Want to disco like you're in Saturday Night Fever? It's in the hips, baby
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Want to disco like you're in Saturday Night Fever? It's in the hips, baby

If you want to know how to disco - proper, 1970s-style, that is - forget John Travolta, ask Mitchell Woodcock.

"It's all about the hips. You've got to have the hips to go with it," says Woodcock, who is choreographing the Australian premiere of the musical Saturday Night Fever.

Saturday Night Fever choreographer, Mitchell Woodcock, with stars Euan Doidge and Melanie Hawkins.

Saturday Night Fever choreographer, Mitchell Woodcock, with stars Euan Doidge and Melanie Hawkins.Credit:Janie Barrett

"It's a bit of a figure eight," he adds, rolling his hips. "So around and forward and back."

Woodcock is busy in an upstairs rehearsal room in a business park in Alexandria putting the cast through their paces.

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"Five, six, seven, eight," he counts as 22 dancers pull out their best club moves under bright fluorescent lights and a full-length mirror. "A little less elbow," he calls out at one point.

It's not quite the dark discotheque with the flashing floor that Tony Manero and his crew occupy in the 1977 smash film - for starters, they didn't have a shiny Officeworks next door - but it's where the cast have been putting in the hard work eight hours a day, six days a week ahead of the show's opening in April.

"In the first act alone there's over 10 dance numbers," he says. "Usually in a musical you'd have four or five big numbers, but because it is such a dance-heavy show with a disco element, there's so much choreography."

Bearing the brunt of most of the choreography are Euan Doidge and Melanie Hawkins, who are stepping into the platformed-heeled, polyester-loving lead roles of Tony Manero and Stephanie Mangano.

Made famous in the film by Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney, the pair meet in a Brooklyn nightclub and soon become dance partners.

It's a partnership rife with tension - Tony uses dance as a way to escape his dead-end job and friends, while Stephanie sees him purely as a dance partner, rebuffing his attempts to get closer - but its one that relies on the chemistry of its leads. More Night Fever than Jive Talkin', if you will.

"It's been hideous," says Doidge, laughing, of the pair's efforts to build that bond. "Mel and I have known each other for a while now, so coming into a show like this, with roles that require us to be so close, it's been so easy. It takes the stress away, because it does take time to get used to that person, their body, their comfort and what they're used to."

And although they both have extensive backgrounds in musical theatre - Doidge was recently in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, while Hawkins was in Singin' in the Rain - tackling this much disco has been a new experience.

"You approach the dance steps from the perspective of the character," says Hawkins. "So with Tony, he's such a cool guy, he doesn't need to try hard to get his moves. Whereas for me, with Stephanie, she's an amazing dancer but she does it for the love of it, so she's not coming out there with all this other energy. It's purely because she loves dance. So that intertwines with the steps - you just think about who you are and that comes out."

And any final disco advice from Woodcock, for those playing along at home?

"It's all about confidence and style," he says. "Having that chin up. It's like a duck on the water - you're working really hard but it's really breezy on top, cool and calm."

Saturday Night Fever is at the Lyric Theatre, Pyrmont, from March 27.

Louise is Editor of S and TV Liftout at The Sun-Herald

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