Inside “Cats”: Georgina Pazcoguin Becomes the White Cat

2013_06_0New York City Ballet soloist Georgina Pazcoguin is taking a leave from the company to dance a lead role in the revival of Cats on Broadway. She’s no stranger to musical theater, as she’s played a sizzling Anita in West Side Story Suite with NYCB, completed a short stint on Broadway as the irresistible Miss Turnstiles in On the Town, and performed with American Dance Machine in its collection of classic musical theater dance numbers. Her flair for the dramatic was captured in our cover story of June 2013. But for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, which is now in previews and opens July 31, she faces new challenges. I caught up with Pazcoguin by phone the week before previews started.

Your role is Victoria, the White Cat. Who is she?
She’s the balletic cat, the super graceful cat. She represents innocence and purity, a symbol of what Grizabella, who is our heroine, longs for, a memory of her lost innocence. Victoria possesses this purity; she has her whole cat life ahead of her.

Pazcoguin as Victoria, photo by Ellenore Scott
Pazcoguin as Victoria, photo by Ellenore Scott

What is the most fun about this production?
I’m having a blast not being a human! I love playing a feline. I’ve had my share of animals roles at NYCB. I usually play a very strong woman or an evil character like Carabosse, so it’s nice for once to have a slow variation—no grand allegro. It’s helping me explore a softer facet of my artistry and I’m loving it.

Gillian Lynne choreographed the original Cats in 1980. How does that work with the additional choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler?
Gillian Lynne’s choreography is very much still there. Andy is incredible at drawing attention to new parts that you may not have seen before.

Is there some kind of audience involvement for people who sit up close?
We’re all over the theater. No matter where you are sitting, there are cats that leave the stage.

What’s the most challenging things about being in this show?
First, singing. It didn’t hit me until we got to the theater how much I have bitten off. For me to sing practically a whole two-and-a-half-hour score, it’s challenging and I’m hoping I’m rising to the occasion. Second, Andy’s movement is very different. For the balletic sections, I’m a quick study; that’s what NYCB has trained me do, to pick up choreography quickly. But it’s been an adjustment to learn how to be more of a hip hop dancer and syncopate my movement.

Are you taking singing lessons?
I’ve been steadily working on my voice since about 2004, and this past year and a half I picked it up a notch; I have a great coach I see every other week. I do not know how to read a score; I learned to play the piano by ear. Now I feel like I’m playing catch-up a little bit.

How are you dealing with the raked stage?
Any weaknesses you have on flat ground, the rake only makes them more apparent. I’ve been focusing in on my core strength. The major elements of dance I’m okay with, but if I roll my head a certain way, I’ll lose my balance.

What advice do you have for dancers trained in ballet who would like to do Broadway?
My advice to any dancer is to expose yourself to as many styles as you can. Don’t just focus on one thing. And when you can, crosstrain and find different ways to move. I used to go to jazz or African class. If you’re aiming for Broadway, you’re going to have to sing. Don’t limit yourself.

What’s the role of dance on Broadway these days?
I think dance is coming back in a big way into musical theater. You can tell stories through dance. As a ballet dancer, I want to expose my art form to new eyes. Broadway is so accessible, but sometimes there’s a feeling that, Oh the ballet is only for certain people.

What do you want the Cats audience to come away with?
We’re playing cats but we’re also going through emotions as people. If you think about what’s happening in the world….This show is about acceptance; we hate Grizabella and turn away from her because she’s different. But in the end, we all grow as cats and as people. We can all get along. We just need to open our eyes and see how we all fit together.

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