Caught on Camera
IN THE STUDIO: Just How Intense Does The Great Comet’s Most Raucous Number Get?
If you need a workout, Tony-nominated choreographer Sam Pinkleton teaches the moves to the Russian dance party’s “Balaga.”
Tony nominee Sam Pinkleton choreographed four Broadway shows this year: Heisenberg, Significant Other, Amélie, and Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.
Earning his first Tony nomination for The Great Comet, the show embodies Pinkleton’s overall perspective on movement. “My favorite thing about dancing is it’s a crazy animal things humans do,“ he says. “It”s crazy sometimes and it’s messy.”
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When he looks for dancers, he’s interested in “two things: I’m looking for real people. I’m looking for people who look like real humans not Broadway machines—although nothing against Broadway or machines,” he says, “and I’m looking for people who are willing to throw down.”
Like any choreographer, Pinkleton builds on the bodies in the room, but he emphasizes individual quirks moreso than tricks or skill sets. “It’s a little anti-Broadway-musical-theatre philosophy, but I think it’s pretty electric to see people just be themselves.”
As for working on Great Comet, Pinkleton admits, “I have loved this show since I saw it as an audience member at Ars Nova. I thought that [director] Rachel Chavkin and [writer] Dave [Malloy] were changing the world.”
In its move from Ars Nova to the Off-Broadway tent space to Broadway, the physical space the show inhabits grew and grew until it reached the full size of the Imperial Theatre. Pinkleton had to think of placing dancers around the theatre to give every audience member the same exhilarating experience without distracting from a scene’s focal point. “I think we all have to trust the soul of the show,” he says of navigating the space. “We all have to know what’s going on in every moment, we all have to know where the story is and then explode it outward, but as long as the whole room is tethered to what is happening you can go crazy. We have people upside down twerking in scenes.”
Playbill wanted in on the Russian dance party, and Pinkleton called in Great Comet ensemblists Azudi Onyejekwe (who has performed the show more times than any other company member) and Lauren Zakrin to teach a segment of “Balaga,” which Pinkleton describes as “a celebration of people just going wild without any kind of self consciousness.
“It’s like what happens at the greatest weddings. I think ‘Balaga’ taps into that moment where you’re like, ‘I don't care if people see me dance.‘”
Watch the video above for the full tutorial.