McKerrow and Gardner demonstrate a move described as “looking through the bushes.”
After giving the actors a final pointer, John Gardner moves across stage to get out of the way. But he doesn’t just walk; he leaps and twirls with the grace of a seasoned dancer.
Gardner and his wife, Amanda McKerrow, worked together to choreograph the four dances in The Winter’s Tale.
The couple met Joe McGrath, the Rogue Theatre’s artistic director, when he was Drosselmeyer in Ballet Tucson’s The Nutcracker. After becoming friends during their work at the Ballet, the pair saw a few shows at the Rogue.
“We really love what they’re doing here,” Gardner said.
They’d been wanting to collaborate with McGrath for a while when finally, about a year ago, Cynthia Meier and McGrath asked them to choreograph for the theatre. They’d worked before with a lot of ballet companies and some operas, but never for a production like this.
For The Winter’s Tale, “Cynthia had blocked out a lot of the beginning of the minuet and we just kind of filled it in,” McKerrow said. “The three other ones we did completely.”
The first dance is set in Sicilia while the other three occur in Bohemia. This distinction is evident in the style of the dances.
According to Gardner, “The minuet is very formal, period dance. They’re formal aristocratic dances.” McKerrow added that “it’s for people of higher stations; kings and queens. So there’s straight necks and upper bodies.”
The pastoral qualities of Bohemia reflect in the tone the dances set. “There is a certain ritualistic feeling to it,” McKerrow said. “Like a tradition.” But there’s much more fun to it. “They’re shepards,” McKerrow explained. “They get to be a little more free.”
Gardner described the first Bohemia dance as “more of a celebration, so it starts to be more free form.”
“It can be a little wild,” McKerrow said with a laugh. “And speaking of wild, the third dance is pretty wild.”
The satyr dance.
One of the most humorous parts of the play, it features most of the male cast prancing around on stage making comically suggestive poses and noises. “It’s men displaying their virility,” Gardner said. “So it’s suggestive to that. It should be funny without being explicit.”
The long-nosed masks used as props in this scene add to the humor. “It’s a celebration of male potency, McKerrow added. “Just men celebrating being men.”
The most challenging aspect of this experience was the time. They had conflicting schedules and the fact that Gardner and McKerrow don’t live in Tucson only complicated matters.
“But it’s been great collaborating with Paul,” Gardner said. “He likes to improvise a lot but we met in the middle to figure out a sort of structure.”
They were working against the deadline of an opening night. But the time factor wasn’t as significant as they’d feared. “They all take direction so well,” McKerrow said.
“And Cynthia was so specific in what she wanted,” Gardner said. According to him, as long as you know what you want to say, coming up with the choreography is easier. “Cynthia was very clear.”
Though they’ve devoted their whole careers to dance, McKerrow said she would still like to learn about the more vocally focused profession of acting.
“I was too shy to use my voice. Dance appealed to me as a way to express myself without my voice,” she said. “It’s really been fun seeing not just the differences but the similarities in what we do,” McKerrow said. “It’s great, it’s always good to learn.”
Matt Walley leaps across the stage during a dance in Bohemia.