INTERVIEW | Kirra Sibel
Up-and-Coming Choreographer takes on Memphis the Musical
Interview by Heather Clements
Making its Australian premiere, Memphis The Musical will also see the debut of Kirra Sibel, 26, as she takes on the choreography in this rock ‘n’ roll story of love and social change in her first big gig behind the curtain with StageArt.
Memphis, set in the 50s, is about a white radio DJ who wants to change the world and a black club singer who is ready for her big break. It is an incredible journey to the ends of the airwaves – filled with laughter, soaring emotion and roof-raising rock ‘n’ roll. This racially explosive story transports audiences back to Memphis in the 1950s, when rock ‘n’ roll was about to take over the world, when people were screaming for social progress, and when falling in forbidden love was not just frowned upon, it was a crime.
We spoke to Kirra about her work on this exciting, toe-tapping show.
PLUS! … Win a Double Pass to see Memphis on any evening of your choice! To enter send in your name and mobile number to firstname.lastname@example.org with title ‘Memphis Comp’. Closes Sept 22.
Q: How did you get involved with this production and StageArt?
Last year I did an internship with StageArt which is how I got to know everybody, and when they announced the new show I got in touch and jumped at the chance to be the choreographer! I really like StageArt as they always do really interesting productions and have incredibly diverse casts … they are not like every other production company.
Q: Tell me about yourself and how you got involved in musical theatre?
I trained in musical theatre with ShowFit at Central Stage Performing Arts School for 2 yrs. I was also doing lots of short courses and keeping up all my dance classes and singing lessons … and kept auditioning. I also worked in a USA summer school camp for several months, just out of Boston, where I was head of dance which was so much fun… a great experience. I got asked to choreographing a few shows in the amateur world … then I realised how much I loved being on the other side of a production! Over the last couple of years I have choreographed on a few amateur company productions .. then I approached StageArt when Memphis came up. This is my first professional job!
Q: What is your interpretation of the MEMPHIS story and what that means for you as a choreographer?
The basic story is that the leading man is a white DJ who comes across a group of ‘coloured’ people one night and follows them down to a ‘cider bar’ where he discovers Felicia, who is an incredible singer … he says he is going to put her on the radio (which he hosts). But he is a DJ on a ‘white’ radio station which would never play music by coloured artists! But he succeeds and gets her played on air. It is set in the 1950s when there was open racism and segregation and especially in Memphis, the the south of the US, it was deeply ingrained.
In terms of choreography we have 2 casts – a black cast and a white cast – and the choreography and music differentiates the two very clearly.
For the coloured cast it is a very loose, groovy, relaxed style with a lot of partner work… Then when it comes to the white cast it is very stiff, upright, closed-in and proper … So the audience can really see the difference between the two styles and cultures in the show, which ultimately reflects the divide in the community of the time and the storyline. Then, when the the two start to cross over it is quite fantastic in terms of blending the dance and music styles.
All the cast are quite capable dancers, which helps! And of course younger generations will recognise James Elmer in the lead role of the DJ Huey from his work on ABC TV children’s shows.
Q: What have been the challenges and highlights of bringing MEMPHIS to the stage?
The main challenges have been in interpreting the styles of the movement from the 1950s required for this story … I haven’t worked in the 50s style before so I had to do my research and find the appropriate movements for the choreography … it’s been fun but a great challenge.
All the music is original (music and lyrics by David Bryan), and there is a definite, distinct differentiation between the music of the ‘blacks’ and the ‘whites’. At this time we can see the ‘relaxed’ style of the blacks compared with the ‘stiff’ style of the whites … and then we can see when they start to cross over.
And then the highlights are just being apart of the show! Because I love the musical and its story is incredible and the music that goes along with it is just so powerful … so to be apart of it and bring it to the stage is amazing!!
Q: What was your research for this show?
The director sent me a few links to old stuff like Tina Turner, Motown, Jackson Five and really cool partner jazz dancing… as well as ‘old school’ classic musicals. Then I just had to try it our and out it into action on stage.
Q: What should people expect from this show and why should they come?
The music and orchestration is absolutely incredible! You will be bopping along in your seats … and you will be very moved by the storyline. It’s a great show with a talented cast.
Read our previous story on Memphis The Musical here.
MEMPHIS THE MUSICAL
From 6 October 2017
Chapel off Chapel, Prahran
Tickets on NOW ON SALE at www.stageart.com.au
BIO | KIRRA SIBEL
Kirra has studied at schools such as VCA, Danceworld Studios 301 and Centrestage Performing Arts School (Showfit) in Musical Theatre, Drama and a variety of Dance disciplines. Since then, Kirra has performed in several shows; ‘All Shook Up’ (CLOC), Gladys in ‘42nd Street’ (CLOC), as Pilar in ‘Legally Blonde’ (CLOC), ‘PS I’m Fabulous’ (Ford & Sly) and as Kate [Cover] in ‘Titanic’ (StageArt). As well as performing, she has taught dance internationally in the USA and has continued to teach dance, drama and musical theatre in schools around Melbourne. Currently, Kirra is also studying a Dance & Drama Teaching Degree at Deakin University. In 2015, Kirra received a Lyrebird Youth Nomination for Best Choreography for Mount Scopus Memorial College’s production of ‘Seussical’ and has also choreographed a number of other musicals; ‘Guys and Dolls’ (Mount Scopus Memorial College) ‘Mary Poppins’ (Mount Scopus Memorial College) ‘Legally Blonde’ (Mentone Grammar) ‘The Little Mermaid’ (Windmill Theatre Company, 2016 Guild Nomination Best Choreography) ‘Chicago’ (Windmill Theatre Company).