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"It’s That Fantastic Age Old Love Story"

An Interview with Glenn Wilkinson, Dirty Dancing Choreographer: "there are a lot of high lifts"
"There is something in there about it being a girl’s dream"

The transition from stage to screen used to only run in one direction. A great show on the stage would make a great film, and that was the only way the system worked. But in more recent times, a two-way track has opened up and hit films are now finding themselves on the stage.


One such cinema classic is Dirty Dancing. This classic coming of age film first made the transition to the stage in 2006 and since then has become a roaring success. Aside from a captivating story, Dirty Dancing also had the potential for some dazzling choreography.

Glenn Wilkinson has the delightful job of being the Associate Choreographer for the show. He spoke to OX about what it is that makes Dirty Dancing such an enduring story.


What is your role within the show and how long have you been working on it?

I’ve been working on it for almost seven years now. I started off with the show in town as the Resident Choreographer and then Karl Sydow, one of the producers, asked me to re-choreograph the show for the tour. So now I am the Associate Choreographer.


So how long has the show actually been on tour now?

Almost three years now. There are separate international shows but this tour is just a UK one. The same show has been taken to South Africa, Germany, Italy, France, Australia, America…everywhere.


The film is incredibly famous but how closely does the musical resemble the film?

It resembles it identically in the iconic moments if that makes sense. So you know, the ‘nobody puts baby in the corner’ moments needed to be there along with the field and the lake scene. And obviously numbers like ‘The Time of my Life’ had to be there too. And the script follows the movie very identically as well. But of course it has to be a theatrical version of the show and it has its own particular theatricality.


So is it something that will appeal to fans of the film or to regular theatre goers?

The main audience does seem to be people who have seen the film. And it is not just the generation who enjoyed the film the first time around. Mothers have passed the film onto their daughters. But it does also appeal to theatre fans. If you like music from the 60s and if you like just generally getting away from it all by watching a Hollywood blockbuster movie, that sort of thing, then you will certainly have a great night.


Did you see the film when you were younger and could you ever have imagined you would be working on a stage version?

When I saw the film I was actually in ballet training already. And so I didn’t really take much notice of the movie. I was completely into training and into dancing myself and it wasn’t until I got offered the job in the stage show in London that I went back and re-watched the movie and obviously when I was asked to re-choreograph it then I did actually sit down and really pay close attention to it.


In terms of your work, were the original moves from the film your main inspiration or did you bring a lot of other stuff to it?

My ballet background has helped me in that I can teach the dancers to do a lot of the moves so that they are technically safe, if you like. They are not going to hurt their knees and backs and things and especially as there are a lot of high lifts. But stylistically there isn’t much input from my ballet background. There’s not that much dancing in the movie really but it does give you an incredible sense of movement and an idea of a type of movement that is going on. So I’ve tried to take the essence of what we think of as Dirty Dancing and tried to bring it more up to date and make it bigger and more spectacular without ruining the thing that makes it what it is.


So why do you think the story of Dirty Dancing is so enduring?

A lot of people have asked me this question and I think there is certainly a feeling that this movie is being passed on, normally with females like mother to daughter, as I said before. I mean, thirty years later the younger generation seem to have the same affinity with the movie as their mothers did. I do think there is something in there about it being a girl’s dream. It was one of the first movies to be made that focused on the girl having a relationship and the girl thinking that she is going to get dumped, for want of a better word, but actually she doesn’t, so it’s like she becomes a princess and meets her knight in shining armour. It’s that fantastic age old love story. I mean, he comes back and he tells everybody that he loves her and that they are all wrong and she is brilliant. Then they dance together and it’s all amazing and then ride off together into the sunset. So while it is a little bit idealistic, for young girls I think it is sending quite a powerful message that this sort of thing might be possible. You can meet the person of your dreams and they might be sexy but they might also be nice at the same time.


Lastly, are you going to get time to look around Oxford at all?

Well I already know Oxford quite well. I danced with Rambert and I think they still visit the city quite a lot. I certainly performed in Oxford every year for about 20 years so I know the city very well. I spent a lot of time up and down the river and in the shops, the Covered Market and various places. So it will definitely be nice to go back and have a reminisce.

Dirty Dancing comes to the New Theatre Oxford between 9 December and 3 January. Tickets are available here.