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Inspiration, perspiration and preparation: Dayna Tekatch’s ingedients for successfully choreographing Globe Theatre’s Wizard of Oz

November 20, 2012

 As choreographer for The Wizard of Oz, Dayna Tekatch rolled up her sleeves and went to work several weeks before the company convened in Regina to begin rehearsals for the Globe Theatre production. “It has to be that way,” she says. “It’s the nature of the beast.”

Dayna Tekatch, Choreographer for Globe Theatre’s Wizard of Oz (2012)

While this show is not “difficult” to choreograph, “it certainly presents challenges,” and challenges are overcome by inspiration and perspiration, but most of all by preparation.

First there were consultations with director Joey Tremblay, and then, in her home in Toronto, Tekatch sat down with existing notes, sketches of set and costume designs, and photographs of the 12 performers. “You have to acquire an intimate knowledge of the score and the concept,” she says. “If you haven’t done your homework, you might have to start over again when you actually arrive at the theatre, and believe me, you don’t want that.”

What you do want is choreography that is firmly in place, so that the cast can hit the ground running, or dancing, but which is also flexible enough to accommodate improvisation and last-minute changes, if necessary. In this case, Tekatch had it down to a T, with one exception. “There was a sequence,” she says, “where I didn’t know there would be a bed in the middle of the stage. It was easily fixed.”

Tekatch had not worked at the Globe before. Indeed, this was her first visit to the Prairies. The space itself is a key component of every show. “They call it theatre in-the-round,” she says, “but the stage is almost a perfect square.” Not to mention, the aisles themselves come into play. Tekatch watched rehearsal from the different seating locations, to ensure that her choreography fit from all angles. “I think of it very much as a kaleidoscope. If you shift the perspective even slightly, the entire look changes.”

It has come together “amazingly well,” and this she credits to Tremblay and “a beautiful group of people, who have a wonderful chemistry and are all very comfortable with this production.”

The show has about a dozen musical numbers. There are transitions, as well, and these too are choreographed. The movement is economical, not only because it must be, but also because Tekatch prefers movement that is strictly functional. “To me,” she says, “it isn’t interesting unless it facilitates the story. If it doesn’t, it shouldn’t be on the stage.”

The operative word is: minimalism. “The simplicity of the production is so heart-grabbing,” Tekatch says, “and I think that’s because it has a child-like quality. It’s all heart. Heart and clown. I love it.”

The Wizard of Oz, thanks to the iconic 1939 MGM movie, “is a classic film, but not a classic stage show,” Tekatch says. “Everyone has seen the film, but few people have seen the stage show.” And although it translates well from the screen, there was no pressure, or even temptation, to clone it. This is just as well. “You can’t produce film onstage. It would be foolish to even try.”

Done well, choreography is seamless. But it isn’t invisible. Do theatre audiences understand it, or even appreciate it? You’d be surprised. “They don’t know that they do because the response to choreography is visceral,” Tekatch says, “and it’s also completely, utterly subjective.”

In previews, the conclusions of musical numbers have been met with a burst of applause, and therein lies the reward for the choreographer. “I’m very grateful for it,” Tekatch says.

Ironically, while she has worked so hard on The Wizard of Oz and contributed so much to it, Tekatch will not be here for opening night. She has returned to Ontario and yet another holiday show, The Winter Wonderettes, in Kingston. “It’s difficult to leave behind these beautiful people,” she says, “but at the same time, it’s nice to know I have left them something to remember me by. A gift. A jewel. A gem.”

Come the new year, Tekatch will be home, in Toronto, awaiting the arrival of her first child next summer. She is married to Sean C. Robertson, an actor, acrobat and puppeteer who is currently appearing in the Mirvish production of War Horse. The show also features Tekatch’s older sister, Cara Hunter.

Maternity leave will bring the first extended break Tekatch has had in 20 years as an actor, dancer, choreographer and director. “I’m a musician first,” she says, having studied saxophone, piano, and voice.

Tekatch has worked in regional theatre from British Columbia to Newfoundland over the course of a career that is highlighted by eight seasons at the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford and three at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, which is where she met Tremblay. They did five NAC shows together, including productions of Oliver!, in which Tekatch directed Tremblay as Fagin, and Romeo and Juliet, in which they were cast as the Montagues, Romeo’s parents.

Born on the Gulf Islands, and educated in Vancouver, Tekatch began her training as a dancer at the age of three. At 16, she experienced a rude awakening to the downside of show business. As a member of the Betty McHardy School of Dance, she spent a month in New York City. The troupe performed 12 hours a day at Radio City, in August, without air conditioning, and if that wasn’t taxing enough, there was the fact that even young women with a dancer’s body came under extreme pressure to lose another 20 pounds. “It can be cutthroat,” she says.

Not surprisingly, dance lost its appeal.

Fortunately, the public high school Tekatch attended in Vancouver had a strong program in performing arts, and dance was soon replaced by music. She went on to study jazz at Capilano University, withdrawing three credits short of a degree when her mother died. Tekatch lost both her parents, within a year of one another, when she was in her 20s. She left home and plunged head-first into auditions.

“I was in love with the ‘show,’ but I knew that the ‘business’ existed also,” she says. “To do what we do, you have to have an open heart. It requires enormous bravery. It is exhaustive and intense, and it’s certainly an entirely vulnerable place to be. It takes a huge amount of faith. You can’t do what we do for any other reason except pure passion.”

The Wizard of Oz runs from November 15 – December 30, 2012. Visit the Globe Theatre website for more details, cast information, and to purchase tickets.

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at rozenstern@rocketmail.com.

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