Kenny Ortega keeps Hollywood dancing | EW.com

Movies

Kenny Ortega keeps Hollywood dancing

The director and choreographer has lent his spirit to films like ''Xanadu,'' ''High School Musical,'' and many more

XANADU (1980)
Hired to choreograph ”a little $3 million roller-skating disco-exploitation film,” Ortega remembers being stunned to find himself working with Gene Kelly, who appeared in the movie. ”He mentored me for many years. I don’t know where I’d be without him today.”

ST. ELMO’S FIRE (1985)
Ortega was brought onto the set of the Brat Pack ensemble drama to make Rob Lowe look convincing as a saxophone-playing rocker. ”I worked with Rob and the band, helping them get into the physical side of their roles.”

PRETTY IN PINK (1986)
For the John Hughes-penned romantic comedy, Ortega coached Jon Cryer on his moves for his rendition of ”Try a Little Tenderness.” ”That and the prom scene — those were thrown together so quickly. I couldn’t wait till I could have a few more minutes with an idea.”

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986)
Reuniting with Hughes, who directed, Ortega was put in charge of the climactic parade scene, in which Matthew Broderick lip-synchs to ”Twist and Shout.” ”John said, ‘I want you to direct and choreograph this parade sequence.’ That was my first big directing assignment.”

DIRTY DANCING (1987)
Ortega’s choreography helped propel the low-budget romance about a sheltered teen (Jennifer Grey) who falls for a dance instructor (Patrick Swayze) to huge success. ”We went into the backwoods and disappeared. We never had any idea that what we were doing was going to have this kind of impact on people. But we had the best time. Patrick was extraordinary and became a lifelong friend.”

NEWSIES (1992)
Ortega’s directorial debut, a period musical about a paperboys’ strike, was a difficult experience and a box office flop, though working with teenage star Christian Bale was ”absolutely fantastic,” he says. ”His dad has since passed away, and he was a wonderful man. We were close.”

TO WONG FOO, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING! JULIE NEWMAR (1995)
Ortega found himself choreographing for Swayze again, along with Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo, in this unlikely drag-queen road movie. ”Sometimes you do things because you know it’s going to be a great creative experience. I just wanted to hang out with those people.”

HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL, HSM2, HSM3 (2006-08)
Signing on to direct the Disney Channel original movie, starring a then-unknown Zac Efron, Ortega had no idea it would spawn a massive franchise. ”I used to really enjoy the MGM ‘backyard musicals,’ so I read this script and I just plugged right into that — and lo and behold, it worked.”

HANNAH MONTANA/MILEY CYRUS: BEST OF BOTH WORLDS CONCERT TOUR (2008)
Proving again his ability to hook tween audiences, Ortega directed Miley Cyrus’ blockbuster tour. ”Miley’s a really bright girl. She reminded me of a young Judy Garland. She had that magic.”

FOOTLOOSE (2010)
For his next job as a big-screen director, Ortega will remake the much-loved 1984 teen drama about a town that bans dancing, with Chace Crawford stepping into Kevin Bacon’s memorable role. ”The story is based very much on the original but in contemporary red-state/blue-state America. I’m excited. It’s an opportunity to do a big dance movie.”