Hinton Battle is one of the most prolific entertainers of our generation. Mr. Battle is a Broadway performer, three-time Tony Award winner, multi-award recipient, singer, television actor, producer, director, stage and cinematic choreographer, and now the founder of two dance schools.
Upon arriving to the interview, I was met warmly by Mr. Battle and his assistant Daj. Sitting at a discretely located table, I was pleasantly surprised by the tranquil manner in which we began our talks.
Q: Mr. Battle, you reside in DC?
A: I grew up in Northwest. I live in Northeast now, the Brookland area. It’s changed a lot, for the good. But it’s getting very expensive. In the area they built a whole new apartment complex; restaurants. They have a street called Dance Place. There’s a dance studio, a Pilates studio, there’s a community theater. It’s turned into a real artist hub.
Q: You credit “The Wiz” Director, Geoffrey Holder, and “The Wiz” choreographer, George Faison as mentors, but had previously studied under George Balanchine at The School of American Ballet. What were the unique demands of Balanchine’s style?
A: It was quick, it was precise, it was detailed oriented, and it was based in very strong technique so you really had to be on your stuff to do it. It was not easy to do.
Q: You were 15 years old when you performed on Broadway in “The Wiz”. Do you have any advice for the grueling schedule that child performers face today?
A: You’ve just got to stay focused. It’s harder because you’re still trying to grow up as a person. Also situations can be difficult because your perspective on life is warped. You have nothing to compare it with. So it can get very difficult. Especially if you’re in college and you work in the business. You have to stay grounded, keep your close friends around because they’ll help you. Sometimes in this industry everyone’s telling you how fabulous you are, but you still have to be a human being. I think that’s the difficult part. I was 15 at the time, I loved it, it was great; but at 15 you don’t know anything but you’re asked to know everything. Perseverance, know your craft.
Q: When performing as the scarecrow in “The Wiz”, did you meet Michael Jackson?
A: Michael Jackson used to come by the theater all the time and watch. We would talk about the characters role.
Q: Could you elaborate on some of your fellow Broadway performers in “Sophisticated Ladies”?
A: Phyllis Hyman was so full of life. She brought such elegant style, class, vocal brilliance to her renditions of Duke Ellington songs. It was a pretty incredible cast. Gregory Hines, Judith Jamison, Greg Byrd.
Q: Are you currently working with a tap dancer?
A: Yes, when I do my Jazz sets I have Chloe or Maude come in and they tap. So we do an improv between Tap and Jazz. The musicians lead tap so the whole show has elements of Tap as well. I’m not dancing. (Laughing)
But you have to show them the moves a little bit.
A: Yeah, right in the chair.
Q: What discoveries did you make while researching Bo Jangles for the movie, “The Shirley Temple Story”?
A: He was a businessman. He did tons of shows on Broadway. He was a very smart businessman. That’s one thing I didn’t know. Very behind the scenes, doing productions, creating productions, you know, smart.
Q: I saw “Idlewood”, and I loved the “SWOP” choreography. It was intense! Will you be doing some more cinematic choreography soon?
A: Well I have two movies that are supposed to be coming out with me choreographing the dance. But yeah, you know I am busy doing too many other projects. Not to say I don’t want to do it but I have a CD out and performances and really doing enough right now.
Q: Your first CD was “Hinton Battle meets Count Basie Orchestra”. Your second CD was released in June of this year?
A: Yes. 2014. And it is doing really well. It’s called “Something New”. It’s all classic Jazz, in my way, my interpretation of it. I have a quartet of incredible musicians, Lee Pearson, a phenomenally talented drummer. We recorded the CD in Osaka, Japan. It’s starting to pick up traction on the radio and I love it. We are going on tour in 2015. We are doing a big conference here in New York at The Hilton. I will be preforming the CD with the band, some highlights from the CD, and there’s going to be a tour from that. The dates for the listening party are between January 9th and January 13th. On this CD the duets and the trios are with the band. These guys are phenomenal musicians.
Lee Pearson is the Musical Director and co-producer of the CD, “Something New”. Included in the quartet are musicians Terry Brewer on piano, Samir Moulay on guitar, Romeir Mendez on bass. The CD pays homage to the Jazz greats: Ellington, Miles, Cole, Gillespie and others.
Q: How would one purchase your CD?
A: I Tunes, all the media outlets available, Amazon.
Q: For clarity, what exactly in your narrative is Scat?
A: I have used scat when I didn’t know the lyrics. (Laughing) I also think it’s sort of becoming an instrument, using your voice as an instrument. Mr. Battle pauses to scat. It’s being able to hits notes that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to sing lyrics to. It would be difficult. It’s easier to do that on tones, that you can do quicker than trying to sing words with, so you’re just using your voice as an instrument, being a trumpet or a piano or a trombone. So you’re becoming a vocal instrument. That’s how I have always viewed it.
Q: You are opening not one but two dance schools in Japan?
A: There is one in Tokyo and one in Osaka.
The schools in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan are both named the Hinton Battle Dance Academy.
Q: What was your inspiration for doing this?
A: I was over there in February performing a show I created. We sold out for like three months. I was approached about teaching the Japanese my technique and my method. So we talked about developing a school. We are opening up the school in 2015, I am very excited and along with that we have a TV show actually airing right now in Japan called “Road to Broadway”, (which Mr. Battle hosts).
Q: How can American kid’s benefit from this?
A: There will definitely be an exchange program. We will be taking people from the US and taking people from Japan. Absolutely, we will have an exchange program with people who are dancers that are interested, not just for the technique but creatively. You see the vision, the attitude; it’s a totally different culture, so it will be eye opening to a lot of people when they go. If you are an American and you have always been in America, then you go to another country and it’s not America at all. (Also) I do a small internship in Washington, DC, for the kids in the neighborhood just starting out. It’s so funny, I turn around and there’s some kid who knocks on my door and just says hi.
Q: You always continue to top yourself. Do you have another ultimate goal?
A: God gives me these ideas and he says go with them and I say ok. I don’t question it.
Q: What message do you want to leave our audience?
A: Keep Love Alive.
Upon returning to Japan in 2015 Mr. Hinton will bring the new musical he created, “Hinton Battle’s American Variety Bang III”.
It was wonderful speaking to such a talented man. Mr. Battle encompasses most all the genres of the entertainment business. Never stopping in his pursuit and perfection of the craft he loves; Mr. Battle continues creating and entertaining us worldwide. As for me, the scat session by Mr. Battle was an unexpected and extra gift. Lol.
For more information please contact: mailto:www.dxxnyc.com