Sue's work as a choreographer is underpinned by her professional performing career. She trained as a dancer at Bush Davies Schools and with the Royal Ballet Company, later becoming a soloist with Zurich Ballet and joining City Ballet of London. Other performing work included many West End Musicals, also dancing in films and dramas for TV and cinema, and in many productions for the Royal Opera and Welsh National Opera. She also performed with the close harmony singing group Silk Limousine, arranging all their routines and staging. The group appeared on Breakfast TV as well as performing at home and in Europe. Since turning to choreography, Sue has covered a wide spectrum of work from pop videos to opera galas, and has worked extensively with singers and actors as well as with dancers and children. A recent show where she directed and choreographed tap routines was Lets Make a Song & Dance with dancers from the TV show Strictly Come Dancing and it was compared by Karen Hardy; also from Strictly.
Sue covers a wide field of dance areas including tap, ballet, jazz, contemporary, historical, ballroom, national and folk. She is a freelance senior lecturer and choreographer for E15 Drama School where she is in the midst of Music Hall rehearsals.
You have a longstanding working relationship with the Royal Opera House both as choreographer and dancer; reflecting on past works you have created and performed, what are the highlights and challenges working in this context?
I have been lucky enough during my professional career to be involved in a great many wonderful opera productions with the Royal Opera; initially as a dancer. Having worked under some great choreographers and directors you learn your craft from the best. Also how to manage a huge opera chorus plus actors, dancers and very often acrobats as well. One such occasion for myself was the restaging of the whole of Act three of Die Meistersinger for Sir Bernard Haitink's leaving gala. The whole production only had a few days (instead of weeks) rehearsal which was some challenge as the dance scene involved eighty chorus & extra chorus, twenty actors, sixteen dancers, ten children & twelve acrobats doing ten different dances to the same section of music at the same time on stage. We got there and Sir Bernard loved it - it was an enjoyable challenge.
I was asked to take the Royal Opera’s La Traviata out to Sardinia to put it on at the Teatro Lirico in Cagliari, but with an all Italian cast. After some eight hours of traveling I arrived at the theatre, very hot (38 degrees as it was July) dumped my case at the stage door and was led straight into a huge studio to audition about a hundred dancers. Thankfully the language of dance is universal as my Italian is minimal. The Italian director arrived about an hour later to observe the proceedings and to help in choosing the actors, thankfully bringing some coffee and his English with him! The major challenges I found on this job was to get the stage crew to agree to do things - they do it when they want to and no amount of sweet-talking is going to change that. Also I learnt on the practical side that you have to have all your forms in place for tax & NI etc. or you give yourself a big headache later! I am just about to begin on my preparation for Lohengrin for the Royal Opera.
We start rehearsals in April and I think that there will be auditions for the actors before then. There will be a lot of choreographed movement for the actors in this production. The director is Elijah Moshinsky for whom I have worked for many times as a dancer and I greatly admire his talent. It will be a case of watch and learn and I have the experience of directing shows.On the opera side, I was supposed to be choreographer only on a gala for Joan Sutherland’s 70th birthday at Australia House. A few days before the rehearsals were due to start, I learnt that my director was unable to be there. I found myself at 11.30pm one night working on the lighting plot! Its all good experience as they say. Last year I directed an all singing & dancing show in a much lighter area. The performers included some of the Strictly Come Dancing dancers, a Lindy Hop group & some great jazz singers.
The show was hosted by Karen Hardy who was relaxed and fun to work with. I also got to choreograph some fun tap routines for the production as well as directing it.
Looking at your varied and established career as a choreographer which spans Opera, Film, Theatre, TV, Music promos what provided you with entry routes into working in various environments?
I have to say that in almost every case I have been given jobs by directors that I have worked with before. In a few instances, I have gone through an interview process beforehand, as it happened with Oliver Parker for An Ideal Husband. I always find these tricky as you never know quite what they are expecting from you and they are always so polite that it is hard to read if you are on the wrong or the right track! My very first choreographic film job was through a friend who is an agent also. He put me in touch with Jim O’Brien who directed Rebecca, starring Amelia Fox and Charles Dance. It was a wonderful first experience in this field. The same person also gave me the chance to choreograph for a BBC drama.You have been teaching and choreographing at East 15 Acting School for many years, providing the students with the invaluable experience of working alongside a professional choreographer and dance teacher.
What are your experiences of working in the educational sector as an industry professional?
I think that the students appreciate having a tutor who is still very much in the business. I often have them come to me for advice before they leave after getting their degree. I have been teaching Baroque to my second & third year students. The second years are doing a production of Old Time Music Hall with me as choreographer and William Relton as director. They learn to sing and dance at the same time which can be tricky for the actors with no dance training at all which is 70% of them. I have also been teaching the Combat students ballet & social dance. I found these students, who learn everything from stunt work to acrobatics & the fight process, a real joy to work with, and I would like to choreograph and work more in this field. As a proffessional working for a university I would say that the only draw back is the ever increasing paper work and reports! I guess we are just not used to that.
Do the projects you do all year around with aspiring actors inform your professional work?
I would say that it does, particularly in relation to working with professional actors. I get a very good insight working with the students as to the best ways to get actors to understand and pick up movements and steps, and then to present them with some meaning. The same applies to opera singers who are often petrified of doing any steps.
Sue, alongside the rehearsal preparation for the opera Lohengrin which opens on the 27 April 2009 at the Royal Opera House, do you have any other exciting projects on the horizon for 2009?
There is one other project that I have prior to Lohengrin; next month, I will visit Gothenburg University as guest lecturer in social dance for their Musical Theatre course, I am looking forward to this experience very much.
Thank you Sue!
For further information, please go to Sue Nye on the UK Choreographers Directory or contact Alice at Dance UK via email firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7713 0730.