California Ballet Company and San Diego Musical Theatre are presenting Billy Elliot the Musical at the historic Spreckels Theatre this fall. Dance Informa chatted with Jared Nelson, choreographer of the production and the associate artistic director of California Ballet, to learn about this exciting collaboration.
The California Ballet appears to be progressive in its programming. This season’s offerings include two classics, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, as well as The Great Gatsby and Billy Elliot. Is this mixed repertoire offering a hallmark of California Ballet, or is this a newer idea for the company?
“I’m hoping that I helped make California Ballet a little more progressive. I just finished my first season as the Associate Artistic Director. I definitely want a company of dancers who are versatile and open to new ideas. I have done a lot of collaborations in my career with singers, musicians, actors, and it is something I really enjoy. Bringing ballet to a new relatable level for new generations is important, while still staying true to technique. For me, the most important part of ballet, dance is artistry.”
What are some of the logistics of the Billy Elliot collaboration? You’re from the California Ballet, Director Neil Dale has a history of working with the San Diego Musical Theatre, and Don Lemaster is the musical director for the San Diego Musical Theatre. How will all of you artists work together to cast and stage this performance?
“Neil, Don and I have just finished the final auditions. I have been working with our Billy Elliot for a while now on his dancing. We are working well together. I feel it is important for me to stay true to the director’s vision with my choreography and also hopefully add my experience of being a professional ballet dancer for over 20 years.”
Many professional ballet dancers may not have vocal and/or acting training; likewise, many professional actors do not have extensive dance training. What was the audition process for this production?
“Triple threats are really hard to find for sure. We always started out with me doing the dance portion first, sometimes just seeing if people can walk on the music. Then singing, then reading lines. I think we all worked well together finding people who fit all of our needs and, most importantly, the show’s needs for production.”
Billy Elliot is story with a lot of heart. What resonates with you about this story being shared at this point in time?
“What resonates with me about this show… I started dancing ballet when I was six years old, so I totally understand what it feels like to be the only boy in a small town dancing ballet and how people reacted to that. I also understand being the happiest, and problems from the outside world would disappear when I danced. I understand feeling angry and lost and only myself when I was at the dance studio. Obviously not the exact issues Billy deals with in the show, but I relate in a way.”
Who will be playing Billy in this run of the production, and what unique talents and perspectives do you expect this actor will bring to the role?
“Our Billy will be played by a young local boy named Charlie Garton. He has a lot of talent and a lot to offer. He is a really smart and has a great natural approach to the role.”
What has the rehearsal process been like for Billy Elliot?
“We basically have three weeks of rehearsal with everyone before we open on September 22. Some rehearsals with children will start beforehand. Our Billy is already rehearsing and training with the California Ballet School.”
The California Ballet and San Diego Musical Theatre’s production of Billy Elliot will run September 22-October 8, at the Spreckels Theatre in San Diego. Visit californiaballet.org/billy-elliot for more information and to purchase tickets.
By Emily Yewell Volin of Dance Informa.