When Maria Kowroski and Martin Harvey—the dance world’s most beautiful couple and imminent parents-to-be—asked me to participate in the number they were choreographing for Katy I did not know what to expect, but I said yes in a heartbeat. I was thrilled to be a part of their first choreographic endeavor. And I am of course a big fan of Katy Perry’s music (who isn’t?) and also of her tongue-in-cheek humor: see the “California Gurls” video, etc.
My boyfriend and I throw an annual Super Bowl party, and I must have replayed Katy Perry’s performance five times in a row last year, much to the dismay of the die-hard football fans in attendance. I was secretly hoping to be cast as the infamous Left Shark for the Carnegie Hall
Transcendentalism aside, the experience was especially intense because of its quick inception and my severe jetlag. The gig took shape just days before we were to perform, and I landed back in NYC very late the night before rehearsals began. (My younger brother Ian got married in London right before Halloween, and I extended the trip with my parents afterwards to Ghent and Bruges.) It felt nice to sweat again after two weeks of waffles, beer, and chocolate—my only exercise on vacation had been climbing steep belfries and biking through quaint villages. But it was a challenge to fit my feet, which were still swollen from two days of train and plane travel, into my pointe shoes that first day. In a semi-somnolent state I learned the roughly five minutes of choreography to a smooth, adagio version of “Firework.”
Like for my SPAC gig earlier this summer, we would be dancing in a slim panel in front of the musicians on the Carnegie Hall stage. In the studio Maria and Martin blocked off the limited space we would have with tape and ballet barres, and they placed a chair in the center of the space to represent Katy Perry. Our main priority was to not kick “Katy Chairy,” as we affectionately called her inanimate stand-in. The real Katy was scheduled to show up the next day.
On the second day of rehearsals we learned that the song’s instrumentation had been changed. It was now heavier on strings and lighter on synth. It was even more balletic. Maria and Martin tweaked some of the choreography to fit the altered sound, and we waited for Katy. Alas, she couldn’t make it, which was unsurprising given how packed her schedule was. We rehearsed with Maria and Martin taking turns as Katy in the middle so that we knew how much space we had—a useful practice since no one would dare kick the extremely pregnant Maria. Martin, ever the goofball, wandered and interfered with our steps in his turns as Katy to ensure that we were ready in case she decided to roam a lot. Ominously, we had varying levels of success in dodging him!
When we got to Carnegie Hall the next day we saw that we had way less space than had been promised, given the monitors, speakers, and wires that were all over the front of the stage; and so the choreography had to be changed again. We also had no idea of how big Katy’s gown would be so we erred on the side of caution, which was a good thing since she ended up wearing a dress with a train. Maria and Martin had had our shoes rubberized for the slippery wood floors but it still felt like we were ice skating, so more steps got changed along the way as we skidded.
Rubberized pointe shoes are odd and pose their own challenges. They are pointe shoes in which a thin, sneaker-like layer of rubber is applied underneath the ball of the foot and to the surface of the toe pointes. The addition of the rubber and glue inevitably warps the shape of the shoes and causes them to die faster. We had to take them off after a few runs to preserve them for the show. Thank god we had them though, with the normal satin we would have been like Bambis on ice. Given the floor and shoe conditions our toes were killing us, and my colleagues and I agreed that we had not had such dire toe pain since we were apprentices dancing in our first Swan Lake! I thought often of the gala’s cause while attempting to transcend my sore toes.
Once we had mapped out our spacing and practiced with the orchestra Katy arrived. She was very nice and incredibly professional. We went through our dance once to show her where we would be, and she grasped our spacing instantly. There were several parts during which we would frame her or line up behind her and she needed to know when she could move and when she needed to be still on center so we could make patterns behind her. Then she ran her set from the top. (She would sing “Roar,” “Teenage Dream,” ”Wide Awake,” and “Dark Horse” before we would come out for the closer.) She didn’t really rehearse her singing at all though. She kind of scatted and riffed around in order to set the mic levels, but that was it. She did “Firework” the most full-out of the lot for us, and she remembered her cues perfectly. She only needed to do things once and she had them down.
One thing was abundantly clear: she was a calm and seasoned pro. She knew her arrangements and she trusted in her talents, which were ample. Even without makeup, in a tracksuit and flip-flops, she looked luminous. And her voice was amazing. It was huge, and it sounded much darker and deeper than on her studio albums—the early ones especially. I wonder if, like an opera diva who transitions from Donizetti to Verdi as her voice gains intensity, Katy will also change up her sound over time. When she arrived in the green room, fully decked out in her pink gown and nearly 6 feet tall in her platform heels, everyone gasped. She was like some goddess come down to earth. I’m not usually star-struck by celebrities, but then again I usually see them attempting to be incognito on the street.
The performance was fun and totally surreal. To be onstage with the surging violins and her booming voice was exhilarating. She hit all of her marks and even whipped her train out of the way of our feet several times. On my first bourrées downstage toward the audience I was shocked not to see the normal dark deep of the audience, but a sea of lit-up camera phones filming us. What a weird way to perform. Ironically, I’m sure that to Katy Perry—who is used to oceans of screaming fans in massive arenas—the comparatively small music hall must have seemed so quiet and intimate. It was a nice departure for both her and for us, I realized. It was a meeting in the middle of our respective art forms.
When my colleagues and I exited the theater Katy had apparently just gotten into her car, and her fans were hanging on the vehicle like a swarm of zombies. We backed up against the building’s wall and I tried to shimmy my way towards the R train around the corner. Then Katy’s car peeled out and tore down the street and the mob went running full speed after it. My path to the train became perfectly clear, except for Margot, the solo violinist on “Dark Horse,” taking pictures with a friend in front of the theater around the corner. Celebrity is bizarre, and I have a lot of respect for those who have to deal with it.
Early the next morning I showed up for jury duty, a hilarious contrast to the glamour of the previous night. In fact, it felt like it almost hadn’t happened, except that I still cannot get “boom, boom, boom, shining brighter than the moon, moon, moon” out of my head. Luckily for me, Nutcracker is right around the corner and I’m sure that fifty shows of the Tchaikovsky will easily supplant that earworm!