Christopher Horsey's passion projects

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Chris Horsey is the choreographer for 'Wakefield', the new Australian television psychological mystery series. He discusses his next big ideas with Sally Clark. 

Photo: Chris Parker.
Photo: Chris Parker.

Chris Horsey established himself as a world champion tap dancer at the tender age of 12 when he won the Fred Astaire International Tap Championship at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel in 1984. Since then he’s taken that incredible tap talent to stages all over the world, in hits such as Hot Shoe Shuffle and Tap Dogs, while also making a mark as a musical theatre performer. He also featured as Angus in Dein Perry’s movie Bootmen, which established he wasn’t just a great tap dancer but one with good acting chops too.

Horsey lives in Melbourne with his wife, musical theatre star Lucy Durack, and two small children — Poppy (4) and Theodore (9 months) at the time of writing. When I talked to him for this article last year, he was in Sydney to work on the new ABC series Wakefield, set in the Blue Mountains, and was not just in isolation but actually in hotel quarantine.

Q Sally Clark: Hello! How are you?

Horsey: I’m okay… I guess? I’m going a bit crazy. I feel like I’m the sort of personality who is predisposed to this kind of thing. I don’t mind staying put and staying inside for long periods. I also feel like two different people right now. There’s the responsible, caring, worried and very guilty father who is away from his family at a time where our son is not sleeping through the night yet – and I’m not there to help my wife. There’s that Chris, and then there’s the other Chris who’s like: “this is fantastic!”

Q: Have you gone into touring mode? You know, that thinking “I’m here for work, but I’m in a hotel so it also feels a bit like a holiday”.

That’s exactly what it is! Look… it’s difficult to hear your baby crying but I’m lucky to have work and we’ve just got to deal with it. Lucy has been so busy during this pandemic. It’s extraordinary! And now, as it turns out, she happens to have a couple of weeks off and I’m here. So, it isn’t ideal, but the world turns in mysterious ways. It’s actually for the best and if this TV series I’m working on goes to a second series then I’ve got a lovely gig again next year.

Photo: Chris Parker.
Photo: Chris Parker.

It borrows a lot from older series like Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective – with our own little twist. The creator of the series, Kristen Dunphy (winner of three AWGIE awards), has a passion for tap dance and has created a lead character (played by this wonderful English actor, Rudi Dharmalingham) who learnt to tap dance when he was a child. We see his journey through fantasy performances which hark back to tap dancing – it’s his joyful, happy place.

Each episode contains one big dance number. There’s a lot of tap but I’ve also had to choreograph a tango, a riverbank gospel, a musical theatre piece and a Bhangra hip hop performance. (Bhangra music came out of Britain in the ’70’s when Punjabi immigrants created a fusion of their native folk music played on instruments from their host country.) I’ve learnt a lot about Bhangra because I had to investigate the cultural authenticity and potential sensitivities. I’ve found some great Bhangra hip hop gurus around Australia and had some private lessons in Melbourne with Priyanka.

Q: So what have you been up to in isolation today?

I’ve just been doing video choreography tutorials all day to send to the actors.

Q: Video tutorials — is that so you can reduce the amount of time you need to work one-on-one with people? Or to give them a head’s up?

Sally, I like to think I’m revolutionizing the way that we learn dance! (He chuckles.) Why do all receive the script and the sheet music three weeks before but have to learn the choreography on the spot? Why don’t we get the choreography ahead of time? I want to see people at their best — I don’t want to see people who are the best at picking up. That doesn’t prove you’re a great performer – it just proves you’re quick at picking up. I want everyone to know what they are doing — just like they do with their songs and with their scene. So, I’m sending out the video ahead of time.

Q: So, I see you’ve also been working on lots of other projects since the Covid restrictions.

I was very excited to be presenting my show, at Chapel Off Chapel in Melbourne, in May. It’s a tap-dancing production of Peter and the Wolf. But of course we had to postpone it.

Q: Do you plan to use the Prokofiev score?

I’m using the Prokofiev music but it’s being completely reworked and re-orchestrated by Andrew Patterson – who is a certified genius. In my Peter and the Wolf, Peter is a girl. So it’s P-E-T-A! This has been a decades-long (he searches for the word) project for me. I want to create more content for female tap dancers. I’ll also announce a famous Australian female actor as the narrator! I’m hoping this will be the darling of the Arts Festival Circuit — and I’m always looking for breathing new life into tap dance.

I’m also putting together a little trio/song and tap group for Hamer Hall, in Melbourne, in November called Two Hits and a Miss. I couldn’t resist the pun! Who knows if it is actually going ahead, but I need to just live like it is – just in case it does. {This is going ahead on November 22 this year.)

Chris Horsey's 'Swing on This' with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Photo: Peter Rubie.
Chris Horsey's 'Swing on This' with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Photo: Peter Rubie.

All of this with two children! But we chose that and we know how the industry works. My wife is extremely effective and a great scheduler and she is so driven and she’s wonderful.

Another one of the greatest joys of my career was to be asked to choreograph a 28-minute tap dance Christmas show for Disneyland Paris by the Vice President (Experience Integration) of Disneyland Paris, John Berrick (formerly of Australia). He made it very clear to me that they wanted very strong technical tap dancers and that the tap dancing needs to be live and it needs to be impressive, technically. I assured him that Australia had more than enough great, strong talented tap dancers to choose from and so they ended up casting the show, every year, from Australia and use Australian dancers. They fly 14 Australians across to Paris and pay them and house them and give them a contract for three months. It’s now in its 5th year, and I cast the show every year, but I’m not this year because of Covid.

It was absolute devastating news about (musical theatre star) Michael Falzon passing — it was a very big loss for his family and for the industry but also for our wonderful show that he produced and created alongside myself, called Swing On This. We were very, very proud of that show: it’s been five years now since it premiered at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival with Kate Cerberano. Michael gave me the opportunity to direct and choreograph – which is something I’ve been chipping away at wanting to do my whole life – it was just one of those great, delicious, professional jobs that come along every now and then and working with Michael Falzon is up there with one of the greatest professional experiences of my entire life.

Chris Horsey is presently holding tap workshops at Chapel off Chapel in Prahran, Melbourne. You can book here.

Tap at The Chapel – The Workshops’ is a bonus day of fun tap dance workshops with World Champion Tap Dancer Christopher Horsey in the prestigious Chapel Off Chapel. Chris shares his unique and successful approach to tap dance across all ages and abilities in this unique opportunity to Tap at The Chapel.

More than just a tap class, Chris uses tap games, rhythm patterns and storytelling to inspire and delight. He has taught in half a dozen countries and choreographed every possible combination of events in the industry from Mickey’s Christmas Big Band (Disneyland Paris) to the upcoming drama series Wakefield for ABC/BBC/Jungle Entertainment (released April 2 on iView).

Chris is a 2017 Australian Dance Award nominee for his direction/choreography of Swing On This and a 2019 Green Room nominee for his choreography of Thoroughly Modern Millie (TPC). Broadway World calls Chris ‘Australia’s King of Tap Dance’.

Choose your age group and book for Christopher Horsey’s ‘Tap at The Chapel – The Workshops’.

'Wakefield' is available to binge on iView from April 2, then screens on ABC-TV Sundays at 8.30pm from April 18.

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