Inside Hairspray’s choreography

Every year, hundreds of people come to Hillcrest to see the famous fall musical. Hillcrest’s award-winning theater department works hard every year to make the production a magical experience for the audience, but behind the magic is only a few people orchestrating it all.

Choreographing the musical for many years now is Hillcrest’s own Dance and English teacher, Chelsea Lujan.

While students are only in the musical for three short months, choreographing the musical is a much longer process.

“I start during the summer. I start beginning researching… Particularly the show that we’re doing this year, Hairspray, is all set in the ‘60’s… so I spent the summer kind of looking at what styles, what moves. There are a lot of famous moves from that era,” Lujan says.

But even when the musical starts, choreography isn’t completely done. As students in the musical know well, Ms. Lujan still makes changes to the choreography as she sees how it looks when over 250 students learn and practice it.

There’s a method to the madness of choreography. Ms. Lujan uses a style of choreographing called “theme and variation,” where the choreographer finds a base movement combination, and makes changes to the same movements throughout the number.

“Musical Theater’s different a little bit in dance in that there’s a purpose for it, so it starts somewhere and it has to end somewhere. So looking at, okay, how do I move this along? Then whatever number I’m doing, I look at, okay, how can I make this one a little different than any of the other numbers? And then I just turn the music on and I let my body start to move and dance and see what comes naturally and pick out ideas,” Lujan explained.

As for the students, preparation for November 15th’s opening night is rigorous. This year, rehearsals started the last week of August, and for the ensemble, go every Tuesday and Wednesday after school until 5 o’clock. Come October 29th, however, rehearsals will be every day but Sunday until opening night. Rehearsals are full of energetic dancing and singing, with rarely any time to sit and take a breather.

Nevertheless, students and community members alike look forward to the performances. Last year, Hillcrest’s performances sold out every night for Les Miserables, and the theatre department hopes for the same turnout this year with Hairspray.