The Magic of West End Choreography

By Alex Kingston

Thursday 21st March 2024

Nothing is quite as magical as witnessing a sensational dance number live onstage. From beguiling ballet numbers to breathtaking ballroom routines, these movements captivate audiences. Choreography is an essential component of almost every musical, whether used to advance the plot or to entertain.

Choreography has the unique ability to convey emotions in a way that transcends speech. It is often said that actions speak louder than words, and therein lies the power of dance.

This article will spotlight some of the West End’s most talented choreographers and dive deep into their creative processes.

The Role of Choreography in Storytelling

Movement can tell us a lot about a character in a story. For example, the show’s protagonist may be self-assertive, which they express through somewhat exaggerated dance moves. Furthermore, a sly personality may convey their feelings through more measured movement.

Once a clear sense of character is established, the choreographer explores ways to narrate the story through dance. As with any good story, a choreographer will incorporate a beginning, middle, and end. With these elements combined, a well-choreographed dance routine can give us both a clear sense of character and simultaneously advance the plot.

An example of effective storytelling can be seen in the recent revival of Anything Goes, which played at the Barbican Theatre in 2022. The titular song features an exquisite tap routine, with protagonist Reno Sweeney at the helm. In this number, Reno confidently taps her way across a passenger ship, inspiring several sailors to dance alongside her. The fast-paced dance conveys Reno’s energy and charisma, showcasing her most important character traits.

Creative Process of West End Choreographers

The choreographic process can be divided into three phases, beginning with the initial phase of gathering movement material. The choreographer draws inspiration from a variety of sources, whether traditional patterns of movements or historical dance forms.

Once enough material has been gathered; they will begin developing these vague ideas surrounding movements into concrete phrases. A phrase occurs when a series of movements are bound together, thus creating a routine. The choreographer must find a connection between movements, ensuring nothing seems out of place. There must be a clear pattern to the forming sequence, ensuring consistency.

Moving onto the concluding stage, the choreographer must assemble the final structure. The combination of story and music will determine the structure – they must consider the characters involved and the song’s length, among many other factors. Collaborating with the director, composer, and various creative team members, the final product starts to take shape.


Hamilton is one of the most well-choreographed shows currently playing in London’s West End. The dance numbers are a true sight to behold, blending hip-hop and street dance with traditional musical theatre style. Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler won an Olivier Award for his sensational dance routines, and it is easy to see why.

As previously mentioned, several different dance styles are fused into the routines. This approach aligns with the music, which combines hip-hop with traditional show tunes. As a result, the music and choreography are heavily in synch.

Blankenbuehler incorporates character-centric movements into his routines to establish a clear sense of character through dance. For example, those familiar with the musical will know that Alexander Hamilton is ambitious and energetic. To reflect this, Hamilton’s solo in ‘My Shot’ features sharp and dynamic movement.

Furthermore, choreography is used to create a stark contrast between characters. Antagonist Aaron Burr moves with subtle gestures and controlled movements, therefore showing his more cautious demeanour. The fact that Hamilton moves with pace while Burr is more reserved highlights the differences between the two, enhancing the storytelling process.

Tickets for Hamilton can be bought for £33 here:

Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins spectacularly returned to the West End in 2019, delighting London audiences up until 2023. The revival featured Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear choreography, who received Olivier Awards for their exceptional contributions to the production.

Having two choreographers working on one show is somewhat of a rarity. However, producer Cameron Mackintosh knew that a production of this scale would require immense brainpower, so he recruited two of England’s most talented choreographers. With their combined skillset, he knew this would give the show an increased magic touch.

In the structure phase of the choreography process, Bourne and Mear worked tirelessly to ensure that the dance sequences would complement the sets and costumes, thereby enhancing the overall cohesion of the production.

This revival was not the first time the pair had worked on Mary Poppins; Bourne and Mear had previously collaborated on the original production in 2004. The opportunity to work on this revival allowed them to revisit the show with fresh eyes. They updated several of the sequences, incorporating contemporary dance elements. This, in turn, gave the production a renewed vigour, further augmenting its appeal.


Six premiered in the West End in 2019 and has since become an international sensation. It has spawned a UK tour, a Broadway transfer, and residencies across the globe, including Australia and Canada. There are many reasons why Six has been so popular, but one of the main reasons is the stellar choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille.

In gathering movement material, Ingrouille drew her inspiration from real-life pop stars. The Queens in the show are modelled after famous vocalists, and the choreography pays homage to these individuals. For example, Catherine of Aragon’s persona is inspired by Beyoncé, and Beyoncé-style dance moves subsequently influence the character’s movements.

Like the choreography in Hamilton, Ingrouille does not use one single genre. Instead, She incorporates several different genres into her routines. The show features an interesting variety of styles, from hip-hop and house dance to technical jazz.

Tickets for Six can be bought for £36 here:

The Enduring Legacy of West End Choreography

In summary, it’s evident throughout the aforementioned examples that choreography plays an essential role in musical theatre. Movement can give us a clear sense of character, heighten certain effects, and shape the tone of the overall production. Its importance cannot be understated.

When entertained by breathtaking dance numbers, it is easy to forget how hard work goes into these routines. Many intricate steps are involved, demanding significant effort. Nonetheless, the success enjoyed by Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear highlights that this hard work can certainly pay off! The pure magic exemplified by West End choreography is a clear testament to the dedication, creativity, and artistry of those who work diligently behind the scenes.