Lorin Latarro (Photo provided by Lorin Latarro.)
By Ryan Leeds
Lorin Latarro can do wonders with baked goods. Currently, her choreography is represented in the Broadway musical Waitress, which tells the story of a small-town woman pinning her hopes on a pie contest. Earlier this week, her work premiered in Verdi’s La Traviata at the Metropolitan Opera. The newly conceived production is directed by Broadway’s Michael Mayer.
Later this winter, she’ll bring her moves Off-Broadway to new productions of Merrily We Roll Along as well as the new Tom Kitt musical, Superhero. She has also breathed motion into Huey Lewis’ music with World Premiere of The Heart of Rock and Roll in San Diego.
If that weren’t enough, she recently became a new mother, works as an adjunct professor at The Juilliard School, is an Associate Artist at Bucks County Playhouse, and is involved in the nonprofit she founded, ArtAmmo.org.
In the midst of it all, Ms. Latarro managed to take a few minutes to chat with The Broadway Blog about her projects and the art of dance.
BB: You have 14 Broadway shows under your belt. How did you make the switch from dancer to choreographer?
LL: I was always choreographing when I was dancing. I always loved it. I went to school at Juilliard and throughout my Broadway career as a dancer, I was always assisting other choreographers or working on my own material during the day. When I was dancing with MOMIX, the dancers devised all of their movements so there has never been any differentiation between choreographing and dancing for me. Now, 100 percent of my time is spent on creation.
BB: I imagine you took dance lessons as a child?
LL: Yes. I grew up 20 minutes from New York City so I saw Broadway shows every weekend and trained with some wonderful teachers here.
BB: What was the first spark that ignited your interest in dance?
LL: The King and I with Yul Brynner. I saw that and was mesmerized. Annie was my second show. I would keep the playbills out in my bedroom. In the theatre listings near the back of each playbill, I would circle the shows I’d want to see and put an X through them once I saw them. As a dancer, I would circle the shows I’d want to be in, and now, as a choreographer, I like to see my shows in the back of the program. It’s like an obsession.
BB: Did you grow up in a family of performers?
LL: No. Everybody in my family is doctors. However, it’s weirdly similar how the creative arts are aligned with the medical arts. It’s some sort of phenotype that translates.
BB: This is not your first fore into opera. You did Rigoletto at the Met too, right?
LL: Yes. I was the associate choreographer with Steven Hoggett.
BB: How does choreographing an opera differ from musical theater?
LL: The scope of opera is so giant. Not only are the voices gigantic and virtuosic, but the orchestra and costumes are giant too. It’s like Broadway times one hundred. Especially this opera. It’s traditional, lush, and large. I felt like I had to deliver that.
BB: Are you teaching the whole ensemble or just the principals?
LL: No. It’s everybody. I have Diana Damrau, who plays Violetta, dancing. She is a fantastic dancer. I happened to know her from Rigoletto. She is an extraordinary soprano who happens to be so much fun and is a lovely woman. She grew up dancing so I had plans for her the whole time. I have the chorus dancing, and then I have 16 dancers who I auditioned and hand-picked for a ballet in Act II.
BB: How do you decide in your mind how things will look? I’m sure that it must look different on paper than it does in the execution.
LL: I listen to the music repeatedly and decide what story I’d like to tell. I try to tell that in tandem with the music. I walk in with lots of ideas and walk through them with the dancers. Inevitably, the dancers have some ideas about what works for their bodies. I often physicalize something that I think the characters would actually do or say.
BB: Have you walked into projects where you don’t know the dance capabilities of individuals and how do you handle that?
LL: Sure. Many times. Ultimately, I’m utilizing the talents of the people in the room. It’s not that big of a deal to me. Whatever the artist brings to the table is what I’ll work with. Dancing is so self-sufficient. You can create a dance in a lab where you have no scenery and no costumes and you’ll know whether it works or not. The other stuff just adds to the storytelling elements. The beautiful thing about dance is that the only thing you need are bodies. That’s it. It’s really extraordinary.
BB: I understand that dancers will literally be flying through the air in this production of La Traviata. Is that right?
LL: Yes. By means of two men throwing one woman in the air over a giant bed. Martha Nichols and Garen Scribner are the two lead dancers and they are extraordinary, as are the other 14 dancers. But Nichols and Scribner are the two who are being thrown all over the place.
BB: In DANCE magazine, Elizabeth Streb, the famous contemporary instructor said, “I ask dancers to be 100 percent trained in every fiber of their bodies so they can come in here ready to crash and fly. I think any dancer who says, ‘No, I don’t want to do that’ isn’t curious enough to be in the STREB company. They can say, ‘I’m not ready to try that today.’ And they can say, ‘Let’s not do that again.’ When a dancer gets injured, I wish on that day I had stopped it. But we agree to get hurt.” What are your thoughts on that and do you have limits you won’t cross with your dancers?
LL: I don’t have many limitations. I think I’m very interested in pushing the boundaries of the human corporeal experience and from own experience as a dancer, I danced many hard dances and found them to be the most satisfying, so I’ll push my dancers to the limit. If it’s too hard, it won’t feel right or look right so we’ll change it. I always call dancers unicorns because they are extraordinary people. When dancers tell me something isn’t going to work, I believe them. They don’t just say it. They do it.
BB: Let’s talk about The Roundabout/Fiasco Theater’s production Merrily We Roll Along that you’re choreographing for Roundabout theater. Will you go back to the archives and replicate the original choreographer, or will you make it completely original?
LL: It will be completely different. I did not see the original production until after the workshop of our production. I walked into rehearsals knowing the music, the book, and the play that it had been based on. But on purpose, I didn’t watch the original nor the recent documentary that Lonny Price had done. I wanted to come to it with fresh eyes.
For more information on Lorin’s projects, visit her lorinlatarro.com.