Set to a score comprised entirely of melodies by Richard Rodgers, Shall We Dance tells the story of one man\'s quest to find true love. His panoramic voyage transports us from the Orient to the Wild West by way of Russian folk dance, New York jazz and the delirious waltzes of a Viennese ballroom.
A live, 18-strong orchestra plays a ceaseless Rodgers score, which includes music from some of his best-loved musicals, including The King and I, Carousel, On Your Toes, Babes in Arms, Flower Drum Song and Oklahoma!. Cooper is joined in the 25-strong dance company by Emma Samms, Lorraine Stewart, Rachel Muldoon, Noi Tolmer, Pip Jordan, Ebony Molina, Tom Dwyer and Sarah Wildor (his frequent co-star and wife).
Outside of the ballet world, Adam Cooper rose to popular prominence as the lead Swan in Matthew Bourne\'s male Swan Lake for Adventures in Motion Pictures. On film, he appeared briefly as the adult Billy - again playing the Swan - in 2000’s Billy Elliot. Cooper has had success in musical theatre in On Your Toes and Singin\' in the Rain, both of which he choreographed and starred in at Sadler’s Wells, Guys and Dolls, Zorro and The Wizard of Oz. Also in musicals, he’s choreographed Grand Hotel, Side by Side by Sondheim and Carousel and directed Simply Cinderella at Leicester Curve.
Shall We Dance is Cooper’s first new production at Sadler’s Wells since his dance adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 2005. It premiered on 29 July 2009 (previews from 23 July) and continues until 30 August.
At last night’s Q&A, Cooper was joined by two of his dancers, Drew McOnie and David Paul Kierce. The discussion took place in the theatre immediately after the performance and was chaired by Whatsonstage.com editorial director Terri Paddock. Click on the \'play\' button above to listen to it in full. Edited transcript highlights follow …
On being lead dancer, choreographer & director
Adam Cooper: The main problem is time. We only had four weeks’ rehearsal to get this whole show choreographed and taught to the company so it meant that I had to split my time unbelievably. I choreographed most of Act One in the week before rehearsals began, which meant that when the company joined us, my assistants could be teaching the company the main group dances and I could be doing principal rehearsals in another room. It’s not an easy job, but it’s one that I relish - although I hate it at the same time! It always feels like I can’t give everything 100%, which is what I like to do. But I wasn’t given the choice. I was told that was what I had to do so that’s what I did! And as I say, I relish it because I relish being in control and I relish being on the stage, so you kind of take the rough with the smooth and just get on with it!
On Adam Cooper as the boss
David Paul Kierce: He’s extremely organised, he knew what he had to do so we walked in on the first day and it was all set up extremely well. He’s also very easygoing; I’ve never ever seen him lose his top or even be upset or unhappy – not in front of us, anyway! And then of course, he does it all, it’s inspirational. He gets up and does that every night, or every afternoon and every night, eight shows a week, and on top of that he has to deal with everything else that’s going on. So for me, over my time in the theatre world, it’s been an absolute pleasure and joy to work with this man. I’ve never come across anything like it. He’s also very open, he’ll say “this is what I want, go and do what you want”, and then he’ll give you an idea and if he doesn’t like it - well, hopefully he’ll tell you or you’ll never work with him again! He just deals with everything so well and so easily.
Drew McOnie: I think the really striking thing for me was that he really felt like a cast member. Considering the workload, when you actually think about what he has to take on artistically and physically, it’s impressive. And he’s still in the wings before the show and is quite happy to discuss things as you would with a partner. Directors and choreographers have this image of being untouchable in their own creative world, but right from the beginning, Adam’s been really approachable. I think everyone in the cast would agree that it’s given the whole show such an ease to it, and obviously because of Adam’s extensive experience as a performer himself, he approaches us like cast members and equals.
Adam Cooper: …I’ll pay them later.
On the evolution of the show
Adam Cooper: I wanted the show to be a visual experience, high-energy dancing and fabulous music together, celebrating Richard Rodgers. I’ve seen some other shows as tributes to other composers and it felt more like a revue to me - another number, another song and nothing to link it up. I wanted something to link the whole evening up so I came up with this very simple story of a man looking for love but always in different places with the wrong woman until right at the end when he chooses the right one. And yes, it does evolve because I like to involve the cast in certain aspects of the concept of the show – such as the Russian Fairground scene at the end of Act One. It is the most complex scene. When we got in the studio, it kind of took off in a way I never expected it to, which was partly a reaction of mine to what the dancers were doing but also the world sort of evolved within the studio without us realising. And that’s what great about this whole creative process: as a group, we can evolve a section like that. Some of it was how I intended it to be and some of it evolved throughout the rehearsal process although, as I say, we only had four weeks so we didn’t have much room to play around.
On the technicalities of playing puppets in a show
Drew McOnie: To begin with, it was really quite a challenge for us to make that smooth, but it’s amazing how dancers have this sort of muscle memory, to remember where you’re supposed to go. When we first looked at it, it looked terrifying. Then we did it and we realised it was terrifying! But now it’s actually kind of second nature. We’re having an absolute ball back there, it’s really fun. It was quite hard, but it is fun.
Adam Cooper: We had a few accidents.
Drew McOnie: Yeah, I wasn’t going to mention that.
David Kierce: Alright, it was my fault!