Meet Marguerite Derricks

Here at DS, we're counting down the days (15!) until the 2009 release of FAME! If you’re like us and you just can’t wait that long for the movie, check out the one-day workshop, A Day of Fame. You’ll be able to take class from FAME choreographer Marguerite Derricks and see a sneak peek of the new film! We caught up with Marguerite to ask her about choreographing FAME and her upcoming workshop.   

Q: What was it like to be asked to be the choreographer for FAME
It was really special for me because the director, Kevin Tancharoen, is one of my former students. I began training him as a dancer when he was 6 years old. When he called and asked if I would stand beside him on his first movie, I was very proud. It was great to see a student of mine doing so well, and for him to ask me to choreograph was really special.  

Q: Did you feel a lot of pressure in choreographing the re-make of such a well-known dance film? 
No, not at all. It’s something I’ve been expecting, in a very odd way, to do my whole life. I was a dancer on the TV show Fame, and 10 years later became the choreographer of the TV show Fame L.A. I’ve always had this weird feeling that the movie was going to come around and I’d be asked to do it. When it happened, it just felt natural. As a choreographer that does so many styles, it was the perfect film for me. It allowed me to show all the training and dance styles I’m able to do.

Q: What was your favorite scene to choreograph? 
Each scene became just as important as the other, but I have two that were my favorite: a number for Kherington to Black and Gold, which is a big number she does toward the end of the film, and the graduation scene. It’s a huge number that begins with a ballet pas de deux, goes into African and then into modern jazz. It’s an epic ending.

Q: In the casting process, what types of dancers were you looking for? 
I was looking for dancers who could do absolutely everything and every style, but they also had to look young, around 14-17 years old. We had about 575 young dancers audition, and I was blown away by how many did ballet, jazz, hip hop and tap—each style just as well as the other. They were outstanding. It’s a really exciting time to be a choreographer because the talent pool is just stunning. These young kids are the real deal!  We literally got down to 50 dancers and didn’t know whom to cut anymore. They were all that good! I was really excited by the choices I had for the movie and tried to use as many as I could because they were all so deserving.

Q: Who was your favorite dancer to work with? 
I loved working with my core 16 dancers, and they did a bulk of the movie with me. Of those 16 dancers, seven just flew with me to NYC to do VH1 Divas Live. I’m also doing a Broadway show and have five of them coming with me.  

Q: How has the choreography evolved from the 1980 FAME to the 2009 FAME?
I tried to tell people that you can liken it to sports and gymnastics. You will see the gymnasts doing four flips instead of two, and figure skaters that used to do two tours now do four tours in the air. The same thing has happened in dance, and it has escalated to a place of athleticism that I’ve never seen before. When I was an original fame dancer, triple pirouettes were a lot. Now they’re doing nine and 10! I was able to do absolutely anything that came to my head with these dancers.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring dance film choreographers? 
I would give them the same advice I give to dancers. Do everything! Choreographers who only do one thing will limit themselves to certain projects. You’ve got to know everything. You can’t limit yourself to trying to create some crazy style. There’s going to be a signature to the choreography that you create and people will recognize it. I work a lot because it doesn’t matter if it’s country western, musical comedy or ballet, I can do it. That’s my best advice. Also, know the camera!

Q: Tell us about the workshop this weekend!
I’m really excited! I love teaching! I’ve been trying to do it a lot before I start my new Broadway show because teaching grounds me and brings me back to who I am. I will always be a teacher first. When I got the call to do A Day of Fame I was so excited to come to NYC and meet some of the young dancers here. It means a lot to me. It’s who I am. I’m a teacher. At the workshop they should expect to be challenged and learn some of the choreography from the movie!

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