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  • Writer's pictureKristyn Burtt

How Roberto Campanella Created Dance Magic In ‘The Shape Of Water’

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

The Shape of Water has positioned itself to be one of the front-runners for the Best Picture Oscar this year. Unlike last year’s singing and dancing extravaganza, La La LandThe Shape of Water quietly has its own musical elements that play into the story.

The rich and vivid world director Guillermo del Toro created is enhanced by several dance segments choreographed by Roberto Campanella, a former soloist at The National Ballet of Canada and current artistic director of ProArteDanza. Campanella had already worked with del Toro on the TV show, The Strain, but the film about a mute woman (Sally Hawkins), who falls in love with an amphibian man (Doug Jones), was truly next-level storytelling.

Campanella began rehearsing with Hawkins before filming commenced. 

“I was working with Sally for over a month and a half before Doug was available — it was sessions of two-to-three hours, three times a week,” Campanella told Dance Network recently.

Since he wasn’t working with trained dancers, Campanella had to make sure to speak their language as actors.

“When you start working with actors, they require different psychology and they require a little bit more time,” he explained. “The great thing about Sally is [that she’s] incredibly meticulous. She had such an incredible drive to get all those little dances.”

One of the biggest challenges was the Fred Astaire-inspired scene because there was quite a height difference between Hawkins and Jones. 

“[Doug] is a movement genius. He understood the concepts of even the difference in height, so there would be more plié from him,” Campanella shared. “In other parts, I would actually keep him that big compared to her because it created a certain vulnerability from both of them — him looking down and her, up at him. It worked so beautifully.”

In addition to the height difference, there was the suit that Jones donned for the character. Campanella knew from experience in a prior film that dancing in a suit could get hot quickly.

“I knew how demanding it is in terms of how hot it gets, so my only concern was how many hours can we could keep Doug in a suit,” he said. “In terms of movement, the lifts were hard. There was only so much so that he could raise his arms.”

What Campanella is most proud of is the romantic and touching relationship del Toro created between the two characters.

“The integration of this [creature] element in this story was superb,” Campanella laughed. “When I read the script, I thought, how is he going to make it look unbelievable at an emotional level? And he did it. I know I wanted to dance with the fish.”

Campanella is currently working on two other TV shows, The Expanse, and Star Trek: Discovery. He is also focused on his dance company because they have “huge plans and growth” in 2018. 

In the meantime, he’s living the dream of this Oscar season with The Shape of Water.

“I can say I've done everything in my life [as a choreographer], I’ve choreographed for a fish and a human being,” he summed up with a smile.


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