In a rehearsal studio, a lean man with white hair stands, feet apart, arms at his sides, relaxed but poised, ready for anything, his chin lowered, a direct gaze at eye level into the distance. Opposite him a woman in a black t-shirt, and black rehearsal skirt and black heals is working to replicate this nonchalant vibrance. Behind them the chorus dancers lounge, casually exceptional, waiting their turn. At the front, behind a row of tables sit a line of technical and production crew. But it is the spry man who demands our attention – Gary Chryst – rehearsing with the Australian cast for the upcoming production of CHICAGO.
“I went to performing arts high school,” says Chryst, “which is what FAME is based on. I went to that high school in New York. For the drama department. You had music, acting, ballet and modern. In my sophomore year, I hadn’t danced yet. In the acting department, we had modern dance for actors twice a week. We had a teacher, Cora Khan, and she said, ‘You like this, love it, would you think about changing.’ My original teachers were Graham dancers. Robert Joffrey came to the concerts, and he offered me a scholarship.”
Chryst went on to work with the Joffrey Ballet including creating the role of one of the ugly stepsisters in Sir Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella. “After I left the Joffrey Ballet, I worked with Bob Fosse, one time, Gwen Verdon was his muse. I worked more with Gwen. There are so many people who are Fosse experts. Mr Fosse could make tinsel into mink. It’s sensual but never vulgar. I do know that Bob Fosse liked the way I danced. I don’t know if I dance like him, but I know his percussive ways. ‘Don’t make it bigger; make it more important,’ Fosse would say. ‘Less is more.’”
Chryst went on to dance with Nederlands Dance Theater III, a company founded by Jiří Kylián for dancers over the age of 42. “I was supposed to go for six months, I stayed six years. We could do things then (by the age of 42) like stand still, that we couldn’t do when we were young. Jiří did some beautiful things for us.”
He adds, “I love moving. I love dancing. When you work with people, like Jiří and Robbins, it’s about the storytelling. Today, it is all gymnastics. Which is unfortunate. It doesn’t mean anything.”
Chryst is in Sydney for the latest remount of CHICAGO. He served as the dance supervisor for the 1996 Broadway production of CHICAGO and remains the dance supervisor for CHICAGO worldwide. This Australian cast includes Lucy Maunder as Roxie Hart, Zoë Ventoura as Velma Kelly, and Antony Warlow as Billy Flynn.
Of the Australian cast, Chryst says, “I love them, this particular production. They work very hard. It’s the new world. They want to do it right. It’s truly an ensemble piece; it has to work together. They do that very well.”
CHICAGO opens in Perth on 21 November, before seasons in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney in 2024. To find out more or for tickets, visit chicagomusical.com.au.
By Tamara Searle of Dance Informa.