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Hamilton dance captain Gregory Haney: 'Hamilton intelligently uses all the tools in the toolbox'
You already know this by know, but Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece Hamilton has taken the theatre world by storm. His dramatisation of the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton fuses an eclectic mix of rap, hip hop and traditional musical theatre to create a score quite unlike any heard on stage before.
While the score is looped on Spotify accounts around the world, Andy Blankenbuehler’s revered choreography can only be experienced on stage. Like its score, the award-winning routines also combine a range of different styles, making them a joy for dancers to perform.
How did you originally get involved with Hamilton over on Broadway?
I was actually doing Grease Live at the time with Thomas Kail, the director, and so the last week before we aired Grease, I got a call saying I’d be an additional swing for the company. I was in the show for a little over a year, and I covered six tracks in the show. I do the same amount in the London production alongside being the dance captain.
Was it Thomas who asked you if you wanted to come over with the London show?
Actually it was by happenstance, Stephanie Klemons, the associate choreographer to the show was at the theatre in New York and she had just come back from London doing the boot camp here, so I was just checking in with her to see how she was doing, and she said “we’re looking for an American to go over there” and asked if I’d be interested. I just took it from there.
What was your thought process at that time?
I’d always wanted to live abroad and have always felt like London has been a home to me when I came here first in 2005. There was just something that the city gave me that I’d never been given to me before. Also, both my parents were in the military and they were actually stationed in London when my mother was pregnant with me, and three months before I was due, she decided to go back to the states. I think I was supposed to be here!
You’re the only member of the London cast who has previous a Hamilton credit, from your point of view, is the London production a carbon copy of the New York one, or does it have its own character?
I think it definitely has its own character. I didn’t know how London was going to receive it, especially The King. The show itself has similarities such as the staging and choreography pretty much the same. There are a few tweaks here and there but that’s theatre.
What makes that choreography so special?
I think because it’s a melting pot; it has traditional musical theatre in it, it has hip-hop, it has jazz, it’s got ballet moments - it uses all the tools in the toolbox, but intelligently.
For a dancer who has trained in all those different disciplines, it must be quite joyous to have them all in one show.
Yes, but it’s also very hard. One of the things that Andy [Blankenbuehler, choreographer] told us in rehearsals was ‘’if it feels good you’re doing it wrong”. It’s all pointed to moving the story along and giving the audience a different attention to detail and perspective on where they should be drawing their focus. As a dance captain that’s my job; to maintain that and to make sure the company is still driving story along and putting focus where it needs to be.
What are your other responsibilities as dance captain?
There’s a warmup before the show which gives the opportunity to all come together. And we do notes, as the show moves on as it grows. I note the show with the resident choreographer and assistant dance captain, so there are three sets of eyes on the show, to make sure it’s not shifting in a way we don’t want it to.
The revolve is a pretty key set piece in the show, how do you put routines together in the rehearsal room?
When I first rehearsed the show it was just us walking round in a circle. We have three companies outside New York now that have designed a rehearsal deck so that from the very moment were done with vocal rehearsals, we have the revolves ready for us. It is a little bit jarring and everybody was a little afraid of it but by the end of the first week, people could do it without even looking down or holding on.
If any prospective Hamilton ensemble members were reading this, what advice would you give them about nailing their audition?
Individuality. I think going into the audition, if you stay true to what kind of performer you are, you’re going to be seen brighter than others. The original cast was bunch of rebellious artists that had a voice and a clear stand on who they were and they all collectively joined together, and it made this beautiful show. I feel that same kind of cocktail of energy is on the stage at the Victoria Palace.
This is your London debut, but which other West End show would you perform in if you could?