Daniel Soto returns to Seattle tonight in the current tour of Fela!, the Tony award-winning musical based on the life and songs of the late Nigerian singer Fela Kuti.
Local teens will recognize the tour’s lead male dancer as the guy who taught them the “Zombie” routine from Fela! last year as part of the 14th Annual DANCE This, a young artist education program created by Seattle Theatre Group for young dancers in the community.
Choreographed and directed by Bill T. Jones, who receive the 2010 Award for Best Choreography for this musical, Fela! opened on Broadway in 2009 after several years of workshops and an off-Broadway production in 2008.
A part of Fela! since its earliest days, Soto entered the world of professional dance at the age of sixteen, working with the Creative Outlet Dance Theater of Brooklyn and later attending SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Dance.
Besides dancing in the show, Soto also serves as an Assistant Dance Captain during this tour. Here’s a few of this thoughts about dancing in this show as well as working with young dancers.
So you’ve been dancing in Fela! since almost the beginning?
I actually auditioned back in 2004 and started workshopping the production right away. We were still in the beginning stages of creating the show in the magical Alvin Ailey building in midtown Manhattan. I was twenty and in my last year of college at SUNY Purchase. By the grace of God, summer after summer, I was blessed with yet another opportunity to work on the show. In 2009, I was promoted to Dance Captain for Fela! on Broadway.
So how has the show changed over the years?
The first version of the show was a lengthy and demanding three hours! Since the beginning, we have acknowledged the importance of Fela’s story. The fire has only grown stronger and the story has become clearer.
Although the show has become less Wagnerian in length, do you feel like the passion is the same these days?
The mentality, spirituality, and physicality of us all has married itself into a unique synergy which allows us all to tell this powerful story in a more touching and in depth way today.
Physically, Bill T. Jones puts a lot of demands on his dancers. How do you keep up with it?
It requires strong mental and physical preparation each night (eight shows a week). I am always shifting from technical dancing to traditional African dance throughout the show. So, it is important for me to vary my regime outside of the theater. Every three days during the week, I spend three hours working at the gym. I take dance classes and yoga classes in my free time and I eat pretty well! I try to keep learning and challenge myself during the shows and outside of the theater as well.
Do you have a favorite routine in the show?
The “Orisha” duet inn Act II. It’s the moment where the language of Bill T. Jones really shines. I can still vividly remember the first day Bill T. Jones and I created the duet with former cast member Cory Jhon. The story of this dance is about a battle between two Orisha twin gods that hold the key to the gates of heaven. Jones uses his modern dance language to paint this section. The images and the energy are still as magical and beautiful as that first day with Bill and Cory.
Besides performing, you’ve also served in various positions on Broadway and the tour. What is the role of “dance captain” in a musical?
A dance captain’s job is to make sure the show stays as close as possible to the original product. It’s a dance captain’s job to know everyone’s track or role. The dance captain’s responsibility is to give feedback to the dancers, critique the shows, and also teach choreography. As an assistant dance captain [on this tour], I must perform these duties along side the dance captain and be prepared to step into any role in the show at any time. I have my own role as a lead male dancer and I maintain the responsibilities of taking notes and preparing constructive critiques, mainly for the men.
How did you start staging “Zombie” for young dancers?
I started dancing as a youth with my home company, Creative Outlet Dance Theater of Brooklyn. Last year, I had the honor of teaching “Zombie” to the students at Creative Outlet. It was a big deal to give back to my own community.
What do programs like DANCE This mean for young dancers…and for you?
DANCE This holds a significant spot in my heart. I understand the value of arts in the educational system. This part of my development as a child that has made me the man I am today. I want to make a difference in the world and the best way to initiate positive change is working directly with the kids. They will be our leaders and shifters one day. We as elders have to pass on the gifts that were given to us in order for a future of love and peace to be real.
Fela! opens tonight (May 28) at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle and runs through June 2. Student/Educator Rush Tickets are available — one $25.00 ticket per school I.D. can be purchased for cash only one hour prior to curtain at the Paramount’s box office, 911 Pine Street.
DANCE This begins a new summer program at June.