowing what someone’s strengths and weaknesses are and then just trying to get the best out of them and make them look great…It’s a lovely challenge”

Dirty Dancing, currently resident in the West End, is set to launch on a new UK-wide tour from February next year. The show enjoyed a hugely successful five-year run from 2006, with over a million people experiencing its delights.

This time however, London is a temporary stop off in the course of a UK tour that began in 2011 and will recommence in February 2014. As Glenn Wilkinson, Associate Choreographer on the reincarnation explains, it is now a very different production to the 2006 original. Much of the show has been re-worked: “the set design is completely different to the original production, and also we cut the cast down by twelve members to make it a touring version. It’s a whole different ball game. And then Sarah Tipple [the director] and I decided to re-visit the whole thing anyway and basically make a new show with the same story.”

This makes the production a largely novel experience, “It is like seeing a completely different show. It’s obviously the same story, but how it’s structured and how it flows and moves is much faster and much smoother and much slicker in general. I think you’re coming to see something that’s much more slick than when it was in town. We’ve tightened up a lot.”

Glenn’s approach has been to bring the story up to date, “I think breathe new life into it: from a choreographic point of view while trying to keep it very period and still feel like we’re in the 60s, we were also trying to find a way to make it look quite modern, so it doesn’t look stuck in the 60s. But it’s still very energetic and vibrant.”

Casting changes mean the show continuously develops: for instance the vast majority of the cast is set to change once it leaves London. “It will be pretty much a new cast when we come back out on tour, which again is really exciting because it breathes new life into it.” Crafting the show each time is a responsive process. Although there is an element of teaching the performers the existing show, “if somebody brings something spectacular to it we’ll go ‘ooh let’s try and put that in’. Or if somebody doesn’t look quite right doing something I’ll just change it so that they look good. At the end of the day we want to come and see something that’s amazing. So I just work to people’s strengths really.”

Fans of the film should be satisfied that the stage version draws strongly on its influence, although a degree of adaptation has of course been necessary. “If you watch the film from a dance point of view…pretty much the whole way through it’s all in quite close shot. So what you’re getting is a feel for the dancing, you get the idea of it, but you don’t actually see that much. Whereas when you’re on stage you’re constantly in what I would call a wide shot. So you’ve really got to use your imagination” in order to transfer the feel of the film to the stage. To some degree Glenn achieves this by drawing the audience’s focus, although he admits that, “obviously it’s tricky, because you can look where you want.”

Whether or not you saw the original West End production then, there is plenty in the show for everyone to enjoy – as is clear from the impressive turnout it has received. “We’ve gone past a million people on the tour already,” Glenn says. “It was a few months back. We gave them some champagne and a meal…as far as I know it’s been the biggest selling UK tour ever. It’s broken every box office record of every theatre it’s been to. So I think that’s an overwhelming response really isn’t it!”

Clearly, Dirty Dancing continues to speak to a wide range of people, and doesn’t show any sign of slowing down. Glenn observes that in the audiences, “obviously there’s the guy taking his girlfriend, but there seems to be a lot of middle-aged ladies and then really young girls. I think mothers pass it on to their daughters and their daughters watch it and still think it’s brilliant. It appeals to a very wide range of people: there is a very young generation of people who come to see the show and they tweet about it, and they get on our website and write things on it.”

Dirty Dancing plays at the Piccadilly Theatre until 22nd February 2014. Tickets from £29.50, available here.

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