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Musical Theatre Meets Contemporary Dance

Nicole Decsey gets a behind the scenes look at the creation process for Standing in this Room, a dance film by Maggie Savoie that will premiere as part of Dance : Corps’ Our Stories – Flash Show (Oct 3 and 4).

Standing in this Room, choreographed to the song I've Been from the musical Next to Normal is charged with intense emotions all trapped in a small apartment in New York. It encompasses the concept of struggling with the realization that you don’t know how to help the person you love. Tackling this story is a challenge that Maggie accomplishes with flying colours.

What inspired you to create a very contemporary abstract piece to a more literal theatrical song?

When I first started choreographing way back in high school, I was very technique, very ballet, like a little bun head. My pieces were always classical and Balanchine looking, but I had this wonderful contemporary teacher who was always trying to pull something a little more story driven out of me. So, she started giving me these theatrical pieces and that’s when I first started getting into musical theatre. I think I choreographed something to Rent and Spring Awakening, and it really helped me build up a story telling ability in my choreography. Now, it’s become fun for me to choreograph to musicals that I really enjoy.

How did you incorporate both your technical and theatrical training in the creation of this piece?

I started more with the storytelling. I was just listening to the song and I already have a strong connection to this entire musical… and I started moving a little bit and feeling emotionally what I was wanting to pull out of it. But it’s easy to get lost in that world, so I like to find sections of musicality that I’m really attached to and from there I build in technique and I play around with steps.

I like to take a classical step and twist it and make it my own. Like I’ll have these lines and then I’ll add in a little turn and a contemporary arm so it’s not exactly what it usually is, or I’ll take a pirouette and somehow get these weird contorted arms that shouldn’t work but then they flow into this classical first position.

How did you encompass both sides of a song that deals deeply with two different characters?

When Rachel and I were talking about this piece, we discussed what we wanted for it and what perspective we wanted it to come from, and the discussion came to this idea of playing on both sides.

In the end we focused on this trapped feeling. As big and expansive as the song is, the whole emotional side of it is like you are very stuck in this place. And I think this feeling is the same for both characters, they are just trapped in different places.

We have also created this trapped feeling with some of the editing we are playing with. I am using this door and our edits make it look like there is someone on either side of the door trying to get through. This concept of someone on the other side of the door was very much a reality for me even before the editing began when I was just dancing by myself in my room.

What inspired you to start and end your piece with the same image?

It actually took me a little while to get there. I have a really hard time with beginnings and I’ve always started in the middle for some reason, I’ve never really understood why. But every time I go to start a piece I get really frustrated with the beginning because it’s too cheesy or corny or somebodies done it before and that just kills pieces for me, so I don’t even bother with it anymore.

But I was playing around and I was trying to find interesting ways to interact with the door because I’m in this tiny apartment, I’m trying to film in the corner, there is only so many angles I can get to. So, I really wanted to try this side angle which is the first shot you see. And in my mind, it didn’t make sense that the door would always be shut. Otherwise, why would they still be trying to get to one another? If the door is shut, there’s no opening it, there’s no closing it, it’s just there and eventually you are going to give up on it. So, I started playing with opening it and closing it and I got that one shot that I just kept playing over and over again and I got really attached to it. And with the story it made sense to end where you started, because you try, there’s this big explosion, and then you try again, it’s that repetition that led to it.

How do you connect to the very emotional story this song talks about?

I first started listening to it way back when I first got into musical theatre, but before I ever saw [Next to Normal] the musicals I watched were Cats and Oklahoma and all of this older age feeling musicals which I love. But then I heard this, and I was like “woah.” This was the first musical I listened to where I was like, I just love listening to this!

When I finally got to see it, I was in college and it was done by this little regional theatre, but it was beautiful, and it was stunning, and it was intimate, and I was in tears the entire show. I had not really connected like that to anything before. I’ve never personally gone through any of these struggles so it’s not that sort of connection, but it’s just the music and the story are so strong. When it comes on, I’m like okay, I know this song, I know this feeling and it’s got all of these levels of emotion which is something I look for in any piece that I’m doing. Especially a solo.



Who are your dance idols?

· Crystal Pite – I saw her piece The Statement and it was probably the most interesting dance piece. All of her work is stunning!

· William Forsythe – I can just never get enough of any of his stuff

· Christopher Wheeldon – I have so much respect for him, and it’s incredible to see these new story ballets that are coming out that are interesting and fun and fresh.

All three of them have works that I’ve just really enjoyed seeing and they just seem like really nice human beings.

What is your dream dance location?

Well, I love New York, I’m currently in New York and there is so much going on in any variety of dance. There is always something new to try or see or someone to take class from.

Also, I feel like I would really like to try Russia, I feel like there are a lot of really interesting things happening there. Or somewhere smaller like Amsterdam could be cool. I’m open to anything!

What is your favourite pre-class meal?

Honestly, this is really awful, I don’t like to eat before I dance. I know you are supposed to, but if I eat before my first class of the day, I know I’m not going to feel good. So, I take class and then I go eat immediately afterward. Which is the exact opposite of what you should do, so anyone listening to this don’t do that!

But if it were the middle of the day and I had to go to a class, probably some sort of fruit like bananas or raspberries and then a little bit of protein like string cheese or yogurt. Top two meals would be a Caesar salad with some chicken or banana, yogurt and nuts.



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