With abject fear and a large notebook full of blank pages.
That is how Steven Hoggett describes the way he approached the daunting task of adapting the Harry Potter phenomenon to the stage along with director John Tiffany, his longtime collaborator, and playwright Jack Thorne.
“If I can imagine it already, then I’m probably going to be bored,” said the British-born choreographer and movement director.
Fear is obviously a good motivator. “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” was a staggering critical and commercial success when it premiered in London last year, earning a record-breaking nine Olivier Awards. Now the show has been nominated for 10 Tony Awards, including a choreography nod for Hoggett, his fourth after “Once,” “Rocky” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”
Like that last production, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is not a musical, though the five-hour, two-part epic plays like one. To Imogen Heap’s evocative score, Hoggett puts bodies in seemingly constant motion, often astride dancing staircases. The performers swirl around the vast stage in cloaks and capes, making and remaking stage pictures in coordinated dance moves while brandishing props, including imaginatively used suitcases and, yes, wands.
However, for all the special effects, it is the simple use of stagecraft that tells the story of Albus Potter, the middle child of Harry and Ginny, who time-travels to correct the mistakes of the past. Hoggett’s movement choreography proves “that theatrical legerdemain doesn’t require fancy hydraulics,” as Times critic Charles McNulty wrote in his review.
Indeed, the choreographer says the cloaks, designed by Katrina Lindsay, gave him the first clue. “It was only then I had confidence the show could move in a smooth trajectory without blackouts or stops or starts,” he says. “I love when a company are the gears and mechanisms of the show. That’s how you become a true ensemble, connected to each other and to the audience.”
Another inspiration — this time for the fascistic tableaux in the court of Voldemort — came from an unlikely source: the New Zealand national rugby team. At the start of each game, the players do a version of the haka, an indigenous dance of the Maoris. “They do this sequence on the pitch to scare the [hell] out of their opponents. We didn’t want to do anything military, because we’d done that before,” the choreographer said, referring to the previous Hoggett-Tiffany collaboration “Black Watch.” “It’s unorthodox in style and feeling but right because it’s all about physical intimidation and ritual.
“We played a lot with ritual,” he adds. “‘What is it? And how does it look onstage?’”
If Hoggett scores a victory in this category dominated by musicals, he will become the first winner to hail from a play in more than 25 years.
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‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’
Total Tony nominations: 10
Other key races: Play, direction (John Tiffany), featured actor in a play (Anthony Boyle as Scorpius Malfoy), costume design (Katrina Lindsay)
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