So this is the first of two part blog dedicated To Tanner Pflueger who is in his last week as Billy Elliot at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London. The second blog will be more a review of his last nights performance and the emotions that come hand in hand with that. This blog however is more a look back at Tanner's twelve month affair with boxing gloves and ballet shoes.
Tanner is currently the only American Billy, whilst not the first, like all the actors from the other side of the pond, Tanner brings with him a wealth of talent and the ability to capture the hearts and mind of the British theatre goer. But what sets Tanner apart from almost any other Billy I have ever seen either in the flesh or on video is his balletic performances. Ballet is in his bloodstream, and I don't think words even exist that will emphasise the sheer power a strong ballet performance can have on someone.
There is a scene in Billy Elliot called "dream ballet" where young billy dances a ballet routine to swan lake with his older self. Its a nice scene, but "nice" is not anything special in the grand scheme of things. Its always been a scene that just blended in to the rest of the show for me, until I saw Tanner perform this for the very first time. It was only then that the scene went from being nice to utterly beautiful and hugely powerful. It became an art form, which had the ability to move me and bring a tear to my eye. I'm not ashamed to say that... it really was something special.
So what makes Tanner's dream ballet that much better than all the others? Well i'm no expert on dance. Even in my own training I have only briefly touched upon the subject. However, when you watch Tanner everything is picture perfect. The posture looks great, the movement is smooth and elegant. Thats what ballet should be in my eyes. It needs to flow, and when I see Tanner perform that is exactly what it does. I guess to draw a comparison, think of some gentle ocean waves lapping the shore... thats Tanner's ballet, its perfect! But it takes more than one scene to make a great performer, so what else is it that I enjoy about Tanner's performance?
Sticking with the theme of dance, there is a piece called "Angry Dance", which is performed at the end of the first act. This is the moment where Billy's emotions hit overdrive. He has worked so hard to get his ballet up to scratch for an audition at the Royal Ballet school. His family are opposed to his ambitions to dance and fulfil his new found dream. As Mrs Wilkinson, his dance teacher and maternal figure throughout the first act walks away, he turns to his dad and says "Mum woulda let us" to which his dad replies "Your mum's dead!". This hits Billy hard and his reaction is "Angry Dance". The routine is full of big movements and a vicious tap routine which summarises just how Billy feels.
Tanner's performance of "Angry Dance" is one of my favorites. He digs deep to express himself so well, he is definitely the angriest of the current Billy's during this scene. The movements are sharp and jerky and show the fire that is fueling Billy's emotions. The movements Tanner opts to use are the complete opposite to ballet, but thats whats needed for a routine like this. Remember those waves lapping the shore for his ballet performance? Well now theres a storm, and the oceans waves are now hitting down hard, the waves are huge and relentless as they batter the sea shore. I guess the point I am trying to make is that Tanner has this immense ability to use dance as a tool to not only express Billy's feelings but to express his own also. Its quite a statement to make, but I think he is the best dancer I have ever seen, or at least my I interpretation of his dance makes him very special in my eyes. He is diverse, individual and very powerful in every routine he partakes in. It goes without saying that his "Electricity" routine is a blinding display also!
Away from dance, Tanner is very expressive in his acting, and his singing is purely angelic. I normally love Electricity for the dance routines, as every Billy is different, and don't get me wrong I love Tanners dance routine also. What Tanner does differently however, is he delivers the song and dance as an entire package. When I watch him its no longer about the dance in the middle bridge, my attention isn't focused solely on that anymore. Its now about everything, the singing is great, the dancing is fantastic and it all fuses to become one solid unit. I love it.
Many people inspire us in life and Tanner certainly has been an inspiration to me. He has really shown me how dance can be used as a medium of expression, and he has opened my eyes to the beauty that dance can have. I know all this sounds rather soppy, but I think its important to be open and honest about things like this. I wish I had the opportunity to thank Tanner for being such an inspiration to me. As among my actors training I intend to learn to dance also, something I wouldn't have even dreamed of before. He has been a key figure in my decision to do this.
Whilst I know when he heads back home I may never get to see him perform again, along with the other inspirational figures in life there will always be a place for him in the heart of every piece of acting or dancing I ever perform. This is because deep down he will have been one of the reasons that I would be standing there in the first place. Thank you Tanner!
Part 2 will come at the weekend after his final performance. I can't wait to see Tanner perform once more, but I am already saddened by the fact that it may be the last I ever get to see.