Rex C. Curry/Special Contributor. Dancer and choreographer John de los Santos (third from right) and dancers in the WaterTower Theatre’s “Spring Awakening” rehearse a scene. 
Lawson Taitte
Theater Critic
Published: 28 September 2011 06:15 PM
Related ADDISON  — When John de los Santos was graduating from Texas Christian University in 2003, somebody gave him advice that has led to a most unusual career path. De los Santos had been studying theatrical direction, but suddenly, he had a job offer to choreograph, of all things, an opera. He almost said no.

“I knew absolutely nothing about opera and had no connections in that world,” he says. “But somebody said, ‘You’re 22 years old. Do you want to teach or to work? You need this job.’ ”

So he took it. The Hill Country native, 30, is now choreographing for opera companies all over the country and working often for the Fort Worth Opera. He’s also directing musical theater in places as far-flung as Utah and upstate New York. Occasionally he manages to find time to take a job dancing or acting, and the Uptown Players just presented a workshop of a show for which de los Santos wrote the libretto.

North Texas theaters have lagged more distant ones in giving de los Santos gigs. Currently, though, he’s doing his first choreography for WaterTower Theatre:  Spring Awakening previews this weekend and opens Monday. Uptown has also hired him to direct an important musical, Michael John LaChiusa’s Hello Again, next year.

De los Santos’ biggest breakthrough to date came in 2008 when Fort Worth Opera asked him to direct Carmen. Stage-directing opera is a highly specialized profession, and many directors don’t break into the business until later in life. This May, de los Santos followed up with a controversial but popular Mikado updated to contemporary Japan. He’s also regularly assistant-directing for Dallas Opera and has choreographed two productions there.

Local theatergoers know de los Santos best as a dancer and actor for Uptown and other companies. His second Uptown show, The Wild Party  in 2004, featured the scantily clad performer dancing solo after a mass orgy. He hasn’t been able to live that one down.

“That was when people started to notice that this kid could dance and take his clothes off,” he says. “Hey, anything that gets you cast.”

Now when an actor has to take off his shirt, the Uptown producers tell him call de los Santos and ask how to get through the ordeal.

 WaterTower producing artistic director Terry Martin remembered de los Santos’ work on Uptown’s Altar Boyz when it came time to hire a choreographer for Spring Awakening.

“I knew that for this show I needed something different from the people I’ve been working with — a younger approach,” Martin says.

 Bill T. Jones won a Tony Award for his choreography in the original Broadway production of Spring Awakening. De los Santos has admired Jones’ work for years but deliberately didn’t look at his dances for this show before designing his own.

Spring Awakening is a rock musical with a score by pop artist Duncan Sheik. Most of the characters are secondary-school students in a repressed late-19{+t}{+h}-century Germany. Some of the WaterTower actors are still in high school.

“The biggest challenge, honestly, has been the damn microphones,” de los Santos says. “Jumping off a chair holding up a mike to your face is really very difficult. These kids aren’t all trained dancers, but they’re all sponges soaking up ideas. At their age, they all have a lot of energy.”

Plan your life
Through Oct. 23 at WaterTower Theatre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison. $20-$50. 972-450-6232.

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