Cody Green (’01, dance), who currently plays Riff in the Arthur Laurents revival of West Side Story, is no stranger to the Broadway stage. He attended Juilliard for two years before joining the casts of Mamma Mia!, Movin’ Out, andGrease. Born in Surrey, British Columbia, Green was introduced to dance by his mother, a dance teacher and director of Visions Dance Company, a semiprofessional youth dance group. Green toured around the world with Visions, but it was his first trip to New York City that might have sealed his destiny. When he saw kids his age dancing in the Broadway production of Big, the musical, he thought, “Hey, I can do that.” And now he is. Green took time out of his busy performance schedule to speak about his career.
Your Juilliard audition experience was quite unique. What happened?
I had a very difficult senior year of high school. My house burned down and, to be honest, where I was going to go to school was the last thing on our minds. Following my senior year I traveled to New York City for the summer, dancing on scholarship in various N.Y.C. studios. I was lucky enough to get a chance to take class at Juilliard at the end of the summer. Mr. Harkarvy [Benjamin Harkarvy, the late director of the Dance Division] taught the class and told me afterwards he had a spot open in the B.F.A. program that was set to start in a week. I was floored and very excited for the opportunity, but given how close we were to the beginning of the semester, financial aid was all gone for that year. Mr. Harkarvy encouraged me to audition for the following year. I went on to take a job to raise money by working at Tokyo Disney in Japan. I got the call that spring that I had received a full scholarship to attend Juilliard and couldn’t have been happier!
What did working with Twyla Tharp in Movin’ Out teach you about dancing and acting?
Movin’ Out was such an intense dance show in that it took the whole rehearsal period to get in shape to do that kind of athletic Twyla Tharp choreography. It taught me to connect the acting to the dancing, and how to inject the emotion of the acting into the dance so that the transitions are seamless. You don’t go from acting to dancing. You tell the story the whole way through with the dance.
As the winner of Bravo’s reality show Step It Up and Dance, could you talk a bit about that experience and if performing for a camera informed your stage work in any way?
Winning Step It Up and Dance was a really special experience. The toughest part was the schedule. You were called on to perform with very little preparation and the pressure that a bad performance could be your last. Every moment, the good and the bad, was caught on camera. Learning to perform with confidence in those situations serves you well for auditioning and nerve-racking opening nights.
Talk about the rehearsal process with Arthur Laurents for West Side Story, about the character of Riff, and the challenges of playing that role.
The rehearsal process was intense. Arthur was extremely supportive and adamant that his production was to be different with Spanish incorporated into the show. Riff is the leader of the Jets, a loyal guy with a tough childhood. The gang and protecting his territory are his life. Riff reacts when he is challenged and doesn’t back down from a fight. Most of all, he is proud and that pride gets him in trouble. The toughest part of performing the role is that you have to do everything. You have to dance, sing a song, go into a scene, and back into dancing. It’s one of the true triple-threat roles in Broadway history, which is what makes it challenging, but also what makes it so fun. I started working on my voice and singing after my experience at Juilliard, where I used to sing in the practice rooms with the voice majors. When I roomed with a drama major my second year, we would work on scenes together. I continued that work after leaving school by taking voice lessons and acting classes.
What is the difference between Jerome Robbins choreography and Tharp’s style?
Twyla’s choreography is very organic to dance. It is free movement. Jerome Robbins style is very powerful and much more tied to the music.
Anything else you would like to add?
Juilliard was an important experience for me. It helped me realize both what I wanted to do in the future and what I didn’t want to do. Sometimes realizing what you don’t want to do opens your eyes to other possibilities.