David Connolly has choreographed for TV, movies and the stage. This spring, he was at Halifax’s Neptune Theatre directing and choreographing a hit run of High School Musical, and that’s where his passion lies: Live dance.
“Television and film is certainly more far reaching,” he concedes. He choreographed the kids’ TV show The Doodlebops, which is in six languages around the world. “People are doing the Wobbly Whoopsy all over the world because I invented the Wobbly Whoopsy. When you’re having a really bad day, you’re like, ‘Oh, nope. There’s a kid in Spain doing the Wobbly Whoopsy,’” he laughs.
Choreographing on the set of Deepa Mehta’s Hollywood/Bollywood one winter, he found the dancers’ breath was fogging up the camera lens: He had them chew ice to cool their breath.
“You get to do it till it’s as right as it can be,” he says. “The energy exchange in live theatre between what the audience is giving and what the actors are giving is where the magic happens. Boy, do you ever miss that in TV and film.”
Connolly started his career acting on Broadway, but switched to choreography because it gave him greater control over his career. As a choreographer he’s “higher on the food chain” and the work is more stable.
“I see how very often (who gets the acting role) has nothing to do with talent,” he says. “At a certain point, there are ten people who can play that part, so it’s going to factor in nothing to do with you personally and everything to do with how you look with him, or where you live, or who the musical director loves or has worked with before.
“The insecurity (of acting) is probably part of what drove me to the other side. But there’s no greater reward for me than to make somebody laugh or think. That balances out the insecurity of not knowing where the next job is.”
Many fine arts university degrees offer choreography as part of a dance program. You don’t have to be a super dancer to choreograph: It’s more like a football coach teaching his star quarterback.
On its website, the University of Calgary’s dance program notes dancers have historically studied with companies. “A university fine arts education prepares you in a similar way,” it says.