“Craziest Thing I’ve Ever Done”: How In the Heights pulled off their most spectacular dance numbers | Dance

Christopher Scott is baffled. “I hear over and over again, ‘Musicals aren’t really my thing.’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t even know what that means. You don’t like music? Don’t you like to dance? ‘

A lot of people who “don’t like musicals” will like the one Scott just choreographed. In the Heights was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda in 2005, before his mega-hit with Hamilton, and is set in the largely Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights, just south of where Miranda grew up in Manhattan. Now turned into a movie, starring Hamilton alumnus Anthony Ramos and LA Law’s Jimmy Smits, it’s a beautiful story of identity, belonging and a secret lottery winning, full of heart, rich in character. and overflowing with music.

In the Heights was a dream job for Scott, 37, continuing a long working relationship with director Jon Chu who, before directing Crazy Rich Asians, created the web series LXD: The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, on a band of dancers with superpowers. Scott liked to put footsteps on Miranda’s music and lyrics. “What a voice Lin has, his ability to tell stories,” Scott says. “I grew up with hip-hop and when you hear Lin’s rap, it’s not your typical musical theater rap – this guy is dropping bars!”

Christopher Scott is working on the set of In the Heights. Photography: Warner Bros

He used Miranda’s flow as the basis for the choreography: “You use her cadence, her metaphors and translate that into movement. One of the biggest challenges wasn’t stepping on it because the lyrics are so important. You can’t miss a piece of history to see a cool dance step.

Watch the trailer for In the Heights

The score is steeped in Latin rhythms, as well as hip-hop, and there are more styles of dance on screen than in any other movie, from contemporary ballet to B-boying to styles of flexing New York street and litefeet. Scott himself started out as a tap dancer, performing on the streets of Santa Monica, California, and danced in the Step Up films before choreographing for the TV shows Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, as well as for Taylor Swift and Gloria Estéfan. He was excited about the cultural mix of In the Heights, but knew it had to be a collaborative project. “You have to make sure the styles are represented correctly when you bring them into the commercial world,” he says. “In making this movie, I learned that salsa as a dance doesn’t really exist – it’s called mambo, but it got messed up when the music was released.”

On the set of In the Heights.
“This is the craziest thing I’ve ever done” … on the set of In the Heights. Photography: Macall Polay

Scott wanted to get it right, so he brought in dancer Eddie Torres Jr to handle the Latin styles. “He’s a genius in the styles of mambo and son and Afro-Cuban, so he educated me throughout and it was amazing to have this beautiful exchange of culture.” The ballet was entrusted to Ebony Williams, “an incredible beast of a dancer,” according to Scott. Williams, who was classically trained, is best known as one of Beyoncé’s bachelors. Meanwhile, Emilio Dosal (“like a sponge for all street styles”) was popping, breaking and house dancing. Scott even used the specialties of the dancers in the cast, finding that a dancer was an expert at tutting – an elaborate finger dance.

They all come together in one centerpiece, the song 96,000, where all the characters speculate on what they would do with a $ 96,000 lottery jackpot. The act was filmed in a public outdoor swimming pool, the kind of place where all life goes on the hottest days of the year. It was a huge logistics triumph, with 90 dancers in and out of the pool – out of a total of 200 dancers in the film. “It was the craziest thing I ever did,” Scott says.

Scott is respectful of different dance cultures while liking how they can feed off and evolve – at an increasing rate since the advent of the internet. Once, on a trip to Trinidad, he met a dancer whose style he recognized and realized he was copying a routine from Scott’s friend, the American dancer. Madd Chadd. “This kid probably watched his YouTube video 500 times. It crosses the ocean, they take it and create something, and then we watch it in the United States and the dance evolves. What these kids are doing now is crazy.

Anthony Ramos and Melissa Barrera in In the Heights.
‘We are all dancers’ … Anthony Ramos and Melissa Barrera in In the Heights. Photograph: Macall Polay / AP

The TikTok video sharing platform played a big role in this exchange. “It’s making dancing accessible to everyone who wants to do it all over the world, who thinks, ‘I can copy this.'”

Everyone should be dancing, Scott thinks. “We are all dancers,” he says. “Dancing is not something you do or don’t do. It’s like an emotion, a feeling we have: you are happy, you are sad, you dance. At the end of the wars, people go out and dance in the streets. It is powerful. Is this what will happen when this pandemic ends? “I hope the whole world will do a big TikTok together,” he laughs. “I want everyone to do the mambo.”

In the Heights releases June 11 in the US, June 18 in the UK, and June 24 in Australia.

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