Why is Strictly’s Oti Mabuse in Colchester?
- Credit: BBC
BBC1 dance star is leading the choreography in a new jazz musical at the town’s Mercury Theatre.
Strictly Come Dancing favourite Oti Mabuse may appear a slight figure when you first see her but as her TV fans know she has a big personality and when you meet her in the flesh you are treated to a smile that lights up the room.
Oti is one of the most successful South African dancers in the world, an eight-time South African Latin American Champion and is currently working at Colchester’s Mercury Theatre on Ain’t Misbehavin’, a contemporary musical which celebrates the enduring appeal of the jazz age and more particularly the music of jazz titan Fats Waller. This is also Oti’s first venture into the world of theatre choreography and she’s clearly very excited by the challenge.
When we meet it’s her first day of rehearsal and she is buzzing having met her cast for the first time. It turns out that because of her TV commitments with Strictly and Greatest Dancer she couldn’t be part of the casting process so has had to choreograph the routines ‘blind’ and when we meet she is very happy with the ways things have been going so far.
How have you approached your first full-length musical. Is it any different to doing movie or musicals week on Strictly?
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“It’s been very much a learning curve and, of course, with this, I want to keep the choreography in that 1920s era but also give it a contemporary twist. So, I have to keep myself in check. I have ideas for doing something and that then think: ‘Oh no, I can’t do that, it’s the wrong era.” But I am really enjoying it. The cast are amazing. They are so talented. I’m loving it. I love the show. It’s all about music and how you interpret and relate to music so it’s perfect. I want people to see this and have fun. I want them to laugh. You should go home feeling happy.
Can you give a little flavour of the show?
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“It’s set in the 1920s in a jazz bar and it’s about five people who walk into a bar and you start to see the relationships develop and – not to give anything away because I love the drama of this show – you see how people are not behaving and they interpret their story through song. That’s something I have had to bear in mind. I can go crazy with the choreography and my poor actors don’t have enough breath left to sing, so I have to keep an eye on this. I am always happy to re-arrange things. You won’t them to look or sound uncomfortable. It has to look natural. Everything I do has to look and feel as if it’s coming from the soul. I want them to show their personalities and that of their characters...embody it and really dance it out.
Do you find having to work within the confines of a set script constricting or particularly challenging?
“No, not at all. It’s like working on Strictly. If you have a song or a themed week you work with the material you have. The material guides you and I love the fact we have live music because you then hear something different than what would if you were relying on a record. So I find having to work to a brief liberating as it gives you a goal and I am very goal orientated. What ever you want I’ll get it for you.
How important is it to be resilient and determined to keep at the top of your game?
“Very important. It’s not just about hitting those highs, it’s also about getting up and persevering when you’ve been knocked down. There are so few jobs in this industry and so many great performers that you will get rejected, time and time again and its about getting back up and doing it all again. It’s like me trying to win the Strictly final!
Speaking of which how do you manage all your commitments?
“A very good question. Strictly takes up six months of the year. You live, eat and sleep dance for that time and then you try and cram everything else into the remaining six months. I love being involved in the series. I do it because I love it. I love the camaraderie but I do it even more because I love teaching. That’s why I love taking someone like Graham Swan or Johnny Peacock and make them dancers. When people say ‘I can’t do that’ I like saying: ‘Yes you can’. I don’t know if its the evil thing in me but I enjoy getting people to knuckle down to a task and watch them be amazing. I love it when they come out the otherside and they say: ‘I never thought I could do it’. I live on that.”
Have you any theories why Strictly Come Dancing has been so successful?
“I think its the bond between the performers. Because we come from a variety of different countries we become each others families and I love the fact that we are all going through the same process together – frustration, pain, joy and you can share it with each other. The other thing is that because we come from all over the world we each bring a different interpretation of dance to Strictly and that’s why there are so many great personalities. The girls are full of personality. Some are really shy but when they dance, they really come alive.
Which one are you?
“Me? Oh I’m boring at home. People say: ‘You’ve got too much energy’. When I’m out, when I am working I am ‘on’. But when I am at home I’m really boring. Quiet as a mouse. I am really quite dull but when I dance, that’s a different story.”
This is the first revival of Ain’t Misbehavin’ in almost 25 years. Directed by Tyrone Huntley, it runs at the Colchester Mercury from Friday March 15 to Saturday March 30. Tickets are on sale now.