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A Chat with 'Step It Up's' Elizabeth Berkley and Jerry Mitchell

Monsters and - USA - Bravo does reality television with panache and intelligence.  Fans of "Top Chef" and "Project Runway" can attest to this.

Now, the stunning actress and trained dancer, Elizabeth Berkley, once known for her role as "Jessie" on the classic TV series "Saved By the Bell," claims her new dance show follows suit and replicates the higher standards of the other Bravo efforts.

Berkley is the host of Bravo's "Step It Up & Dance," premiering April 3 at 8:00 p.m.

She is joined by Tony award-winning choreographer Jerry Mitchell, who serves as a mentor for the contestants in the reality dance competition.

The Bravo series will air on Thursdays at 10:00 pm. The show introduces us to 12 talented trained (some classical, some home-schooled) dancers from around the country as they struggle to learn different styles of dance and compete in weekly challenges to win the grand prize: $100,000.

Monsters and Critics spoke to Elizabeth and Jerry with a few other journalists about their latest show:

Do dancers have to know more styles than they did like a decade or so ago?

Jerry Mitchell: First of all, if dancers want to work with me, they have to be well rounded and part of the great joy of Step It Up and Dance, and what we’re trying to accomplish, and why I was so psyched about the show is because the challenges actually will require them to step outside of their comfort zone as a dancer.

For instance, if they excel in ballet or hip hop, or tap or jazz, this show will expose them to different styles and different choreographers where they each will have to literally - quite literally step it up if they want to survive. Right Elizabeth?

Elizabeth Berkley: Absolutely.

Have choreographers expanded what they expect lately compared to what they would have expected 10 or 20 years ago?

Jerry Mitchell: No, there’s a huge difference between media choreography -- film, television, videos -- and Broadway choreography. Most recently shows on Broadway don’t require ballet technique like they used to.
When I got started, I was dancing for Agnes de Mille and Jerry Robbins, and they gave ballet combinations at the start of each audition. That doesn’t happen so much anymore because the stories that are being written don’t require that style of dancing.

But the recent revival of Oklahoma! that Susan Stroman choreographed certainly did require ballet. So I think it’s always in a dancer’s best interest to be well versed in every style of dance. It just opens you up to being more hirable.

Elizabeth – can you talk about the connection between dancing and building self-esteem?

Elizabeth Berkley: That’s a great, great question because I was blessed enough to have parents that got me into dance from a very young age. I don’t know if they knew that it was going to be something that I was going to devote my life to.

But at first, I think it was something - just a recreational type thing at the age of four, you know, that other little girls in the neighborhood were doing.

When they noticed pretty early on, though, that I had a propensity for it, as well as a desire to do it almost on a daily basis -- which then turned into about 17 lessons a week -- it was me pushing and driving them because they saw the joy that I got out of doing it which, you know, obviously I’ve used it in my professional life.

But the truth is the real gift that it’s given me on every level, obviously as an artist and creatively, it’s been a profound thing in my life. But at the same time, what’s amazing about it is first of all, for anyone the connection to one’s body - there’s a certain self-esteem that comes from that when you’re in touch with yourself and feeling in your body that’s a strength that you have that no one can take away from you.

Whether it’s a boy or girl who’s dancing -- the self-esteem that you get from it, just from having goals and intentions, and the work ethic that you learn from it and the discipline - these are things you can take out into the world, into anything you do in life.

Jerry Mitchell: Yeah, I want to second that. dance for Elizabeth, also - not only does it make her a beautiful, statuesque woman who knows how to straighten her legs when she’s walking in high heels, but it gives you confidence and teaches you discipline because you can’t succeed at dance unless you do it every single day.

Elizabeth Berkley: The connection that all dancers have - it’s that inner knowing that - I mean, you can’t just get handed - you might have a certain gift or a natural kind of ease with picking up choreography.

That might be something innate. But the work ethic that is necessary to become great is something no one can give you. That’s the hours in that studio.

To tell you the truth, one of the reasons that I really wanted to be a part of this show, especially in the world of reality television right now and in our world where there’s this kind of strange democracy of fame, if you will -- what I truly love about this show and a few of the shows that are on Bravo, where it’s really about the artistry.

Whether it’s 'Top Chef' or 'Project Runway', or our show where it’s dancers - these are true artists that are expressing themselves creatively. And it’s not just about oh, the entitlement for wanting to be famous.

It’s about working hard, going after your dreams and I think it’s going to be a great, kind of reminder for people of what it really, really takes.

Jerry Mitchell: And reminding people that you may think you’re fabulous, but there are ten other people who are just as fabulous.

Elizabeth -  how do you balance doing this show with acting?

Elizabeth Berkley: It’s a real blessing because the schedule with this show - with Step it Up really is a condensed kind of schedule where in approximately, I think it was two and a half, almost three weeks of shooting and my CSI schedule started right before then.

And then right now I’m doing it continuously, you know, week after week. So I was already clear and finished with Step it Up. We have two more to film of Step it Up, but it won’t conflict.

It’s definitely a problem you want to have, right?   I’m doing right now, what I love so much and what I’ve worked so hard to do.  I’m really grateful.   Luckily, the schedules haven’t been a conflict and it all can be, I’m always a believer it all can be worked out because they both help each other, too.

I get to explore this great character creatively on CSI that I’m just loving. It’s getting juicier by the minute. David Caruso is an absolute joy to work with. I just love every minute of that.  Then I get to go dip into the world of dance and work alongside and collaborate with the most extraordinary - I mean, Jerry Mitchell. Come on. It doesn’t get bigger and better.

Jerry Mitchell: Yeah, you got to go tell David Caruso that.

Elizabeth Berkley: And then - I’m saying it’s - in the dance. . So, to be really - and that’s always been my goal and intention in whatever I’m doing as an artist, is to really be collaborating with the best artists. It’s…

Jerry Mitchell: Maybe we can get David Caruso to come do an episode of Step it Up and Dance?

Elizabeth Berkley: You never know. But yeah, so it’s been wonderful and a lot of the choreographers -- including Vincent Patterson as well -- I’ve worked with professionally where they’ve actually choreographed me in things, as well as people who I’ve been training with - who have been my mentors since I was about 12 years old. So there’s a lot of meaning there for me.

Jerry Mitchell: The dance world is amazingly small.

Elizabeth Berkley: Yeah, it’s a very insular world. Right, Jerry?

Jerry Mitchell: Yeah.
Source : Originally Published Monsters and - USA, Mar 29, 2008
Celebrities : Elizabeth Berkley, Jerry Mitchell
Categories : Top Chef, So You Think You Can Dance, Project Runway, TV Personalities, Actor News, Celebrity News
Posted 3/29/2008 08:03:20 PM | Permalink
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