TORONTO – While kitschy musical numbers are still the main focus of TV’s “Glee,” choreographer Zach Woodlee says he’s been called upon more and more to churn out toe-tapping routines to go along with the tunes.
In a chat Monday, Woodlee shared his enthusiasm for the show, his admiration for Canadian crooner/struggling dancer Cory Monteith, and the art of learning to dance in 90 minutes. “Glee” airs Tuesday on Global.
The Canadian Press: Last week’s Britney Spears episode was one of the most intensely choreographed episodes to date. Is it an indication of more elaborate numbers we might see this year?
ZW: It may be a little bit of foreshadowing but … you hit them hard and then let them breathe for the next one. They get bigger and then it’s like a rollercoaster. I know that Britney was huge, and then the next episode we’re doing is pretty gigantic as well so I think production also has to recoup after those sorts of episodes because they’re just so, so big.
The Canadian Press: How much time do you get for each episode?
ZW: The max, max, max time I get is eight hours but, like, the Britney numbers — the ones with Heather like “Slave 4 U” and “Me Against the Music,” it’s just an eight-hour day. They get one rehearsal and then we shoot it. But then some of the numbers, especially with the cast, it’s anywhere from an hour-and-a-half to four hours, depending if I can get them all. It’s crazy. Literally, I think I had the kids last week for a total of four hours but they learned three numbers. So I just throw information at them and it’s like, ‘This and this and this and this and this!’ And it’s kind of crazy how much they have to retain in such a small amount of time.
The Canadian Press: How are they coping with the learning curve?
ZW: They’re completely not dancers but, at this point, it sounds weird but after you work with someone for a while you develop a language and you learn sort of what each other is thinking and they know how to take in the information and translate it into their bodies and how to make it all happen. And they also know the time restraints that we’re on. There is not time to sit and think about it — it’s literally go go go go.
The Canadian Press: Do have a favourite cast member to choreograph for?
ZW: People usually ask if there’s a best one of something or a favourite of this or that but they’re all so, so different that … each one’s a different beast. So, Heather (Morris, who plays Brittany) is great to choreograph for like crazy, crazy dance stuff but then if you need a nice hard earthy number, Amber (Riley, as Mercedes) is just wonderful to put something on. Naya (Rivera as Santana) is great if you need a little bit of sexy in it, you know what I mean? They each are their own little ingredient in the recipe.
The Canadian Press: And I guess Cory Monteith (as Finn) is the comic relief?
ZW: Hah. Kind of, but in turn, he’s got muscle memory now, which is wonderful and he can learn a three-minute number in two hours and remember it and not have any questions or concerns, like he’s in it. He’s not the best dancer in the world but he definitely knows what he’s doing now and I think he also, to an extent, needs to cater to the captain of the football team dancing, you know what I mean?
The Canadian Press: Does he enjoy it?
ZW: Not all these actors that were cast ever thought they would be on the Glee Club. Mark (Salling), the one who plays Puck, he was literally just supposed to be a football bully and then all of a sudden in episode 2 he shows up to dance rehearsal and he’s like, ‘What am I doing here?’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, they just put you on the Glee Club so learn this dance’ and he’s like, ‘What? Are you kidding?’ A lot of them, they auditioned with a song and now they’re singing and dancing and part of the club and with Cory, he came into the show a little bit later in the pilot than the others and he walked into dance rehearsal … and he was like, ‘What am I getting into?’ But now he’s completely receptive and … he actually knows a lot of terminology. At the finale last year we had to rework something because of a vocal change and I had a quick easy out to flip-flop who needed to be singing and Cory was like, ‘Well, if I move on the five I can definitely get to her by three’ and it’s like, ‘What?’ He understands formation changes and it’s crazy how much of a dancer he’s sort of become in his own right.
The Canadian Press: And it’s crazy how “Glee” has gone from a show mainly about singing to a show also about dancing.
ZW: It is. In the beginning I don’t think it was supposed to be so hand-in-hand with each other but now it is, sort of one needs the other almost in a sense. It’s wonderful that they can sustain the audience with just a beautiful ballad but in turn it’s wonderful when you see people moving to the song that they’re singing.
The Canadian Press: And now you’ve got dancers like Harry Shum Jr. (as Mike Chang) more integrated into the cast this year.
ZW: Definitely. Harry I had met a couple years before or maybe a year prior to starting the show and I knew his girlfriend pretty well. I had hired her as a dancer and I was able to hire a couple people on as dancers and I was like, ‘Oh, I know this great guy Harry’ and since then it’s sort of like the Heather story — they are so so talented and such great people that it’s like they’ve created their own space in the show. Heather all of a sudden went from just this cheerleader and now she’s her own thread and Harry, the same thing is sort of happening.
The Canadian Press: What’s to come this season in new choreography, story, or guest stars?
ZW: Well, guest stars, it’s going to get crazy. I’m actually not privy to everything but I’m shocked at some of the lineup that I know I have rehearsals with and I’m like, ‘Oh my God.’ It’s going to be a lot different this coming season. And as far as the choreography and everything, in Season 1 we went to sectionals and we sent to regionals and we lost but now we have to go, in this short amount to time, we have to go all the way to nationals. I think it’s going to be a lot more performance-based just because we have so much more story to fit in and the show is about performing, you know.