Mia Michaels in Neverland

There’s nothing Mia Michaels can’t conquer. With work for her own dance company (Mia Michaels’ RAW), concert productions (for both Madonna and Celine Dion), feature films (Rock of Ages) and TV shows (“So You Think You Can Dance”) already under her choreographic belt, you may be thinking “What’s left?” But the three-time Emmy Award–winner is far from done: She’s bringing her signature contemporary style to Broadway in Finding Neverland.

Based in part on the 2004 film of the same name about Peter Pan author J. M. Barrie, Neverland opens on Broadway in April, directed by Diane Paulus. (You may remember Melanie Moore performing as Peter Pan in a short preview at last year’s Tony Awards; the show ran in Cambridge, MA, for two months last summer.) Dance Spirit spoke with Michaels about creating the show’s high-flying choreography. —Jenny Dalzell

The cast of Finding Neverland at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA (photo by Evgenia Eliseeva for ART)

Dance Spirit: Congratulations on your Broadway debut! How does it feel?

Mia Michaels: I’ve always wanted to do Broadway, and now that I’m here, I feel like it’s exactly where I want to be. It’s a whole new beast for me. I’ve spent most of my career working on my own—being my own director, designing the sets, the costumes, everything. So coming into a project that’s collaborative has been a great learning experience. If you’re not a good collaborator, you can’t do Broadway.

DS: What was your process like?

MM: The movement came out of the script, the music, the story and the characters. It was a familiar process for me. When I set a piece for “SYTYCD,” for instance, I create a story in which the piece will live. The only major difference for Neverland was that I had to really understand Diane Paulus’ vision. She’s a brilliant director, and very hands-on. She likes to see a lot of options before she makes a final decision. I’d create something, and then we’d evaluate and tweak.

The collaborative process is tough, though. You have to be open to and okay with letting something go—even if you think it works. It’s been a really humbling experience, and I think it’s a new beginning for me. I love theater and working with big groups of people now. I’m walking away a totally different artist.

DS: What’s the choreography like? Will people who know your work from “SYTYCD” be surprised?

MM: It’s different—though you’ll definitely see “Mia” in there. Because the show was so collaborative, there are multiple voices in it, not just mine. But I’d say it’s “Mia” with more of a theatrical, Broadway-esque feel.

DS: What will people love about the show?

MM: There’s a whole lot of heart and soul. When I first attended the reading two years ago, I was so inspired by the story: It follows an artist who’s stuck and feeling like a failure. We’ve all been there. But it’s also about children who have already lost their father, and are now dealing with losing their mother, too. That part of the story was very real to me. After seeing the show, you leave the theater feeling inspired—you’ll feel like you have wings and can fly.

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Photos by Erin Baiano

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