Behind the Curtain: The Greatest Showman’s Aussie Choreographer
The Greatest Showman is an award-winning original musical film that features a lot of Australian cast and crew. The leading male Hugh Jackman is one of our favourite Aussie actors, plus the director of The Greatest Showman is Aussie, and so is the choreographer.
The Greatest Showman transports audiences back to the real persona of P.T Barnum—a family man who turned his misfortune into a circus of success, via questionable means. He became renowned for creating ‘The Greatest Show on Earth,’ featuring unusual acts, animals and more all under one gigantic tent.
The choreography is one of the most raved-about qualities of this movie. The movements appear to be a mixture of Broadway, jazz, and hip-hop, adding in a more ‘modern pop isolations’ vibe to the circus arena. Australian choreographer of The Greatest Showman Ash Wallen has managed to dazzle audiences across the globe with his creative talent and collaborative energy.
“It is amazing to know that so many people have watched The Greatest Showman and love the choreography. When you see all the different people from around the world doing the choreography of ‘This Is Me,’ it’s really special,” said choreographer Ash Wallen.
“It was a combined effort getting all the choreography perfect with the amazing cast of dancers on the film,” he added.
Ash Wallen is a young, on-trend choreographer and dancer originally from the Gold Coast. He began training under Robert Sturrock and Julie Jobson before moving to Melbourne at age 17. In the same year, he landed a gig to be on tour with Kylie Minogue and spent his 18th birthday on the road. This experience led him to feature in Baz Luhrmann‘s Moulin Rouge before relocating to London to pursue a career in dance. Over in the UK, Ash was lucky enough to be offered a choreographic gig for a Sugababes video clip where he met The Greatest Showman director Michael Gracey. Throughout Ash’s career, he and Michael have collaborated ever since, with Ash laughing, “We’ve ended up working together for the last 17 years!”
“I always wanted to get into choreography as I used to do it all the time, whether it was teaching a class or just making up my own routines,” Ash said.
Working on set every day with Zac Efron, Hugh Jackman and Zendaya are perks of the job, but it is not always easy for the choreographer of a huge film. Not only is there a lot of pressure to remain highly creative, but it is also the choreographer’s responsibility to ensure all dancers and actors are safe to perform those movements.
One of the most memorable scenes in the film is the rope swinging romance number featuring Zen and Zac. As they attempt to ‘Rewrite The Stars,’ Ash’s main concern is their safety.
“The only challenge on set was [ensuring] the cast members were safe doing such technical choreography and stunts. Because it is a musical, everything is timed right to the second. Getting the timing perfect while having to fly around the ring and then sing at the same time is a lot,” explained Ash.
Dressing choreography on Hugh Jackman was much easier for Ash and director Michael because all three of them have worked together previously on a TV commercial. Ash choreographed a Lipton Iced Tea TVC featuring Hugh Jackman and an entire dancing ensemble running wild in a Tokyo hotel. The commercial is highly mapped-out and choreographed with care, and almost parallels the choreography to The Greatest Showman.
“Having worked with Hugh before, I think it is about choreographing what works for him and then what fits well with the music. We would workshop different styles and try a whole lot of different stuff until we found what really worked,” said Ash.
Yet, The Greatest Showman is just one of the many achievements for young Ash Wallen—and certainly something further from his domain. Ash has always been known in the commercial space for television gigs, music videos, and pop-star tours. He has also choreographed the all-star cast of Finding Your Feet, which came out around the same time as The Greatest Showman as well as Kylie Minogue’s latest UK performances for her new single ‘Dancing’.
“Working with someone as iconic as Kylie is great because she very much knows what she wants and it always turns into a very collaborative process. Shooting a new video always has added pressure to it and we have to get so much done in such little time but I love working under that kind of pressure,” smiled Ash.
Ash admitted working in the UK and US has offered him so many perks and learning curves.
“You come across so many other talented Australian performers in those countries. Our director for The Greatest Showman is an Aussie and I must like working with Aussies (Kylie, Hugh),” Ash laughed.
“Doing an original musical was definitely a dream come true and one to tick off the bucket list!”