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The Greatest Dancer star Chris Fonseca talks ahead of In The Willows

Posted on 6 March 2019

Midlands audiences will be amongst the first to experience a brand new hip hop musical when Metta Theatre’s and Exeter Northcott Theatre’s In The Willows arrives at the Belgrade Theatre this March.

Bringing the classic story of The Wind in the Willows leaping into the 21st century, In The Willows sets its scene in an urban high school where new girl Mole befriends streetwise Rattie and joyriding rich kid Toad.

Using explosive choreography by Zoo Nation’s and Boudicea’s Rhimes Lecointe and music by hip hop composer Keiran Merrick, features integrated British Sign Language, providing a unified experience for D/deaf and hearing audiences.

Casting for the show includes The Story of Tracy Beaker’s Clive Rowe, X Factor finalist Seann Miley Moore and deaf dancer Chris Fonseca, who recently wowed viewers on BBC One’s The Greatest Dancer. Ahead of its opening in Coventry, Chris told us more about the show.

Tell us about In The Willows and the role you play in the show?

In The Willows is a vibrant re-telling of the classic story The Wind In The Willows, brought into the 21st century with fabulous vocals, beats and backflips. I play Otter, who is a very cool and humble guy, as well as an excellent street dancer! Otter and his girlfriend Rattie (the most popular girl at school), help new-girl Mole learn the ways of the Riverbank. Otter is a great influence who likes to look after his friends.

How have you found the rehearsal process?

What an experience it’s been! It’s been a steep learning curve for me and my debut in musical theatre, especially having to learn scripts line by line, act, sing and dance with the lovely Willows squad!

You’ve just spent several weeks featuring in BBC One’s The Greatest Dancer. How did you find it?

I remember I was nervous when my name was first called before the start of my audition. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me: a moment where I can give my all, to shine my light hard and show what I can do to represent for myself, the deaf dance community and deaf community on a popular TV platform.

The support I’ve received is overwhelming, and beyond amazing. Unfortunately, I’m gutted to say that I didn’t make the callback but I’ll keep going, keep moving forward and continue dancing, because breaking barriers by doing what I love is part of my DNA!

Can you tell us a little about your process as a deaf dancer?

Every person’s deafness levels are varied, and they have a different way of accessing music. I wear a cochlear implant on my left ear so as soon the music plays, the sound and the beats spread the rhythm slowly around my body, and I can feel the beat and be part of the music.

When I receive the rhythm, it goes to my brain which works out the structure of beats and understand how the music plays before making any movements. Getting into character requires a lot of patience, reading and studying how the beats work lyrically before choreographing. I also often use a subpak to help me find the hidden beats and to emphasise how choreography works, both lyrically and with the beats together.

What it is like to work in a show where British Sign Language is incorporated in to the choreography?

The big challenge is being a deaf dancer amongst a hearing company. However, it’s been fantastic to watch how fast the rest of the cast have picked up BSL, and learnt to incorporate it into the dances. It’s also been a challenge showing that British Sign Language is not only for communication, but can also be applied to the arts in a creative way too.

What can audiences expect from In The Willows?

An amazing show with diversity and inclusion, a beautiful design, awesome choreography and a great children’s story – a modern, urban version of The Wind in the Willows.

In The Willows shows at the Belgrade Theatre 20-23 March. Tickets are available to book now.