2019 Emmys: Understanding Choreography in Scripted Programming

by Kristyn Burtt | 6/28/2019 1:36 PM

GIna Rodriguez and Britney Spears in a Season 2 episode of 'Jane the Virgin.' Photo credit: The CW.

With the Emmy nominations announcement only a few weeks away, it's important to focus on the new category for Outstanding Choreography — Scripted Programming. There's a reason the Television Academy decided to split the award into two categories, it's because the criteria for judging live and scripted shows are very different.


Dance Network discussed this topic with several choreographers, who work in scripted programming, to get their input on the challenges of creating movement for a storyline. Their work isn't about putting a dance out there on the stage for judging, it's a balancing act of serving the words on the page with the vision of the director.


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Mandy Moore, Governor of the Choreography Peer Group and choreographer on NBC's new fall show, Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, explained the differences.


"I think part of the beauty of something like a So You Think You Can Dance, America's Best Dance Crew, World of Dance or Dancing With the Stars  is that it really opened up people's minds to what dance could be," she said. "On the flip side, people lose sight that there are all kinds of dance and craft of choreography. Dance is not only backflips and lifts, dance is also pushing a narrative forward."


For Moore’s fellow Governor of the Choreography Peer Group, Eboni Nichols, her work on Jane the Virgin had an even more complicated mission.


"On a show like Jane the Virgin, we're pushing a narrative from Season 1. We're pushing things that happened four seasons ago, so that's also something that people don't realize. You are not only just pushing a narrative, you are creating a flow from a piece that you've done four years ago," she shared. "That is what we really want people to understand as far as episodic goes."


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Marguerite Derricks echoed a similar sentiment with her work on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.


"We are working off of the page, we are servicing the story. With Maisel, the dance is part of the story. It doesn't stop and then says, 'Here's a dance.' You're storytelling. I know on the competition shows they create their own little stories, but this is not my brain, this is somebody else's brain," Derricks explained in a recent episode of To The Pointe. "You're not necessarily working with these dancers who have all of these 'wow' tricks For me, the 'wow' thing on Maisel is how intricate these oners are. You're talking about one-camera takes, nine pages of dialogue, if somebody goofs one or two words up, we're back to one. If somebody goes the wrong way, we're back to one. It really is high pressure."


Adding to that high pressure is the fact that choreographers don't always have the luxury of working with professionally trained dancers. Some actors don't have a lot of movement experience and the rehearsal time is extremely short.


"A lot of people on scripted have very little rehearsal time. They might have actors or people who are not great dancers. They're given a lot of parameters that variety, live and reality don't necessarily have — they have a different kind of parameter," said Moore. "They are really two different [Emmys] categories. Your talents and your craft are very different and very few people are able to go between two."


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That's something choreographers would like to educate not only their Choreography Peer Group about, but they would also like to inform audiences about the challenges between the two types of shows.


"We felt we were underrepresented in the episodic world and the scripted world. For most people, it doesn't hold a candle because you're going to be drawn to the big-scale, epic lifts, crazy flipping everywhere. It's even harder to figure out how to forward a narrative with maybe fewer tricks and flips," Moore concluded. "So when you're watching something and thinking, oh, well there's not that much dance there... you have to ask... did it drive the narrative forward? Did the choreographer work with the character? Did it work with the script and the storyline? It's not an easy task."

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