Dance News

Catching Up with Emmy-Nominated "SYTYCD" Choreographer Stacey Tookey

If you've watched any "So You Think You Can Dance" episode in the last five seasons, you've probably been wowed by Stacey Tookey's contemporary choreography. She recently received her third Outstanding Choreography Emmy nomination for her work on the show. (Tune in on September 23 to see if she snags the win!) As if that weren't enough, Tookey is also starting her own contemporary company, Still Motion, which will make its debut November 9 in L.A. We recently caught up with her to get the inside scoop.

 

DS: What is your favorite number you've choreographed for "So You Think You Can Dance"?

ST: I like different routines for different reasons, whether it's my experience with the dancers or the reaction from the judges when someone is stretched out of their comfort zone. Sometimes the piece just has special meaning to me. I can narrow it down to three: Mad World (Billy and Ade), Heaven is a place on Earth (Kathryn and Robert) and Bang Bang (Eliana and Alex).

 

DS: All of us at Dance Spirit are super excited you're starting your own company. What made you decide to do it?

ST: I've been thinking about starting my own dance company for a while and finally decided the time is right. I want to push myself as an artist, continue to grow and take beautiful dancers who inspire me along for the journey. L.A. is such a “gig by gig” type of dance industry, where most dancers do a job for a couple days or a week then it’s over. In my professional dance career, it was my experience working in a company situation that stretched and taught me the most. There is something about sweating in a studio together for 8 hours a day over a long period of time that is so rewarding.

 

DS: What do you look for when hiring dancers?

ST: Fearlessness, openness, passion and good energy.

 

DS: What genres do you expect your dancers to have a strong technical base in?

ST: Classical ballet! It's the foundation of dance and the base of my movement. You don't have to have perfect ballet technique or the perfect classical body—just be trained and have an understanding of true classical ballet.

Any genres you can be proficient in will help you as a dancer. The more versatility you have, the more hire-able you are and the more you have to offer. My mom (my teacher) had me study ballet, jazz, lyrical, contemporary, modern, tap, hip hop, musical theater, Scottish highland and baton twirling. I have pulled from every genre in my professional career at some point, and I'm thankful for my diverse training.

 

DS: How do you define contemporary?

ST: Contemporary dance embodies a vast spectrum of movement and expression that can be interpreted in many ways. I feel like it's a genre that's continually reinventing itself and pushing boundaries. It has roots in classical ballet but is truly about conveying an emotion or story—as subtle or obvious as that may be.

 

DS: What do you think is the key to great contemporary choreography?

ST: I believe great contemporary choreography will make you feel something. Some of my favorite contemporary performances have left me crying, laughing or sitting in complete silence, not being able to move. You feel it so deeply it leaves an imprint on you as a person. I can recall those feelings and images in an instant because they are so memorable.

 

DS: If you could choreograph a piece on anyone, who would you choose?

ST: There are so many dancers I would love to work with for so many different reasons. But if I have to pick one, it would be Misty Copeland from American Ballet Theatre.

 

DS: What are you working on next?

ST: My main focus now that "SYTYCD" is nearly over is my dance company, Still Motion. I have so much work to do to premiere our first show, “Moments Defined” on Nov 9-10 in L.A. at the Nate Holden Theatre.

 

DS: Who are your favorite up-and-coming dancers right now?

ST: Melanie Moore, Kathryn McCormick and Robert Roldan.

 

DS: Is there a particular choreographer or dancer that inspires you?

ST: I'm continuously inspired by and in awe of my very good friend, dancer and brilliant choreographer Peter Chu. He is a one-of-a-kind artist, with a driving passion and love for the art of dance.

Photo by Lee Gumbs, courtesy Taja Riley

Taja Riley's bold, full-out presence and unique ability to mix hard-hitting hip hop with smooth, sensual choreography paved the way for her success in the commercial industry. She's danced with music icons like Chris Brown, Janet Jackson, Ne-Yo, Kanye West, 50 Cent, Pitbull, and Bruno Mars, and has assisted with choreography for Britney Spears' Femme Fatale tour, Demi Lovato's Skyscraper tour, and Beyoncé's Mrs. Carter tour. She also appeared in Beyoncé's groundbreaking visual album Lemonade. Raised in Virginia Beach, VA, Riley grew up training at Denise Wall's Dance Energy. Currently, she's on faculty at New York City Dance Alliance, where you can catch her touring the convention circuit. —Courtney Bowers

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We all suffer from Nutcracker fatigue sometimes. After a zillion performances, it's hard not to. But there's nothing to restore your little-kid sense of Nutcracker wonder like a look at the sheer scale of a world-class Nut.

New York City Ballet's iconic production of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker opens on Friday, and for the past week, the company has been Tweeting out some seriously eye-popping #NutcrackerNumbers. The stats cover everything from the number of jingle bells used on each Candy Cane costume (that'd be 144) to the watts of light used in the show's grand finale (ONE. MILLION. WATTS.).

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Oh hey there, Hallmark Channel! The producer of all those sweet, homey movies best watched in your PJs with your mom has a super dance-y film on its holiday lineup this season: A Nutcracker Christmas. And the casting is—to use a very Hallmark-y pun—perfectly on pointe.

A Nutcracker Christmas tells the story of a talented professional dancer, Lilly, whose supportive sister dies just as Lilly is about to perform the role of Clara in The Nutcracker with New York City Ballet. (Nit-picky fact-checking: In New York City Ballet's Nutcracker, she's known as Marie and danced by a child, but OK.) Lilly's boyfriend and dance partner, Mark, keeps her from performing in the show, which makes Lilly declare she'll never dance again. Fast-forward a couple of decades, and Lilly's niece, Sadie, is about to dance Clara in a different company's Nutcracker—a company run by, of all people, Mark. And tons of drama ensues.

Yes, it's a whole lot of plot to wrap your head around. But the real story here is that Sadie is played by none other than the phenomenal Sophia Lucia, and the ever-dashing Sascha Radetsky is also involved in the project. (Radetsky's exact role is unclear from the press material, but he seems like a pretty natural fit for Mark, no?) The odds seem good that we'll get the gift of some very high-quality dancing. Merry Christmas to us!

Sophia Lucia showing off those banana feet (via @sophialucia5678)

You can catch A Nutcracker Christmas on December 10 at 8 pm. Get your slippers and hot cocoa ready.

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