DIRTY DANCING is one of those movies that created heartthrobs, inspired a generation to carry random watermelons, learn to dance, and is a love story that made girls everywhere dream of that bad boy with a heart of gold. If none of that rings a bell for you then all I can say it that you are really missing things and you need to see this show as soon as it hits the San Diego Civic Theatre on Tuesday, January 6th. Playing through Sunday, January 11th, see why this is one show no one can put in the corner and forget about.
Jenny Winton, who is cast as dance instructor Penny Johnson for the U.S. tour is a professional ballerina who is happy to come over the musical theatre side of the stage for this show. She trained at the prestigious San Francisco Ballet before performing with Pennsylvania Ballet II and Joffrey Ballet, so what brought her to this role in this show?
“It was pretty unexpected, actually,” Jenny says on a laugh. “I trained my whole life to be a ballerina, I went to the SF Ballet school from ages 6 to 18, then I went to the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago when I was 19 and danced with them for 5 years. I was contacted by the casting director and they were looking for this role and asked if I was interested. It seemed like a thing that could be really fun. I’ve always really liked acting but I never really got to get into it, so I went out to New York and it worked out. It was very unexpected but it kind of just happened and I couldn’t say no.”
So how do you go from ballet to all of the different dance styles that DIRTY DANCING calls for? “It was definitely challenging because ballet is so structured and so technical. The dancing that we are doing has its own structure and its own technique, but it’s a lot more free and there are a lot less rules. Getting out of the rules, and ‘perfect movement, structure, and ethereal movement’ outlook was tricky,” Jenny says. “I had to get in a different mindset of a different kind of dancing and a different approach to movement. I think what really helped me was getting to know my character a little more and just really put my mind in to how Penny would approach things and her background. I feel like the character development really helped me and kind of teach myself how to move in a different way.”
Speaking of her character, Penny is a pivotal character in the show, and one who has an interesting relationship with the heroine Francis (aka Baby). Jenny found that Penny has been a fun person to explore onstage.
“She has so many layers to her; she’s not a one dimensional girl at all. She’s been through a lot, she had a hard childhood growing up but she’s been driving by her passion for dancing, and I can really relate to that passion. Just learning about how she is, she’s almost like a working class princess. She is very regal and is a very respectful person, but she can’t afford to live a life of luxury. She she’s kind of stuck in her life, and she really sometimes puts on a rough front because of what she has been through. But she really does have a kind heart which comes through in the end. Penny becomes friends with Baby and really appreciates what Baby does for her. That’s really the fun part of acting, becoming someone else and drawing from inside your life and outside your life to create that character.”
Jenny says she grew up knowing the movie as a classic, and while she admits there is an inherent pressure in having a show based on a popular movie, she thinks the live version provides a more engaging way of telling the story.
“I feel like with the story on stage, it is much more intimate than the movie. The audience is right there so they can really follow the characters much more closely. It’s more of an intimate story. It’s not sitting in your living room watching something on a screen. There are people right in front of you and the music and the dancing is driving the entire storyline and it’s live. Since it’s happening in front of your eyes, the lack of distance really helps the audience engage.”
Jenny also says the audience is a key member of the performance. “The audience engagement really helps make a huge difference in getting the story across is really having the audience be there with you. It helps the actors and the dancers so much when we can feel the audience with us and we can hear them. It’s like you’re at a rock concert sometimes with everyone screaming. If the audience is having a great time then we are having a great time.”
So take that as permission to get involved and clap, scream, and have a great time. Maybe just leave the dancing to the professionals like Jenny.
See Jenny, and the rest of the cast of DIRTY DANCING,) have the time of their life in San Diego at the Civic Theatre. For dates, times, and ticket information go to www.Broadwaysd.com or call (619) 570-1100.