The Choreographers: Wade Robson learns to dance like a penguin
Wade Robson has directed music videos for the likes of ‘N Sync and Britney Spears, hosted the 2003 MTV series “The Wade Robson Project” and has been a judge and choreographer on Fox’s competition series “So You Think You Can Dance” since 2007.
And now his choreography is for the birds — specifically adorable singing and dancing animated penguins. He’s choreographed the opening number of “Happy Feet Two,” the 3-D sequel to the 2006 Oscar-winning animated comedy, which opens Nov. 18.
Robson used 15 dancers to perform the opening dance number that was shot by motion capture in Sydney, Australia, last year. “Obviously, you are suspending disbelief with dancing penguins but there was a huge mantra from director George Miller that there are all of these rules in penguin biology and we have to follow them as much as possible,” said Robson.
“There are moments when we push it a bit. I had these two assistants who worked on the previous film and they had been through this whole process already. They had gone through intense penguin school and they were the ones who knew all the rules. I would start going nuts [with the choreography] and they would say, ‘Penguins don’t do that.’”
Tony Award-winning tap genius Savion Glover returned for the sequel to once again do the choreography and motion-capture dancing for the hero penguin Mumble (Elijah Wood). In this outing, Mumble discovers his little son Erik has two left feet.
“It’s the first time I ever worked with him,” said Robson of Glover. “It was a real interesting process. I am sort of a tyrant for rehearsal. He’s the complete opposite. He’s an improv artist. I would be going through the whole description of the number and he would be nodding his head. I would say, ‘Do you want to rehearse that?’ and he’d say, ‘No, let’s shoot it.’ He just goes.”
Robson, who also co-produced the soundtrack with composer John Powell, said, “The deal with ‘Happy Feet’ is picking all of these really famous songs that are applicable.”
Among the hits featured are “Mama Said Knock You Out,” by L.L. Cool J and “SexyBack” by Justin Timberlake. It was Robson’s idea to add Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” to the mix “as the base of the sequence. It has been one of my favorite songs. It spoke to me.”
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