Choreographer Tony Testa, who has worked with Janet Jackson and Ariana Grande, spent this month embarking on a new creative challenge — creating a dance for the opening ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
As part of USC Kaufman School of Dance’s New Movement Residency, which launched last year, Testa took over USC Kaufman studios to rehearse dance numbers he plans to submit to Olympic organizers later this summer.
“I was in really uncharted territory,” he said. “I definitely was making it up as I went along. I have never known anyone who has submitted to the Olympics.”
What it takes to produce an Olympic opening ceremony submission
The residency was created as a way to partner with choreographers and dancers. It offers students and alumni the chance to get training from outside professionals, while also taking advantage of studio space that’s underused during the summer months. Like the residency’s other participants this summer — Micaela Taylor and Marissa Osato — Testa is a Southern California choreographer.
Think of it as if you were watching Lord of the Rings and there were thousands of individuals arriving for battle.
Without the residency, Testa says, it would have been nearly impossible to rehearse the sequences. For the opening ceremony, he would potentially be choreographing thousands of dancers. With Kaufman’s high ceilings and its cherry picker — a raised platform he can stand on to see dancers from above — he was able to get a better perspective of what the dance might look like on TV. As dancers were filmed filmed, TV screens within the studios allowed him to play back the work, tweaking as he went.
Without the studio, it would’ve been hard to conceptualize.
“I would have to find a good-sized field somewhere,” he said with a laugh.
He has also been working with an animator from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, MFA candidate Mitch Mcglocklin, to show what the sequences would look like with thousands of dancers.
“Think of it as if you were watching Lord of the Rings and there were thousands of individuals arriving for battle,” he said.
USC Kaufman’s finest flock to help Tony Testa
USC Kaufman students and alumni stood in as dancers as he rehearsed. It offered them a chance to see a prominent choreographer’s creative process: Testa has major credits, including serving as an artistic director for One Direction and working on Michael Jackson’s “This Is It.”
Beyond using their bodies, dancers used props like mirrors, flags and gloves to tell his story. Although Testa went in to the rehearsals with sequences planned, he also urged improvisation.
“Working with Tony, I had never done that kind of prop work before,” said Amaria Stern, a rising senior who is helping with the project.
“He really gave us a lot of space to play,” Stern said.
Life is short. I don’t have any intention to go to the grave wishing I could’ve or would’ve.
Ardyn Flynt, 22, graduated in May but stuck around to get extra training with Testa this summer.
Due to the rigors of the USC Kaufman curriculum — which includes dancing in a studio several hours a day — it’s hard to fit in outside opportunities, Flynt said. By coming to USC Kaufman, though, Testa gives students a taste of the different paths a professional dancer can take.
“It’s nice to work with someone in the field who is local and relevant,” Flynt said. “He’s truly one of the easiest people to work with in the studio.”
Testa plans to finish the Olympics submission in the next few months. In the process, he hopes he inspired students to jump at creative challenges.
“Life is short,” he said. “I don’t have any intention to go to the grave wishing I could’ve or would’ve.”
Instead, he advises running toward the projects that make one nervous.
“Butterflies are my clue to move in that direction,” he said.