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Kelley Abbey on choreographing ‘Cabaret’

Kelley Abbey Cabaret
Choreographer Kelley Abbey

For over three decades, Kelley Abbey has performed, danced, choreographed and directed for theatre, film and television. Kelley is certainly a “bucket list” artist to work for for many Australian dancers. Her latest project as choreographer for Cabaret is one she describes as a bucket list show. “A show I’ve always wanted, and I’m doing it,” she says.

'Cabaret', choreographed by Kelley Abbey. Photo courtesy of 'Cabaret'.

‘Cabaret’, choreographed by Kelley Abbey. Photo courtesy of ‘Cabaret’.

Cabaret is playing at The Hayes Theatre, a small theatre which quickly became an integral part in the theatre scene in Sydney. Although the theatre is small with a close relationship to the audience, Abbey is quick to gush over how fantastic the space is for the musical’s setting. “It really fits so magnificently into the Hayes Theatre space,” she describes. “It is exactly where you would imagine the Kit Kat Club to be. I just love the space, as it is an intimate space. You have a cinematic response to the musical because you are so close to it.”

With a diamond-shaped stage, rather than the traditional square, Abbey says that there are challenges making formations with a cast of 11; however, for the two numbers the entire company is performing, the stage transforms from being intimate to looking quite full.

Throughout the many incarnations of the musical, several iconic choreographers have had the role of staging and creating the iconic dance scenes, perhaps most famously Bob Fosse. “I am one of the biggest Fosse fans…ever,” Abbey shares. “He’s a mentor in life for me as a man who was a dancer, who became a choreographer, who became a director, which has also been my path. However, I didn’t want to do Cabaret and just do Fosse. I’ve definitely done a nod to him, and I think there is certain imagery that is iconic [for Cabaret] that I think people expect, and I’ve given them that.”

'Cabaret', choreographed by Kelley Abbey. Photo courtesy of 'Cabaret'.

‘Cabaret’, choreographed by Kelley Abbey. Photo courtesy of ‘Cabaret’.

She continues, “I’ve [also] done my research and really put in so much about what was happening socially, musically, art-wise and dance-wise in the period. There were a lot of shapes that were happening in burlesque houses which were termed as ‘exotic’. So I’ve taken a lot of what was going on in the burlesque world and period and what was happening in art at that time. There isn’t one pretty shape up on stage! It’s all very ugly, and dirty and sexy and dangerous.”

Abbey says she was most excited about choreographing the show’s opening number, “Willkommen”, for the entire company. “Everybody is a Kit Kat Girl in the opening number, even all the blokes,” she describes. “It has been quite the process. It is great music, has candour, fantastic songs.”

Cabaret follows the story of a young dancer juggling her own relationships, decisions, adulthood and the political climate. When asked what are the major challenges facing young dancers today, Abbey says she believes they aren’t dissimilar. “Really what we are experiencing, especially for any commercial dancer, is that there is no work,” she states. “There is a challenge of maintaining a craft, and commercial dancers are a direct reflection of the economy – when there is more money in the economy, there is more work. Musical theatre, however, is going through a very abundant time.”

'Cabaret', choreographed by Kelley Abbey. Photo courtesy of 'Cabaret'.

‘Cabaret’, choreographed by Kelley Abbey. Photo courtesy of ‘Cabaret’.

She adds, “The challenging thing always becomes about committing to class, making sure you grow through training and experiences, making the most of opportunities on the job. And then you have to be yourself within it and not be the same to anyone else and not comparing your journey to anybody else’s. That’s a big trap to fall into. Everyone has their own timing and tempo within their career. It is a very personal and individual journey, and I think to compare yours to another person’s is a very dangerous thing to do. You should follow your own little light.”

Abbey also offers a big tip to young dancers: manage your downtime well. “The time when you are not working is not the time to sit and wait for the phone to ring,” she explains. “It is about maintaining your creativity in the downtime so you are pushing yourself. It doesn’t cost anything to dance or choreograph in your lounge room, or write a play in your dining room, tap in your kitchen, sing in the shower. It doesn’t cost a thing. You can still be creative on an everyday basis. If you stay in your creativity, you stay in your flow, and you attract opportunities. Keep going to class.”

Cabaret is currently playing at the Hayes Theatre, Sydney, for a strictly limited season, through 5 March. For tickets, visit www.cometothecabaret.com.au or www.hayestheatre.com.au/coming-soon/cabaret.html.

By Elle Evangelista of Dance Informa.

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