Steven Hoggett Brings Vampires and Superheroes to Life in Let the Right One In and Brooklynite
The esteemed choreographer shares his inspirations for making diverse characters dance onstage.
If you pay close attention, you can probably recognize the work of British movement director/choreographer Steven Hoggett: a signature sort of non-dance dancing that often utilizes jerky, deliberate gestures and distinctly human full-bodied movement as opposed to classic Broadway razzmatazz. You've likely seen his work in several shows, including The Last Ship, Once, Peter and the Starcatcher, The Glass Menagerie, and American Idiot, among many others.
The ever-in-demand Hoggett has two major projects he's working on these days: Brooklynite a new musical at the Vineyard Theatre inspired by the real-life Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company storefront, as well as the National Theatre of Scotland's theatrical adaptation of the Swedish novel and film Let the Right One In, now playing at Brooklyn's St. Ann's Warehouse. Not bad for a guy who doesn't have any particularly formal dance training.
In between running back and forth to rehearsals for both shows, Hoggett managed to find the time to give TheaterMania a glimpse of what it's like to create movement for humans, superheroes, and vampires.
You go back and forth between musicals and plays. Do you take a different approach depending on the genre?
Not really. I work from a sense of musicality. My background is English literature. If I'm faced with a page of text, I'm equally as happy as working with a score. But, I do love working from a score. There's a lot of joy I get from that.
How much of your work is created in collaboration with actors, as opposed to on your own?
Quite a lot, really. If I have a strong idea for something, I'll teach it from the front, but a lot of the time it's about being able to play with parts of the song. In terms of the industry, there's a strong sense of how I work; I tend to get the jobs with actors, rather than dancers. That suits me very well. I like to communicate with the actors and ask about physicality. The thing I have to be smart about is to make sure that I give them some space. Rehearsals are always limited, but you always get results if you give people a bit of playtime.
Where do you start on a piece like Brooklynite, which is completely original, and about a group of superheroes?
The thing about this piece is that they're regular people who were turned into superheroes. It's been quite interesting looking at superhuman capacity. We've been working on people's ideas of themselves being superheroes, rather than Superman and Batman kind of big beefy guys in tight clothing.
You've worked with Brooklynite director Michael Mayer before, on American Idiot, and several of your actors were in that show. How much shorthand do you all have now?
I'm responsible for setting something up as a first pass. Michael is an incredibly visual director and has a great sense of physicality. He will be the first person on my shoulder, and he always has great ideas. There's a lot to be said for working with a director who does facilitate you and gives you space, but is supportive, and the critique of your work is precise. There are a couple of guys here from the American Idiot company, so there's a basic I can work from. There are quite a few female performers I've never worked with before, and that has been a real pleasure. They educate me in terms of how they move and what kind of qualities they have. There's no point in a show like this having twelve people who move like me.
Let the Right One In, your latest project with John Tiffany, is currently running at St. Ann's Warehouse. That show involves humans and vampires. What was your inspiration for the physical work on that piece?
The big element was the concept of appetite; what happens in the body when it's starved of something and the physical effects it has on the body, as well as the act of feeding. What does it look like? Within the story, there are lots of things [the main character] can't do, so there's a sense of nausea and vomiting. It's an un-human physicality, but not an inhuman one.
Was a New York production in the cards from the beginning?
The spirit in which we made it was one that was never going to go anywhere. It was in Dundee, under the auspices of the National Theatre of Scotland, three weeks of performing there. [Editor's note: It then transferred to London's Royal Court Theatre and subsequently played London's Apollo Theatre on the West End.] It turned into something really beautiful. I've really loved it.
Do you have a favorite show you've worked on?
No, I'm far too promiscuous to ever say that.