Broadway Brain: ‘Mary Poppins’ dance captain Suzanne Hylenski turns choreography on its head—literally
While the company members of the Opera Populaire over at Phantom of the Opera and ballerinas of Billy Elliot have been dancing masterfully for years, performers in long run shows need help maintaining the choreography. Enter the dance captain. Over at the dance-heavy Mary Poppins, Suzanne Hylenski has been keeping the Tony-nominated choreography clean for four years. An original cast member, Hylenski has held the position a number of times, the longest stretch being two and a half years. Hylenski, also a swing, sat down with Stage Rush to reveal the life of a dance captain and what it’s like to tap dance upside down.
Explaining it to me like I’m a 3-year-old, what exactly does a dance captain do?
A dance captain is responsible for knowing every single dance step in the show. We know where every single person has to be on stage and how they get there without banging into somebody. I write charts so that I know where everybody is, so that I can keep the show clean. If someone new joins the show, I then have to teach them the steps, that certain track, so that they can come in without banging somebody, falling into the pit, or getting hurt. I have to keep the show clean by watching the show.
So as dance captain, are you watching the show off stage or performing in it?
Most dance captains on Broadway are also swings. So we’re not necessarily performing every night. Right now we have a resident supervisor and two dance captains, because we have such a large show. For me, if I’m on stage, I’m still looking at people thinking, “She’s not on her mark,” and I’ll go write that down. I’ll be doing my track onstage and someone will come to me and say, “I’m getting hit by somebody, something’s not right.” So I have to go and fix that problem. If I’m not on stage, I generally will go to the back of the house and watch the show as a whole and see how it looks. The job is to see people are keeping clean with their dancing. The longer you’re in a show, the longer you don’t have rehearsals. It’s not that people aren’t working hard; it just isn’t quite as crisp as it should be, because they can’t see what else is going on around them. That’s why we give them notes the next day.
Video: Dance captain Suzanne Hylenski on Poppins pressure, faulty doorknobs, and inappropriate audience participation.