An Interview with Alexander Sanchez, One of the Three Choreographers to the 2014 Fall Dance Concert
The full Q&A with Alexander Sanchez, choreographer of Dancin’ Man
Kim Leeson went behind the scenes to capture the rehearsal of Dancin' Man
Dance writer Danielle Georgiou interviewed the three choreographers of the 2014 Fall Dance Concert for a story in the Dallas Observer. The full Q&A is posted below, with permission of the Observer.
Q: How did you first find your way into dance, and is there one pivotal moment when you knew that dance would be your career?
A: As a high school kid I was always involved with theater at my school and worked with guest choreographers that came to choreograph musicals or special choral concerts I was a part of. I picked it up very fast and was natural at it. I absolutely loved it and was always enthusiastic about dancing. I couldn’t get enough! This prompted my choral teacher to point me toward dancing classes with a choreographer he worked with for many years in community theater. Al Mueller was my first dance teacher at June Rold School of Dance. I would sneak out of the house and take dance class once a week. My parents never knew. June Rold was my first ballet teacher and told me about Lou Conte Dance Studio in Chicago. She told me that I should go there because I could only learn so much at her studio. So, a couple of years later, I went and took the adult classes there. During one of my jazz classes, I noticed a gentleman looking at me while I danced. Little did I know that it was Lou Conte himself. After class he offered me a scholarship if I wanted to seriously pursue dance. He told me I had the talent to do it professionally but that I was raw and needed a lot of training. At that moment I knew that dance would be my career. So I quit community college, told my parents, moved out of their house and began my journey. I was 19.
Q: When did you begin the transition from dancer to choreographer?
A: On the opening night of my last Broadway show, I was warming up backstage as the director and choreographer of the show, Graciela Daniela, was wishing everyone luck. She came to me and looked me straight in the eye and told me that I needed to stop dancing and start choreographing. I was shocked because I hadn’t even thought about going in that direction, but she saw something in me that I didn’t even know was there. She planted the seed and I’ve been cultivating it ever since. That was in 2006.
Q: What drew you to musical theater?
A: My high school did musicals and I loved being a part of the community it created. I loved all the creativity and eccentricities that came with the musical. At first it was about the people, but soon it became about the fusion of singing, dancing and acting that sparked my passion and desire for it. Though my career started as a concert ballet dancer with Ballet Chicago and the Ruth Page Ballet of Chicago, I knew in my heart that I would eventually come back to musical theater. Thankfully I did.
Q: I think it’s pretty incredible that you spent time with and were mentored by Ann Reinking and Gwen Verdon. Those must have been some invaluable times and truly life-changing experiences. What have you taken away from training with them, and have those times been influential on your own creations?
A: The biggest lesson I have learned, especially from Gwen, is that movement has a great deal of motive behind it. Movement has a purpose in the story or the moment it is expressing. It’s not enough to just lift an arm; you have to know WHY you’re lifting that arm and you have to fill that moment with all the intention and motive it requires for the right expression of the storytelling. So much acting is required of dancing, and that’s what gives it so much life. In my own work, I spend more time talking about the motive of the movement than working on the movement itself. Otherwise the movement has no direction or meaning. I always write a dance synopsis of what the ballet or number will be. I create characters and relationships within the piece. It’s like doing a storyboard. Then I begin to fill in the movement based on the motive of the scenes and characterizations. That is my process of creation, and I thank Gwen and Ann for that knowledge.
Q: For SMU, you have been creating a piece that is an homage to Bob Fosse. What inspired you to create Dancin’ Man?
A: Pragmatically speaking, I was asked by Dance Chair Patty Delaney to teach Fosse to her students and create a piece based on the Fosse style. Though I’ve been greatly influenced and have a great deal of knowledge of the style, my own particular style is different and more ballet-based. I started out as a ballet dancer and was deeply influenced by Balanchine, Robbins, DeMille and Michael Kidd. Therefore, I decided that I would do an homage to Bob Fosse by setting three original dances and devised a story to integrate the three different dances into one thematic story line. I chose three distinctive pieces from his canon because they reflected important aspects of his personality. I wanted people to see that he was more than the sexy choreographer of Chicago and Sweet Charity. He was funny and playful as well. He honored his past and his predecessors while accepting the newest and latest trends in music and dance. His innovation came from both influences and ideologies. Dancin’ Man is the title of the piece because it represents who he was at the core. For all his achievements as a writer, director, editor and so on, I believe it was his dancing and being a “dancin’ man” that grounded and rooted him.
Q: How have you worked to combine Fosse’s intricate and distinct choreography with your own?
A: By creating two distinctive events and characters. I devised the idea of soulless creatures wandering the world without feeling and finding a magical hat that brings them to life when they put it on. Those characters move in my own movement vernacular. As they continue to come alive they morph into Fosse dancers by doing the actual Fosse dances. I use my movement as transitional scenes to get in and get out of the three original Fosse numbers being danced.
Q. What can we expect from the piece?
A: Expect to be entertained, amused and hopefully inspired. This piece is meant to take you on a Fosse journey. It would be like seeing one act of Dancin’, one of Fosse’s hit musical revues.
Q: How has your experience been working with the students at SMU?
A: Absolutely wonderful. A total joy to work with them. SMU has an incredible and impressive dance program and an amazing staff of professors and instructors. It all starts at the top and trickles down to the students. The students have been incredibly professional, receptive and hard-working from start to finish. I think this is very different and extremely challenging for them, but they have such a voracious appetite for the work. That, in itself, is inspiring.