In Amy Sherman-Palladino’s world, the men are furniture. Well, at least in the dance sequence featured in the season finale they are.
Season 1 of ABC Family’s delightful Bunheads came to a close Monday, and the word is still out on whether or not there will be a second season to follow. Throughout this season, the four bunheads have been coming into their own — growing up, growing apart, and becoming interested in boys — hence, a dance set to “Makin’ Whoopee” performed by Sherman-Palladino favorite Sam Phillips (the singer/songwriter responsible for much of the music in Gilmore Girls). Check it out below:
EW got a chance to visit the set to watch Sherman-Palladino and her team work on and film the dance that closed out the show’s first season in the episode “Next”. Aaron Sorkin even stopped by for a visit to wish the Bunheads team well on their last day of shooting, and to tease about not being invited to the Bunheads holiday party. Sorkin’s Newsroom shares an office building with Bunheads, and his visit to the set prompted Sherman-Palladino to go off about how Sorkin has an Oscar in his office. “I’d make a hat out of it! I’d strap it to my head and then I’d say ‘look, I don’t know if you’ve noticed anything…’ I would! I’d wear a big t-shirt that said ‘this is mine’ with Oscar on it, every time I met with the network,” she joked.
In “Next” the girls, at Sasha’s direction, decide to learn about sex. That means books, notes, and a strict study schedule. Sherman-Palladino told EW: “There’s a ‘are-we-ready’ sort of overtone to the whole episode so it needed a dance that sort of fed into that. It’s tongue in cheeky. It’s not totally sexy but a little bit of somethin’ somethin’ because, you know they’re that age where pretty boys and pretty girls start doing hot pretty things together — hopefully in a semi-pretty way.”
Bunheads is partially filmed on a sound stage in West Hollywood, and Fannie’s beautiful, sun-soaked dance studio is one of those sets. The dance studio is basically intact, save for a missing wall, removed specifically for this number which needed a tracking crane to capture the dance in one shot.
“I love head-to-toe shooting. I get it when you don’t have real dancers. I get it when it’s Anne Bancroft and you have to shoot her from here, and then it’s somebody else. Or when it’s Natalie Portman’s face and a ballerina from the waist down. I get that. I totally understand why you have to do that, but we’ve got dancers,” Sherman-Palladino said. “To me it’s like when you’ve got dancers, shoot dancers. What are we f—— around for, you know? Let’s see the whole package. Also, we’re not Dancing with the Stars. The point here isn’t to be pitch perfect, the point here is that it’s real girls dancing. So I don’t want to hide.”
Still, the set is not loose, and as a former dancer herself, Sherman-Palladino is as particular and precise with what she wants to see as the choreographer. After almost an hour of rehearsing the dance time and time again, getting the choreography right, and the lighting and the camera movements, taking notes, and making changes, the dancers then had to get into costume and makeup and do the dance a dozen more times while filming. And though it might look straightforward enough, the first five seconds were the most difficult to get right. The crisp, precise moves in the changing room windows set the tone for the coy, playful dance, and by the time the camera started rolling, the girls were tired. But a few notes, and a few takes later, they nailed it and the tracking shot could continue, to the right as the girls walk out onto the balcony, and then down and out as it pans back to reveal a complicated, multi-layered dance where a dozen different arrangements are happening at once.
Bunheads choreographer Marguerite Derricks said when she saw the sweet costumes (which were still being sewn as the girls rehearsed – less than an hour before the the cameras would start rolling) the dance clicked into place. “I knew I could push the bad girl element of it, so it’s very sassy, and very strong movements that I chose. This is our ‘Cell Block Tango,'” Derricks said, referencing the classic scene from Chicago. As to whether or not she was nervous to push the envelope with a sexier dance for the girls, Derricks said no. “I’m the girl who choreographed the movie Showgirls so … you know no, because I know with Amy I present everything to her. I know I’d rather go too far and she’ll pull me back if I need to,” she explained, adding: “Nobody’s told me not to have the two guys come between her legs yet so I feel pretty good!”
It’s one of those brilliant Bunheads-specific sequences that doesn’t take place in any sort of reality, but manages to sum up the emotions of what’s happening with our characters – and something that was only made possible because an episode was too short. Of the now famous “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” dance that inspired this narrative device, Sherman-Palladino said, “I called Marguerite the night before and I said I’m sending you this piece of music, I want three girls, I want black leotards, black tights, black shoes, smoky makeup, f— up their hair. I want an angry girl. It happened so quickly I didn’t even know the network knew about it, you know because it was like I didn’t want to call them and go ‘hey, we’re five minutes short, haha!’ so I wanted to throw it together and throw them something that at least visually they’d go ‘oh that’s fun!’ She added, “luckily it was not perceived as Fonzie jumping over the shark. It did not have a shark anywhere near it. So it opened us up to being able to do that sort of thing more.”
Didn’t catch the finale? It’s streaming on the ABC Family show page through March 10.