Cabaret choreographer Javier De Frutos: interview

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Time Out meets the man behind the Lyric‘s new production of ’Cabaret‘

  • ‘It’s going to be different – maybe great – definitely different.’ So says choreographer Javier De Frutos about the new production of ‘Cabaret’ which opens at the Lyric on Tuesday.

    De Frutos, born in Caracas, trained in London and New York, was a divisive star of the dance scene throughout the 1990s when he garnered a controversial reputation by dancing in the nude. During one memorable performance in the Purcell Room his bobbling penis provided a whole new interpretation to the strippers’ number from ‘Gypsy’, to say nothing of ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’.Then he started being asked to choreograph for other companies. Along the way have been triumphs such as ‘Milagros’, his intense version of Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ for New Zealand Ballet, ‘Sour Milk’ for CandoCo, which won him a 2004 TO Live Award, and ‘Elsa Canasta’, his hugely popular Gershwin spree for Rambert.The offer to do ‘Cabaret’ was something he simply couldn’t resist. ‘Does an opportunity like this come along everyday? No,’ he answers himself, ‘it does not. And you don’t miss this bus.’

    The performers are on lunch break and we’re in the Lyric’s upstairs bar. De Frutos has an unopened tuna sandwich in front of him. He keeps picking it up, but then a new thought prompts him to put it down again as he enthuses about the show and his collaborators. He’s aware that director Rufus Norris zeroed in on him from the very beginning. ‘This is one case where I know I didn’t get offered the job simply because Matthew Bourne wasn’t available.

    ‘Rufus knew I could make my mark. From the beginning, we said we’re not gonna follow any rules. We’re not doing numbers that look like a pale imitation of Bob Fosse. There’s no need to do that.

    ‘You think you’ve seen the musical if you’ve seen the film, but you haven’t. Even putting Fosse aside – and what most people don’t remember is that Fosse didn’t choreographer the original Broadway production – this is a great musical.’

    For the film, Fosse chose to cut all the numbers that don’t involve the sleazy Kit Kat Klub where the heroine works; so one of the major plotlines, involving Fraulein Schneider, Sally Bowles’ landlady, was excised. ‘When you’ve got Sheila Hancock to play it, well…’ De Frutos’ eyebrows head for the ceiling. ‘And,’ he adds, ‘because Lotte Lenya created that role, the whole Brecht/Weill thing comes right in. It’s a link to the reality of that world, of Berlin on the edge of something, the sexuality, the hedonism, the new regime that is about to take place. It’s a brutal, very extraordinary time – poor and desperate, without a lot of money. The cabaret is an escape.

    ‘People will be expecting a lot,’ he says. ‘So you have to use show-business pizzazz. Do not sacrifice your ideas; but, at the same time, you have to make absolutely sure that the applause is going to happen.’

    This summer De Frutos choreographed the Chichester Festival’s production of ‘Carousel’. Next month, he moves up to Leeds to take over the helm of Phoenix Dance Theatre, which has just celebrated its 25th anniversary. ‘It’s a great company and, God knows, Leeds is not Wuppertal [the dreary industrial city where Pina Bausch is based]. It’s an interesting few years coming up for me, but I’m not giving up my London house,’ he admits. ‘I’ll be spending four nights a week in Leeds.

    ‘Oops, the Kit Kat Klub is back,’ he says. ‘Time for rehearsal.’ That tuna sandwich will just have to wait.

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