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From Broadway to Jai Ho, Krystal Kiran brings a wealth of experiences to choreographing Matilda The Musical

Krystal Kiran
Krystal Kiran choreographed salsa, hip-hop, house, and an element of ballet into the Theatre Under the Stars production of Roald Dahl's Matilda The Musical.

When people see beautifully choreographed musical theatre, it’s easy to forget all the work that goes into it. Dancer and actor Krystal Kiran, on the other hand, knows these challenges firsthand as choreographer of Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical.

“There are so many variables, especially doing outdoor theatre,” Kiran tells Pancouver by phone. “In this show in particular, there are so many moving parts in terms of the storytelling, the set, the props, and an entire kids ensemble…and then there’s the adult ensemble.”

Produced by Theatre Under the Stars, it will preview on Saturday (July 8) and open on Wednesday (July 12) at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park.

Kiran describes the storytelling in Matilda as multi-layered. Moreover, in musical theatre, dance numbers must serve a dual role. According to Kiran, they have to entertain the audience and they need to move the plotline forward. In this show, she’s incorporated a wide range of styles, including hip-hop, house, salsa, and even a ballet element.

“This is the first time I’ve choreographed a full musical,” Kiran says. “It was definitely a monumental task to take up, but it has been an incredible process. We have an amazing cast, an amazing creative team, and an awesome stage management team.

“That’s the beauty of theatre,” she continues. “We make magic when we come together to do it.”

Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical is based on Dahl’s 1988 novel about a five-year-old telekinetic girl who loves to read. The musical’s book is by Dennis Kelly with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin. In addition to the two ensembles, there’s a cast of nine, including Siggi Kaldestad in the title role.

Photo by Emily Cooper
Siggi Kuldestad and Jyla Robinson perform in Matilda. Photo by Emily Cooper.

Kiran started dancing as a child

Kiran is no newcomer to the stage. The daughter of Punjabi immigrants, she has been breaking barriers ever since she was dancing ballet in Penticton as a child.

Her Broadway debut came at the age of 19 in the dance ensemble Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bombay Dreams. She also performed in the Lord of the Rings stage show in Toronto and starred in the Shaw Festival’s production of The Orchard (After Chekhov).

Another career highlight came as lead singer and soloist on Bollywood songwriting legend A.R. Rahman’s Jai Ho world tour. In addition, Kiran directed, choreographed, produced, and starred in an award-winning short film, “Thy Beauty’s Doom”. She dedicated it to Maple Batalia, a talented Surrey artist and 19-year-old murder victim.

Last year, Kiran was the directing fellow on Something Rotten, which won four Ovation Awards, including Outstanding Production – Community and Outstanding Costume Design. In addition, Rachel Peake won the Ovation Award for Outstanding direction and Nicol Spinola won the Ovation Award for Outstanding Choreography for their work on this show produced by Theatre Under the Stars.

She’s especially pleased by efforts to make Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical reflect the city.

“Out of the 10 kids in the ensemble, I believe seven of them are kids of colour,” Kiran says, “which is, I think, very important for our landscape here in Vancouver in terms of the musical theatre community.”

Photo by Emily Cooper
There’s a great deal of diversity in the children’s ensemble in Matilda. Photo by Emily Cooper.

A full-circle moment

She adds that when these kids’ friends, family members, and cousins all come to the show, it will expand the audience for musical theatre.

“They’re not just dancing,” she says of the kids. “They’re singing all these harmony lines and these lyrics. They’ve learned British accents and they’ve learned their scene work. It’s just really amazing what young people can accomplish. So, I think that will be really inspiring for people who come and see the show.”

Over the years, she’s been inspired by many legendary choreographers, including Debbie Allen, Bob Fosse, Martha Graham, and Bollywood’s Farah Khan. Kiran describes choreographing Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical as a full-circle moment.

“My first professional performing job was as a dancer at the PNE when I was 16, and we happened to rehearse Matilda in the very room where I singed that first contract,” she reveals. “Being the first full musical that I’ve now choreographed, it feels like a good omen and cosmic start to a new chapter in creative leadership.

“I appreciate the journey, with all of its twists and turns that has led to here,” she adds, “and I’m excited about dancing the path as it continues to unfold.”

Krystal Kiran directed and performed “Thy Beauty’s Doom”.

Summer of teaching

Kiran approached choreographing Matilda in a collaborative way. It’s because she was keen to utilize unique talents of cast members.

“The cast has very much been part of creating the show as opposed to simply being told what to do,” Kiran emphasizes. “I think this is a healthy and holistic way of working and creating, especially when it comes to problem-solving with so many moving parts.”

She notes that emerging actor Simon Chung assisted her with Latin and ballroom dance. Chung, who will attend theatre school in the fall in Toronto, also helped create choreography for one of the big numbers.

“Having cast members be involved in the creative process this way is wonderful both for the show and for their own evolution as artists and creatives,” she says. “I also feel blessed to be working with Stephanie Graham as director. With her wealth of knowledge directing and choreographing across the country, it’s been an absolute a joy creating this show with her expertise, and with Lia Wolfe as music director.”

Summer of arts education

Kiran adds that the directing fellow, Monice Peter, brought so much beautiful detail and story-telling to the show.

“What I so appreciate about TUTS as a company is their commitment to mentorship at various levels,” the choreographer says.

Kiran has no shortage of work as an arts educator. This summer, she will be a teacher at the Arts Club’s Musical Theatre Intensive and Gotta Sing Gotta Dance programs. Plus, she will present a workshop at the Monsoon Festival of Performing Arts.

In the meantime, Kiran expresses amazement over the organizational and time-management skills of directors, and especially musical theatre directors. And she knows some of the most celebrated choreographers—including Allen, Fosse, and Khan—transitioned into directors as their careers progressed.

“That is definitely a path that I am interested in and wanting to go down,” Kiran says. “As I’m getting more experience as a choreographer in these different spaces, it’s giving more insight into the overall process of creating a show.”

Theatre Under the Stars presents Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical from July 8 to August 26 at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park. Previews take place on July 8 and 9. Opening night is on Wednesday (July 12). For tickets and showtimes, visit tuts.ca. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.