Dana Jolly – Choreographer for 'Scoundrels'

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Choreographer Dana Jolly began her career at the tender age of nine in the musical Gypsy at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne. As a VCA graduate Dana danced with the Victorian State Opera and the Australian Contemporary Dance Company before moving to London to further her career. From 1989 to 1999 Dana travelled throughout Europe dancing and choreographing with numerous theatre, film and TV credits to her name and working with artists such as Ray Charles, Madonna, Gloria Estefan and Prince to name a few. Various projects back in Australia have included choreography for several Australian pop artists, productions of We Will Rock You, The Producers, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and much more.
We had a chance to chat to Dana last week about her role as choreographer for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels …
What was your process in determining the style of choreography for each act in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels?
“It’s quite a varied show, lots of big production numbers and the French Riviera numbers are all very elegant, very sophisticated but the great writing of the show really determines where I need to go with it. For example Jolene’s scene – she’s from Oklahoma – so we have a massive big, fun, hoedown kind of number for that one. I’ve tried to put as much variation in there with the tango and that sort of thing and a bit of a 60’s flavour but not too much overkill because the costuming and wigs already suggest the 60’s.”
What can you tell us about the fabulous dancers in the ensemble?
“They are all beautifully trained but very very different, which is what the Director Roger Hodgman and I really loved having. Because they are all very different, it means you have to work just that little bit harder to get them unified but they bring so much character because they all have interesting qualities about them. As well as being really great dancers, they’re all fabulous singers and two thirds of our dancers are actually covers for the leads as well so they’re super-talented. They can dance, but they can sing and hold down roles as well.”
What do you look for when you’re auditioning?
“Obviously good technique because my choreography is quite complex and technical. I came through Classical Ballet and Contemporary grounding and then swapped over to musical theatre so I really love beautiful training and poise, but at the same time there has to be great personality, expression and versatility. I seem to do shows that have great diversity in them so I need people that can bring that.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a very funny show, did you enjoy it in production?
“It is the funniest show I have ever had the opportunity of working with and I’m just so happy that George (Youakim, Producer) has put it on and I really hope that he gets a great success and that everybody in Sydney heads to the show … once they get to the theatre, I think they’re just going to LOVE IT! There’s something for everybody!
What was the process in pre-production for yourself as choreographer?
“I did about 120 hours of preparation before we started rehearsals, and the last 40 hours was with my assistant showing him what my plans were and we were bouncing things off each other. I do a lot of pre-planning preparation and chart the whole show, blocking etc. I have everybody’s names on the blocking sheet – I’m pedantic! I had everybody down so I knew where everybody was at all times which tends to help the lighting directors, designers and stage directors so they know where all the trees are going and they can start to plot their paths. I worked very closely with the Director (Roger Hodgman), Costumes (Teresa Negroponte) and Lighting Designer (Nicholas Rayment) to make sure that all of the elements come together and that our vision is ‘on the same page’. It takes lots of conversations and then you find an even ground. The costume designer and lighting designer and I had a lot of skype and telephone conversations prior to rehearsals starting and during rehearsals a couple of things got changed … but its been a very smooth process really.”
What advice can you give to our dancers regarding the path they should take if they want a career in Musical Theatre?
“Definitely get yourself into a good full-time course where you are getting the best people teaching singing, dancing and acting. Then once you complete your course get yourself out doing classes as much as you can so that people are getting to know you and see you because most of us teach class as well. When you go to auditions, don’t let it knock you down if you don’t get it because there are very specific requirements that sometimes you don’t realise – I know I didn’t as a performer initially. You might do a really good audition but you don’t know why you didn’t get the job, you just have to go ‘well obviously I’m not right for this position’ and it will be something else – you just have to keep out there constantly doing your classes and keep honing your skills, get some acting classes in – all that sort of stuff – and just keep yourself on it, and the right thing will come along when it can. The hard bit is keeping yourself motivated, waiting for those positions to come along. Keep honing your skills and getting as good as you can because nowadays they are all ‘triple  threats’ … the singers are dancing well, the dancers are singing well, and they’re all starting to act, so you just need to make sure that if you’re a dancer, get that singing happening; if you’re a singer, get that movement happening, and get to acting class!”