Q & A with Candide Choreographer Daniel Pelzig
We hear you studied cellular biology in college. How did you make the transition to choregraphy?
DP: It's true! Growing up, my sisters all took dance, and I would occasionally go to their classes. I also did some international folk dancing and gymnastics as a teenager. I come from a family of doctors and nurses, so I became Pre-Med in college. But I had to take a dance class as a gym requirement-and that was when I decided I wanted to become a dancer. I earned a ballet scholarship at the New York School of Ballet, and that was the beginning.
I performed in West Side Story Jerome Robbins, Brigadoon Agnes de Mille and Carousel with Peter Martins — I was a young dancer, cast as swing or in the chorus, and it was very inspiring to be in the same room with these great masters.
It was the combination of a grant from the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) and a very bad back injury that led me choreography-I was offered a job choreographing My Fair Lady, which lead to a bunch of other theater projects. I've been very lucky.
Our production is your second time working on Candide. What is it like to work with a master like Mary Zimmerman?
DP: Mary's take on Candide is very exciting and unusual — this is truly a perfect meeting of adaptor and material. Her great gift is in pulling a classic off the page and presenting it in a very human, funny and reverent way, always making it theatrical. What she is implementing from Voltaire-its socio-political commentary and satire, without making it cartoonish-is what she does beautifully. It's exciting to watch the collaborative process of its creation, and absolutely thrilling to be a part of it.
How is choreographing Candide different from your work on other musicals?
DP: I've choreographed traditional Broadway musical numbers like Oklahoma!'s "Farmer and the Cowman", Carousel's "Blow High, Blow Low", and My One and Only's tap sequences. Candide is a completely different animal, as there are no "show-stoppers" inherent to this work.
Rather, as in all of Mary's shows, the movement in Candide is fundamental to how the story is told. I believe that sometimes a gesture, or how a person moves, can give the audience more clues and information about a character than an entire monologue. My job as a choreographer is to support her vision of how the show lives on stage, moving the story forward without calling attention to the movement itself.
How do you work with the actors?
Our company is incredible. Right now, I'm working with Hollis Resnik (a nine-time Jeff Award recipient who has done a number of works in the musical theater, including A Little Night Music, Man of La Mancha, and Sweeny Todd) who plays our Old Lady to create a very specific dance vocabulary. She can then deconstruct that vocabulary to create the way her character moves. My hope is that you'll watch her on stage and think, "that's the Old Lady dancing" — not the actress.
What has been your most fulfilling work?
I've worked in opera, the theater and ballet-but I'm always most interested in telling stories and shaping how a character moves to let us know who they are, to reveal a bit of their humanity. I love to integrate movement into a story.
Finally, and just for fun-what is on your iPod these days?
Carmen, Tosca, an album of songs by Judy Blazer . . . and four versions of Candide!
Courtesy of the Goodman Theatre