'Didn't expect standing ovation': Choreographer Napoleon on 'Naatu Naatu' Oscar performance

Oscar audience tends to be a bit reserved, said the Emmy-winning choreographer

40-Napoleon-and-Tabitha-with-RRR-choreographer-Prem-Rakshith On the move: Napoleon and Tabitha with RRR choreographer Prem Rakshith.

The responsibility to showcase ‘Naatu Naatu’ on the Oscar stage fell on Emmy-winning choreographer couple Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo. With zero experience of choreographing an Indian film or folk song, the couple pulled off the feat with élan. Their popular stints include So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With The Stars. They operate under the brand name Nappytabs Creative Productions. Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Napoleon D’umo:

Q/ What was your reaction while watching the live performance of ‘Naatu Naatu’ at the Dolby Theatre? Were you expecting the song to win an Oscar?

A/ We knew it would be well-received, but we didn’t expect a standing ovation for the performance. That is a difficult thing to accomplish at the Oscars. The Oscar audience tends to be a bit more reserved. We weren’t expecting the song to win, but we were very hopeful and equally excited when it won. It is a very contagious chorus along with a strong beat―two things we love in music.

Q/ How many dancers were on stage? Could you shed some light on the rehearsals and backstage preparations?

A/ [It had] 12 male dancers, eight female dancers, and two male singers. We had roughly 12 hours of rehearsal altogether with the full dance cast and one hour to block it on stage. In that one hour is when we had the two singers. Prem (Rakshith, RRR choreographer) sent us a tutorial of the original steps, and we staged, did transitions, blocked the dancers and camera moves.

Q/ What were the challenges you faced while choreographing this song?

A/ We were tasked with taking a six-minute narrative dance and making it into a two-minute live performance without losing the narrative. That in itself was the most difficult task. The dance is very energetic, and in the movie scene, it was shot in short sections. The dancers had a rough time doing it time and time again in its entirety. Prem had mentioned that they had originally rehearsed it for months. The dancers had a very limited time to not only learn it but perfect it and then deal with changes we made on the fly to react with camera shots.

Q/ Is this your first brush with Indian cinema? If yes, what do you think about the music and dance sequence, which is an integral part of Indian movies?

A/ This was our first, and we were just honored to be a small part of the amazing music and dance. We have always been fans of Indian song and dance, and we love it! We learned the difference between Bollywood and Tollywood, the differences in different types of music and dance and their influences, so it was also very educational for us. Just hoping we can be a part of it in the future, as we are very addicted to it now. We love the narrative story through movement and song, and we thrive off its energy.