John Carrafa is the two-time Tony nominated choreographer of URINETOWN and INTO THE WOODS. He’s also received an Obie, Lortel and Dora Awards for URINETOWN as well as Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Nominations. He currently choreographs and directs both in Los Angeles and New York, developing original work for both theater and film. Recent TV work includes MANIACS, SUCCESSION, THE WEEK OF, FREAKY FRIDAY and NASHVILLE.
We sat down with John to discuss his inspiration, process, and goals for working with Broadway Dance Lab.
BDL: How did you first begin choreographing?
JC: I’d say it was playing with those little green plastic toy soldiers when as a kid. Elaborate scenarios and playing with patterns and structure. In college I was Pre-Med, but was exposed by blind luck to this great teacher a lot of folks know named Marcy Plavin, and she gave me the history of 20th Century American dance. I read that Doris Humphrey once said, “all dances are too long,” so my first stage work was 2 minutes and 17 seconds. I choreographed Where’s Charley? in summer theater that year, and then focused mostly on dances with text that told a story. I never became a doctor.
BDL: What three words would you use to describe your choreographic style?
BDL: How do you approach TV and film differently than you approach stage work?
JC: The answer to that is very long, but i’ll give you a short example of one the inherent differences. Namely this: When you choreograph for the stage you have to direct the viewer where to look. In film, you do that with the camera.
BDL: What goal(s) did you bring for your time working with BDL?
JC: I’m working on an ambitious new evening-length work that will tell a controversial story from American history, using a combination of dance and dialogue. With this particular story, I wanted to test to see if the dance and text would go together, and how?
BDL: Can you tell us about one artist who has been an inspiration to you, and why?
JC: If you mean choreographers, this is the toughest question because they all do in different ways. Michael Kidd because of his character based movement, Hermes Pan because he was so brilliant with structure, Peter Gennaro for the unsung work in West Side Story. Also Josh Prince because of his storytelling ability, and Susan Stroman and what she did with Oklahoma. I’d also say I’m inspired as much by other artists as choreographers. Mamet comes to mind because of his economy. The thing that inspires me about ANY of these artists is that they are singularly themselves. Unique. Original. That’s what inspires me in any of them.
BDL: What’s one thing you discovered at BDL that you’ll take with you as you continue to work?
JC: I realized the ease with which, in the new work i’m creating, the text and the dance fit together like a puzzle to take us on a journey. As it always happens, the solutions that came in the workshop ultimately raised a question: Are there points at which the movement alone can independently tell the story, without the aid of narration? What are those points? How do I do that? I’m going into the studio in September to take the next step and figure that out.