“La La Land” choreographer inspired at Perry-Mansfield | SteamboatToday.com

“La La Land” choreographer inspired at Perry-Mansfield

Kari Dequine Harden/For Steamboat Today

Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp alumni Mandy Moore was the choreographer for the highly acclaimed modern-day musical, "La La Land."

— “La La Land” choreographer Mandy Moore calls the summers she spent at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp in Strawberry Park as one "of the most inspiring times of my life."

Moore, 40, first attended Perry-Mansfield more than 25 years ago but still holds close a great fondness for those days spent dancing, acting, writing and riding horses.

She remembers waking up early to take modern dance in the open air, with live drumming and deer wandering nearby. The summers "were so full of life," she said. "I couldn't get enough of every day."

Those early years for the Emmy-nominated choreographer, whose resume now includes “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Glee,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and a Shania Twain show in Las Vegas, were much more than summers spent having fun and making friends. They were integral to where she is today. 

"Perry-Mansfield played a huge role in where I am as an artist, a dancer and a creator," Moore said.

Moore's diverse and impressive resume as a director, producer, choreographer and dancer spans stage, hit television shows, movies, concerts and commercials.

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Of course, Perry-Mansfield is no stranger to accomplished alum, from Dustin Hoffman and Julie Harris, to Jessica Biel and Corey Hawkins (recently cast as lead in "24" reboot.)

The intent of founders Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield was to give young people — and instructors — "the freedom to create and test the boundaries of traditional dance conventions," said Executive Director Nancy Engelken. 

For Moore, a 1994 graduate of Summit High School, the summer trips to Steamboat were "eye opening," meeting "people from all over the world who felt the way I did about dance and theater."

One jazz teacher in particular, Walter White, gave Moore the mentorship and "words of encouragement that stuck with me forever," she said.

"For a kid growing up in Steamboat, the access to world class instructors and choreographers was incredible," said Ashley Williams, who became friends with Moore while they danced together at Perry-Mansfield. "It directly contributed to my career as a professional dancer."

Williams remembers Moore as a goofball and a ton of fun, both in the studio and as a cabin mate. Williams recalled her sneaking out of ballet class (not Moore's favorite). "She knew early on what she wanted to do, and what she didn't."

But Williams also remembers how "inspiring she was to watch as a dancer."

And it wasn't just the dance steps and unique way Moore moved. Even as a young teen, Williams said she could see Moore had that bigger sense — a "choreographer's head."

In terms of focus and artistic individuality, "Mandy had that in spades," she recalled.

For Moore, dance has been central to her life from her earliest memories.

"I've never known anything else," she said, describing dance as self-expression, self-understanding and how she finds her place — and her zen — in the world.

Moore attributes her success to the community-focused foundation from growing up in a small mountain town and the unwavering support from her family. She left for Los Angeles at age 18 to pursue her dreams, and "they could have said 'no,'"

Moore also loves to snowboard and remains super close to her family, regularly returning to visit her parents who live in Glenwood Springs, and sister Melissa in Denver.

More than 40 choreographers were interviewed for “La La Land,” Moore said of the film that just won seven Golden Globes and is expected to be a big contender at the Academy Awards, with a whopping 14 Oscar nominations.

Her interview with writer-director Damien Chazelle lasted more than two hours, and Moore was offered the job.

The biggest challenge of the project, she said, was creating that bridge to seamlessly integrate the music, song and dance into the story, making it feel natural and successfully conveying emotion.

The process took "a lot of time and experimenting, and a lot of thought,” Moore said. “We never wanted the film to feel too slick or too perfect."

Part of her job was to get to know lead actors Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling — their personalities, their style, their likes and dislikes, and the way their bodies move.

She commends the two actors for taking a risk on the modern-day musical, which required the two to go to what Moore calls boot camp for dancing, signing and piano.

At the other end of the intimate romantic scenes — the grand-scale opening L.A. gridlock scene, with 30 dancers, more than 100 extras, and a closed freeway — had Moore hiding under a car where she could call cues but wouldn't be visible to the cameras.

The love of dance Moore helped bring to the “La La Land” actors, Engelken noted, is an elemental part of Perry Mansfield.

"We want them to leave here with a greater appreciation and love for the performing arts," Engelken said, and bring that appreciation and artistic eye to whatever career path they take.

While there isn't a Golden Globe for choreography, during her acceptance speech, Emma Stone thanked Moore for her brilliance and her patience.

“La La Land” swept the awards, with wins in six of the biggest categories, and Moore also worked on host Jimmy Fallon's La La Land-inspired opening sketch.

Moore said she doesn't have her dress for the Oscars yet but will get to that soon.