Breon Arzell is fairly new to the Chicago choreographing community. Recently his talents, and choreography, have been seen in the productions of Julius Caesar (Writers Theatre), The House That Will Not Stand (Victory Gardens Theatre), and The Hairy Ape (Oracle Productions), for which he received the 2016 Jeff Award for Artistic Specialization, for his movement and step choreography. Regionally: Hastings St. (Mosaic Theatre of Detroit), Purlie (M.T.D.), Now That I Can Dance (M.T.D.). Film/TV: A Rose by Any Other Name, Empire. His work will next be seen in… The Mojo and the Sayso (Oracle), A Wonder in My Soul (Victory Gardens), The Scottsboro Boys (Porchlight Music Theatre) & The Wiz (Kokandy Productions). He specializes in Hip Hop, Jazz, Lyrical, Contemporary, and Step. www.breonarzell.com
In this 4-part feature, PerformInk continues its INSIDE series and takes you behind the scenes of The Hypocrites production of CINDERELLA AT THE THEATRE OF POTATOES through blog posts written by the people behind the scenes.
By Breon Arzell, Choreographer
This is no longer the show it once was. Countless hours of rehearsals, a multitude of discussions and changes, but now is where we truly find out what he have. Days away from opening, excitement is high, audiences are enjoying it, and things are coming and going with every day. But all good, and all with a positive energy, and commitment to create the best experience possible.
I have absolutely loved working on this production. The cast, the design team, just excellent work across the board. It was also very nice to work with Sean Graney in this capacity. Knowing me as an actor first, with All Our Tragic being the start of our work together, I feel honored that he brought me on in a totally different way. Knowing that I taught musical theater and hip hop classes at a studio, and have choreographed for many years, he just calls me up one day and says, “hey, wanna work on this thing?” I was like, “uhhh…YEAH! Are you kidding?!” hahaha.
To me, this ‘Cinderella’ is one part animation, one part Grimm, one part classic, with a splash of reality show. From the beginning, I knew I wanted the movement to accent these things. Like most of my movement, it’s a fusion of different genres. There’s waltz, there’s footwork, there’s lyrical and storytelling, and all with an edge of contemporary flair. But truly, I just let the score do the work.
For this particular show, I was very much inspired by the music. Andra Velis Simon did an amazing job composing music that is so beautiful and whimsical that it’s difficult NOT to move to it. I mean, it basically choreographs itself. This is one of the greatest joys for me. When I am just moved to create. Not even trying, just letting the music inform me and do its work. Sean’s vision, the music, and the design, all cohesively blend together to create this gorgeous world of vibrancy and imagination, and I definitely wanted my choreography to be an extension of that.
It is also VERY important to me that the actors are comfortable in their movement, and they feel as if it is coming from them. (opposed to, “I’m doing this because this is what the choreographer told me to do”). I like to work in an open and collaborative space, after all, they are the one’s that have to execute the choreography night after night. It should feel natural, and just be a lot of fun. To aid in this, I like to give performers a “vocabulary of movement.” Elements, and counts, that live in the world, but don’t have to necessarily appear in the same order, or all the time. This gives the performer ownership over what they do, and it becomes an inspired choice, while still operating in the style of the show. However, this mainly applies to solos and individual moments of movement. For group numbers, they were given a sequence of steps, but I made sure to let them know it doesn’t have to be “perfect technique.” “Do the steps, how your character would do it. Hit all the moves, be in sync with each other, but individualize your moments.” For me, these little details make the show. Especially in a show as animated, and up close, as this. Although, I must admit, at times it did prove to be a challenge to only being able to choreograph from the waist down, but the willingness and work ethic of the performers made it much easier.
I am fortunate to have been involved in various productions this year. It has truly opened a whole new avenue and involvement in theater, that wasn’t really a part of my original goal. Only being here 3 years, and focusing on making my way as an actor, I figured I would eventually include choreography into the fold. But it seems the universe had a much more expedited plan. This sudden surge in interest and opportunity has really taken me by surprise. Beginning with ‘Hairy Ape’, I quickly became known, and requested, for my creativity and abstract movement. Whether it’s body percussion representing work, or a mixture of step, waltz, and bamboulas, or gestural movements, or creating a world where the performers are always holding instruments…I LOVE to find a way to make it work, tell a story, and put a little “Breyonce” on it 😉 Now let’s open this thing…5-6-7-8!