Based in Cape Town, choreographer and dancer Rudi Smit recently became a viral sensation when he choreographed his own take on a music video to Megan Trainor’s “Me Too” video. His focus being mostly on stage and media, Rudi specialises in Jazz Funk, Hip Hop and Waacking – the 70s style of dance that emerged in the disco 70s. With an array of local South African celebrities on his list of people he has choreographed for, Rudi was also one of the lead choreographers for the movie “Honey 3: Dare to Dance”. Fast on his way to gaining international recognition, Ayiba’s Sanet Oberholzer spoke to the artist about his craft, his career and the industry of dance and choreography.
At what age did you start dancing and when did you decide to pursue dancing as a career?
I started dancing at the age of nine. I first saw the pop group 101 from Coca Cola Popstars perform years ago on SABC 3 and their choreography caught my attention immediately. From there I started learning what they did in their show and figured out how to “create my own moves” before I even knew what choreography or being a choreographer was. From there onwards, the natural transition into wanting to dance on a more serious level started and I started pursuing dance as a career.
You became a viral sensation with the Megan Trainor “Me Too” video. Was this your goal when you put together and choreographed this video and how has your career been shaped by it?
It was definitely not my goal or intention at all. In all honestly the video was just a fun project that I had put together with the intention of putting more of my work out there for people to see. It was also the first video I did with my full company at the time, so it was our first video as Untimitive, which was exciting for us! From there on out it just blew up into something way bigger than we expected. Since the release of the video, my company and I have been involved in a number of flashmobs and performances. We have worked with some awesome brands, companies, and organisations to help launch new products or support charities that we feel strongly about. Some of these include: iVenture, ArtAngels, ABSA, and Bok Radio. I have also had the opportunity of choreographing on a number of commercials for brands such as Adidas, McDonalds, Identity, Edgars, and Pepsi and in each one of these some of the dancers from Untimitive were used and featured, which is awesome! The video has opened many doors for us and it is a great feeling just knowing that people are watching us and finally know who we are.
What was your biggest inspiration for this video?
The video was largely inspired by the music. The first time I heard the song I immediately just connected with it and this idea of dancing in a school with these “mean girl-like characters” popped into my head. The idea just kept on developing and eventually became a full-on concept which showcased a number of different types of people, body types, and personalities which everyone really seemed to love and enjoy about the video. It truly showcased the whole “Rainbow Nation” idea of South Africa without that even being the intention.
As a choreographer, how does one incorporate vulnerability into choreography, especially for big commercial projects? Do you feel you have enough autonomy to do so, especially when working on bigger projects?
I suppose it differs from project to project. A big part of vulnerability comes with just being comfortable enough to express your own style and movement, so in that sense I suppose it is not hard for me to incorporate vulnerability into my choreography because I feel confident about what I create and I stand by my movement and my individuality. However, when a project calls for something that is of a more emotional nature, vulnerability has to come with understanding the subject matter of what you are choreographing and being able to put yourself in the shoes of a person or group of people that have experienced what it is you are dealing with. Going through that process helps us become more vulnerable in the rehearsal space, and ultimately the performance.
Every artist has something they want to share, and to choreograph is to help them interpret that. What do you tap into to get there?
This for me is totally driven by the music. I will only feel the need to tap into a certain emotion or feeling based off of what I am listening to. If a piece that I am working on is of a more emotional nature, then tapping into one’s own life experiences and struggles (that can somehow relate to the subject matter at hand) is a great way of tapping into what is needed to execute the piece because you are able to relive a certain period of time in your life that made you feel a great sense of emotion. Whereas if you are doing something more up-tempo and fun, the choreography naturally should just evoke that fun, excitement, happiness – a good-mood feeling.
When working on a collaborative project within a huge group, do you try to synergise everyone as one, or is your main focus to tap into the artist? If so, what about the dancers?
I definitely do make sure that I create synergy within the projects I am part of. I think that is what creates the “magic” in any huge collaboration to begin with. Trying to understand and tap into the brand/artist/product is part of the brief and the concept for whatever it is you work on but the synergy is absolutely what “sells” the product at the end of the day and it surely plays a huge role in the success of what you are working on.
Has dancing influenced your views on masculinity or have you struggled to reconcile any tensions?
I have not even considered this question during my career. Masculinity is not something I feel I need to be hyper-sensitive or hyper-aware about, because appearing masculine to people around me is not something of importance to me. Whether I am found masculine or not by those around me is not something that I care about and I don’t devote my time to wondering whether my involvement in dance and the arts will affect how people look at my me and my sense of masculinity. I love being a man and I am comfortable in my own skin, but I definitely do not ever feel the need to prove that I am masculine or do masculine things to anyone.
What has been one of the most challenging projects you have been involved with?
Probably working on a TV commercial I did for Pepsi a few months ago. I was working on another TV commercial in another city at the same time and I had immense schedule clashes. I had to do so much time management on top of choreographing and still keep the client happy. Luckily, I was able to get assistants to help me out while I was out of town. The actual construction of the routine in relation to the costumes I was given to work with was also very challenging. The costumes were incredibly big and bulky and the movement was compromised a lot by that, so I had to find alternative ways of creating the same visuals and movements I intended to create without compromising the quality of the work.
What has been your experience working as a choreographer in South Africa? Is the industry promising?
I think it’s a 50/50 situation. If you are able to work in the commercial industry and do commercial-related work it definitely does become promising because there are frequent opportunities that come up and they provide you with a sustainable income. However, if you are not so involved in the commercial scene I would definitely say it is a bit harder because there are fewer opportunities and these opportunities also often pay out less than the more commercial ones. With that said, the industry absolutely is promising and we have tons and tons of talent in South Africa. I feel that dance is starting to be appreciated on a new level in our country and more companies, organizations, brands, and artists are wanting to incorporate dance in their events and projects because they are enthusiastic about the direction it is heading towards and they see the reaction it creates amongst communities.
What would the ultimate highlight of your career be?
I dream of choreographing on a world tour for an artist like Lady Gaga, Janet Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, or Britney Spears one day and I truly hope I will have the opportunity to do so! It will be the ultimate moment and statement for me as a choreographer to say that I have accomplished that.