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In November, the high-energy musical Flashdance – The Musical hits Tunbridge Wells. Kudos talked to its choreographer, dancer Matthew Cole, about his career and life on the other side of the spotlight
Tell us a bit about your background. Where are you from and where did you train?
I grew up in Colchester, Essex. At the age of 18, I went to study at a college in Epsom called Laine Theatre Arts, which is primarily a dance-based college but also does singing and acting. Its main priority is to get people to the West End, that’s what they cater for.
And it worked! As a performer, you appeared in numerous West End shows.
I’ve done Saturday Night Fever, Cats, Chicago, Guys & Dolls, Pricilla Queen of the Desert, Disney’s Beauty & the Beast… I feel very lucky. I’ve enjoyed a solid performing career, which has been fantastic, and that all came from having good training.
What has been the highlight of your performing career?
I loved doing Chicago, that was probably one of my favourite shows. It’s a strong dance show; it’s a sexy dance show. I really enjoyed it. I also very much enjoyed Saturday Night Fever, which was the first show that I performed in. It was energetic, high-paced, hard… to go into that straight out of college was very challenging and I enjoyed that challenge.
How and why did the switch to choreography come about?
It was something that I hadn’t thought about, but it was a natural progression for me. I was performing in the West End and on tour and eventually I got asked to be a Dance Captain. In the day-to-day running of the show, it’s your job to look after the choreography. You make sure everyone is doing it correctly, and if someone is off sick, you have to swap people about, so it gave me a chance to have some sort of responsibility. I then moved onto being an Assistant Choreographer, which was fantastic. I was assisting people like Karen Bruce, who has a wealth of shows to her name – Bodyguard is one that she is doing at the moment. She also did some Strictly Come Dancing and I was fortunate enough to assist her on that. I then started to do my own choreography and develop my career further.
Was it difficult to change direction?
It’s difficult in the beginning because you are sort of saying to people, “I can do this,” and someone at some point has to take a risk on you and say, “OK, I’ll pay you to do that job”. That’s 32
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hard. But it helps, in London especially, that there are a lot of dance schools and professional theatre schools where, if you can get in and choreograph, give you a platform to be able to show your work. That was one of the things that I was able to do, to go into these colleges, teach these young kids, choreograph them, and with video and social media these days it becomes a good outlet where you can show what you can do. I was very lucky; people picked up on it and started to employ me to do it professionally.
What qualities do you need to be a good choreographer?
I think there are several. Overall, you need good vision. I always think that the actual content of the steps comes last. The first thing I do, particularly for a musical, is to read the script and understand who these characters are, why we start dancing in these songs, where does that come from, what drives you into that choreography? Once you understand that, you then have to look at what your set design is. That, for me, very much influences what I am going to do on the stage. Then I listen to the music over and over and over again, get a feel of it, a sense of it. I try to visualise it in my head, what I think it should look like on a stage, how I think an audience would react to it. Once I have got all of those ideas solid and clear in my head, then I go into a studio, and with the help of an assistant, start choreographing steps. The process of getting to that point, where you choreograph those steps, actually takes quite a while.
Do you prefer being on the other side of the spotlight?
I absolutely prefer it. It’s so funny, for years I was in that world of being a competitive dancer. Now I get much more enjoyment from sitting on the other side and looking at something, seeing the audience and thinking, “I’ve created that. I remember sitting in my living room at home thinking how all these ideas will work,” and then suddenly you’re in a theatre with a few thousand people, watching your ideas, and it’s all come together. I get an enormous sense of pride from that. KUDOS SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017