Co-op choreographers step up to the challenge

SIX choreographers - including two who have worked for Disney - have added their magic to the Co-op Juniors Theatre Company’s Christmas Spectacular at Snape Maltings Concert Hall.

Giving young talent the opportunity to develop their skills and to pass those on to other members of the company is an important part of the group’s success.

“We’ve always encouraged new talent,” says co-director Pauline Walker. “This year we had a team of choreographers working with us to come up with numbers for the show.”

Co-director Jeannie Ingram adds: “Each year we have to produce something fresh, so it’s always an inspiration to see what other people come up with! I think that’s what keeps us going.”

Kerry Sayer, who choreographed most of the show in previous years, shares the creative load this year with company members Luke Cattermole, Sarah-Jane Cutting, Rosie Fuller, Maria Cross and Oliver Brett.

“It’s great to see new people bring their own ideas to the stage,” says Kerry. “I enjoy choreography, but a two-hour show made up of musical numbers is pretty demanding!”

Oliver, 20, managed to squeeze in choreographing Step in Time from Mary Poppins before heading off to Tokyo to work for Disney.

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Both he and Luke, also 20, had previously performed at Disneyland Paris.

Oliver had a principal role in Disney’s Beauty and The Beast at the Ipswich Regent this summer and played the lead of Troy Bolton in High School Musical and its sequel at the Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge.

He says his experience with the Co-op Juniors helps in his work with Disney.

“At Disneyland Tokyo I have to give the impression of a first performance every single day,” he says.

“The disciplines I learned with the Juniors - team-work, consistency and high performance standards - are so important. I combine those with a real passion for creating something onstage for the audience to enjoy.”

The choice of the classic chimney-sweep number from the musical Mary Poppins was an inspired one, combining energy and humour.

“The choreography developed with each rehearsal, as all the chimney sweeps have their own styles and personalities. Pulled apart, it’s a very complicated dance with specific moves designed to look un-choreographed.

“The dancers would collapse after every run, it was so exhausting, but they’re having such fun doing it.”

Luke, who played Ryan in High School Musical 2 with the Juniors in 2009, relished the opportunity to work in different styles with no less than five numbers.

His concept for a Cheryl Cole song renamed Lights for This Love in this year’s Christmas Spectacular - which opened last weekend - also took in costume design, with lights sewn into the fabric for a unique effect.

“I always see it as a complete performance, not just choreography. It’s the choice of music, the costumes and lighting, the mood of the piece. That sets the scene for the dancers to be innovative,” he adds.

Faced with the prospect of fitting 83 dancers into the act one finale, Come Follow The Band from Barnum, he took a deep breath and started planning the moves before teaching the huge cast.

“That was a marathon,” he laughs.

The Sinatra classic Come Fly With Me, first recorded in 1958, was one of his favourites to work on.

“It’s so stylish and elegant,” Luke says. “The music and lyrics have a very different feel to anything else in the show and that inspired me.”

Maria Cross, a cast member for 12 years, is making her choreographic debut at 18.

“It was a different challenge to choreograph two numbers,” she says. “I like a contemporary, modern style and I enjoy ballet as well. Working with the dancers was a lot of fun.”

Sarah-Jane and Rosie both run successful Co-op dancing classes in Suffolk as part of their work with the group and have years of experience between them to bring different styles to the stage.

Sarah-Jane, 24, who has her own event and disco business, is used to seeing people go wild on the dance floor!

“I’ve seen every style of dancing at parties, but making a musical number come alive through dance for a big show like this is a different and exciting process,” she laughs. “The various age groups in the Co-op Juniors are all remarkably talented and I enjoy pushing them to try new things. That’s how they learn.”

She hopes her showcase tap-dance number will have the audience toe-tapping in unison.

Rosie, 24, who runs a weekly dancing class in Stowmarket and two in Ipswich, also helps her mother, Irene, in the Co-op Juniors’ busy wardrobe hire department, supplying costumes for schools, amateur theatre companies, fancy dress and parties.

She says: “I love choreographing a new number from scratch, and seeing it develop. I’ve been with the group since 1992, so the commitment of the cast is something I take for granted. They still take me by surprise and I encourage them to contribute ideas.”

Christmas Spectacular! with the Co-op Juniors Theatre Company is at Snape Maltings Concert Hall until December 21.

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