Josh Bergasse is the man to commend for the stellar Smash choreography. (photos: NBC)
Watching the NBC series Smash, it’s easy to think that some of those musical numbers in the show just happen. But, inside scoop here, someone is working tirelessly behind the scenes to create that fantastic choreography. That someone is Joshua Bergasse, the show’s choreographer who won an Emmy last fall for his work on the Broadway-based show.
We sat down on the New York set of Smash recently to talk to Bergasse about his tough Emmy competition against many familiar faces and how working on Season 2 has been very different from the first.
AfterElton: Congratulations on the Emmy. Obviously, when you are creating these numbers, you are not really thinking, ‘Oh, this could really bring me an Emmy,’ right? What’s the process for submitting?
Joshua Bergasse: You can submit three routines per choreographer. The show asked me which routines I wanted to submit, and it was like picking your favorite child. It was really hard. I took a lot of time to think about it, and I asked a lot of people what they thought, including Chairman of NBC, Bob Greenblatt. Everybody gave me different ideas and opinions. So it did not help much, and I still wanted to rip my hair out. I finally decided on the three routines that I thought had the best shot to be nominated, and to ultimately win. That is how that process went.
AE: It was basically Smash, Dancing With The Stars and the So You Think You Can Dance folks in your category.
JB: There were three from Smash (“National Pastime,” “Let’s Be Bad” and “Never Met A Wolf”), three from So Your Think You Can Dance (Spencer Liff, Stacey Tookey and Christopher Scott), and then one was Dancing with the Stars produced by Travis Wall (and co-choreographed by Nick Lazzarini and Teddy Forance). They were all very talented. I did not want to do it, but I ultimately did go back watch all the things that I was up against, and it did not make me feel very confident. It was a tough competition
AE: Take me back to when you started this career. Was dance and choreographer always your track?
JB: I grew up with my mom’s dance school in Farmington Woods, Michigan. I had my first pair of tap shoes when I was three years old. Suburb of Detroit. I literally grew up there, spent all of my time there, and started teaching there when I was young and choreographing for the recitals. I thought I would spend my life there. I thought I would take over the studio, and that would be my track.
What happened was I came to New York on a vacation to take classes and see shows and I went to an audition for West Side Story, a national tour. We were doing the original Robbins choreography, and I got the role of Baby John. That took me away from Michigan, and I went on tour for two years. I was 22. I did not think that I would ever do that, so it was a real shock. I was not going to take the job, but it was my mom that said ‘you have to take this.’
Then, I came to New York after that and I danced and toured and then started dabbling in choreography because I had done it at the studio. Then I just kept choreographing more and more and more, until I was doing more of that then I was dancing. It was kind of a natural transition.
A Smash number that Bergasse worked on with composers Scott Wittman & Marc Shaiman (on floor)
AE: Were you focused mostly on theater? When did the TV side of things come into play?
JB: It was a fluke, I had done a couple of commercials, but Michael Mayer [director/consulting producer on Smash], we had done a show together years ago, as I was a performer, dancer in the show. We had kept in touch, and he saw a benefit that I had choreographed for NYU, it was their big gala. He is an alum of NYU, so he was in the audience, and he contacted me after and said that we should meet for coffee. I thought, ‘wow, that was really exciting,’ and I loved that he was really impressed. And then we never got to meet. I was a little disappointed but that is how it happens sometimes.
A few weeks later, he said ‘we have to meet right now, what are you doing tomorrow?’ He told me about the project when we met and he said ‘I think that you are right for this, but nobody else is going to think so. I am going to have to talk them into it, and you are going to have to give up everything that you are doing right now. This has to be your priority.’ I said absolutely. He really walked me up the ladder of approval through Storyline, Dreamworks, and NBC and really rooted for me, and here I am.
AE: With season 2 of Smash, does the fact that you won an Emmy add extra pressure?
JB: I think that you do feel extra pressure. The first season, I was not trying to live up to anything. I was just trying to knock it out of the park. I think there is extra pressure to deliver the great numbers. I think there is less pressure because it is not brand new and I know how the machine works now so at least that is not freaking me out. How do we live up to that in my department?
AE: You also know your talent a lot better, because you have worked with them for a year now. Do you tailor certain things to them?
JB: I think yes, we definitely tailor certain things. Who is in what number, and what we are doing. We are trying new things too. We can not just repeat season one, because choreographically it was successful and the numbers were successful but we can not do it again because that is not being successful, so we have to reinvent what our level of success is, where is that bar now? Is it different styles of numbers, or is it using technology in a different way, is it using the camera in a different way?
Of course, we have a couple of different shows now, we have Bombshell, we also have the other show that is called Hit List, it comes from a downtown edgy show that has the Rent trajectory that skyrockets to Broadway. That is exciting because I still get to do the Bombshell stuff, but I have this whole other genre that we are using and we are using totally different styles of dance in that, and different styles of music.We are working on a number for that show right now that is the most dancing and the most physicality that we have ever done on the show. It is so exciting. It is probably the most narrative dance we have done on the show.
Jeremy Jordan (far left) and Smash dancers watch Bergasse demonstrate a dance move.
AE: From having talked to a lot of dancers and choreographers, it seems like the community is not that big.
JB: Yes. We all know each other. Spencer Liff, who choreographs So You Think is one of our favorite dancers here on Smash.
(l-r) Jack Davenport, Bergasse, Christian Borle, Leslie Odom Jr & Megan Hilty in Smash.
AE: And you were competing against each other for the Emmy!
JB: I will tell you it was just so fun to be there with him at the Awards. It was just so great to see him. I feel like we have this great pool of dancers. We have all these shows and they are revolving and they are Broadway shows, so we lose people and then we gain more people and then there is all those kids you know from So You Think and we have a lot of them working for us. We were just working with Adechike and we have Alex Wong, a lot of them. And also, I teach, I teach a lot. I do not when I am doing this show but I teach in New York, I have a class in New York.
AE: Now, people might want to know if you’re single, dating…?
JB: I am married. My wife is a dancer.
AE: Good luck with the second season of the show.
JB: Thank you so much.
Smash airs Tuesdays at 10pm on NBC.