Jason Gilkison interview – SYTYCD!

Published on 28th Feb, 2014

Jason Gilkison - SYTYCD Australia

Jason Gilkison is undoubtedly one of Australia’s most sought after and highly respected choreographers and creative directors today, with his work being seen around the world on stage and screen. Jason is probably best known for his work as a choreographer on the hugely successful So You Think You Can Dance both in US and Australia. Jason has been a huge part of the show, showcasing over 100 pieces of work over 10 seasons.

We caught with Jason yesterday for a quick chat about his new role as Judge on SYTYCD Australia Season 4 …

Are you enjoying being a judge on SYTYCD Australia this time around?

Yes! I’m so glad that we’ve got it back on TV. For three years, it felt like a bit of a drought! We could tell by the Top 100 it was a really built up group of dancers that have been preparing for something to come along where they’ve had the opportunity to unleash their talent. I’m just so happy that it’s back!

It must have been really tough to make a decision on the Top 100 and then Top 20!

It really was! I think what we have now is what they’ve experienced in America where the people that were in the Top 100 have grown up watching the show so they’re so prepared for it. It’s not a shock that they’re thrown curve balls so it’s been really great to have so many well-rounded people – particularly going into the Top 20. I think we got a feeling for that the last week when we were doing group numbers and they were coming together far quicker than ever before. We didn’t have anyone that just couldn’t keep up with the genre or couldn’t keep up with the style so we were really lucky!

In the ballroom department, are you finding the Top 20 a little scarce in that area?

There weren’t as many ballroom dancers by comparison to other genres. For instance Hip Hop dancers came in their droves and they’re the ones that you really hope will come to the fore because of course the solos are really exciting. But what we had with the ballroom was ‘quality’ which was nice so when we came to the Top 30 and we had to do the ‘green mile’ it was tough actually because we could have had 3 ballroom in the Top 20 but it was just so tough – particularly in the boys! There were so many boys that we could have put in the Top 20!

Have the ‘boys’ in general stepped up since SYTYCD first hit our screens?

It’s really fantastic! Even though in Season One we had two boys standing at the end, I remember when we went to the Top 100 the boys standard overall was nothing like what it is now! Early on I remember Paula saying, ‘How are we going to pick 10 of these guys?’ It was just so tough! And to be honest, we could have had 10 Hip Hop boys in the Top 20! There were so many good hip hop boys this time! We got to one point during the Top 100 week where we just had to settle down and go ‘look, we’ve got to make some cuts otherwise we’re just going to keep hanging on to these boys’. We ended up having to have them battle off against each other and that’s how we sifted through them a little bit and that was heartbreaking!

It must be inspirational to the competitors to have 3 out of 4 judges being Australians that have ‘made it’ overseas!

Absolutely!  Aaron and I go back so far. His cousin Ross Coleman was a huge influence on my dancing career back in the 80’s and Aaron and I were working out the other day that we both used to back Peter Allen back in 1988 at the same time. When we first went over to LA, I was seeing Aaron ‘make it’ – he was kind of like the ‘it’ dancer in LA at the time. It was in a time when not that many dancers went overseas so an Aussie dancer to really do well commercially was unusual. He was the first Aussie dancer – sort of like the ‘Shannon dancer’ of now.

You know, we have been in that situation and Paula keeps saying, ‘we were one of you’ to the contestants. I think people forget, with Paula being on that Idol panel for so long that she is dance royalty! You look back at stuff that she’s done and choreographed for films, I mean she’s won Emmy awards and I think people just actually forget how much she has contributed to the dance industry. I mean she was TAUGHT by Gene Kelly! I’ve been trying to get her on the show for so long! I’m so glad that we’ve got her and she wants to be so hands-on with the dancers which I think they’re finding surprising that she actually is the first one on the stage talking about spotting their turn or doing this or straightening their back leg or …

What can SYTYCD bring to the Australian dance industry on the whole this year?

The thing is I really feel we need it just because it just spurs something in us. What I really love is reading all the tweets coming through during the show like ‘I so regret giving up dancing’, ‘watching the show makes me want to go and take class again’. It fuels back into the industry, it gets people remembering why socially they might want to take a salsa class or someone who’s given up realising ‘hey I shouldn’t have really given up and I want to throw myself back into it’. To me that’s what this show really is about.  For people like myself who produce, it also brings to the forefront Australian dancers that who I perhaps didn’t know about or they might go under the radar at auditions. I know that with ‘Burn the Floor’, if it wasn’t for So You Think You Can Dance, we wouldn’t have had half our cast. Jack Chambers and Robbie Kmetoni have all come to us through the show and I think that it’s kind of like a ‘crash’ Julliard’s course!

The other thing I love is that it gives a ballroom dancer an opportunity to work with someone like Kelley Abbey or Sarah Boulter, because that wouldn’t normally happen in our genre. I love that parallel learning experience. By the same token, contemporary dancers getting to work with the ballroom choreographers or seeing how they fare in Hip Hop with Jet. Just seeing how the whole thing keeps churning is, I think, great for our learning!

So You Think You Can Dance Australia airs 7.30pm Sundays on Channel 10.

A little more about Jason Gilkison …

Jason along with his dance partner Peta Roby created one of the most successful dance partnerships Australia has ever seen by becoming the undefeated Latin Champions from 1981 to 1997. During this time they also took the converted titles of World, British and International Champions, making them one of the most successful and respected couples in the industry. They were also honoured as the 1990 Young Australians of the Year.

In 2001, Jason accepted the coveted role of choreographer and artistic director for the ballroom and Latin dance spectacular Burn the Floor. Jason started by creating a new version from scratch, which aimed to create a more intimate and magical experience for theatregoers. His creative vision and ground-breaking choreography continues to inspire the dancers and evoke the emotion of audiences around the world. Burn the Floor has performed in over 40 countries and 161 cities and comes to Perth in April 2014.

Due to this success, Jason’s version of Burn the Floor – Ballroom Reinvented took up residence at the Longacre Theatre on Broadway, New York, for a hugely successful eight-month season in 2009, outdoing its initial season booking of just six weeks. It broke the box office record twice for ticket sales.

Continuing with his love of ballroom dancing, Jason works closely with the Strictly Come Dancing professionals in the UK as well as the Dancing With The Stars Professionals in the US to help highlight the skill and talent of ballroom and Latin dancers.

Jason is currently working as director of choreography for the BBC’s hit show Strictly Come Dancing in the UK.

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