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How Do You Make a Dinosaur Dance? The funny-sincere choreography in "Triassic Parq"

By MARK BLANKENSHIP

Apparently, it takes a village to make a dinosaur dance. Even though Kyle Mullins is credited as the choreographer for Triassic Parq, the loopy new musical at Soho Playhouse, he says everyone on the creative team contributed to every aspect of the show.

"I'm always in the room when [director, composer, and co-lyricist Marshall Pailet] is working, and he's always in the room when I'm working," Mullins says. "We're always there with a second pair of eyes, and we're quick to offer our thoughts to each other. It feels like the group has one pair of hands molding the entire project, instead of everyone doing a separate job."

It makes sense that Triassic Parq has an "everybody in the pool" kind of attitude. A parody of Jurassic Park told from the dinosaurs' perspective, it began in 2010 at FringeNYC, a down-and-dirty festival where everyone has to pitch in to make things happen.

In true Fringe spirit, Mullins didn't even get hired until the day before rehearsals began: "I would walk into the room, and they would sing the number for me once and say, 'Okay, can you go [choreograph] now?"

But now that Triassic Parq is Off Broadway, Mullins feels the collaborative spirit is about more than tossing up the show in the nick of time. "We want every element to feel like part of the storytelling," he says.

In other words, he isn't just creating jokey routines for dinos. He's trying to make the show's movement feel intrinsically connected to the plot and the tone. In the opening number, for instance, we see the very end of the story, when a beloved velociraptor is trapped in a cage. We learn she's a religious leader at the park and that her situation horrifies everyone in her community.

Mullins' choreography involves both literal cages---actors dance behind an on-stage cell---and sharp, jagged movements that imply how everyone feels trapped. It's a funny scene because it's inherently absurd for actors to play dinosaurs, but Mullins hopes the movement also suggests real stakes and not just random gags.

"If you take away the jokes, it's sort of a tragic show," he says. "Every character's arc is pretty tragic."

He's not wrong: For all their sassy talk and non-sequiturs, the dinosaurs are trapped inside a high-concept theme park, where they believe the machines delivering food are their gods. And when some of them spontaneously switch genders, they plunge into a crisis of faith.

To make these conflicts feel honest, Mullins has also relied on input from the performers. Instead of creating dances and setting them on the actors, he's worked with each cast member to create individualized movements. Though everyone occasionally dances in unison, the angry T. Rex has a different style than the religious raptor. The sensitive young raptor moves delicately, while the Tyrannosaur who becomes male has the awkward gait of someone not comfortable in his skin.

"I really love working with actors that can dance but are not necessarily dancers first," Mullins says. "Working with their abilities and limitations---which are different than the abilities of, say, a ballet dancer---you can actually find so many more human movement ideas. It doesn't have to be step, kick, step, turn, pas de bouree, and I've had so much fun trying to keep everything as 'human' as possible and not just make arbitrary dance steps."

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Mark Blankenship is TDF's online content editor
Photo by Carol Rosegg