Subways Are For Dancing - Part 3

(This is the third installment--check out the first and second--in a five-week series about choreographer Diego Funes' work on a NYC revival of the musical Subways Are For Sleeping. Stay tuned for more!)

"I want to create a safe environment for the performers," explains Diego Funes, who is choreographing the first revival of the 1961 Broadway show, Subways Are For Sleeping. "My goal is to conjure up an atmosphere in these rehearsals where you can ask as many questions as you need, mess it up if you have to, and it's okay."

He recalls his first rehearsal for a Broadway show years ago. "I was so nervous about singing and dancing simultaneously for the first time. I had been pulled into the show, and everyone else already knew the choreography, so I had to learn it quickly. It was a little nerve-racking, but by show-time, I was fine."

"There's always going to be someone who learns the choreography faster than you," he continues. "I absorbed steps quickly, and then took the time to polish them. Other dancers would need more time to learn the steps, but might nail them down in the process. Two different approaches to reach the same goal."

Last week Diego began rehearsing a cast that includes both styles of kinetic comprehension. Assisting him on this adventure is Ryoko Goto, a strong, beautiful dancer, who has helped Diego with his dance classes and company for almost two years. A sort of muse and medium, Ms. Goto represents the very present link between choreographer and performers. Her job is to learn and memorize every detail of Diego's choreography, demonstrate each step accurately, and help the cast members polish their moves. She also stands in for Diego, so he can step aside to observe the choreography's progress.

"It's very important to have an assistant. The performers can relate to her in a less pressured way. And she knows my work better than I do," Diego says, smiling. "I have video, but I don't need it with Ryoko. She knows everything. I trust her."

Ryoko appeared in Diego's contemporary lyrical class for the first time two and a half years ago. "I started paying attention to her immediately because she was such a hard worker and understood my combinations quickly," he reminisces. "Then one day, after taking my class a few months, she came up to me and said, 'If you ever need an assistant, I would be interested in working with you.'"

Quite a bold move for a shy girl who had recently moved to New York from her small hometown near Nagoya, Japan. Then again, it was totally in character for someone who says she hopes to remain connected to dance for her entire life. Ryoko began studying jazz dance when she was three years old. At six, she joined a dance company in Nagoya, adding ballet and gymnastics to her repertoire. She always imagined herself dancing in New York.

"Diego's style captivated me," she says. "It's aggressive, in a good way. It's more than dance. It requires expression. Dancing his choreography gives me many realities to feel."

Memory, strong intellect, amazing technique, musicality, full commitment, respect and loyalty are the characteristics of a great assistant, according to Diego, and he says Ryoko possesses them all. "What I have learned over time," he adds, "is the importance of nurturing and developing the teacher/choreographer and assistant relationship." That's evident to everyone who has the pleasure of dancing with Diego and Ryoko.

Subways Are For Sleeping will be playing November 1-2 and 8-11 at The Duplex, 61 Christopher Street, New York City.

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