Interview with Chris Evans, Associate Choreographer of Fiddler on the Roof
Posted on 07/04/2019
Fiddler on the Roof is the heartwarming story of fathers and daughters; husbands and wives; and life, love, and laughter, and it's coming to State Theatre New Jersey Dec 20-22. Associate Choreographer Chris Evans joins us to discuss working with choreographer Hofesh Shechter on updating the original choreography by the legendary Jerome Robbins.
Read the Transcribed Interview Below
with Bert, Kelly, and Hanna from All Access and special guest Chris Evans, Associate Choreographer of Fiddler on the Roof.
Bert: Welcome back to All Access with State Theatre New Jersey. And Kelly and Hanna, one of the real great things about all these great Broadway shows that are coming to State Theatre is we get to talk to some many different people that are all involved with the different shows and our next guest is joining us is going to be talking about a show that is coming up in December, right?
Kelly: Yes, one of my favorite all-time shows, Fiddler on the Roof, December 20, 21, and 22. And with us today is Chris Evans, the Associate Choreographer and I guess the all things dance-man for Fiddler on the Roof. Welcome Chris!
Chris: Thanks Kelly, thanks Hanna. Thanks for having me on the show.
Kelly: Yeah, so Chris tell us about your involvement with Fiddler on the Roofand how you landed the gig.
Chris: Well, I guess my story with Fiddler came from my kind of long long time relationship with Hofesh Shechter whose an Israeli-born but kind of UK-based choreographer who I’ve been working with for over 10 years now; and I was in his company straight out of school and we just had this brilliant working kind of relationship. I’ve always been part of every single creation he’s ever done and just being able to get into a studio and start from nothing and just create movement was my sort of story for 10 years and the Fiddler on the Roof kind of landed in his lap, primarily, but then it wasn’t long before he called me saying, “Chris, there’s this crazy opportunity where we’re just gonna kind of move over into the musical theater world for a brief time and make some dance. Do you want to be part of it?” And I yeah, of course. I just jumped at it. But yeah, that was the beginning of my, that was how I landed this amazing gig that which had a small period of time where I was kind of right in the middle of the creation process. I never dreamed that it would be something that kind of not only continued for so long but have also continued in a way where my personal responsibilities for it has, you know, just continued to elevate where this new tour that is happening now, I am kind of under one steering and doing the re-teaching and making sure the original source and everything kind of goes into the work and basically it’s been such a pleasure.
Hanna: Wow, that sounds like it’s a pretty incredible gig. [Chris: *chuckles* Yes, it is.] So, I’m going to ask one of the big questions up front: So, Fiddler on the Roof- it’s known as one of the few pieces of musical theater where the original Jerome Robbins choreography travels with the show and everybody whose kind of done Fiddler, you know, does the same bottle dance and they do the same thing and this revival that I was lucky enough to see when it was on Broadway has new choreography based, of course, on Jerome Robbins and everything he did that was attached to this piece. But so, what was that process like and going in and taking something that was so known and working it and reworking it so that way it is new, it’s in a modern era. The choreography comes from a modern era, obviously, the show takes place in 1905, but how was that process?
Chris: It was, I know it sounds like one of those processes that could be quite tentative when you’ve got such big shoes to fill. You’ve got just a, this whole legacy of choreography to kind of, you know, work around. But I think what was so lucky, is that first of all, Hofesh loved Fiddler on the Roof. It was just one of those things—one of those reasons why he jumped at the chance to do it—is because, you know, he grew up watching Fiddler on the Roof. He was very close to what Jerome Robbins’ choreography did for the story, did for him, and how it kind of had this value to how he grew up and enjoyed the film. And he, I don’t know, there was something wrapped up in it that he was already in love with, so to be inspired by something, was very very easy for him in a way where he didn’t have to try too hard to lean into or to lean away from it. It was kind of already in the veins of his excitement. I supposed the other way in which he was lucky was that Hofesh is a, he’s contemporary dance choreographer and kind of, you know, he’s always just makes his own stuff. He’s never really been in the seat of needing to collaborate with other people and he kind of, I don’t know, had a very truggy attitude to kind of make things. I think it keeps him, I think it’s when he’s at his most freed up, I suppose, creatively. But it was those two thing: him already loving the choreography and also walking in with this idea of, “I just want to be, I want to get the elements that I need to work with.” You know, the story, the community, what’s at the heart of it and just try to really fly, fly through it and not feel burdened or not feel under the weight of it. And I think what happened is that there was something about the way Hofesh’s choreography automatically lends itself to this idea of community or folk; that he managed to take some of these emblematic elements of Jerome’s work but brought to it a new feeling of something that is quite rooted much more in a faux-key place. Like people would dance like anyone in the community would dance, rather than sometimes, what my experience that can happen with musical theater is you can watch a dance number and be very much pulled towards—through the skill alone—pull towards that idea that you’re watching dances do something quite impressive and technical, where Hofesh’s choreography always seems to kind of seduce people into thinking, “Oh, I can do that!” [Kelly and Chris laugh]. So I think that was kind of the line that he was walking. So the short answer, it was quite easy but it was quite easy because it was already so much inspiration in the air; because it was Jerome’s work.
Kelly: Yeah, and when you guys were working on this, what was the most challenging piece, you know, or what was the most enjoyable, you know. I specifically think like the dream sequence, right like was that crazy or was that actually the easy one, I don’t know! What, and the levels, most enjoyable to most difficult, what for you guys were…
Chris: Hmmm, give me a second. That’s a great question. I think, I think most enjoyable was probably “To Life! L’chaim," because it’s just everything about it is just a joy; the choreography to get your teeth into. It’s so much storytelling and it’s, you know, kind of up there at the height of joy in the show as well. But also, you get away with so much showing off, like his virtuoso. It’s people managing to kind of, in otherwise a very tense environment in the story, and you know the Jews and the Russians in this bar and have to kind of, and in the inn, and try to sort of work out, share the same space. And it turns out that just this idea of being virtuoso, and showing, and disclaim. It’s such a great way to let dance do what it does best. And that was for sure the most enjoyable part was making stuff that was really, just getting nerdy about choreography actually, looked incredible. Um, I think the dream sequence was just one of the most craziest ones because that’s where Hofesh as a choreographer and Bart as a director had that, their most just kind of like let’s get our heads together and walk and talk through just some insane ideas and insane pictures and how, you know, how this idea that Tevye has this dream sequence and starts to kind of and starts to try and manipulate what happens gets a little bit sucked into the monster of his own creation that becomes this enormous, out-of-control dream sequence whose just a delight. So, that was probably the most surreal experience, especially for Hofesh who, you know, there’s five, six, seven, eight arms and legs and this whole storm of chaos. And I imagine the bottle dance was probably the most, I think it’s the most challenging for many reasons. It’s the most challenging because that’s probably the one that’s kind of the most, you know Jerome Robbins has put such a beautiful, massive footprint in that and that was the one that Hofesh wanted to kind of mess around with the least. You know, he just kept looking at it going, “Yeah, it’s awesome, what was made.” But, it also was so difficult, like being an associate choreographer is a mixture of making movement with Hofesh, but also being able to do everything in order to be that bridge of communication between Hofesh’s ideas and teaching to the dancers. My role more often becomes the kind of person who can show things very quickly to get people the idea of “this is what we’re doing.” And that was one of the moments where I was like, “Wow! This is actually really hard!”
Chris: This is very, you know, virtuoso, difficult, you know, stuff, so that was a real challenge; just the physical doing of it. It’s not breathy cardio work, it’s just extremely tense, you know, high consequence stuff.
Hanna: Alright, well we are chatting with Chris Evans, the Associate Choreographer for Fiddler on the Roof that is coming December 20, 21, and 22 of this year as part of our Broadway season. Thank you Chris so much for joining us. We are looking forward to seeing [Chris: Thank you so much] the show in December.
Chris: Brilliant, thanks. Great talking to you.