PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With "SYTYCD" Dancer and Choreographer Travis Wall, Shaping Sound Across the States
By Michael Gioia
June 15, 2013
Travis Wall, an Emmy Award nominee for his work on the hit reality television show "So You Think You Can Dance" and choreographer of the Off-Broadway rock musical Bare, wraps up his first national tour of Shaping Sound June 17 in New York City.
When Travis Wall was a child, he danced in the chorus of the Tony Award-nominated Best Revival of The Music Man. He went on to compete in the second season of the reality television series "So You Think You Can Dance" in 2007 (where he finished as runner-up); choreographed for the show in 2010, earning an Emmy Award nomination for his work; and was enlisted by the creative team of the Off-Broadway rock musical Bare to provide expressive movement for angst-ridden teens coming of age in a Catholic boarding school. Wall was also featured on the Oxygen reality show "All the Right Moves," which chronicled the formation of Shaping Sound, the contemporary dance company of "visual musicians" that is currently traveling the United States. Shaping Sound culminates its 13-city tour at New York City's Beacon Theatre, where Wall will take the stage with his company members and friends to fuse storytelling with styles of jazz, modern, ballet and hip hop dance. The artist spoke with Playbill.com about his dance endeavors and the New York City engagement, which will take place June 17.
Tell me about your journey with Shaping Sound. You started with "All the Right Moves" on Oxygen…
Travis Wall: Well, I did a dance performance on [the ABC dance competition] "Dancing With the Stars" about three years ago. It was something that I choreographed, and I hired all my best friends to do it. After we were finished with the performance — it was an amazing performance, first of all — we [thought], "How can we make this happen every day — us all dancing together?" We wanted to put a couple shows [up] in L.A. and put our work out there and let everyone know that we were going to start working together [professionally]. And, it kind of exploded. We were approached about doing a reality show and [said], "Yeah, sure!" … So that's how "All the Right Moves" started. From the TV show, we got this first national tour…and it's unbelievable. We've been selling out almost every theatre we've gone to. The crowd's reaction at the very end — it's been so exhilarating. To have a piece of work that's your own [and] that's touring is extraordinary.
In Shaping Sound, you call yourselves "visual musicians." Can you describe that term and where it came from?
TW: [My] biggest attribute to the company — and especially my choreography — is my musicality. I'm not just storytelling, but it's the way I portray music. I am a musician, and I can take music and show you exactly how it sounds — either with a group of bodies or just one body. I feel like I do create music with my body and therefore, being a "visual musician," I make the music come to life. That's how we got the company name Shaping Sound — we're a very music-driven company. Our musicality is a focal point.
Aspects of musicality and storytelling were evident in the choreography you did for Bare. I love watching stories come to life through dance.
TW: That's what's great about this show. There's a full story. There are two acts. It's a full, thought-out concept. It's a real story all the way through. We stay the same characters throughout the entire show, and it's been so much fun to play.
Tell me about your dance beginnings. How old were you when you started to take class?
TW: I pretty much came out dancing. [Laughs.] But I was three when I started real class at my mother's dance studio. My mom had a crib at the studio [when I was] five days old. All I know is dance! … My mom was my dance teacher. She had a dance studio in Virginia Beach — Denise Wall's Dance Energy — and I was raised up in that studio.
Where did you find your niche in dance? What styles did you gravitate towards as a child?
TW: I liked gymnastics, and I liked tap dance. I was a really good tapper, but I was also a really good jazz dancer. I liked things that I could make lots of facial [expressions]! [Laughs.] I was a little showman! I did Broadway when I was 12 [and] moved into New York City. When I was 14, I injured myself pretty badly in The Music Man, and I had to start from scratch with my body. I was growing, and I [was developing a] brand-new body. It was really weird. I was overweight. I had ripped my hip, and I had to take eight months to heal my hip, and I lost all my flexibility. From that moment, I fell back in love with dance — because [in Music Man] I was singing, acting and dancing a lot, [and] it was more of a combined trio. I fell back in love with dancing when I was 14, and then I started choreographing when I was like 15, and I realized I really wanted to be a choreographer because of how painful [the injury was, and I was adjusting] to my body…
|Travis Wall in Shaping Sound|
Tell me about being on the theatrical side and choreographing a show. How is that different from dancing? What do you appreciate about it?
TW: I love it. It's where I'm supposed to be. I feel like I'm at home. Eventually, I hope to keep moving up — to [be a] director and producer and entrepreneur. It's where I feel most comfortable. I feel like I should create, and it's been [a] great process with this dance company, [Shaping Sound]. It's a lot of collaborating, but I call the shots, which is awesome. I get to create the show and put it up. I get to tell the creative designer and the production designer and the lighting designer what I want.
Your choreography is very expressive. Is dance your outlet?
TW: What dance was for me was finding out who I am and answering questions I had about everyday life — personal experiences, your first relationships [where] you're learning, and you're so stupid in love and then something happens… It's all that stuff. That, to me, was my escape when I couldn't talk to anybody. There were so many times in my life where I hadn't been able to communicate very well verbally, and dance was my way of spewing out my diary. It's great for this show because I'm dancing again, and I haven't danced like this in a very long time. I've been more of the choreographer, and I've stepped back on stage to perform my own work. So many of my friends [and] so many people who saw me dance seven years ago on television, after the show, they say, "It's so good to see you dance again" and "Please don't leave the stage any time soon." That stuff makes me feel good because I was always very insecure about my dancing, but was very confident in my choreography.
Along with the show, you're teaching workshops in each city. It's inspiring that you're working with young dancers.
TW: …I like to keep a hand in the younger generation, not only to inspire, but to see who is up and coming — see who is turning 18 [years old who I could] hire for a job in L.A. — and to inspire those kids and train them and to lead them down the right path. We have a workshop four hours before each show in the cities. There are about 75 kids, and we teach them some rep from the show, and it's been great. It's been awesome to see some of the talent across the United States… I tell them to stay true to themselves, and if there is a "can't," make it a "can." If someone says you can't do something, tell them what you can do.
(Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)