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October 28, 2016

Washington Post: “Choreographer takes on a change of tempo for ‘Evita’ at Olney Theatre Center”

June 17

On the first day this year that Washington’s temperature hit 90 degrees, choreographer Christopher d’Amboise requested a bit of hot ballroom at Olney Theatre Center.

“Where are my tango people?” the choreographer shouted above the din of a busy rehearsal room. The cast and creative team were just two weeks away from the opening of “Evita,” Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical about Eva Perón, Argentina’s charismatic first lady.

“Oh, what a circus, oh, what a show,” narrator Che (Robert Ariza) had sung just a few moments earlier, and that’s more or less how this rehearsal was going.

In one corner, music director Christopher Youstra was at the piano running through notes with Rachel Zampelli and Nick Duckart, who star as Eva and Juan Perón. At what would be center stage, Jonathan Atkinson, playing tango singer Agustin Magaldi, was preening at his microphone, ready to belt out “On This Night of a Thousand Stars.” Slowly materializing in the middle of the room were four couples who looked not quite ready to rehearse the tango.


“Please sell me on this,” d’Amboise begged them. “We don’t have time to change it.”

Most tangos require the dancers to move as though their feet are tracing the outline of a square; they strut in straight lines and turn on right angles. But the dance that d’Amboise has created for “the night that Perón first met Eva” (as Che describes the scene) tracks in a circle.

“Take the most circuitous possible route to find each other,” director Will Davis instructed Zampelli and Duckart. “I want this to be like when Romeo meets Juliet.” The other couples began to swirl as if waltzing, but then executed angular, tango-like steps while the two lead actors locked eyes and slowly wove their way through the dancers and to each other.

“We aren’t really doing the tango here,” d’Amboise said later, during a break. “It’s an abstracted tango that directly relates to the story. What’s going on here is that [Eva and Perón] are negotiating the terms of their relationship.”

Connecting movement to plot is what drew d’Amboise to “Evita,” although he’s probably known in the dance world for everything but the tango. He’s the son of Jacques d’Amboise, the renowned New York City Ballet dancer and Kennedy Center Honors recipient. Christopher d’Amboise’s sister Charlotte has starred on Broadway in “Damn Yankees,” “Pippin,” “A Chorus Line” and other classic musicals. D’Amboise himself was a principal dancer at City Ballet, but also has a Tony nomination, more than 50 ballets and a stint as artistic director of the Pennsylvania Ballet on his résumé. In 2011, he and his wife, Kelly, moved to Fairfax County so he could take a teaching position at George Mason University. Both have gradually made connections to the Washington theater community. (Kelly is an assistant choreographer on Signature Theatre’s current production of “La Cage aux Folles.”) D’Amboise first worked at Olney in 2014 on the critically hailed football drama “Colossal.” “Evita” is his first local musical, and he hopes there will be many more.

“I’m interested in figuring out how we can use dance in the storytelling process,” d’Amboise said. “There seems to be a momentum in D.C. to do more dance in musicals, and I think I can contribute to that in a positive way.”