The American musical-drama, SMASH, might be over, but choreographer, Josh Bergasse, isn’t going anywhere. The long-time Broadway Dance Center teacher landed the coveted choreography job when the show premiered back in early 2012. In his numerous pieces such as “The National Pastime,” “Let’s Be Bad,” and “Ce N’est Pas Ma Faute,” Bergasse brings the energy and awe of live theatre to the television screen. Called the “secret weapon” of SMASH, Bergasse went on to win the 2012 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography. Take a look at BDC’s exclusive interview with Josh and check back on our website to see when Josh will be teaching at the studio again this summer.
BDC: What was your dance training like growing up?
JB: I grew up at my mother’s dance studio just outside of Detroit. I put my first pair of tap shoes on at the age three and I was hooked. I studied mostly jazz and tap in the early years, and it wasn’t until my late teens that I studied ballet seriously. Looking back, I wish I’d been in ballet class much sooner.
BDC: When did you begin auditioning and teaching?
JB: I began auditioning locally in Michigan for small shows and industrials as a teenager. That’s when I started teaching at my mom’s school as well, which gave me the opportunity to explore different choreographic styles. My first NYC audition was for a tour of WEST SIDE STORY. I booked the job and toured for two years. Shortly after that tour ended I started teaching at Broadway Dance Center. That was 15 years ago…feels like yesterday.
BDC: How did you get connected with SMASH as actual choreographer and acting as the choreographer on the show?
JB: I was brought on board as choreographer for SMASH by Michael Mayer, the director of the first three episodes and a Consulting Producer. Michael directed me in a musical in the past, but had never seen my choreography until an NYU benefit two-and-a-half years ago. Soon after, we started working on SMASH together. Once we were in rehearsals for the pilot, Theresa Rebeck, the creator of SMASH, asked if I’d play the assistant choreographer. Of course I said “yes!” I never thought it would be a recurring part. I was always surprised when I read each new script and there was a line for “Josh” in it.
BDC: You’ve choreographed for a lot of live theatre in the past – how was choreographing for a TV show different? Do you prefer one over the other?
JB: Since most of the pieces I choreographed for SMASH were theatrically based, there wasn’t much difference in choreographing for TV. I’d say the main difference is in theater you craft every moment perfectly in rehearsal so that the audience follows the action and story exactly as you want them to from any seat in the theater. For television, much of the work is done in the editing room. The more footage you get, the more options you have in postproduction.
BDC: How has your work with SMASH (and your Emmy award!) influenced your career as a choreographer?
JB: SMASH has been a wonderful lesson in the importance of collaboration. My assignment is to work with the producers, writers, directors, cinematographers, editors, and of course the cast, to develop the choreography that best serves the show. The visibility of the show (and the Emmy award!) has certainly opened new doors for me as a choreographer. It’s so important for choreographers to get their work out to the public so people to see it. SMASH has done that for me.
BDC: What impact do you think SMASH had on both the dance and theatre communities?
JB: I like to think that SMASH has made more people across the country interested in dance and theater. Not everyone has the means to go to New York and see a Broadway show, but everyone has a TV or access to the Internet. Hopefully it created a spark in people to go see theater or dance where they live, or even become a dancer or actor.
BDC: You recently choreographed New York City Center’s Encores! performance of “It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman.” What other projects do you have coming up?
JB: Right now I’m in the Berkshires choreographing “On The Town” at Barrington Stage Company. Next up is a developmental workshop of the new musical “Bull Durham” and then the new musical “Secondhand Lions” at the Fifth Avenue Theater in Seattle.
BDC: We know you’re very busy…but will you be returning to teach at BDC soon?
JB: I hope to get back to BDC this summer for at least a few weeks.