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 Fil-Am dancer recounts rehearsals with MJ

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MensajeTema: Fil-Am dancer recounts rehearsals with MJ   Mar Oct 27, 2009 2:50 am

LOS ANGELES—“When he walked into a room, you knew it before you even saw him. It was a magical scent.”

Michael Jackson’s fragrance is one of his heretofore-unknown sides recently shared with us by Charles “Chucky” Klapow. The Filipino-American was one of the 12 backup dancers chosen from over 200 hopefuls to perform with the King of Pop in “This Is It”— his 50 sold-out concerts that would have taken place in the UK from last July to March next year.

“I don’t think I’ve ever danced harder or more passionately in my life,” Chucky said of the audition.

But that tragic day on June 25—when Michael died of cardiac arrest after reportedly being administered a combination of sedatives (the LA coroner later ruled his death as a homicide)—cut short Chucky’s dream to perform with his childhood idol. The son of a Filipina, Sylvia Klapow, Chucky turned down a big break—to choreograph the musical remake of “Footloose” with Chace Crawford—and instead opted to dance with Michael for the London shows.

Chucky co-choreographed the three “High School Musical” movies (the first of which won an Emmy Award) with his mentor, Kenny Ortega, and Bonnie Story. But the aborted “Footloose” stint would have been his first major solo choreographing credit.

For Chucky, however, the chance to be onstage with Michael was the opportunity of a lifetime. So the news of Michael’s death was understandably a heavy blow. In our e-mail conversation with the LA-based dancer-choreographer, he recounted how emotionally painful it was to perform a number during the memorial service in the very same place, Staples Center, where they had been rehearsing “This Is It.”

Chucky will fly to LA to attend this Wednesday’s world premiere of “This Is It,” the much-awaited movie culled from over 100 hours of footage filmed during the four-month rehearsals.

The film is being described as a cross between a concert movie and a documentary. It would be hard to miss Chucky in one of the numbers—he’s wearing a green jacket with white piping in a rehearsal footage that was shown repeatedly on TV when MJ’s death was announced.


How were you picked by Michael Jackson to be one of the 12 dancers for the “This Is It” concerts in England?

I couldn’t believe it when they called my name ... The audition process was so tough and the competition was incredible ... They narrowed it down from 250 guys to about 150. They had us all come back two days later for one more full day of auditions, which were done with Michael watching us and helping pick who he wanted to be his dancers. I don’t think I’ve ever danced harder or more passionately in my life. I wanted this so bad, being a big fan of Michael’s.


How did your mother react when you told her you got the gig?

My mom had been more nervous than me! My sister auditioned as well, but she was also more nervous for me than she was for herself. Everyone in my family knew how much this was going to mean to me if I actually got the chance to perform with Michael ... My mom was very proud of me, as always.


What are your memories of hearing Michael’s music for the very first time?

I was three years old when my mom played the “Thriller” album on our record player. I just loved that my mom knew the words to “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” and I would make her sing “Mama-se, mama-sa, ma-ma-coo-sa” over and over ...


When did you first see him perform live? And when did you first meet him in person?

2001, Madison Square Garden was the first time I ever saw him perform live. It was the 30th anniversary concert he did with his brothers and that evening was electric! The first time I met him in person was when he brought his children to see “High School Musical: The Concert” tour in Las Vegas. This was in January of 2007. We met him backstage before the show and saw him in the audience during the entire performance.


How influential was Michael to you (as a dancer and a choreographer)?

Very influential! Nearly everything I do as a performer and as a choreographer is inspired by Michael. You can see a bit of his flavor in everything I do.


You were asked by your friend and mentor, Kenny Ortega, to choreograph the remake of “Footloose” but you turned that down for the opportunity to dance with Michael.

I helped audition the actors for “Footloose” when Chace Crawford was picked. I was very excited about the opportunity to choreograph another feature film but when I found out that Michael was going back on tour, I couldn’t help but audition for the chance of a lifetime ...


What was it like to be rehearsing the show with Michael?

Rehearsals were very surreal. It was like being on a front row seat to one of his shows, and getting to see it six days a week! I was very nervous. No one wanted to make a mistake in front of Michael ... We wanted to help Michael put on the best concert ever.


As the rehearsal days progressed, in what ways did he surprise you?

I think the biggest surprise for me was how great his vocals sounded. He was in great singing shape, sounding better than he did on the “HIStory” tour back in 1996. He also moved well. The new dance vocabulary in his arsenal was pretty surprising.


What were the most memorable moments during the rehearsals that you will always remember Michael by?

I will always remember the way he smelled. He wore so much cologne and when he walked into a room, you knew it before you even saw him. It was a magical scent and no one wore it quite like Mike.

There was one moment right out of the blue when Michael said to everyone, “Thank you all for being wonderful adventurers.” He emphasized the word “adventurers.” He said this all so slowly. It was as if he wanted to reiterate it enough to make sure we all understood how much he appreciated all of us ...


What was your favorite number during the rehearsals? What was your biggest number with Michael?

My favorite number would definitely have to be “Beat It.” It’s funny because when I was younger, I always used to fast forward to skip that song because the performance of it seemed like a dull moment. But as a dancer and performer on his tour, I finally realized why he always performed “Beat It” the way we were doing it ... It wasn’t even about the song. It was about the energy toward the end of the piece that was unlike any other feeling I’ve ever felt on stage before. There are old performances of “Beat It” from his “Dangerous” tour on YouTube. The improvisational energy at the end of the number is what I’m referring to.
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MensajeTema: Re: Fil-Am dancer recounts rehearsals with MJ   Mar Oct 27, 2009 2:50 am

Segunda parte:

Did Michael know you were a choreographer, too?

Kenny (Ortega, director of the concert and the documentary) told me that during the audition, he didn’t tell Michael who I was or what I have accomplished as a choreographer. Whether or not Michael was informed later, I was strictly a dancer on "This Is It." I was a soldier, in a way, and I accepted the job, making sure I wouldn’t overstep anyone.

As a dancer-choreographer, what did you learn from Michael, who was a consummate entertainer?

Watching and working with Michael during the rehearsals, I observed more than I consciously [studied]. I think I have learned it all from him throughout all my years as his fan, so that, by the time I got the chance to dance for him, there wasn’t that much more to grab from him. But I was in awe of his attention to detail and his constant striving for perfection.

What do you remember most about Michael during your last rehearsal with him?

When you see us on stage with him in our full masks and "Thriller" costumes, you’re looking at his final night alive. He passed away less than 12 hours later. It’s very hard to think about that because he was very inspired and excited by doing "Thriller" with the lights, costumes, smoke effect and set pieces. He was so lively when we left him at Staples Center that night.

Where were you when you heard the sad news? What were the first thoughts that came to your mind?

We were at Staples Center, rehearsing his show on his stage, when we heard the tragic news. I can’t remember what came to my mind. I was disgusted, angry, confused and lost when I found out. Tears all around.

When did it sink in that Michael was really gone?

It still hasn’t really sunk in. I don’t know when it will.

The grief and mourning throughout the world over Michael’s passing was unprecedented.

I felt all of it. I couldn’t sleep for about a month and a half after he died. I’d wake up five or six times, and have Michael-related dreams every night. Not a single night went by without me dreaming about Michael, or rehearsals, or the dancers, or Neverland. I was very shocked by my reaction. I’m glad it has finally stopped.

What was the most touching expression of grief and mourning that you saw or heard?

This will sound weird, but I thought the most touching was that, as soon as Michael died, the media finally had nice things to say about this tragic genius, who had spent most of his life dealing with ridicule and [hasty] allegations from these same reporters.

It must have been a poignant experience for you to perform "Will You Be There" with Jennifer Hudson and the 11 other dancers at the memorial service for Michael, especially since, just days before, you were rehearsing that same number with Michael in that same place.

It was pure nightmare. We were supposed to be celebrating his life during that memorial but to me it was just a nightmare that no one was about to wake up from. Toward the end of the performance, we had to stand there and listen to Michael’s voice and bow our heads. I held my tears in as long as I could, trying to be strong and positive for his friends and family. But as we exited the stage I actually had to run off because the tears just started pouring out.

Did you attend the burial?

I did attend the burial. All of his dancers served as ushers. We all walked up to his casket inside the mausoleum and had our own final moments with Michael.

How do you think the show in England would have been, if such a tragedy did not come to pass?

It would’ve been his best concert ever. I’m a huge fan and I’ve memorized footage of all of his tours inside and out. I really believed we would’ve taken our show to other corners of the world. And when the timing was right, I was going to suggest that we go to the Philippines and call it the "Thrilla in Manila 2010"!

What can you share about Michael that most of us do not know?

I think "This Is It" (the documentary) will reveal a lot about what Michael was really like. You’ll get to see the Michael Jackson with the low voice! The man people don’t ever hear about. Michael was nothing like the tabloids made him out to be. His nose wasn’t falling off, his skin disorder was very real and evident on his arms—[I saw it] every time he changed his shirt. He wasn’t deathly thin. And he wasn’t too old to do the tour.
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