Saturday, May 03, 2008

High School Musical Choreographer Raised in Vancouver 

Posted by James at 6:44 AM ET

By Stuart Derdeyn
The Province
One thing that holds true for the majority of successful dancers and choreographers is they started early. Mom was always there. And a classic show or film set them on their course.

Such is the case with Vancouver-raised Lisa Stevens.

Lisa StevensThe choreographer for the touring production of High School Musical that arrives in town this week began tripping the light fantastic at age four. At about 10, she caught Ann Reinking doing "You Better Stop, You Better Change" in All That Jazz and decided there really wasn't anything else she wanted to do with her life but dance.

"Mom started me in everything as a child, and we caught every show that we could," says Stevens. "I was hooked early on and started teaching and choreographing at around age 16."

Always a drama queen, she appeared in school musicals and plays, dance competitions, you name it. By age 19, she opened her first school with a staff of 12 and a student body of 400 getting schooled in acting, tap, jazz, ballet, piano, gymnastics and trying to master every Buzby Berkley musical movie number ever invented. As this city's film scene developed, movie roles followed.

Among the highlights on her TV and film resumé are Rumble in the Bronx with Jackie Chan, co-starring in the martial arts thriller Blood Ring II and a year-long stint as a Vancouver Grizzlies cheerleader. Oh yeah, there were also tours with Salt- Pepa and Coolio. Then she moved to London.

Faster than a cha-cha-cha, she was in the original Chicago company in the role of Annie, the Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat movie, and on and on. When she was back home, there were the Vancouver Playhouse musicals with Michael Shamata -- The Music Man, Fiddler On the Roof (winner of a Jessie Award for outstanding artistic achievement) and the Jessie-nominated Hello Dolly.

"Michael Shamata was a huge, huge influence on my choreographic career who changed everything. He was very firm about there being a story told in the dance. Everything needs to have a purpose and take things somewhere, or it's just a bunch of dancing tossed in for no reason."

She took this idea to High School Musical. It was just what the director was looking for as he battled with how to adapt such a mega-beloved show to the stage. For Stevens, the challenge was coming up with dance moves that weren't the same ones practised by every tween fan of the fim.

"To adapt a movie onto the stage, you have to rework the characters, try to strengthen the story and it's a whole different approach," she says. "Street jazz was something I did a lot in my early 20s but I'd never been able to use it in any of the classics that I'd choreographed.

"It was a breath of fresh air to add that kind of style into the mix, whereas Ryan and Sharpay were more classical and into [Bob] Fosse and old musicals."

The director of the show wanted all the actors to develop a back story to their roles to find their movement with that. She thinks it worked great in such hits as "Status Quo" or "Head in the Game."

Visit Lisa's Official Website here.

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