Hot & steamy with Travis Wall

  • by Richard Dodds
  • Wednesday October 21, 2015
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<i>So You Think You Can Dance</i> favorite Travis Wall is a star and co-creator of <i>Shaping Sound, </i>a touring dance show coming to<br>Cupertino on Oct. 25. Photo: Bobby Quillard
So You Think You Can Dance favorite Travis Wall is a star and co-creator of Shaping Sound, a touring dance show coming to
Cupertino on Oct. 25. Photo: Bobby Quillard

Travis Wall figures his touring dance show Shaping Sound would be rated PG-13 if it were a movie. "It's a very sexy show," says Wall, who is best-known as a finalist and more recently as a choreographer on So You Think You Can Dance. "You get hot and steamy, and I know that a lot of couples have a very good time after our show."

But the audiences often include the under-12 crowd, dance kids who have cajoled their parents into taking them to see the show. "In the really small cities, we've heard that parents cover their children's eyes, but that's because we're in the middle of Nowhere, Texas," Wall said. "It never happens in an exposed city."

Wall figures that Cupertino, where Shaping Sound plays Oct. 25 at the Flint Center, counts as an exposed city given its San Francisco Bay Area designation. "But we don't get kids who aren't involved in dance, and an 8-year-old who's involved in dance is probably more mature than a kid who just plays in the playground."

In Shaping Sound, which is heading out on its third national tour, a company of 14 dancers (including Wall) uses a variety of mostly contemporary dance styles to tell the story of a troubled young woman set to music that can range from Nina Simone to Queen to Benny Goodman. Jaime Goodwin, another SYTYCD finalist, plays the central character who finds respite from an abusive relationship in an extended dream sequence.

"In this weird dream state, she's learning all about the evolution of love through the other characters she encounters," Wall said during a recent visit to the Bay Area. "And there's a section where lust comes in and we break into a little bit of musical-theater jazz, like a flashback to the 1940s, and that's a fun way to end the first act. But in the second act, the man she's in the relationship with is now entering her dream and it becomes a nightmare. That's when she has her breakthrough moment, and then we come to absolute love and light at the very end."

Wall has known Goodwin for 18 years, having first been paired as dance partners at his mother's dance studio in Virginia Beach when he was 10. "I've known most everyone in the cast since I was a teenager," Wall said of the frequently crossing paths in the world of dance competitions.

Shaping Sound was co-founded by Wall along with dance-world buddies Teddy Forance, Kyle Robinson, and Nick Lazzarini. While all appear in and share credit for the choreography, Wall gradually solidified his place as artistic director. "It's been very clear who's the leader and who's moving us in the directions we need to be moving," Wall said. "But it took some balls for me to finally be, like, this is what I think should happen."

Lazzarini was the Season 1 winner on So You Think You Can Dance, and his success inspired Wall to audition for the show the following year when he met the minimum age of 18. But at the first set of cattle-call auditions, before the dancers face the TV judges, Wall and his group of friends were cut in less than a minute. "I was confused, I was pissed, I was devastated, and I was like, I'm never auditioning for this show again," Wall said. "And that wore off and I went back and auditioned in another city, and thankfully it was a different producer who screened me and sent me through."

Although Wall was already out as gay when his run on the competition show began in 2006, he was advised to keep that under wraps. "They were very honest with me, saying that if I wanted to make it to the finale, there are things I shouldn't say and ways I shouldn't act since so many of the viewers who vote for you are little girls. If I hadn't pretended to be some teen heartthrob, I wouldn't have made it to the finales."

Wall had seen the show as a stepping-stone into choreography, and once the competition was over, he no longer had to tiptoe around his sexuality. By Season 5, the producers were using him as one in the rotating group of choreographers " his intense, personal routines always winning praise from the judges " and during Season 11 he lobbied to choreograph a piece about sexual equality. Danced by two men and two women, and set to "The Wind Beneath My Wings," it was one of three pieces that recently helped win him his first Emmy Award for choreography.

"They had never had same-sex couples dancing in a loving way together," Wall said. "But I worked with the producer to do it tastefully and not to throw it in anyone's face. The response on social media was bigger than anything I expected, and maybe it can inspire some 12- or 13-year-old kid who has been afraid to be himself."

Wall is thinking of adding a romantic same-sex dance for his character in Shaping Sound. "I've had this dance at the end of the show with a female dancer, and she represented the idea that true love will find you in the end," he said. "Now it may be that I have this turnaround moment and realize that the person I'm supposed to be with is this guy who's been staring at me the whole time."

The latest tour debuts this week in Southern California, beginning a 29-city zigzag by bus across the continent. "A normal person would look at it and go, 'I don't know how you guys do it.' But this is what we were made to do, and we have so much fun on the bus. We're going to be spending Halloween in Medicine Hat somewhere in Canada, and I'm hoping they have something going on, because we're all big Halloween fans."

 

Shaping Sound will have a 3 p.m. performance on Oct. 25 at the Flint Center in Cupertino. Tickets are $35-$75. Call (408) 864-8816 or go to flintcenter.com.