Before Lin-Manuel Miranda dominated the theatre with the myth-making of ‘Hamilton’, there was ‘In The Heights’.
It’s the musical about big dreams dancing passionately through the golden streets of the Latin community in Washington Heights, New York, becoming a phenomenon after its 2008 Broadway debut. Now, the musical has made the big leap to the screen – a leap achieved with the help of Hollywood choreographer Christopher Scott.
Chris’ choreography has put a spring in many steps, from the ‘Step Up’ franchise and ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ to pop stars such as Gwen Stefani and Miley Cyrus. With such an impressive resume, it’s a surprise to learn that he is a late bloomer to dancing.
“It’s funny,” Chris admits. “I didn’t start dancing until high school. I went to Hollywood High School and they actually forced me to dance. But I’m so grateful to them because it changed my life and I found what I believe I was meant for.”
After that initial spark, Chris’ passion for dance exploded when he met tap dancing twins John and Sean Scott, who took Chris under their wing and onto Venice Beach Boardwalk to build his talent.
“They trained me in tap on the street, and we would just dance for tips,” he says. “I was lucky because they already had their show, and they were kind enough to let me join them – they didn’t need me; they were stars already. It just took a little tap, a little bit of rhythm, some percussion, and I was hooked.”
After developing his skills on the streets, Chris made his acting debut as Hair in ‘Step Up 2: The Streets’, where he formed a bond with that film’s director, Jon M Chu. The pair have since collaborated on a number of projects, with the latest being ‘In The Heights’.
“As Jon’s friend and as a choreographer, I’m really proud of that guy. Jon’s a choreographer, but I don’t want him to know that too much because then he’ll stop hiring me and do it himself,” he laughs. “But that guy thinks like a choreographer; he’s the real deal.”
Working as a choreographer for films like ‘In The Heights’ is a challenge as each movement must fit within the story, something Chris is fully aware of. “The whole point of watching this movie is [lead character] Usnavi [played by Anthony Ramos] telling these kids these incredible stories of dreams, hope, love, and passion in Washington Heights, so you can’t ignore that when you’re creating the movement.”
To craft the choreography for the film, Chris once again drew upon his childhood training.
“I have a mentor of mine named Corky Dominguez who now lives in Boyle Heights, which always felt to me like the Washington Heights of LA. He was my mentor in storytelling through movement since high school. He always gave me this sense that you can tell a story through the pinky of your hand if you do it right or just by the way that you look. All these exercises that Corky threw at me all hit full-force when doing this movie because the story is everything.”
Next, Chris will be applying his choreography talents to ‘Being The Ricardos’, the Lucille Ball biopic written and directed by Aaron Sorkin and starring Nicole Kidman as the iconic comedian. “It’s funny,” he says. “I’m going from Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is this genius lyricist, to Aaron Sorkin, this genius wordsmith. I hold both of them to the same kind of brilliance. I can’t wait for both films to be out in the world, and I hope Australia connects with ‘In The Heights’ and they dance with us.”