By Donnie Matsuda
The 1920’s are alive and kicking again in La Jolla, largely thanks to the tireless tap-savvy work of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” choreographer Claudia Gomez Vorce.
Coming from a lineage of professional dancers beginning with Mexican Ballet Folkloriko, Claudia teaches tap and jazz and has performed in nightclubs and theatres throughout New York and Southern California. She has appeared in national tap events including “Tap Extravaganza/Flow Bert Awards” with Mable Lee, has been mentioned in “Dance Magazine,” and has performed at the “Big Easy Music Awards” in New Orleans. Claudia is currently the tap dance percussionist in “Cajeta” and she is the producer and director of “Groove On Tap!” “Olio, The Show,” and “The Cherries Jubilee” – all by the organization Olio Productions, Inc., a non-profit dedicated to the preservation, education, and presentation of jazz music and its American vernacular dances.
And now, she is bringing back the Charleston to J Company’s youth production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” which opens this weekend at the David and Dorothea Garfield Theatre at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, Jacobs Family Campus. “Millie” is the second show of J Company’s 19th Season, which honors Broadway musicals that were born out of our very own La Jolla Playhouse. (The company previously produced “The Who’s Tommy” in December and plans to mount “Xanadu: The Musical” in May).
While awash in tap dance rehearsals, Claudia found time to do this brief interview and spoke to me about her dance history, her current dance projects, and what inspired her splashy, period choreography for “Millie.”
Donnie: When did you start dancing?
I started dancing taking Mexican Ballet Folkloriko dance class around the age of 3 or 4. Both my Grandmother and mother were professional dancers in Mexico so I was pretty much born loving dance. My ballet, tap and jazz training began at age 7 with the city of San Diego park and recreation program. I danced with them through my early teens. Now tap dance is a very important part of my life.
Donnie: Do you still dance and perform or are you solely focused on choreographing these days?
I tap dance on a regular basis with a few bands in and out of town. I also choreograph for my production the Cherries Jubilee www.cherriesjubileesd.com and for other productions and events.
Donnie: How did you get involved with the J Company? How is working there different from other shows/companies you’ve worked for?
I LOVE working with J Company. These children are amazing and I enjoy working with every one of them. I was introduced to J Company by my friend Emily Calabrese. She had seen my work and asked if I would like to teach dance at the JCC.
Donnie: “Millie” made such a splash in 2002 as a new, exciting take on an old 1920’s story. Why revive it now in 2012, nearly ten years later?
It's a great musical that was born in San Diego. I don't think the 1920's will ever get old - especially the music and dancing! Everyone knows what the Charleston is. I also know that the audience will get a kick out of watching a seven year old break into "vintage" dance.
Donnie: How did you go about approaching the choreography for this show? Will you be getting any inspiration from Rob Ashford’s Tony Award-winning choreography?
I was definitely inspired by both the movie and the original choreography. I was also inspired by jazz, tap dancer, and entertainer Mable Lee, and the Apollo Theatre and Cotton Club dancers of the Harlem Renaissance.
Donnie: This is a children’s production with a very young cast…what are the age ranges of your actors? And how does your rehearsal schedule work?
We have been working between 6 to 10 hours a week Sunday through Thursday. We have about 84 children in the cast with ages ranging from 8-17. They are uniquely professional and have worked very hard.
Donnie: Are you making any changes to the show to keep it fresh and exciting?
It definitely has vintage dance moves. The young actors, singers, and dancers are making it fresh and exciting. Watching 84 children do the Charleston at the same time is quite spectacular. It feels great to pass on traditional dance forms. They actually think it's cool!!!!
Donnie: Any exciting projects lined up after “Millie” closes?
I am always working on something exciting. At the moment, I run a 501(c)3 non-profit organization called Olio Productions. It is dedicated to the preservation, presentation, and education of traditional American Jazz music and dance. I started a couple of vaudeville style productions in town called Olio the Show and The Cherries Jubilee www.cherriesjubileesd.com which I produced, direct and choreograph. The Cherries Jubilee has a show about once a month. I also work as the tap dance percussionist with incredibly talented musicians in Besos de Coco https://www.facebook.com/besosdecoco?sk=info and Cajeta http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/jan/30/tap-gilbert-and-lorraine-castellanos-cajeta/. I also teach and create events and workshops on a regular basis.
To find out more information about J Company and their current production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” visit: http://www.sdcjc.org/jc/