I have officially traded boas for baklava, jewels for jazz hands, aerial arts for Agrabah – and I couldn’t be happier.
When my friend Aubrey asked me if I would be interested in choreographing Aladdin Jr. for Desert Foothills Theater, it was a no brainer. This will be her directorial debut, she’s like a sister to me, deep in my gut I miss my high school theater days, and really, who doesn’t love Disney’s Aladdin?
But through this process, I’ve discovered heaps of motivation and satisfaction I didn’t plan for. It’s been a beautiful experience – one that I hope to repeat.
First of all, let’s talk about the kids.
I made the conscious decision to leave studio teaching behind a number of years ago. Don’t get me wrong – I love teaching kids. But there were always the kids who didn’t really want to be there. Recitals and competitions were exhausting and becoming more and more demoralizing (a lot of judges are bribed to award certain honors to certain studios that pay a certain amount of money to the competition itself – and don’t get me started on inappropriate costumes and music…). And let’s face it, sometimes studio politics can be hard to navigate, too.
The kids I’m working with on Aladdin take all of those past experiences and obliterate them. These kids want to be there. They work hard. They’ve learned a tremendous amount of music, choreography, and blocking since March…and they want more. I feel like when I’m teaching them something, it resonates. I only hope that what I share will help them get their dream part someday.
Secondly, let’s talk about my team. Director, music director, stage manager, choreographer…we’re all on the same page. We work collaboratively. We have the same expectations for the kids across the board. And we run a tight ship. There is very little that is tolerated at rehearsal. But we also manage to have fun, teach these kids a thing or two, and what we’re putting together is pretty special.
Next, there’s this spark of creativity that’s been resurrected in me. I’ve missed musical theater. I’ve missed it a lot. I watch these kids and I remember my own hours working on sets and learning lines and forming amazing bonds with other performers. I’m connecting to a part of me that’s been waiting in the wings since – goodness, probably high school. But it’s still there. And I’m feeding it now. It’s been so much fun to research images and dance styles and push myself to create character-driven movement that’s in line with the musical theater genre.
Watching my work danced back to me is such a cool feeling. I’ve been performing so much that I almost forgot how wonderful it is to place your vision on someone else and then watch it unfold. Sometimes, they’ll take it somewhere and make it something new and their own. Sometimes, you surprise yourself with what you’re able to create. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work and you have to create on the spot. All of it is rewarding.
Lastly, my back is playing nice in the sandbox! I’ll admit the first few rehearsals were a bit rough. But that was also the most physical I’d been in awhile. By the third rehearsal, I was enjoying the movement. I think that being involved in this production has allowed me to stay active without completely breaking my body down (as I’m infamous for doing when I’m injured).
So, long story short, I’ve been enjoying my Arabian nights. They’ve been so fulfilling. I’ve rediscovered some joy. I’m feeling accomplished and able. I’m really proud of this work – and I’m happy I can still announce that I’m a dancer at the end of the day.
If you’d like to get in on the magic, tickets for Aladdin Jr. are now available for purchase on DFT’s website. You could also choose to have tea with Jasmine. Mm hmm. I know you want to.
Come on down. Stop on by. Hop a carpet and fly to another Arabian night.
Photo licensing – Loren Javier