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Drew McOnie interview

We speak to the leading choreographer about his show DRUNK and his new company.

Drew McOnie

We recently spoke to Drew McOnie, a former dancer who is now one of the most sought-after choreographers in the business.

Having previously worked alongside giants of dance like Matthew Bourne, Drew has now set up his own company, The McOnie Company, and their inaugural production DRUNK hits the stage next month.

We spoke to Drew to find out where the ideas for DRUNK came from, who will love the show, what the future might hold for The McOnie Company – and just what McOnie’s tipple is!

Tell us why you came to set up the McOnie Company and what the artistic vision is.

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The McOnie Company is a hot-blooded new theatre dance company, proudly bringing together talented and passionate theatre dancers to collaborate with creative practitioners from all corners of the arts. The aim of the company is to bridge the gap between the musical theatre and the dance audiences by creating exciting, relevant and accessible pieces of theatre dance. The company is at its core an exploration and celebration of musical theatre choreography and I set it up to provide a creative environment for theatre dancers and practitioners to develop new work and push themselves further.

How much of a crossover do you think there is between musical theatre and dance?

As a dancer I enjoyed working in both fields and it didn’t take me long to pick up on the misconceptions that each art form held for the other. There is a notion that musical theatre is all jazz hands and contemporary dance is all massaging bananas into walls: neither of which of course is true. My personal observation is that even though the creatives that work in each field may approach their work completely differently, they actually all hope for the same outcome: to create work that connects with its observer. Dance is an incredible tool when it comes to story-telling and has been an important part of music theatre for years. Some of the greatest choreographers worked in both fields and it is my opinion that the reason their work has stood the test of time is down to the fact that they didn’t label themselves as one thing or the other. They served the show and their audiences. Its my hope that the McOnie Company can highlight that in truth there is little difference in the two art forms.

Drew McOnie

DRUNK rehearsals. Photo by Sean Goldthorpe.

How did you get into dance and what have been the highlights?

I used to believe that dancing was magic, I don’t know why. I believed that if I danced, I could make things happen (more often than not to avoid ‘tidy up time’ at play school and nursery). My parents were asked how long they had been taking me to classes which they where utterly confused about (no one in my family is theatrical in the slightest) and then followed advice to let me start. I was hooked very young and I guess in moving into choreography and direction I still believe that when people dance they are magic. Good ones certainly make me feel something. I have worked very hard and enjoyed an exciting career but choreography has always been the dream. I get such a buzz watching my thoughts come to life that I don’t have time to miss performing myself. Highlights have to include choreographing a piece that Matthew Bourne directed that was performed at Buckingham Palace and aired on BBC1 last summer; choreographing both the original London production of 13 (directed by Jason Robert Brown) and a brand new production of West Side Story for the The National Youth Music Theatre.

Who have been your inspirations?

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I have of course been very fortunate to work with Matthew Bourne and I’m very grateful for all that he has given me. As a young choreographer in Musical Theatre there doesn’t really exist a supportive career advisor and having somebody as gentle and as generous as him, willing to offer up advice and answer the questions I’m embarrassed to ask any one else has been invaluable. My work is influenced by a lot of people. Whether or not any of that is apparent when you watch it I don’t know but I love the work of Punch Drunk, Jerome Robbins, Pina Bausch, Bob Fosse, Micheal Kidd, Stephen Mear and Jack Cole amongst others.

Drew McOnie

Drew McOnie in rehearsals for DRUNK. Photo by Sean Goldthorpe.

Tell us about DRUNK and where the idea came from.

DRUNK explores the notion of what the drink we order says about us. Set in a bar the show follows the melting journey of our central character ICE (Gemma Sutton) who, while waiting on her date, is shaken and stirred with an array of brightly coloured and highly potent characters, all of whom are the personification of different drinks. From the stag do SHOTS to the Sexually promiscuous COCKTAILS, DRUNK explores social relationships through a high-spirited menu of situations.

What’s been your approach to choreographing and directing the show?

I guess it has been a little unconventional for a new musical to be created in the way this has. Artists that regularly work in contemporary dance are used to being quite involved in the way that the material is made up whereas, due to the time constraints of a musical, it is normal for a choreographer to come into the room with every step already mapped out. That hasn’t been the case this time. Grant and I have worked very closely on the structure and character development of this new piece and the cast have been very involved in every aspect of how the piece has been created! Its been a thrilling experience and the commitment and pride these performers deliver with in the show is exceptional.

Drew McOnie

Anabel Kutay and Daniel Collins. Photo by Sean Goldthorpe.

What can you tell us about Grant Olding’s score?

Other than it gives me goose bumps and has to be one of the most versatile creations for a 5-piece band ever, all that is left to say is that I really hope you get to hear it! The band are so groovy it hurts. Grant is an astoundingly talented man and there isn’t a note in this piece that could argue otherwise.

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How did you come to work together?

We created a brand new production of James and the Giant Peach together last year which was directed by the brilliant Nikolai Foster: a director we both love. It was a great process and I think we formed a very good friendship based on mutual admiration. It was Grant with whom I first shared my full idea for DRUNK. I so admired his eye (and ear) for structure and I trusted him to tell me if it was an idea I should forget about. I have loved every minute of this process with him. More laughter than anything else!

What can audiences expect from the show?

Audiences can expect a fast-paced comedy with heart, performed by a beautiful cast of eight astoundingly talented theatre dancers and a killer 5-piece live jazz band. Beautiful songs, funny lyrics, high energy dances and jolly good hiccough.

Drew McOnie

The cast of DRUNK. Photo by Sean Halidy.

What is your tipple?

I’m known to drink Moscow Mules (vodka, ginger ale and lime) or Champagne… and by Champagne I usually mean Prosecco. In truth, starting a new company doesn’t exactly give you the bank balance that lends its self to drinking very much.

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DRUNK will play at the Curve Theatre in Leicester and the Bridewell in London. What are the appeals and challenges of those venues?

Well the two venues really couldn’t be more different in their strengths and challenges. Curve is one of the most high-tech performance venues in the country where as Bridewell was built in 1891. Ryan Laight has created a wonderfully versatile design that could be put in any inspiring venue from theatre to distillery and so the piece should always feel suited to its environment. Curve is very wide where as the Bridewell is narrow but very deep. I think both will have their own charm and spark.

What future plans do you have for the McOnie Company?

The company holds a passion to develop new theatre dance pieces and we already have two follow up productions in development. We are committed to connecting with new audiences and have just launched a series of master classes to engage with new talent. The rest is a ‘watch this space’ for now but its a very exciting time ahead.

DRUNK premieres at London’s Bridewell Theatre from 5th February – 1st March 2014. For tickets and info visit For more backstage insight follow the company on Twitter @McOnieCompany.

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