The New Hard-Knock Life

Putting a new spin on Annie, a show from the 1970s—which in turn was based on a comic strip from the ’20s—is no easy feat. After all, it’s hard to think of little orphan Annie without her signature red hair and old-timey catchphrases. When the latest film version of Annie hits theaters this month, though, it’ll be a totally fresh (but equally loveable) take on the iconic musical, with the lead role played by Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis. (Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz also star in the movie, which was produced in part by Jay-Z and Will Smith.) Choreographer Zach Woodlee, whom you know from “Glee,” revamped the classic dance numbers. Dance Spirit caught up with Woodlee and Wallis to get the inside scoop.

Quvenzhané Wallis (far right) and the cast of Annie (photo by Barry Wechter, courtesy Sony Entertainment

Dance Spirit: What’s your favorite scene in the new film?

Zach Woodlee: Definitely “Hard-Knock Life.” Director Will Gluck wanted it to be very athletic, so there’s a lot of tumbling and throwing mops and brooms around. The hardest part was getting the girls to toss and catch the props while singing—and without flinching. I wish I had worn earplugs for rehearsals. There was so much clattering and banging!

Quvenzhané Wallis: That part was hard—we all kept hitting each other! Luckily, we figured it out. But my favorite part is “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here,” when I go to see where Jamie Foxx’s character lives, and I sing and dance while exploring the house.

DS: What were rehearsals like?

ZW: A lot of movement came out of the girls themselves. The rehearsal space looked like someone had put a kitchen and janitor’s closet inside a dance studio—it was filled with everything you could imagine, from feather dusters to hula hoops to pogo sticks. When we’d take a 10-minute break, the girls would play with all the props, and then I’d incorporate that into the choreography.

DS: Quvenzhané, what was most challenging about playing Annie?

QW: Remembering all the choreography. But I really like dancing, so it was fun. I’d love to do another role with dancing.

DS: Zach, did Quvenzhané have a lot of dance training coming in?

ZW: She didn’t, though her older sister dances, and sometimes they’d practice together. Her mom also helped out: In one of Cameron Diaz’s songs, the script dictated that the girls were to play double Dutch—but I didn’t know how to do it. The next day on set, Quvenzhané’s mom ended up teaching all of us!

DS: What do you love most about this Annie?

QW: It takes place in the present, and it’s really upbeat. And I love the music—this version has hip hop and R&B. And there are new songs, too.

Save the Date!

You won’t want to miss the other musical making its way to the silver screen. Into the Woods—the Tony-winning classic that weaves all of the best fairy tales into one adventure—hits theaters Christmas day. The film’s cast includes the legendary Meryl Streep, Broadway baby (and former Annie!) Lilla Crawford and Pitch Perfect’s Anna Kendrick. And it’s directed by Rob Marshall, who’s no stranger to bringing Broadway to Hollywood: He directed the Oscar-winning film version of Chicago. Visit movies.disney.com for more info.

(From left) Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland (all photos by Erin Baiano)

Congratulations to Dance Spirit's 2019 Cover Model Search finalists: Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland! One of them will win a spot on Dance Spirit's Fall 2019 cover. Learn more about the dancers on their profile pages, and then vote for your favorite below. You can vote once a day now through July 15.

We also want you to get social! We'll be factoring social media likes and shares into our final tallies. Be sure to show your favorite finalist some love on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, sharing their profile pages and using the hashtag #DanceSpiritCMS.

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Photo by Erin Baiano

Imagine attending American Ballet Theatre's prestigious NYC summer intensive, training among classical ballet legends. Imagine taking the stage at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals, competing against some of the country's best contemporary dancers. Now, imagine doing both—at the same time.

Welcome to Madison Brown's world. This summer, she's in her third year as a National Training Scholar with ABT, while also competing for NYCDA's Teen Outstanding Dancer title. (She's already won Outstanding Dancer in the Mini and Junior categories.) The logistics are complicated—ABT's five-week intensive overlaps with the weeklong NYCDA Nationals, which translates to a lot of cabs back and forth across Manhattan—but Maddie is committed to making the most of each opportunity. "I love contemporary and ballet equally," she says. "While I'm able to do both, I want to do as much as I can."

Maddie has an expressive face, endless extensions, and a quiet command of the stage. She dances with remarkable maturity—a trait noted by none other than Jennifer Lopez, one of the judges on NBC's "World of Dance," on which Maddie competed in Season 2. Although Maddie didn't take home the show's top prize, she was proud to be the youngest remaining soloist when she was eliminated, and saw the whole experience as an opportunity to grow. After all, she's just getting started. Oh, that's right—did we mention Maddie's only 14?

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Photo by Erin Baiano

Click here to vote for Emma.

There's a story Kate Walker, director of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX, loves to tell about Emma Sutherland, who just graduated from the program. "We were watching the students run a really long, challenging piece," Walker recalls. "Several kids couldn't quite make it through. But Emma did make it all the way to the end, which is when she walked up to us faculty and very politely asked, 'May I please go throw up?' "

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