JOANN HUNTER has 20 Broadway shows to her credit as either a choreographer, associate choreographer or performer. Choreography for Broadway: School of Rock, Disaster, On a Clear Day…with Harry Connick Jr.. Off-Broadway: Dedalus Lounge, The Twelve (workshop). National Tour/Regional: Harmony by Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman at the Ahmanson Theatre, world premiere of The Nutty Professor, directed by Jerry Lewis, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Pump Boys and the Dinettes, Grease, Oliver, Curtains. She has directed Debra Monk in her one woman show with special guests Ron Rifkin, Andrea Martin, Victor Garber, Charlotte D’Amboise, Jimmy Newman, Brandon Victor Dixen, and David Hyde Pierce. The Drama League Galas honoring Angela Lansbury, Kristen Chenoweth, and Neil Patrick Harris. In development for RFP of Rock and Roll Refugee about the life of Genya Raven, Lourds Lane superhero rock musical Chix 6 and Perfect Spiral, a ballet with words about the will to do what you were born to do regardless of a possible outcome.
We spoke with JoAnn Hunter about her training, impressive Broadway career and the specific goals she’s bringing with her to Broadway Dance Lab.
BDL: Can you tell us a bit about how you got started in the world of theatre and dance?
JH: My mother is the one who introduced me to dance. She wanted to dance but came from a very poor family in Japan. At age 11, she asked if I wanted to take ballet. My first mentor, Nancy LeFebvre DiCicco was my dance teacher and she was brilliant. She taught me to study from as many teachers as I could to learn about style and the way they work. I was very fortunate that she had such insight. I received a scholarship to dance with Chuck Kelley in NYC the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. I fell in love with NYC and at the age of 17 I moved here and have never looked back.
BDL: How did you being choreographing and what was that transition like?
JH: Oh well this may not be the norm, or maybe it is. I had no intention at all of choreographing. After performing in my 12th Broadway show, I knew I needed a break. I was so lucky but doing 8 shows a week, 50 weeks a year… I wanted a bit of time off. Rob Ashford asked if I would like to be his associate. I said, “ok,” and I loved it. I loved being in the room, the banter, the creative juices that come at once or not at all, and I could have a glass of wine at dinner. I was happy being an associate. You do not get the accolade or monetary satisfaction it if succeeds, but you also do not get blamed if it does not. One day, a director I knew called me and asked if I wanted to choreograph the national tour of Chitty…. I thought long and hard and decided to try it. If I was bad, it was on tour. No one in New York would see it. Well, I loved it more than I could have imagined. Being in the rehearsal room with dancers is the absolute best place to be!
BDL: What skill sets do you feel someone needs to possess in order to be a good choreographer?
JH: Point of view!!! And for me, always, the ability to tell a story. I like narrative. It was how I danced. With story there is a reason and a why.
BDL: What interested you in working with BDL?
JH: Josh Prince! And this incredible opportunity. It is crazy that programs like this simply do not exist out there. I can not tell you how much I have spent out of my own pocket to just play and practice what I do.
BDL: What specific goals are you bringing with you to BDL?
JH: I am working on a “dance with play” that I have been creating and working with BDL will be such a luxury! My director will be here, along with my composer. I hope to complete the first four sequences of this piece or at least see if it works and has an emotional impact.