Mr Paterson, our journal is deeply thankful to have the chance to have this talk with a personality like you, first of all. Most Italian readers don’t know the "Behind-the-scenes" people that work hard to make the Stars shine brighter. You are certainly one of the most acclaimed of those people in many artistic fields. This little – and brief – introduction was needed to ask for my first question. How did it happen that you fell in love with theatre?
You ask how I fell in love with theater.
I believe so much of my success as a choreographer came because I am a narrative storyteller. I have approached all of my choreographic work with some element of "story." I grew up in an environment where live theater was not available. However, my paternal grandmother saved her money and took me on a trip to Europe when I was 12 years old. It was an incredibly formative trip. In Paris, she took me to the Follies Bergere and, when in London, she took me to see my first musical, The Sound of Music. 4 years later, at 16, I enrolled in acting classes that I paid for by mowing the neighbors' lawns. It wasn't until 6 years later that I got to see another piece of theater. But these two moments in Paris and London were imprinted in my mind and heart. The costumes, lights, dancing, singing and acting…I was transported and immediately bitten by the "theater bug."
I read your book "Icons and instincts" and I saw in it the clear intention to inspire the younger generations. Especially the outsider: the people who constantly think "out of the box". Apart from being an incredible memoir for many music and dance lovers, I think that was a personal need (quoting the Queen of pop that you have worked with) to finally "express yourself" after decades of dancing and directing. You talk about the "new path to enlightenment". What does that mean to you if I can ask?
Writing the book gave me an opportunity to reflect upon my life and my career. For many years, I worked incessantly–driven, motivated, inspired. I always appreciated the projects in which I was involved, but often I was so immersed in the artistic mind that I didn't have time to consider the impact my work was making in/on the world and even on me. Writing the book allowed me, forced me, to relive so many creative moments. I had time to consider the creations I had made, the processes of making them, what I had learned, what I had given. Upon finishing the book, I felt lighter, clearer somehow. The responses I have received from readers all over the globe, who have read Icons & Instincts, have touched me deeply and given me the knowledge that my work has moved people, in some small ways, even changed lives.
Though that is always my goal with anything I create, I didn't truly realize I succeeded until lately.
Your first experiment was with mime and movement, and many other legendary choreographers – just to mention one of them, Lindsey Kemp- did the same. Do you think Is there a reason why many of you started with this practice?
When I went to Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, I was active as an actor and director. I never danced. The closest I came to dancing was performing classical mime. I had met Marcel Marceau, the great French mime artist, when he performed at our school. Though I never studied with him, we struck up a friendship that inspired me to put a small group of actors together. We performed several shows at the college, and, though mime performances were the crux of the shows, we sometimes included spoken word. For instance, we learned a Maori tribal chant with specific traditional choreography. I suppose these both were my initiation into the world of performing movement of any kind.
I think one of the most precious memories for a choreographer is his debut as a dancer. Could you describe yours and how did you feel at that exact moment in your life? How old were you?
You want to know my feelings the first moment I performed as a dancer.
In a way, I had been a "dancer" all of my life. I learned some basic ballroom steps when I was a kid. When I was about 7, my grandparents would push my cousin and I to dance the jitterbug in front of people when we passed a band playing on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey. My cousin Diane hated it. I loved basking in the joy of having the people look at us. It was innocent fun. In high school, I loved calling out the moves for the "line dances." I was a good dancer and I felt great when the girls wanted to dance with me. When I began formal dance training at almost 24, I got to perform small pieces with several dance companies in Tucson, Arizona. I was still in-training, so I never felt pure excitement during these shows. I wasn't a good dancer yet.
When I moved to Los Angeles, and after many, many dance classes, I got to dance for the first time on TV. THAT was incredible. The rehearsals, the cameras, being with talented dancers so much more experienced than I, it was glorious!!!!!!!!! I didn't mind that we had to do several repeated takes of the same action. I loved every minute of it. And when it aired on TV, though I may have been seen for only a few seconds here and there, I felt like a star!
Now I am asking you to choose 3 memories of Hollywood not necessarily related to your job – for example, it could be a private dinner or a letter – that is stuck in your heart forever to understand better American people’s heart if you don’t mind.
You would like 3 memories of my time in Hollywood, but not "Hollywood" memories:
–Though not in Hollywood but in California, every time I visit Joshua Tree National Park, I leave with new memories and images of the beauty of nature and new understandings of how small we really are in the context of time and space.
–My wedding, 9 years ago, will stay indelibly etched in my heart.
50 of our favorite people joined us in our home for a simple and beautiful celebration of love (in English and French) between ourselves and among all of those who were with us.
–Being with my mentor and friend, Michael Peters, just before he passed was something I will never forget. We had had some troubled times because Michael Jackson had chosen to work with me eventually, rather than Michael Peters. This greatly disturbed Michael Peters and caused difficulty in our friendship. But he asked me to be the last person he spoke with besides his mother as he was dying. It was tearful and tender. I am grateful for that moment and memory.
How is your typical day in Los Angeles? Are you currently working on some new exciting projects? Could we know something, if so?
Every day is different. There are a few things that are constant.
I walk our pit bull, Zucchini, for an hour every day. She is wonderful for getting me away from the computer and on my feet.
And I love to cook. I not a chef, but I am a darn good cook, making dinner nearly every night and often inviting friends over to share the meals.
And I call my mother every day. She is 91 and I cherish every moment I have with her.
Most days I work at the computer, sometimes doing interviews for my book, sometimes communicating with people around the globe for work or for fun. Presently I am about to direct a presentation for financial backers in London of a new musical in which I've been involved for 7 years, Shanghai Orchid. So lately my days have been filled with casting actors from London for the reading as well as interviewing female choreographers for the show. I have decided that I will not choreograph this new project. I will direct it only. It is a powerful and fun story about female power combining great dance with spectacular martial arts. Hopefully, this is what I will be doing as my next wonderful project.