Steven Hoggett has none of that.
I’m actually trained in English literature, not dance,” the Brit quips. “But I did choreography as soon as I realized I could not make a living at English.”
“Make a living” undersells what he does. For much of the last decade, Hoggett has been in-demand in the U.S. and the U.K. for his unique take on choreography — usually more along the lines of “director of movement” and “stager of dances.”
“I honestly don’t really know [why that’s my niche],” he admits.” Certainly in terms of work, here in the States I have been doing more movement that [traditional choreography].” It started with his work on the Green Day jukebox musical American Idiot. “Producers and directors saw that work as not the traditional step-ball-change. Since then, I never tend to get the jobs that require the particular tropes and methods [of dance choreography]. There’s a lot of boys [in New York City] who do that kind of job very well. So I tend to get this sense of [being hired] for less orthodox shows, because what I do is not choreography in the strictest sense of the word. And I’m very happy with it.”
Consider this: Among his credits are not only American Idiot (which itself was a compelling and edgy but far-from-traditional musical), but also Once (the Tony Award-winning, based on the Oscar-winning Irish film, set almost entirely in a pub), Rocky The Musical (doing fight choreography), the plays Peter and the Starcatcher and The Crucible, and the reason we are talking, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which opens Wednesday at the Winspear Opera House for a limited run.
Curious, based on a book that was, until 50 Shades of Grey, the top-selling novel of all time in England, concerns a teenaged boy, Christopher, who lives on the autism spectrum. He noticed everything, and sets out to solve the mystery of the killing of his neighbor’s dog. Much of the story is told from his skewed perspective of the world, so it was up to Hoggett and his collaborator, Scott Graham, to integrate that sense of disconnect with the movement in the play.
“All of that is as easily attributable to a script as to a score — there’s a textual rhythm, looking for the rhythm in the dialogue or the narrative. But also, what are the gaps — what’s not on the page that needs to be there? We let choreography tell a story, and Curious has lots of that kind of opportunity. It’s one single boy’s world viewpoint.”
He faced similar challenges on Once, which Hoggett says the create team considered “a play with some songs in it, as opposed to a group of songs with no book to it. There happened to be moments where it lifted itself into song and then came down into a play. To my mind, it was about being as delicate as possible — slight choices instead of rash choices. Movement should be threaded through the narrative.”
One element of his kind of work is a mixed blessing — Hoggett tends to work with actors “who have a proclivity for movement as part of the storytelling more that ‘dancers’ — in fact, in America, I have yet to work with ‘dancers.’ So you have to create a physical palette for everyone in the room. No one can do what the think they can do on Day One, so it’s always a clean slate, always a fresh start. On the other hand, I can never rely on anything physically in my cast, so it’s always about thinking on your feet. But it doesn’t feel intimating. I love it.”
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time plays Jan. 11–22 at the Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. Tickets available at ATTPAC.org.