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Sequoia Symphony tops its virtual season with ambitious music video starring Broadway dancer Angelo Soriano

Broadway dancer Angelo Soriano stars in the artistic highlight to the Sequoia Symphony’s wonderful series of short videos this season. Raised in Visalia and nurtured by El Diamante High School’s fine music and musical theater programs, Soriano performs original choreography in “Magic Martini,” an original storyline for Leonard Bernstein’s landmark ballet “Fancy Free.”

Pictured above: Angelo Soriano and Carly Caviglia film in front of the Fox Theatre in Visalia.

The nine-minute video, filmed on location at the Vintage Press bar and the Fox Theatre, features the orchestra in top form recorded in a professional studio. You can watch it on demand, along with the rest of the season’s other eight Musical Uplink season’s offerings (all concerts of short pieces played by the orchestra on camera), at the orchestra’s website and on YouTube. (One more video, a retrospective of the season, is due out in April.)

I’m impressed on so many levels with the “Fancy Free” piece, including the music, choreography and production values. The inventive ardor that Soriano, music director Bruce Kiesling and their creative team bring to the project energizes me. There’s an impressive display of double- and triple-dutying here. Besides conducting the orchestra, Kiesling has a substantial comic role in the film. And Soriano contributes the screenplay, direction and some wonderful dancing, of course.

Angelo Soriano in a scene from Sequoia Symphony’s ‘Magic Martini.’

Speaking of which, you’ll want to read the 2019 New York Times profile of Soriano and his grueling job as a swing for Broadway’s “Aladdin,” in which he can be asked to play any of 14 character tracks on a moment’s notice. You’ll get an even better feel for the level he’s reached as a professional dancer.

That New York gig came to a halt with the pandemic, of course, which opened up Soriano’s schedule for the Sequoia Symphony gig. I caught up with him for an extended email interview about what it was like to come back to his hometown and literally dance through the streets.

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Q: Did you have everything planned out (screenplay, choreography, etc.,) before coming to Visalia, or was it more of an improvisation?

A: We started conceiving the narrative for this film back in December. At that point, I was nine months into this pandemic after being shut down in March and I was absolutely itching for a creative outlet! It started with an intense series of listening sessions where I played the track in my subway travels, at the gym, when walking my puppy, before bed and when I woke up, anything to help me gather as much inspiration from the score as possible. Then came the choreography that would tie all the scenarios together. My wife, Angelica Stiskin, who is the artistic director of Joffrey Ballet School’s Jazz and Contemporary program and a professional choreographer, helped create a majority of our partnering sequences. I came to Visalia with quite a grasp on what the film would feel like from start to finish but we were fine tuning details even up to the nights of production where I got to spend time in front AND behind the camera. If all that didn’t get my creative juices going, I don’t know what else would have!


Related story: VIDEO INTERVIEW: BRUCE KIESLING AND VISALIA’S SEQUOIA SYMPHONY SPIFF UP THE CONCEPT OF DIGITAL CONCERTS

Q: I’m curious about your relationship to “Fancy Free.” Had you ever danced in that ballet or been in a production of “On the Town”?

A: I have never been in any production of “On The Town,” though it would be a wonderful opportunity. My relationship to Bernstein and his music is found in my love for “West Side Story” and the film that would become a huge inspiration for our approach to “Magic Martini.” One shot I referenced to the team when I pitched the scene in the bar was inspired by the gym scene from “WSS” during “Mambo.” I always loved the moment where the two love interests slowly approached each other from opposite sides of the room in this iconic wide shot. I couldn’t not pay homage to “WSS” as well to the works of Jerome Robbins, as we wouldn’t be here talking about these amazing works of art without them.

Q: You filmed a majority of the project in The Vintage Press. It’s a gorgeous restaurant and bar. Had you eaten there before?

A: Growing up in Visalia, I had only experienced The VP less than a handful of times. I definitely was the type of high school kid who wouldn’t have been able to afford that nice of a meal outside of special occasions, but experiencing it now as an adult makes me wish I had! They have a delicious menu and even better drinks!

Clockwise from top: Soriano, as the bartender, mixes a very special martini; the marquee of the Fox Theatre in Visalia; Kelly Lambert and Carly Caviglia play an argumentative couple; Soriano back on the streets of Visalia; and music director Bruce Kiesling makes a cameo.

Q: The film opens with you (as the bartender) having to rouse the drunk (Kiesling) and steer him out of the bar. Whose idea was it to have Bruce dance? What was it like to film those scenes?

A: Originally, I just wanted to cast local talent from the list of actors I worked with growing up. But as we explored that specific scene with the team, it became apparent that he would be the perfect cameo appearance for the film itself. With Bruce having a background in musical theater, it was too much of a perfect opportunity to let pass and I was especially honored to have gotten to work more hands on with him in the process. He performed that role beautifully! It has got to be one of my top favorite moments of creating and watching the film.

Q. I love the shot of you putting one drop of a special potion into the Magic Martini. Do you have a backstory on what that potion is and what it’s doing at the bar? (Quick, let me go check my cupboards.)

A We wanted a way to tell the story of a bartender making himself a special nightcap for the end of his shift. Namely, a Magic Martini that somehow finds its place in a pivotal moment of the film that empowers a young lady we meet halfway through. The team did a wonderful job researching how to make that specific practical lighting effect work and I would give extra kudos to Kelly Lambert, head art director, for creating the magical drink we see on screen. No effects were added after the scene was shot. Practical movie magic!


VIDEO: ANGELO SORIANO IN ‘MAGIC MARTINI’


Q: Who plays the young lady and her argumentative companion?

A: The roles were performed by Carly Caviglia (an alumnus of TCOE Theater where I also trained and performed) and Kelly Lambert — yes, the same art director of this video. Kelly has a list of works behind and in front of the camera and was my main collaborator on the film as far as screenwriting. He also designed a majority of the gorgeous setting at the Vintage Press. Carly is a wonderfully gifted Broadway-bound performer and a recent graduate of Syracuse University’s Musical Theater program. Dancing and acting with her throughout this project makes me excited to see her on a Broadway stage someday and soon. She is a STAR!

Q: My other favorite two shots in the film: when your eyes glance down and then up in time to the music after the man grabs the drink you pour for her, and the way she raises her eyebrows, also in time to the music, after she drinks the martini. Was it hard to coordinate those moments?

A: We knew when and how we wanted to use those moments within the music so all we had to do was shoot as many options of those moments as possible and time them correctly within the editing process. It definitely took some patience and direction but worked very well in creating the tension in the film before the big drinking scene.

Q: You also got to film inside and outside the historic Fox Theatre. Did you ever perform there in the past?

A: I did not get to perform in the Fox as much as the time I spent performing at the L.J. Williams Theatre down the street. But my most memorable performance on the Fox stage was guest performing for Betsy Wolfe’s holiday concert during my time with TCOE Theater. The beautiful Fox Theater has always been a significant landmark of Visalia and was a shoo-in during pre-production when we were choosing shoot locations for the narrative.


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Q: For those who aren’t familiar with your background, can you briefly tell us about your Visalia upbringing? What was your dance education like?

A: I was born in Manila, Philippines, where I grew to love music, song and dance. I immigrated to America at the age of 9. I started my choral and percussion training at La Joya Middle School and by the time I attended El Diamante High School, I was involved in choir, jazz band, marching band and the yearly fall musical theater productions. Between EDHS and the Tulare County Office of Education Theater program, I performed in eight musicals before I graduated high school. My formal dance training did not begin until the summer before my senior year. I attended three semesters at College of The Sequoias but booked my first job in Disneyland during my fourth semester and haven’t stopped working ever since. Starting one’s dance career as a 17-year old is definitely considered late, but I always believe that training never stops. What’s a few years of catch-up when you have a plethora of knowledge available to you in “the real world”? I still enjoy learning and growing as a dancer and performer today.

Q: When someone in New York asks you to describe Visalia, what’s your go-to response?

A: Cows. Cows and citrus. Hah! Though my go-to way would be that Visalia is the ever-growing small town you pass when traveling between LA and San Francisco. It’s a talent oasis where the support for performing arts has long been a staple to its culturally rich education system. Somehow, most of the kids that I grew up with in Visalia had a knack for artistic talent. That, and Visalia is also my favorite town for good Mexican food, naturally.

A screenshot of the New York Times Magazine website version of the story that followed Soriano’s adventures as a ‘swing’ in ‘Aladdin.’

Q: Confession: I read every word of the New York Times Magazine piece about you being a swing in “Aladdin” back when it came out in 2019 — and I didn’t make the connection at the time that you are from Visalia. How did that article impact you? (People mobbing you on the street, fame and fortune, your dog likes you better, etc., or perhaps no one even noticed?)

A: It was the biggest honor for me not just to represent “Disney’s Aladdin” on Broadway as a cast swing but also as someone representing Broadway swings in general. It is truly a unique and extraordinary job that is not for the faint of heart. That feature written about me in The New York Times Magazine was quite the expansive look at my daily life on Broadway and I had fun just being trailed by a NYT writer for a couple weeks. It perfectly captures the high stakes involved with being responsible for up to 14 roles in a show and performing them at any moment’s notice. How did it impact me personally? A GOOD swing, in my opinion, is a performer that can transform into any role in a show successfully to the point where people don’t notice a difference in the integrity of the show. You should be ready to perform the role as well as, if not better than, the actor chosen to perform that track eight shows a week. So if people notice my work, great! If people do NOT notice my work, perhaps even better!

Q: Speaking of “Aladdin,” will you be in the show when it returns to Broadway?

A: Absolutely! I cannot wait to re-join my Agrabah family and perform the dream again on that prestigious, magical stage.


VIDEO: ‘CIRCLES,’ PHOTOGRAPHED BY ANGELO SORIANO


Q: One of your recent projects is a short film titled “Circles,” which features the chamber music of The Overlook, music by Trevor Weston and choreography by Olivia Palacios and Mandie Rapoza. You’re the director of photography on this film, which surprised me, because I didn’t realize that is one of your talents. What was it like working on that project?

A: Yes, one of the things that has kept me creatively busy (and financially stable) during the pandemic is my continued work in the professional videography realm. I’ve always enjoyed creating dance reels, music videos and short films with my network of collaborators from the Broadway industry. “Circles” was my first time working with The Overlook Quartet and both choreographers and to shoot that project in the thick of the pandemic (within COVID compliance) was both tricky and cathartic. When you temporarily lose creative outlets as an artist, you start to crave it. It was a beautiful way to jump back into that artistic grind with artists I had long admired!

Q: OK, just one shot question about “Circles”: How’d you get those fast-motion, swooping shots of the dancers?

A: Another hobby of mine revolves around the art of FPV drones. I have built a fleet of first-person-view quadcopters that record video in ultra high definition to support my videography hobby. Flying cinematic drones allows me to create highly dynamic shots like the one you saw in “Circles.” Here’s a different shoot with the same drone:

 

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A post shared by Angelo Soriano (@gelosaurus)

Q: Getting back to the Sequoia Symphony video, how did it feel to come back to Visalia and take part in a project like this?

A: The last time I visited Visalia was for my 10-year high school reunion in 2018 (El Diamante High Class of OH-EIGHT!). To come back and see my old teachers and mentors that I have become great friends with was a highlight. I love saying hello to old classmates, finding myself in the food establishments I used to frequent and discovering new places to enjoy what it means to be in suburbia. Returning to good ol’ “V-Town” is SUCH a change up from The Big Apple and having taken part in a project like this, bringing home a piece of Broadway, was my version of saying “thank you” to the town that raised me as a professional in my industry.

Q: Final thoughts?

A: It was truly my honor to represent myself, looking the way I look, playing the part I played as a leading talent in a beautifully shot and scored dance film (thanks to SSO and Go Creative Group!). I hope that being an Asian man, a true Filipino native, on screen captures a sense of what I hope is the future of representation in TV, Film and the live theater industry. Having the honor of screenwriting this music video also gave me an opportunity to play a part that would otherwise have been imagined through a not-so BIPOC lens. It even allowed me to work with local artists that will continue to inspire me and my artistry moving forward. What an artistically fulfilling project this was! Here’s to sharing it with the world!


 


Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

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