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Travis Wall talks stage show, 'So You Think You Can Dance?' and 'The Nutcracker'

TAMPA — Travis Wall sleeps very little these days.

The choreographer and dancer is touring the continent with his troupe of friends, Shaping Sound, via bus, performing single shows and skipping town.

"It's just how the tour was planned," said Wall, 28, who rose to fame as the runner up on Season 2 of So You Think You Can Dance? "We perform in a city, get on the bus, sleep a bit, check into our hotels, sleep some more, rehearse, eat, perform and get back on the bus to head to next city."

Wall accepts the tight schedule for a chance to tour with people he's been friends with for his entire dance career. Most of the 14 members of Shaping Sound have known Wall since he was a young dancer in California dreaming of choreographing for his own company.

Now, he's squeezing in this tour before jetting off to work on The Nutcracker for NBC set to air in winter 2016. Wall let the Times wake him up during his tour stop in Medicine Hat, Alberta, to talk about what fans can expect from a Shaping Sound show and what's left for him to conquer in his dance career.

What's the difference between the dancing you do with Shaping Sound and what fans see on TV?

You know, Shaping Sound is a live show. It's an hour and a half of dancing with a story throughout. It's more of a dance experience with a complete story to be told. On TV, everything is flashy, the cuts are very quick, there are only a few minutes and you have the action moving from camera to camera. On stage, you've got 2,500 eyes staring at you trying to navigate what's happening and understand a lot of layers of performance. Some people come multiple times to a show and see something new each time.

What story is the show trying to tell?

It's about this girl in this terrible relationship being physically and emotionally abused by this man. You'll see her walking through the city shattered, broken, very insecure. There's a scene that takes place in a bedroom and she'll fall asleep to learn everything about what love is, from first stages to jealousy to seduction. Inside her dream, she'll discover that what she has is not love.

Where did the story idea come from?

I'm inspired by actual life experience and my mother is a huge inspiration and her story is very inspiring. We wanted to make it accessible for grandparents to teenagers, for someone who doesn't know dance, to those who are trained. We wanted a story that would please a lot of people and at the end of the day, that's when we're having the most fun on stage.

Who is Shaping Sound?

There's 14 dancers and nine crew members. It's changed a bit since we started. There are people that I have known since I was 9 years old and people that I met four or five years ago. It's an eclectic group dancing together. It really is a dance family. Who we choose to go on tour with are people we are going to eat and sleep and breathe with. It's hard to invite someone new into our group .

What's your favorite piece in this show?

There's a new piece I created and it's the first male/male (routine) I've gotten to do. I don't really enjoy the pain that goes through my body sometimes when I'm dancing (from previous leg and hip injuries); I prefer choreographing. … But this piece tells the story of the first time I looked at a man in different way, when I realized I was gay. It's one of my favorite's because the audience gets so quiet you can hear a pin drop, and the partnering is extremely hard. When it's over, everyone is applauding. It's very tasteful and respectful and genuine.

The stage is probably little more progressive than TV.

I always dabble in it every season (as a choreographer on So You Think You Can Dance?) but here I get to do it without having to explain myself and worry about two dancers getting voted out for this piece that means a lot to me. You're basically getting the unfiltered version of me.

What's it like choreographing for people on TV, knowing they could get eliminated because of your piece?

To be honest, that doesn't really happen that much in my situation. I think about the dancers before I think about myself. My job is to get them through to the next week so they can continue to showcase themselves. I don't have too much experience letting people down. The biggest quality is to play to their strengths. You could be the worst dancer in the world but I find a way not to expose them.

Will you have time to hang out in Florida after the show?

No. Tampa's the last stop actually and then I'm leaving for New York to produce and choreograph The Nutcracker that will be on NBC next year. It will be completely pre-produced, not live. … The thing is, it's not your grandmother's Nutcracker. It has been completely reimagined. Your grandmother's version has 1,000 productions going on every year. You walk down the street and see one. This is bringing new life into it — making it modern day.

You've already done so much at 28. What's left for Travis Wall?

I've always wanted to choreograph for Beyonce. I love her and that's always been a dream of mine. Also maybe choreograph a new Broadway show, but every day I get a new opportunity and I can't wait to tackle it. I constantly keep pushing myself so it's impossible for me to get bored.

. IF YOU GO

Shaping Sound

The troupe performs at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the Straz Center for the Performing Arts' Carol Morsani Hall, 1010 W MacInnes Place, Tampa. $39.50-$65. strazcenter.org.

Travis Wall talks stage show, 'So You Think You Can Dance?' and 'The Nutcracker' 11/12/15 [Last modified: Thursday, November 12, 2015 6:04pm]
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