“It was a huge undertaking, but something I had dreamt about for so long,” confesses Miguel Zarate about becoming the choreographer for Season 14 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” He inherited the title from Jamal Sims, who Zarate describes as a “father figure.” The dance guru put the queens’ moves to the test during an iconic “Rusical,” a 60’s-inspired girls group number, and the epic original songs for the top 5 contestants. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
One of the most acclaimed maxi challenges from Season 14 was the Rusical, “Moulin Ru.” It’s inspired, of course, by the Broadway adaptation of “Moulin Rouge!” but that doesn’t mean Zarate was content to plunder Sonya Tayeh’s Tony-winning dance numbers. “I definitely wasn’t looking at her choreography, nor any form of reference,” confides Zarate. “I just wanted to take the reins and have my own creative freedom with it.” Character work was a favorite pastime of his as a dancer, so the detailed character descriptions helped guide the movement language. “It was kind of a match made in heaven,” suggests the choreographer.
SEE Willow Pill interview: ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Season 14 winner
“Drag Race” is known for its tight production schedule, with the queens having little time to rehearse their routines before taking them to the mainstage. But it turns out, choreographers on the show don’t have much time for creation either. Zarate describes having an average of one day to a day and a half to produce the choreography. “And sometimes not even to full tracks,” he adds, noting that oftentimes the queens vocals had yet to be added. “I felt like I was competing on the show!” he quips.
The varying levels of dance prowess among the contestants provide a constant challenge for any “Drag Race” choreographer. It’s Zarate’s job to make sure each Ru girl has the opportunity to shine, whether she’s a former ballet dancer like Lady Camden or if she has two left feet. He approached each dance challenge with a “wish list” of moves for each queen, but was ready to scrap and alter anything that a queen couldn’t pull off. “I’ve let go of an emotional attachment to the choreography,” explains Zarate, “and the second I feel that it’s above them or not in their wheelhouse, I tend to switch it right away.”
When looking at Zarate’s creations on Season 14, the viewer will witness a wide array of dance styles and influences. Just look at the numbers for the final five queens in the finale: Angeria has a hard hitting act that’s ready for the club, Bosco performed as a statuesque demon, and Willow Pill gave an avant garde comedic performance. “I capitalize on creating classic movement and movement that can last a lifetime,” describes Zarate when asked about his personal style. It’s an aesthetic that avoids trends, so that the dance can be enjoyed by anyone, at any point in the future. “I think ‘classic with an edge’ is how I would describe my choreographic aesthetic.”
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