Dance

[Weekly Q&A]

From ‘Austin Powers’ to Gap ads and ‘ShowStoppers,’ choreographer Marguerite Derricks has done it all

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No stranger to Broadway or Hollywood, choreographer Marguerite Derricks’ most recent work can be seen in Steve Wynn’s ShowStoppers.

After two decades in showbusiness, choreographer extraordinaire Marguerite Derricks has done it all: Her work can be seen in more than 40 feature films from Austin Powers to Mr. & Mrs. Smith (plus dozens of TV shows and commercials and a handful of music videos). She’s choreographed for the Academy Awards telecast, and her talents earned her three consecutive Emmys for outstanding choreography—a feat only she has accomplished. Did we mention she showed Tom Cruise how to spank some air booty for Tropic Thunder?

In December, the world was introduced to her latest work in Steve Wynn’s ShowStoppers, a gig she calls a “dream come true.” We caught up with the acclaimed artist to talk shop.

Cast members of 'ShowStoppers' perform 'One' from 'A Chorus Line.'

A lot of the Broadway tunes in ShowStoppers were immortalized onstage with dance decades ago. How did you go about refreshing the numbers? We weren’t re-creating from the shows at all, so it really opened it up wide for us to reimagine the numbers. Specifically, in the whole Cabaret section, putting it in modern-day Las Vegas; it helped to keep it fresh, and I was able to bring in all different styles of dance in doing that.

You choreograph just about every style, from ballet in ABC Family’s Bunheads to ballroom-inspired numbers on Dancing With the Stars. What do you enjoy choreographing most? So many people kind of get pigeonholed into doing one thing that they do really well. I’ve been so lucky to do all styles of dance and just different areas, between working in New York and being heavy in film and TV and now, my biggest dream is what we did with ShowStoppers. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for 15 years, a big dance show in Las Vegas.

Why was a Vegas-based dance show the dream? Las Vegas has this flux of audience, people from all over the world constantly coming into the city. … Where better to do it than Las Vegas? People are coming to have a good time and to be entertained. It, to me, was always a no-brainer. And I’m an LA girl, so it’s right next door to my home. I’ve been longing for it. I’ve had the opportunity to work all over the world, but this is where I wanted to be. And [where] better to do it than to do it at Mr. Wynn’s theater?

Steve Wynn and choreographer Marguerite Derricks attend the press conference for “Steve Wynn’s Showstoppers” in Encore Theater on Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014, in Wynn Las Vegas.

Steve Wynn and choreographer Marguerite Derricks attend the press conference for “Steve Wynn’s Showstoppers” in Encore Theater on Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014, in Wynn Las Vegas.

You seem to balance more serious choreography gigs with playful character work, like what you did in Little Miss Sunshine and Tropic Thunder. Is there a way to maintain artistic integrity when teaching Tom Cruise how to slap air booty, or do you just have fun in those moments? (Laughs) With Little Miss Sunshine, the coolest part was when I met with the directors Jonathan [Dayton] and Val [Faris]. They didn’t know how to do this number, because they had just started watching little girl competitions and like, oh my God, how do we top that? It’s so crazy! I read the script and … it was my idea to have the little girl strip. I said, “Well, if she’s learning from her grandfather, who is a heroin addict, what would he be teaching her? The moves that he sees at a strip club.” … And this one little silly dance helped to tie up such an amazing film, bringing the family together and this little girl is doing this strip routine. She is completely unaware of these moves she’s doing, she’s just doing what grandpa taught her! That is one of my favorite things to do with choreography, is to tell a story or to drive a story. I got to do that a lot on Bunheads, but Little Miss Sunshine is one of my greatest. I knew that I helped the filmmakers to complete that film, and to do it with such silly choreography makes it even better.

Early in your career you choreographed Showgirls. Did you do any research in Vegas? My research was done more in the strip clubs than it was [in] the big Vegas [showrooms]. I just kind of went to town with Showgirls. The show in the film is called Goddess. I think I approached Goddess in a very similar way that I did with ShowStopppers. I just interjected my style of choreography into these numbers. If you go back and you look at the big S&M number, it’s that kind of sexy style of jazz that I love to do. And in the opening number with the volcano, if you watch it, it’s got a little bit of an Alvin Ailey vibe to it. So I wasn’t trying to recreate. ... I didn’t even know what a lap dance was when I got Showgirls! So I took my assistant in, and I made him get a lap dance.

“Steve Wynn’s Showstoppers” at Encore Theater in Wynn Las Vegas.

“Steve Wynn’s Showstoppers” at Encore Theater in Wynn Las Vegas.

You have said that the first Gap commercial you choreographed changed your life. How so? Living in Los Angeles back in the early 2000s, I really wanted to go to New York. I wanted to work on Broadway and there was that East Coast-West Coast thing that was happening, where we were just looked at as commercial choreographers out here. And I had just done Showgirls and Striptease and I had just worked on the Austin Powers films and I was getting very popular in movies, but I really never wanted to just stay in one area or one place. I got called to do this Gap campaign, I was chosen for the Gap “Go-Go” [commercial] because I had just done Austin Powers. … We got it in the first take, it was the easiest shoot day ever, and two weeks later it premiered [during] the Oscars. Well, within 24 hours of this commercial hitting the airwaves, the next thing I know, Diane Sawyer wants to talk to me in New York, People magazine wanted to do a featured article, the New York Post. Now I’m getting this call from this guy Lonnie Price, who is a director in New York City, asking me to come and do Broadway. All off of a Gap commercial. It just blew my mind. All of a sudden it just kind of burst open doors that I had been wanting to open up for a while. You never know. You always think it’s like this big thing [that] is going to change [your] life.

And you’ve maintained your relationship with Gap, obviously, choreographing their Boyfriend trouser commercial with Claire Danes. Yeah, and that came off of the heels of Little Miss Sunshine. Because it was my idea to have her rip her pants off, and that’s what we did in the Claire Danes commercial. And the directors from Little Miss Sunshine directed that commercial, so it was kind of fun. Gap was always kind of super-cool in keeping an eye on what was happening in film and TV.

What projects are you working on right now other than ShowStoppers? I just finished shooting my first episode of a new TV series called Blunt Talk. It’s for Starz, starring Patrick Stewart. We just did a huge Busby Berkeley sequence for the show. And Patrick Stewart is, oh my God, what a treasure. So I just finished that, and I’m right now actually trying to negotiate my first West End show. The offers have gone back and forth twice, so I’m hoping that it’ll be a go.

I saw you were the choreographer on Donnie Darko, so I have to ask: Did you ever doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion? (Laughs) Never! That—doing Sparkle Motion, Drew and I; Drew Barrymore was the producer on the film—that was it, it locked us in for life. Never, no. I’ll take that to my grave!

Steve Wynn's ShowStoppers Tuesday-Thursday & Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 7:30 & 10 p.m.; $100-$150. Encore Theater, 702-770-9966.

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