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Smooth Moves

From MTV to Disney, choreographer Barry Lather is not afraid.


Prior to “Monsters, Inc.,” Lather choreographed three Disney On Ice productions — Disney’s “The Jungle Book,” “Tarzan” and “The Lion King” — as well as “Grease On Ice” for Feld Entertainment.

In “Monsters, Inc.,” opening at the Richmond Coliseum on Oct. 8, the most difficult scene to choreograph was the door-chase scene where monster Sulley, a towering heap of blue fur, races in and out of the doors trying to escape the scarers.

“We wondered how we were going to do this on ice,” Lather says. “We wanted to have an amazing door chase. The scene includes doors flying from the ceiling and on the set, as well as skating doors. The lighting designer did a brilliant job of casting lighted doors onto the ice. The scene is amazing — one of the highlights of the show.”

Lather’s involvement with the show started six months prior to rehearsals. “We had a huge production meeting to discuss the show from beginning to end. Then everything started being built.”

Prior to working with the entire cast of skaters, Lather spends three weeks in preproduction. “That’s when we rehearse with the core skaters and plan all the numbers,” he says. “The music dictates the movement and feel. It’s such a process. It takes so many creative people to put one show together.”

As a child, Lather occasionally donned a pair of skates, but he says he’s not a skater. He started his career at the age of 18 as a dancer after moving to Los Angeles from his home in Atlanta. Dancer and choreographer Paula Abdul gave him his first big break when she hired him to be in Janet Jackson’s “Pleasure Principle” video.

A year later, Jackson urged Lather to work with her as a choreographer. “Next thing you know I’m working with pop idols,” he says. Along with Janet Jackson, Lather’s clients include Michael Jackson and Sting. He has garnered an MTV Award and two Billboard Music Awards for his work.

In 1992, Lather was asked to choreograph a hip-hop number for Olympic Gold Medalists Brian Boitano and Katarina Witt. “I almost started laughing,” he says, recalling the conversation. “That offer came from left field. I knew it would be a challenge, but I decided to try it. They wanted something different.”

Knowing that Lather choreographed Janet Jackson’s video, Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi also enlisted his talents. “She was the first solo skater that I choreographed for,” he notes.

Choreographing for the ice is totally different than choreographing a dance. “There are aspects of dance that won’t transfer onto the ice,” Lather says. “But there are moments that will only work on the ice — and that has made it a lot of fun.”

The goal, he says, is to help the audience interact with the performers. “It’s about making a connection,” he says. “The audiences respond to the skaters’ display of happiness, sadness, fear and courage on the ice. This show is total high energy. It’s very colorful — one of the most high-tech shows I have done.” S

The Disney On Ice production of Disney/Pixar’s “Monsters, Inc.” opens at the Richmond Coliseum Wednesday, Oct. 8, and runs through Sunday, Oct. 12. Tickets are $13-$31 and can be purchased at all TicketMaster locations, online at or by calling 262-8100.

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