Tuesday, 29 December 2015 12:25

My Complex Romance: Tony Winner Once Tugs at Heartstrings

Written by  Amanda Denomme
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Miller Auditorium, Kalamazoo
Jan. 25-26, $35-$65
(800) 228-9858, millerauditorium.com

ONCE is the epitome of a true complex romance, as a Dublin street musician, debating on giving up his singing dreams, meets a beautiful young woman who takes strong interest in his haunting love songs.

As the chemistry between them grows, his music soars to powerful new heights, but their unlikely connection turns out to be much deeper and more complicated than expected.

ONCE, winner of eight 2012 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and winner of the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, hits Miller Auditorium this January.

Yasmine Lee, associate movement director of ONCE, works with the actors firsthand as a member of the creative team. Revue chatted with Lee about collaborating behind the scenes.

What are the dance numbers like in ONCE and do you have a favorite?

In the dance and music numbers, our actors do so well that sometimes the audience members think that the music was pre-recorded, but nope, they’ve seriously got the skills. Honestly, there’s not one number I like the best, but I think “Gold” is most impressive. All of the actors are on their feet, playing music while dancing and conveying the dramatic essence of the scene. There is even a cello player dancing while playing. I also love the movement in “Sleeping.” It’s very simple and pedestrian, but tender and gorgeous. It really pulls the heartstrings.

How do you and the creative team go about envisioning the dances for the show before they actually take the stage?

The choreography on this production is Steven Hoggett’s. He’s the real deal. His work is inventive, impressionistic and deeply connected to the music and text of the play. I was fortunate to have participated in the creative process as Steven’s associate when ONCE was developed in 2011. Currently, my job now involves re-staging Steven’s original work but also re-imagining and shaping it for the bodies that are in the room. I help our actors find an authentic, truthful way into the work. I also shift shapes and details to accentuate their personal qualities and character choices.

What is the most challenging part as an associate movement director?

I love my job and I love a good challenge, so that means the challenging bits are the bits I love. The lines are a bit blurred between creative departments on this show. Many productions feel like story pauses for a big dance number or beautiful song. Not so in ONCE. The acting, movement and music are interrelated and deeply connected. This means I’ve got to keep my eye on the entire show. It’s a lot, but I think the real challenge for the actors is developing the skill of playing instruments while dancing and storytelling. They have to do each exceptionally well and then marry them. I coach our actors through this process, which can be tough.

What can the audience expect from ONCE?

That’s a simple but tough question because ONCE is unique. I hope the audience feels a tug at their heart. The music is gorgeous. In terms of story, the themes are universal and relatable — you know, eschewing fear to pursue your dreams and allowing yourself to be guided by love. There is excellent, old school stagecraft and usually there is not a dry eye in the audience by the final scene. It’s just gorgeous.

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