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ISSUE 121 VOL 2 PUBLISHED 9/28/2007

Linda Talcott Lee shares 'the gift'

By Margaret Wade
Arts Editor

Friday, September 28, 2007

On Saturday morning, nearly 30 dance and theater enthusiasts gathered at Kelsey Theater to attend Linda Talcott Lee's master class on choreography sponsored by the Departments of Dance and Theater.

Linda Talcott Lee is an Emmy Award-Winning choreographer and Broadway performer. Originally from New York City, she recently relocated to the Twin Cities to teach at the University of Minnesota and prominent studios in Minneapolis and St. Paul. She has trained dancers in master classes and studios from Los Angeles to New York. Her choreography experience includes theater, film and television. She earned an Emmy Award for "The Comedy Hall of Fame Awards," starring Jason Alexander.

Linda Talcott Lee Dance Works provides musical theater workshops for performers. Last year, Lee choreographed "Urinetown" at St. Olaf, and this year she is working with "Blood Brothers."

The master class participants included theater majors, dance majors and cast members of "Blood Brothers." Lee created a welcoming environment for dancers and non-dancers alike. "For those of you who don't dance, don't worry," Lee said. "Don't compare yourself to anyone else. Listen to your body. Learning choreography is a talent in itself. Embrace imperfection. Just keep on moving with that intention. Always get the feet first."

The participants found a place on the floor, and Lee queued her iPod playlist with an emphatic, "Maestro!" The first track began with relaxing warm-up music, but in less than a minute the dancers were moving to high-energy Broadway tunes. A petite woman, Lee leaped across the floor with boundless energy and enthusiasm. "Yes I'm glad to be here," she shouted.

After the warm-up, Lee focused on the "Wheaties" part of the session, making classic technique approachable and fun. To teach a grand plié she described a bear scratching his neck on a tree, and the participants followed her dégagées and tendues when she said, "No Spanish today, just French!"

After a quick water break, Lee asked the dancers to line up in four lines for floor work in response to different character prompts. "Just have fun. There is not right or wrong in physical improvisation," she said.

The first character was a five-year-old, and the dancers transformed into a kindergarten class. David Rysdahl '09 even did cartwheels across the stage. "After doing this exercise for years, that is the most creative response I've ever seen," she said.

When Lee prompted the class to act like they were 95 years old. They responded by pushing imaginary walkers across the stage. Some characters were grumpy and others waved enthusiastically. Lee challenged them to consider different emotions, senses, and traits. After sharing a story of a famous ninety-year-old tap dancer, Lee was hopeful about the power of dance. "There are many things you can expand upon in an older person's life," she said.

Next, Lee asked the dancers to choose an animal or reptile, and a zoo of stampeding elephants, slithering snakes and graceful birds paraded across the floor.

Then, she challenged them to be a human being with a characteristic of the animal they chose. Lee explained how using an animal characteristic could inform the character you play on stage. "People are so interesting. There are all sorts of quirks," she said.

Finally, Lee transformed the dancers into Snoopy from "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown." The sequence included the "Broadway dogs" and "Joe Cool" who shimmies and laughs at Charlie Brown. "I just have a constant cartoon in my mind," she said. Her fosse-esque style imbued cool with subtle movement.

At the end of the session, she answered questions about her experience with choreography. In response to questions on her creative process, Lee explained, "I tend to be musically-oriented. I listen and listen and listen to find clue in music. It gives me a feeling to help the characters move. I take a lot of clues from the music."

Other students were interested in how Lee discovered choreography and discovered her niche.

"Choreography was a comedy of things I never expected," Lee said. "I started choreography when I was ten in my garage. My mother was a gym teacher, so I taught a dance class for her. As dancers you hold a choreographer on such a high pedestal, but I never felt like I had the gift. Every project I do is convincing myself that I have the gift." Shocked by her humility, the students exclaimed, "You have the gift!"

Lee gave the students advice on preparing for an audition. "The main thing about auditions is that it's a mind game," Lee said. "Get the steps. Don't beat yourself up; don't look at people. Fill yourself up with what you have to offer."

At the end of the session, Lee said, "It's such a joy for me to work with people like you. Sometimes 'dancer dancers' get creatively stunted and blocked off from all the energy theater people have. You are all very creatively willing. It's such a joy to watch you, I need popcorn!"

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