Creating grace, under pressure

Choreographers shine despite the terror of live TV

Regardless of whoever waltzes off with the choreography Emmy, it’ll be a tribute to grace under pressure. All nine nominated routines created beauty despite the constraints of time, diverse styles and live performance — with America sitting in judgment.

The competition shows allot two days tops for staging and rehearsal, so Derek Hough of “Dancing With the Stars” immediately sizes up each new celeb partner.

“You could be handed an athlete, a fit guy or gal, and you find they can’t walk a straight line.” Likewise on “So You Think You Can Dance,” Mia Michaels assesses “how open they are, how technical they are. You don’t have the time to break down their walls.”

Tricks are needed to bring out the dancer within. Hough asked stiff supermodel Joanna Krupa what she’d do in a dance club, and he noticed “a little wiggling of the hips she was comfortable with, that brought everything alive. So I put it into literally every routine,” including their nominated “futuristic Paso Doble.”

Inspiration has to strike quickly, too. Says Michaels, “I dream, I hear music, they clear the rights and we rock ‘n’roll.”

Walking down Hollywood Boulevard the day Michael Jackson died, she observed “kids strung out on drugs, an ugly moment that made me wonder, ‘What’s it like to lose yourself in something?'” – which led to the intense pas de deux “Addiction.”

Clashing styles create opportunities. On “So You Think,” Stacey Tookey paired break-boy Legacy with contemporary dancer Kathryn under the title of “Fear.”

“He became the emotion,” she says. “I could use his skills. I’d say, ‘Spin on your head and get to her.’ ”

While Adam Shankman’s Oscars opening number was all about “restoring high glamour,” he mixed contempo dancers with the LXD hip-hop troupe for his suite of nominated scores, and “for the first two weeks they really didn’t talk to each other.”

Shankman took a leaf from the “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” barn dance.

“I set the contemporary boys and the b-boys battling for the girls’ attention” to Hans Zimmer’s “Sherlock Holmes” theme, Shankman says. “By the time we got to the Kodak, they were all best friends.”

But however things mesh in rehearsal, Michaels notes “you only get to do it once.” Live is “totally terrifying,” adds Shankman, and Tookey admits that “nerves could kick in, or one costume malfunction and it can all fall.”

“It’s live TV, man,” shrugs Hough. “You just have to do it. You come off stage and say, ‘I can’t believe we pulled that off.'”

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