So You Think You Can Dance's Travis Wall on Season Ten, Shaping Sound, and Life as a Reality Star
Travis Wall knows a thing or two about dreams. Firstly, the 25-year-old dancer, Emmy-nominated choreographer and reality star is living his; the dance company he founded with his best friends, Shaping Sound, recently set off on a multicity tour. Secondly, the show of his dreams is, in fact, inspired by dreaming (This is getting Inception-y!). And we're guessing that every once in awhile, the multi-hyphenate gets some REM sleep.
But we could be wrong; Wall's a busy man. After he completes Shaping Sound's13-stop tour, he jets back to Los Angeles to choreograph for So You Think You Can Dance.
Wall split-leaped his way into America's living rooms as the runner up on season two of SYTYCD. Since then, in addition to choreographing for the Fox show, he helped put together numbers for the 82nd Academy Awards and the latest Miami-based Step Up movie. He was also featured in the Oxygen reality show All the Right Moves, which documented the formation of Shaping Sound with pals Nick Lazzarini (season 1 SYTYCD winner), Teddy Forance and Kyle Robinson.
Wall chatted with Cultist about the show's inspiration, why there won't be a second season of All the Right Moves, how he'd respond if HBO came calling, and what he loves to do in the Magic City. (Hint: it involves going out).
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Young Contemporary Dance Theatre
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Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami
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Cultist: I understand that you guys had your first few shows already. Congrats! How have they gone?
Travis Wall: Everything has been going really well. We've done four shows so far. And now we are in Salt Lake. We have a day off today which was really nice. Yeah, we're having a blast.
Can you tell me about what inspired the Shaping Sound show?
We were inspired by this quote by J.M. Barrie, which goes, "You know the place between sleep and awake, the place where you can still remember dreaming? That's where I'll always love you. That's where I'll be waiting." And Kyle actually found that quote, and so we pretty much based off our show around this dream. And if you really think about it, this show is our dream. We've been dreaming about this since [we were] children. To tour the country with your best friends and just having a touring show -- having a piece of work that's your own out there -- is extraordinary. So we based this entire show off of this dream that this girl goes through, and it's a love story inside of a dream.
The show features all sorts of different styles of dance, right? Not just contemporary?
Yeah. We come from very different backgrounds, and we all pretty much trained in dance studios. The thing is that we aren't just technically trained contemporary dancers. And I think the crowd pleaser -- and the favorite part of everyone's show -- is the unexpected, which is this speakeasy musical theater scene. And it's when the girls put on their heels, and we kind of take you back to the '20s.
What is it like choreographing this show versus choreographing for something like SYTYCD, which seems to have such a grueling schedule and such a quick turn-around time?
Oh, this is a grueling schedule as well.... We had four weeks of this, to put on an hour-and-a-half show.... For So You Think, you have to captivate and you have to get people's attention and all you have to hold their attention span [for] is two minutes. And this [show] you have to really intrigue people enough for an hour and a half to keep you completely sucked into our show.
You only had four weeks to choreograph and put the show together?
Oh my gosh!
I know! It's fast. [Laughs.]
How many hours a day were you putting in?
Eight hours. This is a paying gig. Last time we could rehearse whenever we wanted to. And now this time around there's a lot of people who are involved, and the dancers have to have breaks, and now it's a paid thing, and we could only pay dancers for a set amount of weeks. If we could have rehearsed for three months, of course I would have loved to. But you know, it's too expensive to do that, so we had to know what we were doing before we walked in.... And we, the four of us, sat in a garage -- what we call a "creation station" -- and we had to know exactly what we were doing before we went to the studio. We didn't have any moves yet, per se, but we definitely knew how to attack and execute the hours that we had, because we literally had to do a number a day.
How much of the choreography comes from working organically with the dancers versus setting it out in your mind how you want these numbers to look?
If we would have had 14 other dancers we would have had a completely different show. Our work is very inspired by our dancers, and we would sit in front of a mirror and go, "OK, where do you feel like going next?" Shaping Sound is a collaboration of artists, and not just with choreography and the four of us who are choreographing and creating the show. It's literally every single person who is involved.
What is the difference between performing your own choreography versus having other dancers perform it?
If I ever just choreographed the show and sat in the audience and watched it, I would be sick to my stomach like if I wasn't up there doing it. And I always prefer to sit back and watch my work, but I'll be able to watch this soon on video. I think the show would have been so much different if one of us was out of it, one of the creators, if we didn't dance in the show. And it wouldn't be as special to us if wasn't us.
Switching topics a little bit, So You Think You Can Dance has been known for having really expressive judges. You have Mary Murphy and her "hot tamale train." And you have Mia Michaels, and I think she once said she would stab someone in the eye they were so good at what they were doing. If you were game, I was wondering if you could describe your show as a SYTYCD judge might?
[Laughs.] Oh my! I have no idea! That's a funny question, but I truly think that the past four shows, and I might be biased because we all gave birth to a baby, but I just feel like people are stunned, I think people can't believe what they are seeing.... They've seen our shows before and our shows are very "dancey," but this is a full story. It's a full production, and it's fully directed and the production level, like, our lighting designer, our costume designer, our set designer, everybody has completely killed it. And I think people are just going to be like, "Wow, I just wasn't expecting that."
So no hot tamale trains?
I'm sure if you wanted to make it commercial and say, "Yeah, there's hot tamale trains," sure. Adam Shankman came to the show, and he's a judge on [SYTYCD], and he was absolutely like, "I can't believe it. It was amazing." He loved every second of it.
I'm a big fan of SYTYCD, and I loved the Top 10 girls' routine you did last year, and in prior years, "Turn To Stone" and "Fix You." Do you have any favorite dances that you've choreographed for it?
The "Fix You" one is, I'd say, my favorite because it means so much to me. I'll sometimes watch that piece of work when I'm just down about trying to help somebody out.... That one always kind of picks my spirits up. So I guess I'll say that one was my favorite, not the work itself but just the meaning behind it.
I can honestly tell you that 25 years of living, this [Shaping Sound] show is the most proud I've ever been. Our opening night when I got off stage, that was the most proud I've ever been of anything in my life. So that was awesome, to feel like you're peaking as you get older and not peaking when you were just younger.
I know a lot of the dancers in your company were previously featured on SYTYCD, beyond you and Nick, also Channing Cooke, Noelle Marsh, Alexa Anderson, and Jaimie Goodwin. Can you talk about how this show and the prevalence of dance shows in general have changed the professional prospects of dancers?
All of us were on the show when we were like 18 years old. So when you're just moving out of your house and the studios that you grew up in, So You Think You Can Dance is a great way to get your name out there and possibly be able to book a commercial. And so as the years got on, if you were 18 and you were a contemporary dancer, that was usually the place people went to go to get recognized.
So all of us were very, very, very young on the show, so we're all much older now. And if you really think about it, there's been amazing, amazing, amazing contemporary dancers from that show over the years, some of the best in America, so they really do have an amazing alumni, and that's why some of us are in Shaping Sound. It just so happened. It's not like you're in the company because of So You Think, but it's just a coincidence that about six or seven of us were actually on the show.
Oxygen's reality show All the Right Moves was about getting this company off the ground. What was it like having cameras follow you around as you're trying to do your job?
It was harder than I thought it would be trying to have cameras, especially because we were only supposed to film for two months, and it ended up being six months. And so it felt like it was an everyday thing and it was truly taking over my life in [the] way I acted and the way I just went about everything. It was so foreign to me. I just could never imagine creating this show that we just did with cameras around; I felt like it would have completely stunted the creative process.
So no thought of a second season?
No, there's not. It just doesn't make sense. If it was like a funny spinoff or something, like me and Nick or something, I don't know. The four of us learned so much about each other through the process. It just doesn't make sense: we don't live together anymore, and we're at completely different stage of our lives. If it was more about the dancing and you wanted to do documentary and it would like air on HBO, hell yeah, let's go! But as far as a reality show where it's about ratings and stuff, probably not.
What are the next steps for you?
We're in talks for what's next for Shaping Sound right now. Based on this tour we've done, and OK, maybe we could do it again next year at the same time ... and do a new show, but there's a lot of talk about how good this show is.... We're going to have a lot of meetings after we finish the tour and we've been hearing crazy good things, we're very excited to see, OK, what's next! Show us! [laughs].
You're heading to Miami later this summer. Have you spent a lot of time here?
Yeah, my boyfriend is from Miami.
Nice! Where in Miami?
He lived in Kendall for a bit. He was a gymnastics coach and cheerleading coach. He moved to LA with me about five months ago. So the two of us always go back. When we were dating, I had to visit there every two weeks because I couldn't not see him. And we also filmed Step Up 4 in Miami for three months about a year and a half ago.
What are your favorite things to do down in Miami?
I like to go out. [laughs]. I like going out for sure.... I love Lincoln Road and I love going to, you know, Prime One Twelve. Oh, Meat Market is my favorite. So we're just so excited to go to Miami! You have no idea! I think Miami, Boston and New York are by far the most excited that the entire cast is for.... And Toronto probably. We're excited to go everywhere! Sorry! [Laughs.] But I just know that we're going to see a lot of family and friends in those three cities.
Anything else you want our readers to know?
Nope. Just tell everybody and your friends to come see us! You won't be disappointed. And bring your little dog, too. [Laughs.]
Are dogs allowed in the theater?
No, they're not allowed in the theater. I was just kidding!
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