The Malta Independent 9 December 2018, Sunday

Choreographing the Panto

Tuesday, 19 December 2017, 14:53 Last update: about 13 months ago

Iggy Fenech chats to the choreographer of MADC’s 2017 panto, Cinderella, FRANCESCO NICODEME to discover the role dance plays in a traditional Christmas pantomime.

One of the reasons so many of us love panto is because of its familiar formula. In fact, every year, when we purchase tickets, we know we're going to find a funny and lovable Dame on stage; we know we're going to get lots of well-disguised innuendos and not so well-disguised political jokes; and we know we'll need to boo the baddie and let the goodies know that he's behind them. But a panto needs much more than that to be turned into a spectacular show that keeps us attending year after year... One of those things, is a good choreography.

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"Choreographing for the pantomime is an ongoing process that evolves and changes constantly," says Francesco, who graduated from the Urdang Academy in London, and has since choreographed productions like MADC's Romeo and Juliet at San Anton Gardens, Teatru Manoel Youth Theatre's street performance for Notte Bianca, and MADC's 2016 panto, Un-Believe It!

"From the first dance auditions to the final result, I see a tremendous amount of change in the dancers. Each time I think I cannot get anything more out of the dancers, I throw in another idea just to keep them alert," he continues "Being prepared is always the key as, choreographically, there is a lot to put together in such a short amount of time. Having said that - and as much as I like to be prepared and keep track of movements - I always have to be prepared for any last-minute changes... Which, to be fair, is one of the most exciting parts for me."

This year, Francesco is choreographing MADC's panto, Cinderella - which is being directed by Chris Gatt and has a script adapted by veteran theatre actress, Marylu Coppini. The story will follow the fairy tale we all know and love, but with a number of Maltese twists: It's set in the fictional town of Valsetta and the Wicked Stepmother (played by Izzy Warrington) is called Baroness Kifuza. Following in true Cinderella panto tradition, MADC's version will also have two Dames, played by JeanPierre Busuttil and Michael Mangion.

"My main inspiration comes from the vision of the director," Francesco explains. "I always try and gather as much information as possible on paper and follow the director's stylistic choice. I then work on putting my own personal flair - my 'signature' movement, if you will - and on making each number different and exciting for both cast members and audiences.

"I have to say, however, that this year's choreography will be much more exciting for the audience... Having two Dames on also means double the laughter. Moreover, there will be a lot of magical moments that will excite both children and adults, as well as a very musical theatre-themed opening followed by some extravagant dance combinations that will hopefully make the audience stand up and join in with the fun!"

Of course, dance and music go together like a horse and carriage, and the chorus - the people who sing, dance and act on stage - obviously play a crucial role in ensuring a pantomime is the most fun it can be... For, as important as the Dame, the baddie, the principal boy and the principal girl are, no panto would be complete without the spectacle that comes from having numerous people on stage.

"The chorus is definitely the core of the show," agrees Francesco, who is working along with Roger Tirazona for vocals and Chris Gatt for acting/direction. "Each and every one of them works as a fundamental gluing element for the show and I admire their determination and willingness to learn...

"You have to respect their commitment towards such intense months of dance, vocal and acting training; and how their stamina improves as the weeks go by... It's amazing to look back and see how much they have changed and improved during this process, in fact. But that's something audiences won't see as, during the performance, the chorus will put their best foot forward!"

A sum of its parts, the panto remains a firm favourite because of its joyous energy during the darkest and coldest time of the year. Much like mistletoe, evergreens, and mince pies, it brings delight into our lives as we close one chapter and begin another. And that's what's made it such a lasting and deeply-rooted tradition, after all... But it would never be possible without a little help from the fairy godmothers - or, in this case, godfathers - behind the scenes!

 

MADC's panto, Cinderella, will be on between Friday 22 December 2017 and Tuesday 2 January 2018. The run will also include six matinées between Christmas and the New Year. For more information about Cinderella, or to book tickets, please visit www.madc.com.mt


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