The creative legacy of Michael Jackson may lie in the hands of Kenny Ortega, but looking at him you’d never know it. Sitting in a Toronto hotel room, the director and choreographer appears warm and relaxed despite the insanely high expectations that surround the release of This Is It.
Following the King of Pop’s sudden death in June, Ortega, tapped to choreograph Jackson’s London comeback shows, was handed the unenviable task of assembling a feature length film out of the rough footage shot during the rehearsals.
“I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t have a chance to sort of catch my breath or gain any distance or objectivity over what had happened,” he says. “It wasn’t my idea and in fact I said no.”
Despite his reservations, Ortega was a natural choice to helm the project. He previously choreographed Jackson’s Dangerous and HIStory tours in the ’90s and also had a strong film background, choreographing films like Dirty Dancing and directing the incredibly successful High School Musical trilogy. He did agree to take a look at the footage and weigh in as to whether he felt there was enough usable material for a film.
“I realized it was my responsibility,” he says.
“How could I turn it over to somebody else? It was our creation. We were doing this together.”
Ortega says no changes were made to the original footage.
“We didn’t add anything to it,” he says. “It’s the honest footage that existed from the moment that Michael made the announcement in London to the day that Michael died.”
From the preview footage, it’s clear the shows were a collaborative process between Jackson and his choreographer; Ortega can be seen standing on stage directing Jackson and backup dancers or heard off-screen discussing tweaks with the star.
The film will either confirm Jackson as the creative genius many claimed he was or expose him as the washed up nut-job that the tabloid media has framed him as for the past decade and a half.
“(This is) the story that the fans needed to see,” says Ortega. “The fans will really get a sense of the material Michael was planning for the show.”
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