Travis Wall Interview: ‘So You Think You Can Dance’
“It was a week after Charlottesville and there was a lot of angst in the studio with the dancers and the producers,” explains Travis Wall about the “Strange Fruit” routine he choreographed last summer on “So You Think You Can Dance.” “I felt helpless in a way where I wanted to speak louder than I possibly could.” Now he’s nominated for Best Choreography at the Emmys for the eighth year in a row, for that routine as well as for “Change is Everything,” a duet between “SYTYCD” all-star Robert Roldan and season 14 contestant Taylor Sieve. Watch our exclusive video interview with Wall above.
Wall spoke with us almost a year to the day after white supremacists and neo-Nazis descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, for a Unite the Right rally on August 11-12, 2017, which resulted in the murder of counter-protester Heather Heyer. The “SYTYCD” live shows were underway at the time, so Wall worked “closely with the dancers, all-stars and producers, and we all as a family said we wanted to speak on this. We wanted to say that what’s going on is not okay.” So he created a routine around “Strange Fruit,” the famous 1930s protest song about the lynchings of African-Americans in the South. “If I’m starting at least one conversation … then I think the art makes sense,” he says. “The art matters if you’re opening up one mind.”
“Change is Everything” isn’t a political routine, but it was also specially meaningful to Wall. In fact, it’s his favorite duet he has ever choreographed for the show because of how well he felt Roldan and Sieve performed it. “It was the first time last year where I got to sit back and watch a piece as a viewer” without his “very critical, harsh editing eye” looking for faults in the choreography.
With eight Emmy bids to date, Wall is tied with Tony Charmoli as the third most nominated choreographer in history behind Debbie Allen (11) and Derek Hough (9). He’s a two-time winner (2015, 2017), so if he wins a third this year he’ll be tied with six other choreographers as the biggest winner in the category’s history. Among those three-time winners is Mia Michaels, one of Wall’s mentors who actually won her first Emmy in 2007 for choreographing a routine Wall performed when he was a contestant on the show. “I can’t even think about that right now because it doesn’t seem real,” he says about potentially making history.
And he has plenty to think about as it is. He’s choreographing routines every week on “SYTYCD” this season, including “some really incredible and heartbreaking stories to share with everything I’m going through in my personal life.” Then he’s moving to New York City at the end of September “to open myself up to the [Broadway] community,” so perhaps in the future he’ll have a Tony for Best Choreography to add to the Emmys on his shelf. “I’ve had a great run here [in LA]. This is a moment in my life where I can pick up and move and just open myself up to the universe and see what happens. I am so excited about the next journey that I’m on.”