Featured Choreographer: May 2020

19 May 2020

Featured Choreographer of the month: Arlene Phillips

What motivates you to pursue a career in choreography?

My career began quite accidentally and I fell into choreography rather than actively pursuing a career as a choreographer from the outset. I was teaching American Jazz in London and searching for a place to live when I was offered a job with Ridley Scott as live-in help. Ridley had a company that made commercials and because I danced he asked me to choreograph them for him… and there began my lifelong career as a choreographer.

Can you share with us some highlights of your choreographic career and/or your current engagements?

My career has afforded me many opportunities over the years to work with dance in many formats, from music videos and TV commercials to films and musical theatre shows. Some of the highlights have been choreographing for roller skates in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express, creating pieces for Candoco Dance Company including a group dance with the Strictly Come Dancing professionals which aired on the show. Creating large scale events in Las Vegas, Commonwealth Games and a Donna Summer spectacular. Working on the film of Annie and many videos from Freddie Mercury, Whitney Huston and Elton John amongst others.

How has your choreographic process and work developed over time?

My choreographic process has always been music driven. I prepare by repeatedly listening to the music I’m working with, for as long as possible, and if a story is involved with the piece I’ll research everything I can to bring the story to life through dance.

What do you think are some of the main challenges choreographers are faced with today?

Nowadays, a lot of jobs require knowledge of many dance genres and often it’s difficult to find the dancers who have the ability to do the range of different styles demanded of them. This is particularly so in musical theatre where they are required to sing as well.

The other thing that every choreographer wants (and never has enough of) is time! Time for research and development, time for rehearsals. Often that can be limited by the producers because time is money. It’s essential to develop the confidence to think laterally and to figure out a way to efficiently work through the choreography in a limited time period.

What advice would you give to emerging choreographers?

To all budding choreographers and to anyone who wants to move out of one world of choreography into another, my advice would be to grab every valuable opportunity that comes your way and endeavour to create opportunities for yourself too. Contact fellow choreographers and offer to assist, ask to sit in on rehearsals, whatever it may be to open your world and give you new experiences because we never stop learning, growing, developing.

What kind of work are you currently interested in pursuing?

I am still constantly broadening my horizons, I love exploring very different pieces of work and various avenues of dance. It really excites me to create small intimate pieces such as the solo I created for Royal Ballet dancer Ed Watson at the Linbury Theatre.

I have fallen completed in love with creating medium scale work at The Bridge Theatre and working with brilliant director Nicholas Hytner. Last year we worked together on Alan Bennett’s newest play Allelujah! and this year I’m creating the movement for a brand new immersive production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was approached by the extraordinary contemporary choreographer James Cousins who wanted to widen his choreography experiences and to be involved in a large production and I am thrilled that he’s working on it with me.

Lastly, having created the choreography for the long-running West End production of Grease which opened in 1993, it’s a fun challenge to currently be updating the show for a brand new production which will tour the UK. My focus is on incorporating rockabilly jive elements, to reflect the reality of 1950’s America where the story is set.


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